Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to w…write another review to satisfy the insatiable hunger of my fellow ani-bloggers. Can I perhaps tempt you with a tasty apple? (psst, say no, it’s poisoned). What can be more enticing though then a shiny, red morsel?
Title: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (Snow White with the Red Hair)
Original airing: July 7, 2015 to Sept 22, 2015 / Jan 12, 2016 to Mar 29, 2016
Episodes: 12+12 (2 seasons)
Duration: 24 minutes per episode
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Drama, Shoujo
Source: Akagami no Shirayukihime manga written by Sorata Akizuki
Where I watched: FUNimation (English subtitles and dub available)
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
Although her name means “snow white,” Shirayuki is a cheerful, red-haired girl living in the country of Tanbarun who works diligently as an apothecary at her herbal shop. Her life changes drastically when she is noticed by the silly prince of Tanbarun, Prince Raj, who then tries to force her to become his concubine. Unwilling to give up her freedom, Shirayuki cuts her long red hair and escapes into the forest, where she is rescued from Raj by Zen Wistalia, the second prince of a neighboring country, and his two aides. Hoping to repay her debt to the trio someday, Shirayuki sets her sights on pursuing a career as the court herbalist in Zen’s country, Clarines.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime depicts Shirayuki’s journey toward a new life at the royal palace of Clarines, as well as Zen’s endeavor to become a prince worthy of his title. As loyal friendships are forged and deadly enemies formed, Shirayuki and Zen slowly learn to support each other as they walk their own paths.
Before you jump into reading this review, I have to warn that Snow White with the Red Hair is a misleading title. Now, I wasn’t holding my breath in hopes of a rehashing of the Disney classic, but I assumed that several elements from the original story would be incorporated into this series (much like was done with Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic). Aside from an incident with poison apples in episode one, there is nothing. There are no dwarves, no evil witch, and definitely no forest friends to help tidy up the place.
My decision to watch this wasn’t entirely based on the prospect of seeing these familiar themes, though. I had seen the art for this series some time back and grew interested before ever knowing the title. The only other series I watched that were about romance this year were My Little Monster and Toradora!, both which surprised me in terms of enjoyment. Snow White, however, was my first real experience with shoujo romance (Ouran doesn’t count). Could romance be climbing up the ladder on my list of favorite genres? Read onward to find out!
Snow White with the Red Hair is centered around a girl, Shirayuki, who was born with (you guessed it) “hair as bright as an apple.” Her name literally translates to “white snow,” so it’s fitting. Her hair does more than just hearken back to the apple in the fairy tale stories. As the only one with such vibrant, scarlet hair (seemingly anywhere) people quickly take notice of her unique beauty; attaching the “fairest of them all” title to her. At some point, after catching the attention of her country’s prince and being told that she is to become his concubine, she realizes the danger that her striking hair poses. After boldly cutting it short, in rejection to the threat to her freedom, Shirayuki leaves her old life behind and sets off to find peace for herself in obscurity. It is early on in this journey that she happens to meet Zen, the second prince of Clarines. She realizes they share similar ideals of deciding ones own fate and ambition to learn more about the world.
This chance meeting between Shirayuki and Zen gives the story an added classic fairy tale romance feel. It should come as no surprise that this “fair maiden” and prince become the main focus of the narrative. The story revolves around their budding relationship, which begins as mutual admiration for their unique traits but slowly builds towards love. The class difference between the two, with Shirayuki being a peasant and Zen being a prince of a powerful nation, is an oft explored obstacle toward this end. With the expectation that Zen will take an aristocrat as his bride, both he and Shirayuki must contend with the many forces that seek to force them apart.
Considering the class systems of medieval Europe (the era which this series seems to be loosely based on), it makes sense that social hierarchy is continuously revisited throughout this series. Given that Snow White is about romance, the writers could’ve had the pair disregard the pecking order and thus live happily ever after, but they don’t. Seeing Shirayuki and Zen actively working to change the minds of their detractors is a good step toward realism, acknowledging that neither can simply run away from the problem or find a ‘fairy tale’ solution. It further illustrates the determination that the two of them constantly exhibit, not allowing anyone to stand in the way of their goals even if they must work within the confines of their situation.
Shirayuki is clearly the strong female archetype, but in an atypical way compared to most other fantasy stories. Rather than swinging a sword or being skilled with magic, her strongest weapons are her intellect and compassion. The story frequently expresses the merits of these ‘feminine’ qualities, showing time and again how she is able to turn the hearts of her enemies, either by charming them through her forthright candor or finding a solution through mutual understanding. Whether it’s a kidnapper seeking to exploit her rarity or agents trying to pry her apart from Zen, Shirayuki almost always plays a major role in resolving her problems.
Of course, this isn’t to say that she handles them completely alone. Shirayuki becomes a target, usually because of her unique hair color, frequently in the first half of the series. Each time, she makes a concerted effort to free herself – either relying on her strong knowledge of herbalism or sharp thinking to do so. These efforts only end up being a half measure though, with Zen becoming the literal prince saving the damsel in distress. This tendency can be seen as both a benefit and a hindrance, depending on the direction of the story. It helps build the romance between them by showing how important Shirayuki becomes to Zen and how deeply she begins to trust his ability to protect her. On the other hand, it can be seen as a step backwards in the otherwise convincing portrayal of Shirayuki’s independence.
With the romantic arc between these lead characters claiming the closest thing to a main story, the rest of the narrative takes place in smaller contained arcs. These stories feel episodic, resolving whatever problem they present within the episode while doing little to advance the main story. The slow pace still yields a fairly early confession of love between Zen and Shirayuki, but then presents a challenge in keeping the viewer interested with more than the tame love story.
With the first season consisting of these small stories or ambiguous/temporary antagonists, the second season adds some much needed drama. Zen and Shirayuki are split apart much more often, enabling them to tackle some of their own issues. The final arc plays out as dramatically as the series can muster, bringing in many more elements of mystery and adventure to spur all the characters into action. Its conclusion is another nod to the realistic nature of the setting, not ending in a happily ever after, but leaves viewers with an optimistic view of the characters’ futures.
For all its idyllic settings and moral direction, the characters in Snow White are really quite varied. It’s tempting to fit many of them into stereotypes at first glance, but they all possess qualities that make them special and different from what one might expect. In addition, the series portrays people from various walks of life and social class, giving viewers a glimpse into the world through their unique points of view.
Chief among them is the title character Shirayuki. From the moment she runs away from her home country at the beginning of the series, she proves herself a determined and independently minded character. Like Bishamon in my last review, Shirayuki is a strong female protagonist done right, but in a different way. Even when Zen offers her a place in the castle, she refuses his offer in an attempt to earn a place at his side by her own merit. Her interest in herbalism makes for a unique skill by allowing her to tackle problems that can’t be solved with the swing of a sword and gives her a legitimate path toward becoming a productive member of Zen’s court. Acting like a manifestation of peace and goodness, she looks for the positive in people and works to overcome disagreements in a diplomatic way. This method of challenging others allows her to gain victories through respect more than anything else. Prince Raj, the assassin Obi, various other kidnappers, and even the strongest opponent of her and Zen’s relationship, first prince (and Zen’s brother) Izana, come to understand her merits far beyond her unique red hair.
Despite these qualities, Shirayuki makes a tempting target for poor characterization. As a paragon of right and goodness, the series struggles to give her any flaws. Her inexperience with courtly life and the rigors of the court herbalism exam don’t prove to be strong challenges, as she pushes through both by sheer hard work and persistence. Although her insistence to face danger head on may seem like a character flaw, as it creates difficulty for her companions, these situations are designed to show off her merits rather than criticize her judgement. For example – her tendency to fall victim to kidnapping is a frequent point of drama, but even that gives her a chance to shine. She never waits idly by to be rescued, leveraging her knowledge of herbalism (and some very conveniently placed ingredients) to fight back against her captors. All things considered, her portrayal does not make her seem perfect. She expresses difficulty and even fear at times, but tries to keep a level head when she can help it. She isn’t a Mary Sue – only a little too successful in her endeavors and morally right to an idealized degree.
Shining attributes are common among heroic protagonists and Zen Wistalia has his share as well. Handsome, charming, proficient with a sword, and respected across the land, Zen is every bit the fairy tale prince. His many merits might be typical of a fantasy story hero, but Zen comes off as surprisingly humble compared to the prickly and scheming nobles that surround him. Despite his noble lineage Zen treats everyone as equal, melting away their class differences, but that isn’t to say that he disregards his status. He maintains his position over his bodyguards while still respecting them as people and valuing them deeply as friends. His most endearing trait, however, is his treatment of Shirayuki. Being the first to tell her to decide her own fate, he supports her in everything she sets out to do and shows great patience in their relationship even though he falls for her unique personality early on.
In contrast to Zen is the first prince the viewer meets in the series. Raj Shenezard is exactly the sort of spoiled, arrogant noble that has become a real life stereotype but is oddly rare in fantasy stories. His demand that Shirayuki belong to him immediately sets him up as a rival, but his cowardice in drawing Zen’s ire keeps him from posing any real threat. Another character, Obi, makes a reasonably good foil for Zen from a lower social standpoint. Originally hired by a noble to scare Shirayuki into leaving Clarines (and thus stop tempting Zen), he is eventually found out and re-purposed toward other tasks by Zen himself. The most ‘different’ character in terms of design, his ninja-like ways and enigmatic backstory make him initially feel like an outsider.
It is interesting then that these two characters are some of the most engaging to watch. Their contributions to the humor aspect of this series plays a part in this, as the series portrays these two in humorous scenes and situations more often than anyone else. What is more compelling, however, is how these characters change over the course of the series. In a story where development is subtle or muted in many of the characters, Raj and Obi make some real changes in their lives by way of Shirayuki’s influence. Even a character as flawed as Raj can end up being cheered on by the time of the anime’s conclusion.
The overall fair treatment of female characters isn’t limited to Shirayuki alone. Zen’s female bodyguard Kiki is a more than capable fighter who exceeds her male counterpart, Mitsuhide, in professionalism and skill. In addition to this, her wisdom often serves to set Zen right when his emotions threaten to make him act impulsively. On the flip side of this, the late appearance of the pirate Hebi paints a different picture of a powerful woman. She is fearsome and ruthless as any good dread pirate ought to be, but is able to hold her command over other men by being a cunning leader in her own right.
Unfortunately both of these characters face the same problem that all the supporting cast does: severely lacking backstory. Outside of Shirayuki and Zen, no one is explored in great detail so as to build any sort of investment in their character. Obi and Mitsuhide avoid this fate to a small degree, but only as side stories that don’t factor into an essential part of their character. The rest are essentially “what you see is what you get” in terms of characterization. While it’s not a huge issue in light of the anime’s apparent goals, it is a missed opportunity that could have added greatly to the appeal.
I hate to keep making references to Disney movies in what is supposed to be an anime review, but at first glance viewers who aren’t very familiar with anime might mistake Show White as a one such production. The show makes use of a bright, colorful palette and beautiful fantasy settings to create a truly great visual display that reminds one of the well animated landscapes featured in those films. Lighting and environmental effects are used as well to decorate background and enhance scenes, further drawing the viewer in.
At this point I’m thoroughly enamored by the work that Bones does, having reviewed a couple of their titles this year. As a fairy recent anime (just over a year old at the time of this writing) there is nothing to complain about in terms of execution or technique. Bones has produced titles with vastly different animation styles, but the one used here is a realistic style not too different from Noragami one and a half years prior. Though the series does not have the same flashiness or spectacular abilities as its artistic predecessor, it does have some very well-crafted character designs that stand out even among other fantasy series.
Starting with the red hair that the anime’s title advertises, Shirayuki becomes the focus of most of her scenes. The actual color varies depending on the lighting of the scene (which is a cool visual effect in itself) but most often appears as a red apple color in neutral light. It reflects the passionate nature of her character, without making her stereotypical ‘fiery’ redhead, and easily identifies her as the central character that the series makes her out to be. Her simple clothing, though also featuring eye catching reds, also sets her apart from her royal friends. Speaking of which, their clothing is mostly shown as functionally regal, reflecting what looks like an 18th century style. Zen and his bodyguards have even more practical designs, given how often they adventure through the countryside.
The action in the series is decent, but given that it’s not an action series expectations shouldn’t be high. The scenes are framed such that you see the effect of attack more often than the attack itself, and are usually brief. Regardless, the scenes which do feature a lot of movement aren’t jarring or poorly drawn. The real treat in the animation is in the various expressions and subtle gestures the characters show. Romance relies heavily on portraying emotion convincingly, which Bones typically does well with, so it should come as no surprise that this series hit its mark there as well.
The music for this anime can be described as sweet and upbeat, mirroring a lot of the themes present in the series. Opting for light instrumental tones in the majority of circumstances, it paints the serene fantasy setting as beautifully as the animation does. The openings and ending pairs were done by the same singers in both seasons, and as such carry that note of consistency from one to the next (technically, this was released as two series). There were no standout tracks among the BGMs for me, working instead to highlight the scenery or complement the tone of a scene. What is even more notable at times is the lack of music, which cuts out during dramatic moments, as if holding its breath alongside the viewer
Saori Hayami (Tsuruko in Anohana, Emi in Your lie in April) lends her vocal talent to both openings and Shirayuki herself. Taking the spotlight role allows her to be much more assertive than her performance as Izumiko in Red Data Girl (haha, second review in a row where I can say that!), and shows off her acting range considering Shirayuki’s varied emotional lines throughout the series. Playing opposite her as Zen, Ryota Osaka (Watari in Your lie in April) has a very kind yet confident voice. The two characters really seem to have good chemistry when seen together thanks in part to the voice acting.
Curiously this was one series where I never really watched the English dub, despite it being a Funimation licensed title. This doesn’t say anything about the dub’s quality; I simply started watching in Japanese and never really went back. That choice did lead to some confusing dialogue, though I don’t usually have any issues watching subs. There were simply instances in this series where the sub used some abstract wording or randomly threw in lines that I struggled to make sense of in the context of the conversation. It makes me wish I had watched at least part of this series dubbed; also so I could have seen Brina Palencia depart from her fame as Ciel in Black Butler and do a female main role aside from the emotionless Rei Ayanami.
As far as shoujo series go, Snow White is a bit of a mixed bag. My only real experience with the genre thus far was with My Little Monster and Ouran High School Host Club, both anime with no lack of comedy to carry their narratives. The light humor in this series aside, it is played much straighter in its interactions between characters and the trials they face, forcing it to draw interest in its drama instead. This is where many criticize the series for its less than compelling storytelling, but to say that nothing happens in Snow White is unfair. There are several small stories that attempt to build on the world around the characters and push them closer together through shared experiences. It’s the net result of those stories that really challenges the viewer to judge what the series accomplished.
When the confession of love happens early on, the series must find a way to keep the rest of the story interesting. Unfortunately aside from a trip back to Tanbarun, which was more entertaining because of Raj than anything else, there is not much which really provides a source of conflict. Even the attempts at creating tension within the relationship are non-committal, coming in the form of a love triangle that finds the third wheel with completely one-sided feelings and results in him not rocking the boat.
Shirayuki seems to set herself up at the beginning of the series for a transformative experience, but aside from her developing relationship with Zen nothing about her character truly changes. The same is true for most other characters as well, including Zen. It creates a real issue with keeping the viewer invested when the story doesn’t stoke curiosity about what will happen with these characters.
Of course, none of this takes away from how honestly sweet the love between Shirayuki and Zen is. They understand early on that their goal is to be with one another and they steadily work toward it in a way that makes sense within the story. They never stray from this path, and even when they need to part from one another they do so with the understanding that their focus is still in their shared future. The inconclusiveness of the ending aside, you could not ask for a more pure love story.
Summary and Recommendations
Snow White tells a story set apart from the classic fairy tale, showing how a commoner can overcome the challenges placed in her way to win the heart of a prince. Focusing on the blossoming romance between the lead characters, it uses an enchanting fantasy setting to weave its own fairy tale romance.
The series uses a pair of characters that stray from their typical archetypes to tell the story. The independent and determined Shirayuki makes a good match for Prince Zen, who is not content to rule from behind the walls of a castle and never looks down on anyone. The amusing personalities they surround themselves with are equally charming, providing a realistic portrayal of royal life and responsibilities.
Shirayuki’s interest in herbology plays a big part in what makes her unique, allowing her to find creative ways to solve problems and get out of danger – a frequent occurrence thanks to the rarity of her hair color. When all else fails, Zen’s chivalry and heroic nature come into play to rescue her.
The series creates conflict by putting Shirayuki through a number of kidnapping scenarios that test her resolve. In addition, a number of forces seek to break Shirayuki and Zen apart. Watching the pair fight through these challenges to remain close to one another makes for a great theme in any romance story.
Aside from the romance aspect, character development is weak and the narrative is slow moving. Shirayuki and Zen build a relationship slowly and naturally, but lack the burning passion that many romance stories go for. The absense of other meaningful content may bore some viewers, but there is a very sweet romance to look forward to.
Watch if you:
Enjoy sweet love stories
Appreciate the bright fantasy setting
Like unconventional characters
Don’t watch if you:
Want strong character development
Need a conclusive love story
Are easily bored
Snow White misses a lot of opportunities but has enough to make it enjoyable for fans of the genre. My rating is 3.5 out of 5 Shirayukis.
The setup for this series reminds me of another ‘royal’ themed romance: The Earl and the Fairy. I had read the four volume manga (never finished the anime) and couldn’t help but think of that story in relation to this one. Lydia and Edgar are very different people than Shirayuki and Zen, but the storytelling is somewhat similar. Lydia has a unique talent (talking to faeries) that gets her into trouble and drives much of the story’s direction. All the while her growing relationship with Edgar weaves in and out until the story’s climax. Shirayuki, on the other hand, has a relationship with Zen that creates tension and drives the story while her skill (herbalism) comes into play now and again.
I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but the two methods create a distinct difference in direction. This begs the argument of what elements are necessary to spin a well-crafted tale, and which ones deserve the most focus. In past reviews, I’ve noted situations where an anime’s plot is less than spectacular, but the inclusion of detailed, multi-layered characters managed to elevate the series. Likewise, a series may falter in character development, but captivates the audience with a riveting tale. Aiming for both is certainly desirable, but even having a mix of the two can go a long way in making an anime stand out among its less compelling peers.
Framing a story as a romance gives a certain expectation but I don’t believe that the genre dictates what type of story it needs to be. Toradora! was undoubtedly romance too but the odd personalities and copious humor gave it that extra charm despite its romantic angle being less pronounced than this series was. While Snow White wasn’t a hit for me, my score isn’t bad and shows there is a good deal of technical quality to enjoy. I’m quite willing to give romance another try, but probably one with more than just the love story next time.
Season 1 Review by Karandi
A well written review about what makes the story and characters so interesting, and how there is plenty more to the series than just the romance. While you’re there, be sure to check out her season 2 review as well.
Snow White with the kind of Boring Anime Series by Caitlin
This article goes into the anime’s problems way more than I have, but provides very fair points as to why the author didn’t like the first season despite it sounding good on paper.
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.