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Anime Reviews: Snow White with the Red Hair
Snow White with the Red Hair may be light on conflict, but its visuals and characters are so pleasant that it will easily win over fans of fantasy and romance.
Title: Snow White with the Red Hair a.k.a. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 7/6/2015 to 9/21/2015
Age Rating: 7+ (brief mild violence)
Summary: Medicinal herbalist Shirayuki is a lovely young woman from the kingdom of Tanbarun who possesses a rare trait--her vibrant red hair causes her to stand out in any crowd--and Prince Raj, a frivolous and vain man, wants desperately to add her to his harem for this reason alone. Because of her independent nature and defiant spirit, Shirayuki flees town and heads into the forest where she comes across a dashing young man named Zen and his two sidekicks, Mitsuhide and Kiki. When Prince Raj sends an emissary to fool Shirayuki into eating an apple laced with a tranquilizing agent, Zen bites the bullet, if you will, confident in his resistance to poison--it turns out, Zen is a prince from the neighboring kingdom of Clarines, and with the help of his two retainers, they dissuade the lecherous Prince Raj from pursuing Shirayuki further. However, Shirayuki, inspired by Zen and his heroics, packs her things and goes to live in Clarines, to broaden her horizons and see how Prince Zen lives and leads for herself.
The Good: Crisp, clean, pleasing artwork; characters are likable and easy to understand; downright pleasant atmosphere; romance done right
The Bad: Shirayuki is a bit bland; lack of any real conflict, and any conflicts that do arise are handled far too easily; doesn't stand out
The Ugly: Being a castle guard in this universe must be the most dull job imaginable
You know how sometimes you get an itch to check out something that's slightly outside of your comfort zone, just to see if any gold lies in them thar hills? For me, "slightly outside my comfort zone" can equate to "a romance story," and that itch was scratched satisfyingly with anime like MY (Love) STORY!! and His and Her Circumstances, so I felt another venture into those pastures was warranted. And wouldn'tcha know it, I found another quality title to enjoy spending time with. However, this time I was slightly disappointed--Snow White with the Red Hair hovers at the "good" standard of quality, and it almost never deviates from that water mark. Of course, it could just be my biases talking, as romance isn't my genre of choice, so I'll do my usual thing and go over where I thought the show succeeded and where it failed.
To begin, Studio Bones refuses to let us down in the visual department once again, as Snow White with the Red Hair boasts a vibrant and inviting art style, with instantly-attractive character designs and wonderfully imaginative scenery. The colors pop in all the right ways, from Shirayuki's eye-catching red hair to the stunning nighttime shots of the castle exterior with its blue spires backlit by warm yellow-orange light. Every new location we see is full of life and detail, giving the various castle rooms, forest paths, and outposts a very lived-in feel to them with personal effects and weathering and all that kind of thing. The character designs, as mentioned before, are very pleasing to look at, and even though they're obviously outside the realms of reality (Shirayuki's hair is a little TOO red, Zen's silver and Mitsuhide's teal are wholly over-the-top, etc.), the fairy-tale atmosphere of the setting allows them to blend right in and let our eyes bask in visual escapism.
It also helps that the animation is consistently smooth and the shot compositions allow for some wonderful moments of visual pleasantness.
Another of the series' strong points lies with many of its chief characters. At first Zen feels like your typical rebel prince who just wants to adventure unburdened by his title, but we very quickly learn that he values both freedom and his duty to Clarines and its people, and his passion to do right by them (even though his status as 2nd Prince limits him somewhat) makes him an engaging lead. His dry, snarky bodyguards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, provide both comic relief and valuable character insight through their own character moments, and the episode detailing the first major incident under Mitsuhide's watch is easily the best in the series. Prince Izana, Zen's older brother, is an endlessly intriguing character in his own right, as his calm and stern demeanor belies the fact that you can never really tell whether he's an antagonistic or neutral force in the story, and, from what little we do see, his machinations are intimidatingly complex. And then there's the low-class bodyguard/mercenary/messenger Obi, who is just a treat every time he's on-screen. Shirayuki herself is a likable, proactive character and I did like her quite a bit, but we'll get back to her later. On the whole, the character writing in Snow White with the Red Hair is rock-solid, if I do say so.
One other positive aspect of the series, one that has a negative dark side, is just how downright pleasant it is to watch. To simplify this series to absurd brevity, we're just watching nice people living their lives in a beautiful kingdom populated by other nice people. Any unpleasantness is usually dealt with by episode's end, and then we go back to relaxing amid the pleasant atmosphere with these people we enjoy spending time with. It's just so nice, you guys.
Now, inevitably, we have to discuss the romance aspect of the series. Because, y'know, it's the core of the show. Admittedly, the entire reason I even gave this anime my attention is because of Digibro--specifically, a video he made where he outlines the kinds of things he wants out of romance anime--and the notion he brings up about romantic couples who have rich, detailed lives outside of (and affected by) the romance. It turns out that this was exactly what I was wanting out of a romance series, as well. And Snow White with the Red Hair delivered on that promise. I liked both leads, I was intrigued by their individual life paths, I genuinely wanted to see them get together, and I was invested in knowing where their relationship would lead and how their lives would be affected. That's how you know you're watching a quality romance story, ladies and gentlemen. But sadly, the series has a few major potholes it stumbles into.
Earlier when I said that I liked Shirayuki but would come back to her later? Yeah, it's because she's a character you've seen a thousand times before. She's a go-getter who's stubborn and hard-headed, she's a passionate and compassionate person who will go to any lengths to achieve her goals, she's a strong-willed champion who refuses to sit idly by while an injustice occurs, etc. Not only have you seen her before, you've seen her character arc before--she has to learn to accept help from others, she realizes she can't do everything herself, and so on. And she is basically instantly beloved by everyone she meets, except that stuffy old Lord Haruka, the uptight bastard, but he'll get his comeuppance! How dare he not instantly worship at the altar of Shirayuki! So yeah, she's certainly someone who's hard to hate, but purely from a writing perspective, she makes me want to vomit. And very little in this world makes me want to vomit.
Now, remember how I said the show's warm and inviting atmosphere had its own downfall? Well, that comes in the form of what I like to call the Brady Bunch Syndrome: Any problem or conflict that occurs will be a minor road-block at best, and is resolved with impossible ease by the end of the episode. With the exception of the aforementioned Mitsuhide episode (which itself is undone by the fact that it's a flashback), there are never any real life-or-death dangers, so any narrative stakes that appear are barely stakes at all. I never once felt that any antagonistic force in the series would prevail--and sure, okay, it's pretty common that they never do prevail, but at least other titles give off the illusion that they will, but we don't even get that here.
And ultimately, this leads to probably the most damning statement I can make about Snow White with the Red Hair: Unlike its protagonist's rare red hair, it doesn't stand out from the crowd. It has no raison d'etre, so to speak. Yes, it's a series that's competently made. Yes, it's got a cast of likable characters. Yes, it's a romance anime that nails the romance aspect. But those don't make a great anime--they merely make a good one that offers only what I would consider slightly above the minimum requirements of being good entertainment. There is a second season to Snow White with the Red Hair that I could have watched alongside this season, but I have no desire to. I haven't gotten anything out of this title that I couldn't get from others, and why should I continue to linger on a good anime when I could just shift gears and continue looking for great anime?
That's my final word on Snow White with the Red Hair. By all means, if romance is something you crave in your anime, then you'll no doubt have a great time here. This is very much an essential title for fans of the genre, and don't let my whinging scare you off if that's what you primarily seek. The only other segment I can give this a glowing recommendation to are anime fans who are just absolutely desperate for medieval fantasy in their anime, so here ya go. And if you guys end up enjoying this series, well, as I said, there's a second season to whet your appetite with. As for me, I did have a good time in the end, but I very much doubt I'll be thinking about this one a month from now. I'll have gone on to search for greater heights in both the romance and fantasy genres.
Final Score: 7 out of 10. While it doesn't do much to distinguish itself among its peers, Snow White with the Red Hair is nonetheless a pleasant and vibrant fantasy romance experience that will appeal greatly to fans of those genres.