When the spirits of the world decide to try and live in harmony, a new ministry is set up to try and reconcile things and promote a positive image while having fun and mild sauciness along the way.
What They Say
In this alternate history, the "Ministry of Spirit Affairs" was established by human and spirit representatives to deal with incidents involving spirits. Army lieutenants Agemaki Kei, Yoshinokazura Riken, and Hanakiri Ganryu have been assigned to Spirit Affairs. However, once they're introduced to their new associates, they discover that these half-spirits, with the exception of having ears on their heads, look like completely normal girls.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Lily Hoshino, who has had several of her works released over here, Otome Yokai Zakuro is up to four volumes in Japan since its start in 2006, so it's not exactly a really big property or one with a whole lot of material. Which makes it pretty ideal for a short run series like this in that a good portion, if not all of it, can be adapted to anime without any real worries. Hoshino is largely known for her boys-love work but she's done some other things as well including some seinen material. This one looks to play up the pretty boy material pretty well with a good cast of women included, giving both sides of fandom a lot to work with, though with a girlish tint to all of it.
The series takes place in an alternate history timeline where a Spirit Affairs ministry was set up to deal with the yokai out there. The ministry is designed to bring both sides together to work out the issues, though it's interesting in that we get a significant military angle to it with the men as they're all in uniform and have a very strict feel to them. Well, when they're not being all flirtatious for one or two of them, enough so that they're surrounded by roses in classic shoiujo tradition. The opening episode largely revolves around introducing us to the main cast and their issues, such as one of the human representatives who is pretty much afraid of the spirits they have to deal with which certainly causes problems.
Even worse is that he's afraid of the women that make up the other side of the ministry which are essentially half spirits since they're in human form with particulars like cat ears and the like. Being afraid of them is kind of amusing at first, but it could get old pretty quick. It does set up the predictable angle of them getting closer together and having some misunderstandings along the way until they actually get closer and potentially fall in love. The human side is the area where it could have some potential though since there's a firmness to the men when, outside of Kei at least, in how they have to deal with this particular assignment in coping with women who aren't completely human. And considering the time period, there's also the problems of them taking women seriously in general with a position like this as well. The Meiji period does have some social changes going into it, but not enough so that you can imagine the women being able to be completely involved as they're portrayed here, if not for their being half spirits.
With the titular character of Zakuro, a good bit of focus will be on her as time goes forward and you know that it's her and Kei who will cross paths heavily to try and understand each other. Thankfully, we do see other humans of the Ministry starting to make their inroads and showing they're open minded about things and helping out while being curious about yokai culture and what it entails. It's not terribly detailed, but it's about what you'd expect for an opening episode. The same can be said about the animation and designs. It's good, it has some cute qualities about it with the way characters go out of the norm and the light comedy is applied well to it. But it also has some really good backgrounds at times and executes the full spirit characters well as they mingle with the humans and the half spirits. Seeing everyone coping with the prejudices that they have is something that I do wonder if they'll be able to continue through the show and work with, especially as they start dealing with real issues as opposed to this kind of basic and forced setup episode.
The subtitles are pink.
Otome Yokai Zakura plays with a lot of near-romantic angles as it has a rather classic shoujo feeling at times with roses ringing the screen, lots of romantic misunderstandings and a potential pairing that's diametrically opposed to each other because of their origins and backgrounds. On the positive side, taking Kei as the lead character, there's a lot to like here because it changes things up slightly. Kei's definitely afraid of the half spirits and yokai in general, but he's a somewhat older character than the usual leads in these kinds of series and he does his best to cope with it while only falling to his prejudices a few times in a significant way. The interactions with spirits are being forced across the board in this particular timeline, something that some handle better than others, so seeing it play out in the microcosm of the Ministry of Spirit Affairs gives it some nice context. The characters are largely minimal at this point in who they are, but they make Kei pretty accessible and the design and style of it all makes it fun enough to watch and keep up with as light entertainment in general.
If only it didn't have pink subtitles. (though we're told they're supposed to be purple, which is only lightly better I suppose).
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Dell 10.1 Netbook via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.