Ok, I've had enough of wallowing in bad smut. Time to focus on something good, and what can be better than a fantasy shoujo series from CMX?
APOTHECARIUS ARGENTUM (Yakushi Argent), by Tomomi Yamashita. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2007.
In the kingdom of Beazol, Princess Primula watches over the kingdom while her father heads off to fight another battle with one of the neighboring kingdoms. Her only company are the servants in the castle, but the only one she could call her friend is Argent. He was formerly her food taster and now he runs an apothecary on the edge of city. After the two discover a poisoning plot against Primula, she has him reinstalled as the royal doctor, despite Argent's protests. What Primula doesn't know is that he is a Basilisk, an assassin so soaked in poison that his very touch is toxic. Thus Argent finds himself torn between his dedication to Primula and the ill intentions of those who want to use Argent as a weapon.
Apothecarius Argentum is simply one of those well-constructed shoujo fantasy stories that CMX seemed to specialize in. It's got interesting characters, political intrigue, a touch of romance, and it even dares to tackle topics like free will, prejudice, and Argent's conflict over his past and his present.
Argent seems like a rather serene, all-knowing sort of bishonen at first, but his placid demeanor conceals a lot of inner torment and struggle. We spend a fair bit of time inside Argent's head, so we see how miserable his past was, how Primula came to trust in him, and how that trust motivates him to be a better man. His angst is never piled on too thickly, so Argent's struggle never comes of as maudlin or over-the-top. In contrast, Primula is more or less as she appears to be. She's a spunky tomboy whose personality chafes a little with the responsibilities and isolation that come with being a princess. She is blessed with quite a bit of common sense, though, and the friendship between her and Argent feels very realistic compared to what one usually sees in shoujo. Sometimes they might butt heads over an issue, but there's also a lot of sweetness and supportiveness between them. Most importantly, she treats him like an equal - not a subject, not a servant, but as a trusted friend. There are hints of deeper feelings between the two, but even as things are they make a great platonic pair.
There isn't much to say about the rest of cast save for the king himself. He's made out to be a tyrant, but we see that he's a bit more complicated than that. He's a total pushover when it comes to his daughter, but he also makes it clear that he still considers Argent to be a deadly trump card that he intends to keep close by for his own purposes. It's not so much that he puts on a friendly, loving face for his daughter, it's that his love for her is just as much a part of him as his darker, more scheming qualities, and that uncertainty makes him far more intriguing that any of the one-note villains that come for Primula. If this all sounds a little aimless, it's mostly because this volume is more about establishing Argent as a character and the relationships around him than it is kicking off any sort of grand plot. It's time well spent, though, as Apothecarius Argentum does a great job building up Argent and the world around him and it makes me excited and intrigued to see what happens to them next.
Apothecarius Argentum's art is typical of the genre, but it's solidly drawn and good looking. Yamashita takes a light hand with the line work, so everything is drawn in a light and pleasing manner. Everything else is fairly by the book - the character designs, the composition, the backgrounds. That's not to say that it is boring, but merely that Yamashita's style isn't all that distinctive and she plays things rather safe when it comes to the art. She's clearly put most of her effort into the actual story, and the art does a perfectly fine job supporting just that.
It's the exceptional character writing that pushes Apothecarius Argentum into a green light. It's a little more compelling and complex than one usually sees in this sort of shoujo story, and I'm eager to follow Argent and Primula on their next adventure.
This series was published by CMX. This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes. 8 volumes were released and all are currently out of print.