Watch Wednesday

Watch Wednesday #12: Snow White with the Red Hair

When I was little, I was incredibly keen on the idea of a prince coming and sweeping me off my feet.  I remember getting into bed one night and realizing that I had forgotten to brush my teeth.  I thought, “Meh, whatever, I’m going to sleep,” but as I snuggled in I thought, “Wait, what if tonight’s the night that a prince climbs in through my window to kiss me awake?  The night I didn’t brush my teeth.”

I immediately got out of bed and brushed my teeth that night.  The what-if of a prince was clearly a strong motivator, and it got me to brush my teeth every night just in case my fantasies actually happened.

I was a weird kid.

To be honest, my love for princes and princesses hasn’t tamed one bit since I was a kid.  There’s still such a thrill, watching the classic Disney princess movies.  The giddy feelings never seem to dissipate!  So, when I discovered an anime that had that same sort of feel, I hopped right on that bandwagon.

Snow White with the Red Hair

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or Snow White with the Red Hair, is a long title that, honestly, left me feeling not too interested in investing in the series.  It just seems, I don’t know, oversimplified?  Like, “Hey, this is totes the story of Snow White, but–WAIT FOR IT–her hair is red!”  When I finally gave in and began to read the manga series, I was suddenly like, “Okay, I really like this.”

Snow White with the Red Hair is an extremely loose adaptation of its namesake fairy tale.  The story follows Shirayuki, whose burning red hair is a strange sight for anyone to behold.  Although her hair seems to only draw unnecessary and wholly unwanted attention, Shirayuki has carved out a nice life for herself in spite of that as the herbalist of her town.

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Unfortunately, her kingdom’s buffoon of a prince, Raj, has heard tales of her unique hair and has decided to that he must have her as his concubine.  A palace guard alerts Shirayuki to her fate, demanding that she present herself to the prince the next morning.

Shirayuki decides that, rather than becoming the mistress of a prince, she would rather flee the country.  As she makes preparations to leave, she decides the give the prince exactly what he was after in the first place.  Shirayuki cuts her long, red hair, leaving it as a farewell token for Prince Raj.

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As Shirayuki travels across the border, she meets a handsome young man named Zen and his two companions, Mitsuhide and Kiki, who invite her to stay with their party.  Zen can tell that Shirayuki is clearly running from something, and Shirayuki hesitantly reveals the situation with the prince of her home country.  Zen is appalled, but not surprised–apparently the dirty character of Prince Raj is well-known.  However, it isn’t until a basket of shiny red apples appears, adorned with the ribbon she used to tie her hair, that Shirayuki realizes the real trouble of her situation.  Prince Raj isn’t going to stop trying to find her.

Shirayuki laments her red hair, but Zen tells her that red is the color of fate, and that perhaps it will bring her to good fortune in the end.  To prove his point, Zen takes a bite of a bruised apple, only to realize that it has been poisoned.  He collapses to the ground as the palace guard from the night prior shows up, insisting that Shirayuki come with him if she wants the antidote.  She agrees.

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Shirayuki meets with Prince Raj, and she tells him that he can have her, but she’s not going to be a nice girl about it.  Zen bursts through the door, revealing not only that he’s worked up an immunity to poisons, but that he’s also a prince–the second prince of Clarines–to which Prince Raj responds with an immediate retreat.

Shirayuki apologizes to Zen, saying that his words were beautiful but in the end the red was only a poison to him.  He laughs, saying that just because the apple and her hair were colored the same, it didn’t make her poisonous.  He said that clearly fate crossed their paths, but that she could choose whether they continued to walk together or not.  Shirayuki decides she wants to go with him, and thus begins what is clearly an epic shoujo romance.

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Snow White has a lot of things going for it.  First, it’s beautiful.  The animation, done by Bones, Inc., an anime studio that has some wickedly experienced chops.  Their adaptation of the manga’s style is gorgeous, full of detailed scenery and strong character design.  They don’t skimp on the details, that’s for sure, and it’s all very alluring on screen.

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The series also works hard at making lead Shirayuki more than just a damsel in distress.  While Shirayuki faces continuous trouble due to her hair, including prejudice and, yes, people trying to capture her to sell her, you’re most often watching her figure her way out of those situations on her own.  Shirayuki has a true skill set that she continually works to her advantage.  Rather than being a show about a weak girl who becomes strong, Snow White is about a strong girl who becomes stronger through love.

Although sometimes Shirayuki can give off a bit of “Mary Sue” personality, I do see her as someone who’s always had to work hard to prove herself.  Her hair has been a blight on her attempts at choosing her own path in life, and to have someone telling her that she has the ability to choose empowers her to work harder for what she wants in life.  While it is normal to expect a more flawed main character, Shirayuki’s base strength is refreshing.  I feel like I haven’t seen a strong female main character in a shoujo anime in a long time, so I enjoy watching Shirayuki just be a woman with a lot to offer at the get-go.

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The real strength in the show is its portrayal of the relationships between characters.  The cast of Snow White is full of unique people, all affecting each other as they develop.  Shirayuki and Zen’s relationship is obviously the most interesting (hello, shoujo).  They show how powerful that instant connection you can make with another person can be.

Zen and Shirayuki obviously have a lot of chemistry, but rather than immediately confessing their undying attraction for each other, they both simply agree that they want to know more about these feelings.  The majority of the first season sets up their relationship as they build their friendship beyond cultural barriers put forth by an aging hierarchy.  For them, the feelings involved in their budding friendship is worth it, regardless of any societal taboos.

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Another great thing about Snow White is that the side characters don’t feel excessive or pointless.  Each character has an arc, and each character has a place in building other character’s arcs.  Everyone is connected and has a purpose.  While there are some slower episodes that are more politics-of-the-court focused, they’re still building in a sense that we are able garner greater understanding about how these characters’ minds work.

Snow White with the Red Hair is a warm, cozy anime that is everything that’s great about shoujo while at the same time challenging certain cliches just enough to make it fresh.  Every episode has me cooing and gushing to the screen, and I love that feeling.  It’s a true romance story that has perfect touches of politics, drama, and action, all wrapped up in a very, very beautiful package.

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What do you think makes a great shoujo anime?

2 thoughts on “Watch Wednesday #12: Snow White with the Red Hair

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