Apothecarius Argentum 8

December 6, 2009

Tomomi Yamashita – CMX – 2009 – 11 volumes

This series is still one of my favorites, and I’m sad the releases have slowed.  This volume marks where I began following the series in Princess Gold about two years ago.  Sadly, Apothecarius Argentum came to an end in the newest issue (the end-of-year double issue that came out in October).  While the endgame here is epic, I am glad to be able to read it in English because the whys of what was going on completely missed me.

This volume more-or-less fills us in on a lot of politics in preparation for the rough waters the characters are about to weather.  It ends with some political plots in action and one of the worst cliffhangers ever.  The next volume is about as terrible and dramatic as those last few pages promise.

As for the parts that aren’t all about politics, the first chapter is a long-awated reunion between Argent and Primula.  It doesn’t go anything like I imagined, and both are pretty mature about seeing each other again.  There is a… rather steamy scene, when the tables are turned between the two, but nothing really happens.

Their relationship is one of my favorite things about the series.  It is more subtle and tender than you tend to find in shoujo manga, likely a product of the fact that Princess Gold is aimed at an older teen audience.  Here, there isn’t the expected melodrama that comes from the Princess having to go through with an arranged marriage to Prince Lorca rather than Argent.  There’s no melodrama at all, actually, and all three of the characters involved offer each other ways out of their predicaments, none of which wind up being a real solution.  While the three try to come to terms with it, politics and revenge are being played out by other parties, and Corda and a new character engineer the fall of the Kingdom of Beazol.  Amid all this, there are still some truly affectionate and touching moments between Primula and Argent (nothing terribly sexual or overbearing), and even one or two for Lorca, too.

While there isn’t particularly exemplary about it, it does absolutely everything right, which is why I like it so much.  Every one of the characters is very developed and believable, they all have relatively believable motivations, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses, and the setting and political situation, as well as the history of Beazol and surrounding kingdoms, has just the right amount of detail without being too overbearing.

This was a good volume, with the reunion carrying the day through some exposition that leads into the final story arc.  This was great, but I promise the next volume will knock your socks off come June.

Apothecarius Argentum 7

March 25, 2009

I reviewed this for the Manga Minis column at Manga Recon, so you can check it out over there.

But really, if you take anything at all away from this site, know that I love this series unconditionally. Even when I have to wait months and months for a volume where Argent and Primula don’t see or even think much about each other, I still love every page. It’s a subtle story, a great fantasy series, and a great romance. Things develop slowly, and a lot of the exposition is starting to pay off in the form of an oncoming war that looks to involve all the characters we’ve met so far.

I’m dying to get to some of the good parts I’ve seen in Princess Gold.

Apothecarius Argentum 6

September 24, 2008

Hoo.  Okay, let me switch mental gears from Bizzarian.  I wanted this review to be on top since this is one of my current favorites, so I had to write that one first, but… the two are currently mixing in my head, and it’s upsetting me.

This is literally one of my absolute favorites, and it makes me extremely happy whenever I get a new volume.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  But it took me a while to get this volume.  Normally I would have it within a few days of its release, but it took me a couple weeks this time.  Just before it arrived, I got the newest issue of Princess Gold, which I buy occasionally solely to read Apothecarius Argentum, or stumble through it as the case may be.  The newest installment does not end happily (I’ll post a teaser scan tomorrow), so I was glad this came a few days later.

This volume feels more than anything like a travelogue for the world that Yamashita sets up rather than anything heavily plot or character-oriented.  That’s fine, since this is mostly exposition that I assume will lead to Argent getting ahold of the special detox stone that he will need.  Most of the volume focuses on Soda and Argent entering a new country (named Castoria) oriented specifically towards trading and mining, their goals being twofold: to popularize the dye that Navara is beginning to manufacture, and also to gather information about the stone.  Mostly the goal is for information, but they were given the dye too, and I assume any popularity helps out the Navara economy.

Eventually Soda and Argent wind up in Mino Valley, an area that specializes specifically in mining and prostitution, though the prostitutes are very respectable, and their sex industry is explained away and minimalized almost immediately in one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen for it.  I was worried that some bad sex jokes would start appearing, but thankfully, the series doesn’t stoop to that.  There are maybe one or two, and they’re more like “culture shock” jokes and in line with explanations of the area than they are sex jokes.  I was very, very impressed.

A new character named Popola is introduced, and she acts as the guide around the new area.  She’s the daughter and only surviving member of a formerly prosperous mining family that was basically wiped out through trickery.  She has a basilisk for a companion, a grudge that I assume the story will give her a chance to clear up, and seems to have caught Soda’s eye.  A love interest for Soda is a good idea at this point in the series, and with the quiet way that the relationships are developed here, I’m really looking forward to seeing the two come together slowly.  Unfortunately, there is almost no interaction between Argent and Primula, and other than some good-natured teasing towards Argent, I’m surprised both Argent and Primula seem to be so openly admitting their feelings to other people.  Argent doesn’t really deny anything when his letters for Primula are read aloud, and Primula admits frankly at one point that she’s been separated from her love.

The last chapter deals with Primula, and it showed more a sense of separation between the two than anything else in the volume.  Primula wishes for Argent more in that chapter than Argent does in the entire rest of the volume.  Mostly this chapter is what advances the plot though, since Corda re-appears in Kent, a neighboring country, and shows up in Beazol in order to execute the King.  Another member of Corda’s group also tries to lead Primula astray from her duties, and Lorca shows back up to complicate Primula’s feelings… but the theme of the chapter is the Harvest Festival, which goes off without a hitch.

Even with a volume consisting mostly of exposition, I still love this series dearly and will take whatever I can get.  We’re mostly caught up with Japan now, so the next volume won’t be coming out until next year.  I’m hoping there will be a heavy dose of romance and a great reunion involved, but perhaps I’ll have to wait a bit longer for that.

Apothecarius Argentum 5

July 24, 2008

When I get to loving a series as much as I do this one, I can be easily disappointed by things that do or do not happen.  I mean, I’m not really all that depressed, just bummed in a fangirl way.  This volume is a good example.  There’s a serious lack of Argent/Primula.  Seeing as how one of the things I like best are the bare scraps of Argent/Primula that get occasionally thrown our way, this made me a little cranky.  Plus, a perfect opportunity for a teary (or at least very sentimental) goodbye was squandered.  I would have been very cranky if I hadn’t been reading some of the more recent chapters of the series, because this volume also sets things up for an extended separation between Argent and Primula.  Bah.  Memories of the two together as children will hold me over, because they’re cute, but I crave romance in my fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  When this dishes romance out, it dishes it out quite well, and I couldn’t be more happy with it.  There just wasn’t any opportunity in this volume, and… unfortunately, it seems like there won’t be much of an opportunity next volume either.

Argent is an awesome character, though, so as long as the story sticks with him and doesn’t move away for extended periods with Primula (who’s good, but not as good), I’ll be happy.  He has to go through some dramatic and sad changes in this volume.  There’s a really good chapter at the end of the volume where he has to help Prince Lorca try and convince his subjects that dyes made out of bugs are no less quality for having been made with insects. It didn’t actually have that much to do with the overarching plot other than Lorca needs to get his kingdom to succeed within a time frame specified by Beazol’s king, but it was a cute, lighthearted chapter, which works really well considering how serious last volume was and how serious things are sure to get after this point.

Basically, Argent cuts out in the middle of the volume to go on an extended journey as part of his quest to detoxify himself.  Of course, along the journey, it looks like we get the beginnings of some sabotage stuff for both Beazol and Navara, and it looks like it will tie back into the basilisks.  I’m kind of sad that Argent’s eventual goal is to not be a basilisk anymore.  As tragic as it is for him, it’s an interesting characteristic, and if he no longer has the power, the fights involving him will be much less interesting.

I’m kind of a huge geek, and I kind of buy Princess Gold every month to read this series.  Seriously.  I like it that much.  As much as I may gripe about this volume and not liking the new direction with Argent’s journey, I’m in for the long haul, and it will take a tremendous amount to get me to fall out of love with this series.  Especially since I know the romance comes back eventually, and with a vengeance.  Once again, anyone who enjoys fantasy romance would do well to check this out.  It’s no Nana, and it’s probably not even Basara, but it is wonderful.

VAGUE, MINOR SPOILER: Absolutely nothing in the world bums me out more than seeing a character with long hair cut it.  It’s just… such a waste.  I can’t quite understand why I feel this is so profoundly wrong.  My own hair goes halfway down my thighs, just to prove how seriously I take this.  I’m glad this happened at the end of the volume, because it would have put me in a sad mood through the whole thing.

Apothecarius Argentum 4

April 9, 2008

Ah… hm.  Apparently I need to figure out the new WordPress system a little better.  This went into draft instead of getting published two days ago.

I really, really, REALLY like this series. I didn’t really think I would after reading the first volume, and I put off reading the second volume. It repeats itself a lot, especially about the past events between Argent, Primula, and the King, but I absolutely love the stories in each chapter and the general direction of the plot.

The story picks up with Argent, Primula, and the prince in the neighboring kingdom getting busted and taken to the castle, with a family who is, for all intents and purposes, Primula’s rival. The volume is a self-contained story about politics concerning Primula’s country and the neighboring country, and there are some facts for her to consider about what makes a good or poor leader. There is some explanation about the politics in the region. The discussion stays within reason, which is pretty good considering the other countries in the area have hardly been spoken of yet. I have a feeling things are going to escalate into a war with some other countries, and Primula is going to have to make some tough decisions.

But the thing I love most about this series is Argent and Primula. They can’t be together since to touch Argent means death, but that doesn’t stop them from having… moments, and there seems to be at least two offered in each volume. I still prefer one of the moments from the last volume, but there’s a good kiss in this volume when Argent is temporarily detoxified and he mentions that he has enough poison “for an unruly princess.” Shameless romantic moments like that are kind of my thing, but the fact that they’re not overdone is also nice.

Obviously some headway is made towards finding a solution to Argent’s poison problem. I’m a little upset that there may be a possible solution, because I would much rather have Primula develop some sort of poison immunity than have him be not poisonous. A temporary, very painful reprieve is accidentally discovered in this volume, but I have a feeling that the actual solution to Argent’s problem is probably still a ways into the story.

I picked up this volume a little late, so I’m glad to see that the next one will be out in about a month. I’m totally addicted at this point.

Apothecarius Argentum 3

February 12, 2008

I always forget how much I love this series.  I put off buying this volume for so long that it looks like I only need to wait a few weeks for volume 4.  I’m so bummed that the series is still coming out in Japan (and in a magazine that only comes out 9 times a year, no less).  We probably have to stay about a year behind the newest volume, so I suspect we won’t see volume 6 for awhile.  Volume 5 is scheduled for May, though.  Hooray for that.

I always worry that the general thrust of the plot is lost, because the only direction the series has at this point is maybe Primula will be Queen someday, and maybe Argent will eventually find a cure for his poison, if he feels like it, and then there’s a lot of forbidden romance stuff heaped in there as well.  But the way the characters interact is wonderful, they are always sincere, a lot of them will surprise you with cleverness towards the end of the chapter (especially Primula’s dad, the King), and man, I do love basilisks and forbidden romance, so I’m all for this stuff.

This volume kicks off what looks like it will turn into a much longer subplot.  The King and Primula’s etiquette instructor decide to find Primula a suitor so that she will settle down and get married, but… obviously this isn’t going to happen because Argent and she are mutually attracted.  While the ball that is thrown in honor of her 17th birthday is very entertaining, what springs from that turns into Argent trying to find a cure to an endemic condition in a neighboring country as well as a trip by Primula with a few other characters to try to solve the problem/disease and warn everybody in the country about what is going on.

This plot is broken up over the course of the 4 stories in the volume.  The last chapter is actually the beginning of the journey, and the characters get waylaid almost immediately for silly plot reasons that wind up turning fairly serious by the end of the chapter, but I can tell this storyline will probably last at least through the end of the next volume.  It’s decent, and it ties a lot of politics and background about the world of the story together, so I really like it so far.

There are plenty of romantic moments between Primula and Argent to enjoy in this volume too, one in particular towards the end which is to die for… if you’re into that sort of thing like I am.

Apothecarius Argentum 2

November 28, 2007

I put off reading this manga for some reason.  I remember being pleasantly surprised by the first volume, and I remembered I liked it, but I just didn’t read this one forever.

It’s still good.  Most of the stories here have flashbacks that occur throughout, so you get a little bit of backstory along with whatever is going on in the present, which is usually developing the characters.  The romance between Argent and Primula gets much better here, and the fact that Argent can’t be touched makes it that much more agonizing (though the end hints that this restriction may not be absolute, which is a shame).  A lot of the volume revolves around Primula suddenly realizing she doesn’t know much about regular people and how they live, so she goes to the outskirts of the kingdom to first live like a commoner, then provide assistance to the impoverished area.  There’s a subplot involving someone else trying to get a spot on the throne too, but mostly it involves building up the Princess and having Argent save her.

It’s a simple formula, and I can’t tell you why it’s so good other than the great characters, but it is.  Sometimes that’s all it takes, I guess.  It helps that Argent is a basilisk too, I think, which is almost out of place, but makes quite a bit of sense in the context of the story.