Can youkai and humans learn to get along?
I was initially skeptical of Otome Yokai Zakuro (Youkai Maiden Zakuro) but the show is starting to grow on me. It seems to be primarily a romantic comedy and secondarily a fantasy/adventure story.
It is set in Japan in the Meiji era of the late 19th century. The government is trying to modernize and Westernize the country, but is faced with opposition, particularly from the tradition-minded youkai. It has taken several steps to deal with the problem. For one thing it has been decided that the term “youkai” is politically incorrect. Henceforth they should be called “youjin” (uncanny people.)
(I’m sorry. I’m not going to call them “youjin”. Even the title doesn’t. If any youkai are offended they are free to contact me and possibly I will change my mind.)
A new Youjin Ministry has been established to foster better human-youkai relations and deal with any youkai who refuse to co-operate. Three young army officers have been assigned to the Ministry. Kei Agemaki (Takahiro Sakurai) is tall, handsome and terrified of youkai. Riken Yoshinokazura (Satoshi Hino) is a man of few words; big, gruff and intimidating, but of course he has a heart of gold. Ganryuu Hanakiri (Yuuki Kaji) is a boy prodigy: smart but young, naive and easily flustered by women.
They are assigned to work with four hanyou (half-youkai) girls. In case of trouble the soldiers will provide muscle and the girls will provide magic.
Agemaki is assigned to work with Zakuro (Mai Nakahara), a half-human half-kitsune girl who is both beautiful and short-tempered. She is suspicious of humans and particularly hostile to Westerners, whom she calls “Jesuits.” (Either she is much older than she looks or she had a teacher who was very old.)
Naturally, given the requirements of the story, she feels attracted to the handsome young soldier, but she is disdainful of his youkai-phobia. This leads to some rather annoying comedy at the beginning, but fortunately he mans up, grits his teeth and forces himself to work through his fears.
Yoshinokazura is paired with Susukihotaru (Kana Hanazawa), a shy and retiring maiden. She is terrified of him at first, but soon recognizes his inner gentleness.
Hanakiri is assigned to work with Bonbori (Aki Toyosaki) and Hoozuki (Yui Horie). They are twins. Identical, inseparable, giggly and flirtatious, they keep him in a constant state of red-faced embarrassment.
For me the high point of the episodes so far have been the segments where the girls have been forced to use their magic against threatening spirits. Whipping out their magic sakura branches and chanting creepy spells, they go from cute to scary in a matter of seconds.
Kushimatsu (Kazue Komiya) is the astute old kitsune who manages the ministry with the help of a wise old elephant spirit named Amaryouju (Akihiko Ishizumi.)
There seems to be some sort of evil youkai conspiracy going on in the background, but we don’t know much about it yet.