With every season, there’s at least one stand out show in the shoujo genre. With the Summer 2015 anime season that trend shows no sign of buckling. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is another shoujo fantasy romance series that is just plain good, worth your time and has enough originality to set it apart from the pack. And its also equally good for both male and female viewers. That’s something that recent offerings in the shoujo genre have been pretty good about, but much like Ore Monogatari, what makes Akagami no Shirayuki-hime truly special is how it goes against convention and challenges classic tropes and cliches in interesting ways.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this series is in its two leads, Shirayuki and Zen. Shirayuki is an interesting combination of cheerful, earnest and good natured combined with a great sense of independence and security. There’s even a bit of naivety mixed in, for good measure but… Its those traits that really make Shirayuki a very likable main character. She’s perhaps the least flawed shoujo heroine to come out in a while, but there’s a pretty earnest quality to her that’s refreshing to see. In some ways, she’s like Nike from Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, but without the more tomboyish or head strong aspects. I suppose its a bit hard to describe, but the way Shirayuki is as a character is one of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime’s strengths.
And while the show has a very progressive, likable girl as its primary protagonist, the contrast really sets in when you get into the realities of the world that the show is set in. Its a classic Medievil fantasy setting, a weird mesh of Eastern and Asian influences, but still very much set in the middle ages. There’s the classic downgrading of women, the overwhelming unfairness of royalty to the common man and many of the classic trappings of such a setting.
Shirayuki’s story itself, actually starts with a local Prince fetishizing her for her red hair, and wanting to make her his concubine. Its an interesting choice, because a very politically correct primary character set in a world that is very much not of the same ilk… Makes for a bit of a jarring introduction to the world. Shirayuki’s only choice to avoid becoming someone’s “property” is to run away from her home, afterall.
In classic shoujo protagonist fashion, however, while Shirayuki’s quick witted and pretty adaptive to the situation, she doesn’t exactly have a huge plan to go on. The best she does is escape to a house a few miles away from her town, across the border. Its here that Shirayuki meets the show’s hero, and equally likable protagonist Zen.
Zen’s got the classic traits of a likable shoujo male lead. He’s likable, he’s got a sense of adventure, he’s kind and there’s that youthful boyish charm, naivety and witt. More than anything, the guy exudes confidence without coming off as vain. A humble prince that’s pretty good looking, capable and nice. What puts Zen a cut above the rest, however, is in how he treats Shirayuki. There’s not an ounce of sexism or derogatory behavior in this guy. He values Shirayuki as a person, respects and befriends her. The resulting chemistry that happens between the two, therefore, is just so natural, organic and magical.
The first episode, beyond just chronicling the meeting, also throws a few interesting nods to western literature and storytelling. There’s a clear play on the whole poison apple thing, which serves as a macguffin to force Shirayuki to return to the disgusting prince that can’t seem to stop pestering her. Zen being poisoned at first is interesting, because it adds a sense of tension and pain to the whole ordeal.
Things go pretty standard from there, with Zen coming in at the perfect moment to save Shirayuki and free her from her dreaded problem. From there on, Shirayuki ends up going with Zen to his country… but NOT as his lover or love interest.
Another exceedingly refreshing element about Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is in how well placed and organic the romance between its two leads really is. There’s an undeniable attraction, but because of the way Zen and Shirayuki are, there’s an almost laid back quality to it all. There’s no bold declarations of love, no jumping the gun to a huge confession. These are two people who enjoy each other’s company, respect one another and are keen to get closer.
In essence, there’s development and progress, without it feeling too ham-fisted or rushed. The pacing for the romance is just right. The show is content with taking its time, going at everything in a very carefree, calm manner, something that is personified in its two main characters.
Now, if you were like me, the first episode probably felt strong but wasn’t a complete sell. There’s the looming question of whether Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is just going to retread classic shoujo situations with its unique mix of progressive characters and a backwards world. Episode two though… That’s really a bit of a game changer.
The focus isn’t just on Shirayuki and Zen as a potential couple. Episode two goes a long way towards defining them both as people and individuals, rather than just love stricken romantics. The first episode definitely features Shirayuki’s herbal medicine occupation as a valid part of the story, but the second one really brings it home. Shirayuki is a passionate individual that aspires to get somewhere. She wants to be a great Herbalist, and the thirst for learning and new frontiers is great to see.
Zen does take a bit of a backseat, but we nonetheless get an idea of the fact that this is a young prince that really does want to do right by his people and become someone that can make a difference in the world. There is the whole playing hookey aspect to his personality, but the show wisely laces that with a genuine yearn for Zen to really want to understand things that go beyond his castle walls.
And once again, the second episode has Shirayuki really fall into problems because of her red hair. You can argue the symbolism for what the whole red hair element of the story stands for, but I personally just see it for the simple thing it is. Shirayuki is different, and because of that, garners unnecessary attention. Its a better choice, in my mind, than say focusing on her beauty or giving her unique powers because the red hair thing seems a lot more believable and relatable.
And despite that, it seems like Zen is very much comfortable with letting Shirayuki venture into the world and find her way. I really like, no LOVE the fact that Zen escorts Shirayuki, but doesn’t hang around or trail her in an effort to “protect her”. Again, its the whole nice idea of treating Shirayuki as a person, with her own wants, dreams and goals, and less about treating her as someone that needs to be protected.
And the reason I keep harping on this is that so few Anime, even in the Shoujo genre, handle this with the same level of class as this show. Shirayuki ventures into the forest to learn more about herbs, and Zen wishes her a good journey and goes about his own business. Zen has things to do too, and its good that his time with Shirayuki inspires him to do better and strive harder, something that’s extremely healthy in the best of situations.
It also stands to reason that when Shirayuki gets captured by this week’s villain Mihaya, Zen doesn’t immediately know, and is therefore delayed in the whole rescue attempt.
And in another rare moment, Akagami no Shirayuki allows its main female lead to deal with her own predicament. And MAN! Does Shirayuki impress. From slowly cutting her own ropes, to totally outclassing Mihaya every step of the way, its hard not to root for her escape and success. Its hard not to be impressed by her quick thinking, and analytical thought amidst a pretty grim situation. And more than anything, its great to see her continue to fight and not give up despite repeatedly being boxed into a bad situation.
Shirayuki does manage to escape the old mansion that she’s been kept in entirely by herself, and that’s no small feat. It doesn’t sting, therefore, when Mihaya does catch up to her and its Zen that ends up saving the day after that.
Zen does save Shirayuki, and in doing so we learn of Mihaya’s own backstory and motivations. I’ll admit, this is the one element of the story that didn’t quite hit a home run for me. For whatever pain and hardships Mihaya faced, its still pretty inexcusable to have him treat Shirayuki as a tool for his own profit, and to just generally kidnap someone with the intent to “present them” to someone and then serve as her personal guard. The whole thing reeks of selfishness and a lack of respect for her as a person.
Thankfully, Zen gets to utter his coolest line yet: “Shirayuki is not a tool for anyone.” Its such a wonderful sentiment, that it brings Shirayuki to shed a tear in happiness. I think if there was a point where Zen just won brownie points, its here. From there on, Mihaya is taken away, and Shirayuki and Zen share a nice moment atop a bridge.
Its here that we learn what the “place” that Shirayuki intends to go to, and its a place where she’s able to observe Zen and how he lives his life. Its clear that Shirayuki is taken with Zen, and interested in him, but I like the essence of the idea. The central theme of this series is choice, and Shirayuki is choosing to be near Zen, to understand him and grow close to him, while continuing to become her own person. And in a similar way, its Zen’s own wish to be able to share that place with the girl that he’s taken a liking to.
All in all, I’d say that Akagami no Shirayuki doesn’t fail to impress. While I was a bit unsure about the level of this show from its first episode, the second episode has made it clear. This is a top tier show, and another solid win for Studio BONES. BONES in recent years hasn’t quite done anything that I’ve truly loved, with most of the shoujo shows going to Studio Perriot, Manglobe or Madhouse. Its great to see BONES rejoin the fray.
Generally, there’s the whole “three episode rule” to decide where an anime falls on the quality spectrum, but I think Akagami is one of those rare shows that makes its case in two. Nuff said, this is a show worth watching, worth blogging, and I intend to do just that.
And I’m aware that there’s some different from the source manga, but seeing as I haven’t read it myself, I’ll be looking to manga readers to fill in the blanks WITHOUT spoiling. Here’s to more Akagami no Shirayuki-hime in the coming weeks.
OP [Yasashii Kibou] by Saori Hayami:
This is a pretty great, solid and upbeat OP theme song, that really matches the series tone perfectly. The animation is classic BONES at their top form, with a few classic romantic moments thrown in with a general look at the cast of characters. I like it, I like it a lot.
ED [Kizuna ni Nosete] by Eyelis:
Following the OP theme, the ED by Eyelis beautifully matches the tone of the series. There’s an extra element of playfulness here, one that works as a great way to cap off the show each week. And those visuals! GORGEOUS! Especially those solo illustrations of Shirayuki and Zen. Solid stuff.
Seems like next episode is going to take more of a look at Zen and his unique life as a prince, and how it relates to everything else. Sounds like a plan Akagami No Shiryuki-hime… Is it next week yet? XD
Posted by setsuken
Posted on July 14, 2015 at 5:38 am
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