Saturday, October 17, 2009
Apothecarius Argentum, vol. 1
The story: Lady Primula is a teenage princess in the land of Beazol, which is under threat by unknown enemies. When the princess falls ill, a new apothecary, or pharmacist, is called in to treat her. But, the apothecary isn't exactly new -- he's Primula's former food taster, Argent. Raised as a basilisk, Argent was forced to ingest various poisons as a child and is now immune to many toxins because of it. It also makes it impossible for him to touch others, lest he poison them -- even fresh flowers wilt in his grasp. After reuniting with princess, Argent becomes the royal apothecary and the two grow closer. What does the future hold for Beazol, let alone Argent and Primula?
Reaction: With a fictional kingdom, a seemingly tragic love story and a penchant for science, Apothecarius Argentum quickly caught my attention. I appreciated the medical references and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the mangaka, Tomomi Yamashita, worked as a pharmacist for a decade. However, it was the characters that drew me in the most -- Princess Primula is a mercurial teenager and prone to bouts of childishness, while Argent is a more serious and deliberate in words and action. There's a wonderful balance created, but it's easy to see that there is more to their relationship than either of them is willing to admit, even if others see it all too easily.
Deep thoughts: The idea of a basilisk is intriguing -- that the human body can be made toxic by increasingly ingesting poisons. It's common knowledge that people can build immunities to viruses and other infectious agents, but, as far as I know, it's unknown whether the same can be said for other possible poisons. While some poisons have medicinal uses, such as foxglove (mentioned in the book) or aspirin, large doses can often prove fatal.
Artwork: The art here is pleasant enough, making Argent mysteriously handsome and Primula innocently cute. At times, I was reminded of '90s-era shojo, like Mars, especially in the panel reprinted on the book's back cover. Otherwise, characters are all memorable and easy to tell apart. Backgrounds evoke a mostly rural kingdom, with none of the telltale signs of modernity. But, one of my favorite scenes is when Argent is receiving etiquette training and is dressed up like some romance novel heartthrob -- knowing his personality, it's quite humorous in its own way.
The verdict: Highly recommended. I really enjoyed this opening volume because of its budding romance and political intrigue. The bits of science are interesting, while the characters entertaining. If you're looking for a shojo romance off the beaten path, I couldn't recommend this series more. Apothecarius Argentum is available in the U.S. from CMX.
Review copy provided by CMX.