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Review: Apothecarius Argentum, Vols. 1-2

November 19, 2009

aa1I chose to read and review Apothecarius Argentum for two reasons: first, I had heard that it was pretty good, and second, that it was a CMX title and I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the shojo titles they import. Unfortunately, this one didn’t really hold up for me.

The story is set in a small country called Beazol, which seems to be culturally based on Western Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The country is at war, and the King with his troops, leaving his adolescent daughter Princess Primula to oversee the kingdom. Primula is athletic and headstrong, with a strong moral streak that only intensifies as the series goes on. She’s the sort of character I like, but nothing about her really made her stand out from the archetype.

When Primula is poisoned through her food and her usual healer cannot be found, they find the quickest replacement they can, an apothecary named Argent. As a child, Argent had been Primula’s food tester–he comes from a group of people in a different country chosen as infants and slowly fed different poisons until they’ve built up an immunity. Argent cannot be killed by poison…but as a result of this, his touch itself is poison and his hair has turned silver. He had no name when he was first bought–he started his service as a child slave–and it was Primula who named him Argent.

Primula’s father, the King, is a cold and calculating man. He truly loves his daughter (though she is rumored to not be his), and is a more complex character for it, but he also has ambitions for his country.  Now that Argent is back in the picture, the King intends to use him as a weapon rather than a healer, much to Argent’s distress. Argent has reinvented himself as a healer, not a poison tester or a specialized assassin. He cannot touch people, but he can make all sorts of cures.

aa2I can’t tell you why this manga isn’t working for me. Primula and Argent are interesting enough characters and Soda, the boy who elbows his way into becoming Argent’s apprentice, is only vaguely annoying instead of being incredibly annoying. The writer has done her homework when it comes to the sorts of medications that apothecaries would use.  There’s just something missing, though if the development at the end of the second volume doesn’t go the predictable route, perhaps it’s just missing from these two volumes.

The art of this series is technically skilled. The artist’s linework is delicate and soft, and she doesn’t overuse the screentones the way some others do. It’s nothing unique, though–nothing memorable. While this doesn’t bug me, it doesn’t do anything to help my ambivalence.

In the end, I don’t know if I could recommend Apothecarius Argentum. I don’t know if I could tell someone to avoid it, either.  While it doesn’t work for me, it might work for someone else.

Apothecarius Argentum is by Tomomi Yamashita and is published in the US by CMX.

Grade: C+

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