Akagami no Shirayuki-hime Review
World Building Done Right
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or the English “Snow White with the Red Hair”, was a breath of fresh anime in a time where nothing but heavy fantasy, time travel, and generic shounen was coming out. Typically, shoujo anime isn’t my number one genre of anime, but some of them do have a special place in my heart… cough Honey and Clover and Blue Spring Ride cough. That said, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or just “Shirayuki” as I’m going to refer to it, would probably be one of my favorites. It has a light touch of romance, is set in a fantasy world with the right amount of differences and similarities to our world, and has engaging characters with meaningful relationships. So here begins my Akagami no Shirayuki-hime review!
Oddly enough, most of what really hits home for Shirayuki was the expert, yet suble, use of the setting. Even though the world of Shirayuki isn’t explained in depth, you’ll see glimpses of complex economies and royal hierarchies that will make you yearn for more. I found myself wishing that Holo the Wise Wolf and Kraft Lawrence (of Spice and Wolf) would show up and take me on an adventure to show me the intricacies of the world. Alas, they sadly did not and I had to settle for what Shirayuki decided to show me. Which wasn’t so bad, actually. (But seriously can I please have a third season to Spice and Wolf?)
It is produced by Bones, so the animation and voice acting quality is second to none. It really shines in the infrequent moments of physical conflict. Also, it is worth noting that this Akagami no Shirayuki-hime review will cover both the first and second seasons. I will also recommend to anyone that watches the first season and even somewhat enjoys it, the second season is better in several ways. Don’t worry, I’ll outline the differences below.
Shirayuki is pretty straight forward as far as shoujo anime go. Obviously, romance is the main portion of plot, but it really doesn’t sidestep romantic developments like I’ve seen in many other shoujo and romantic comedies. Shirayuki is a girl from the country with a love of botany and Zen is a young prince doing his best to grow into a competent leader. Of course, danger draws people closer together, so as you may expect, a rescue is involved which leads rather blandly to romantic feelings. With this, very early on, Shirayuki is established as a rather independent character; she helps to rescue Prince Zen, which is a nice change from the usual formula. She is by no means strong, super smart, or even all that unique (except for her rare red hair). Shirayuki is entirely average, competent, thoughtful, and determined. To have a fantasy plot driven by a mostly average person in a well made world is a wonderful breath of fresh air.
While the plot revolves around their relationship, it also follows the development of Shirayuki very closely. Their relationship is not without problems because that wouldn’t be interesting, but unlike a lot of other shoujo that I’ve seen, they aren’t ever stupid – the problems or the people dealing with them. Mostly, the issues arise from Zen’s political position and also from his other family member’s disapproval of Shirayuki, and the resolutions are often both creative and helpful to the development of the main characters.
Outside of following the relationship between Shirayuki and Zen, there are some interesting sub-plots that explore the world quite well. These little subplots and excursions are where Shirayuki really shines to me, despite them being a part of my main gripe of the show (I know, weird, right?). They usually take on the formula of developing a minor character into something a little more important. While this seems like it could be annoying, pretty much all–if not all–of the characters are brought back in the future to serve a higher purpose. So yea, it is a little annoying, but it isn’t necessarily the aspect that rips Shirayuki from greatness. It’s just the catalyst.
There was a nagging question burning in my mind the entire time of watching both seasons: “WHY?” There isn’t much of a goal to achieve, problem to solve, or villain to overcome. The only real reason to keep watching is to see what the characters do. Sure, this formula works for some shows, Shirayuki included, but that doesn’t make it okay. There is a lot of wasted potential. The world is developed neatly enough to have a thoughtful goal of some sort, but there simply isn’t. There is never enough of a threat to the relationship between Zen and Shirayuki to make the fate of their relationship a question. Even the subplots, while intriguing and well done, just don’t have enough of a drive to keep me completely pulled in.
At the end of the day, it really doesn’t detract too much from the experience. The story isn’t wrapped up by the end of the second season, and even though it was really enjoyable to watch, I didn’t necessarily yearn for any more.
Bones really makes Shirayuki grabbing. Watching fantasy anime can often just be a multi-color story experience where the world exists inconsistently and incoherently just to drive the story. For a fake, shallow experience this style is great. Don’t get me wrong, they can be done well, like in Rokka no Yuushu which I really enjoyed. Compared to Shirayuki however, there is a stark contrast. The consistent world with a consistent style holds the homely story of Shirayuki together like a beautiful, polished leather (though not too exotic).
The art style, the music, and everything that Bones puts into the surface of Shirayuki makes the world feel familiar, plausible, and real. The story, like I said, is just nice. It’s not too simple, it’s not overbearing, it’s just right. The two aspects of this show complement each other perfectly; more so than anything else I think I’ve seen.
The voice acting, however isn’t really anything to write home about; everyone did a great job at portraying mostly normal people. Saori Hayami, the voice of Shirayuki, does an especially good job at making Shirayuki sound completely average. Depending on who you are, this could come across as a good thing or a bad thing.
First vs. Second Season:
The first season really set the tone, and it did great job. All of the characters were established; each with their specific place in the hierarchy of royalty. While this didn’t really give it time to shine where it was most strong, it really helped set the tone perfectly for the events of season 2. The first season focuses much more heavily on the supporting characters, which was arguably its strongest point.
When season 2 began, I was unsure what to expect. It really surprised me when it broke away from the typical shoujo formula to explore some subplots relating to the main character. As I mentioned before, these subplots where what really made Shirayuki great for me, despite the overarching sense of pointlessness. As the season continued, I found that I was really enjoying the immersion that it created in the setting and with the characters.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is difficult for me to assign a value to. I can, without a doubt, recommend it to anyone looking for a shoujo that doesn’t follow all of the typical shoujo themes. It certainly isn’t for everyone with its fantastical depictions of some of the characters, pseudo-complicated royal structure, and a few uninspired themes. I can’t call it super attention grabbing either. That said, if you enjoy shoujo or a well designed setting, I can absolutely recommend Shirayuki.