Anime Reviews: 'Snow White with the Red Hair'
Some Basic Info About the Series
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. She possesses a rare trait—her vibrant, red hair causes her to stand out in any crowd. Prince Raj, a frivolous and vain man, desperately wants 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. He is confident in his resistance to poison. It turns out that he is a prince from the neighboring kingdom of Clarines. With the help of his two retainers, he dissuades the lecherous Prince Raj from pursuing Shirayuki further. However, being inspired by Zen and his heroics, she 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, and 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 is handled far too easily; doesn't stand out
The Ugly: Being a castle guard in this universe must be the dullest job imaginable
So What Brought Me to This Series?
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 those hills? For me, slightly outside my comfort zone can equate to a romance story. That itch was satisfyingly scratched 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. I'll do my usual thing and go over where I thought the show succeeded and where it failed.
What Makes This Series a Favorite for Fans of Romance and Fantasy?
To begin, Studio Bones refuses to let us down in the visual department once again. The series boasts a vibrant and inviting art style, with 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. The character designs, as mentioned before, are very pleasing to look at. 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 quite over-the-top, etc.), the fairytale 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 strong point for the series lies with many of its chief characters. At first, Zen feels like your typical rebel prince who just wants to go on adventures and be unburdened by his title. We very quickly learn that he values both freedom and his duty to Clarines and its people. His passion to do right by them (even though his status as second prince limits him somewhat) makes him an engaging lead. His dry and snarky bodyguards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, provide both comic relief and valuable character insight through their own character moments. 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. 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 also has a negative 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. We then 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. He made a video where he outlines the kinds of things he wants out of romance anime. He brought up the idea of 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. This anime 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.
And Where Does the Series Fall Short?
Remember 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 1000 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. He is an 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 from a writing perspective, she's very tiresome. I just wish she had a little something special to bring to the table, to help her stand out more among the anime protagonist landscape.
Now, remember how I said the show's warm and inviting atmosphere had its own flaws? 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 roadblock at best, and is resolved with unsettling ease by episode's end. With the exception of the aforementioned Mitsuhide episode (which itself is undone by the fact that it's a flashback), there are rarely any real life-or-death dangers, so most of the narrative stakes that appear are barely stakes at all. I never once felt that any antagonistic force in the series would prevail. Sure, okay, it's pretty common that they never do prevail, but you're supposed to give off the illusion that they could, but we don't even get that here.
And ultimately, this leads to probably the most damning statement I can make about this anime. Unlike its protagonist's red hair, there's nothing rare here in Snow White with the Red Hair that allows it to stand out from the crowd. It has no raison d'etre, so to speak. Yes, the series is competently made. Yes, it's got a cast of likable characters. Yes, it's a romance anime that nails the romance aspect perfectly. But those don't by themselves make a great anime—they merely make a good one. Granted, there is a second season that I could have watched alongside this one, and it's possible that the quality increases greatly or the series develops more of its own personality, but I have no desire to stay and find out. There's not a lot that this series offers that I haven't already found elsewhere. Why should I continue to linger on an anime that is simply good, when I could just shift gears and continue looking for another anime that is flat-out great? Time is money, after all, and I'd rather spend my time looking for something special than sticking with something that is good but unspectacular.
So, What's the Verdict?
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 whining scare you off if that's what you seek. The only other fans I can give this a glowing recommendation to those that are just absolutely desperate for medieval fantasy in their anime. And if you guys end up enjoying this series, 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 the anime landscape, Snow White with the Red Hair is nonetheless a pleasant and vibrant fantasy anime that absolutely nails the romance aspect, making it a no-brainer for fans of that particular genre.