|Amazingly organic love story, Endearing world, great characters||Derails a bit in its second half before getting its mojo back|
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is the curious tale of two halves. The fantasy shoujo romance show was another one of those split cour series that had its first cour in Summer of one year and the second one in the winter of the other. The most interesting aspect about this show, however, beyond the fact that its generally pretty darn good, is how contrasting these two cours really are, and how the second is barely able to live up to the precedent set up by the first.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a good show, maybe even a great one. A show with a good cast of characters, an organic, well built romance story and a world that is easy to get lost in. And for about 12 consistent episodes, it very much fits that bill. The show is nearly perfect, with a sense of tranquility and calm, a feeling of ease and comfort that very few stories can ever generate. The atmosphere of this show, and its rather mature and restrained build up of the core romance between its two central characters, Shirayuki and Zen, is what undoubtedly sets it apart from most other shows and stories of the same ilk.
Zen and Shirayuki (the show’s lead characters) are the core and the heart of the story, and as far as two central lead characters go, they stand out in an exemplary manner. Shirayuki’s the confident, independent girl that’s a rarity in the shoujo genre in general, but what makes her truly remarkable is the fact that she is able to be the confident, independant character while maintaining the traditional femininity of a romance story heroine.
Shirayuki (the character) is a female character creator having his/her cake, and eating it too. She’s as close to a perfect female character as I’ve seen thus far. A character that’s able to be pretty, interesting, confident, nice, shy and vulnerable while continuing to surprise and impress with each new challenge that she faces. And yes, I said she’s the perfect character, not the perfect woman or girl because as anyone with any fiction writing experience will tell you, a good character has pluses and minuses like any other person.
No, what makes Shirayuki so great is the fact that she’s a very likable person in how she’s constructed. And as if to compliment her, Zen, the hero of the story, is himself equally as interesting and well done of a character. Zen’s a more typical shoujo prince character, one who’s confident, reliable but who also tends to have a more brash and immature side to him. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and has his own issues and challenges, but its in how he, much like Shirayuki, rises to each challenge, that makes him so endearing.
And of course, as with any good couple, Zen and Shirayuki have terrific chemistry whenever they’re on screen together. Bringing out the best in one another, supporting one another, and acting both in parallel and for one another, in the most admirable and likable of ways, is the heart and soul of this story. But while Zen and Shirayuki are the highlight and the draw of this anime series, they don’t do it alone.
World building and supporting characters are one of the anime medium’s biggest strengths, and Akagami no Shirayuk-hime doesn’t disappoint. An excellent cast of supporting characters such as Mitsuhide and Kiki (Zen’s friends and attendants), Ryu (a young prodigy at herbal medicine) and Obi (an assasin befriended by Zen and Shirayuko) lead the charge as characters that both add color to every event in the story, and the world in general.
That’s nothing to say of characters like Izana (Zen’s older brother and the first crowned prince) and Raj (Another prince) who end up starting as sort of antagonists, and become something a lot less clearer as time goes on. That’s another thing that’s just unique to Shirayuki-hime and its world; No character is truly evil, and none of them are without redemption. Its something that shouldn’t work, and couldn’t work in reality, but Akagami no Shirayuki-hime uses every trick in the writing book to just… sell it.
Speaking of the world, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a show that’s brought to life in a magnificent, BEAUTIFUL fashion by Studio Bones. Everything about this series, throughout its two cour run time, is marked by impressive, dreamy visuals. The use of color and light creates moods and a sense of atmosphere that’s always a feast for the eyes. The animation doesn’t trail too far behind, and while its not quite as eye catching as the gorgeous art direction and character designs, it does keep pace with and support the story itself.
The music is just as effective, blending in effortlessly with the story, and creating a viewing experience that is the very definition of immersive.The voice acting, is of course, exemplary as well, with nearly every voice actor delivering the same kind of stellar performance that you expect from a top tier anime production. The production values as a whole, are a slave to the central narrative of love and romance. They’re the sort of slave that does indeed end up breaking its back to support it all till the end. And its to Studio BONES credit that no particular aspect of the production derails or goes against the core values of this show, but rather support it, augments it and exemplifies it at every turn.
Now, I say all of that, and I praise the show, but there is one slight caveat. While the production and animation of the show remain impressive throughout, with very few notable dips in quality, its the story, that remains a bit uneven. While the central appeal of the show, i.e Shirayuki and Zen is never quite lost, the story itself does derail a bit in the second half.
That brings us to that tale of two halves that I mentioned in the beginning. See, for all the hard work and near perfection that the first cour of this show achieves, the second cour comes very close to squandering it all. At the start of the second cour, the show begins this weird transformation from its home ground of romance story, to general fantasy adventure. And its when it makes this sudden, weird and unnecessary transition, that the show ends up losing itself and dropping in quality significantly.
Simply put, the lovable characters of this show, and the world presented in Akagami no Shirayuki-hime as a whole, just don’t lend themselves well to an adventure story. The sudden divergence into adventure feels like a misstep, and one that also feels like a sudden extension of a story that was nearing its conclusion. See, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, by the end of its first cour, has established its central couple. The question is less about “are they?”, and more about “how will they?”.
And the expectation, born from the show’s exemplary build up of everything in its first 12 episodes, is that a conclusion is incoming. Yet, in the second cour, what does happen, is a detour-like adventure story that not only feels off, but ends up even sacrificing characterization and character agency for plot. As any fan of general fiction can tell you, that’s the cardinal sin of character based storytelling.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime does that in its second cour, for about 8 episodes. And those eight episodes do threaten the overall appeal of the show and story as a whole. All seems lost until… The last 4 episodes. The last 4 episodes of the second cour, and the series as a whole, are a fantastic return to form. The show almost seems to wake up from whatever weird daze its in, and course corrects itself. It brings itself back to the great point established at the end of the first cour. And then, once its there, it gives the audience enough nods and enough of a resolution, that the story itself ends up feeling satisfying.
The last few episodes are that good, and that impressive. They embody the very best parts of the show, and present them in one neat package before it all ends. And the story doesn’t end per say, but the point at which the series closes out is a nice one. You can see that the characters reaching their goal is now a forgone conclusion rather than something needing any more development. So, in a sense, the heart and soul of the story comes full circle, with the details of the conclusion itself left up to the audience’s imagination. And should the audience like to continue and see the whole story, then there’s an ongoing source manga to follow as well.
Akagami no Shirayuki’s ending is something to be commended, not only because of its rocky second cour, but also because of how satisfying and well done it is. It makes a case for ongoing manga being adapted into anime, provided they’re planned well enough and a natural stopping point is selected. Few anime series can really deliver on that idea today, and few endings ever end up feeling satisfying or complete. Akagami no Shirayuki tells a tale and brings it to a nice, satisfying end point.
And at the end of the 24 episodes, you’re left with a series that is greater than the sum of its parts. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a show that achieves greatness fairly early on, stumbles a bit, flounders for a while, and then gets back to that greatness one last time before bowing out. Is the series perfect? No. Could it have been so, had the second cour not tried to switch genres mid story? Probably. Is it still really really good and worth your time? Oh hell yes.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, despite its faults, is a show that’s just something else. It stands out as one of the best fantasy shoujo romance stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. It starts off great, has the most lovable cast of characters, and has a story that, for the most part is heartwarming, relaxing and satisfying. If you’re a fan of romance stories, than you owe it to yourself to experience the good and the bad of this show.
And even if you’re just a fan of good storytelling, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime serves as a good educational experience, one that’s both a teacher in how it develops the relationship between its two central characters, and a bit of a student in how it learns to stick to what it does best and not get too greedy. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime gets an A- Grade overall.
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