Snow White with the Red Hair (Season 1)
Being pushed into a corner by the egotistical, selfish Prince Raji of her hometown Tanbarun -- who wanted her as his concubine due to her red hair, and because what Raj wants, Raj gets -- Shirayuki instead chooses to run away. In a cabin in the neighboring surrounding, she meets Prince Zen (though she didn't know he was a Prince at the time), and after some back and forth involving the poisoning of said Prince, she accepts his offer of moving into Clarines to further her study in medicine.
I've read my share of classic tales myself -- my home country made a ton of them, after all, as did our neighbors, the Danes -- so I'm certainly familiar with the concept of a classic tale. Granted, I've never read Snow White (though I have seen the Disney feature), nor have I read the one mentioned in the notes section, Snow White and Rose Red. What I can tell is that a lot of the stories I used to read is about various leads gaining the Prince/Princess of the kingdom and everything that goes with that. In the case where a male character had to win the Princess, those were usually a case of the male lead facing and conquering some kind of challenge -- or several challenges -- and he'd be given the hand of the Princess as a reward. It's an iffy concept that goes beyond the whole "political marriage" aspect of the deal, though the offer would come with a downside probably made to discourage every dipbrained moron from making a try: if you failed said challenge (if said challenge isn't something that could kill you) you'd usually face some kind of severe punishment (usually having your back carved up and salt and other spices poured into the open wound before you'd be chased off the ground.)
A female character would usually face... far less challenges, at least if she was pretty (which she usually was.) A female character would usually win the hand of her Prince, and as long as she was kind and generous (which she also usually was), people or creatures would pop out of the woodwork to help her face whatever challenges there to spice the story up. Of course, there'd be the occasional changeup, like the one where Espen Askeladd (one of the most common male leads in old folk tales) win the Princess by facing her in a verbal duel; I.E. he had to actually outwit her, which implies that he was "winning" himself an intelligent bride, as her sharp tongue was more or less seen as a good thing. I also remember an old tale that started out from the view of a King heading off to a war he didn't think he'd win, so he basically made a promise that if he did, he'd marry the first girl he met on his way home. And since he did survive, he kept his promise by marrying a girl who was sitting in a tree (for some reason -- old Scandinavian tales can be rather... weird at times.) Not to worry, though, because she cleaned up rather nicely once they got her down from the tree and into a bathtub, and from that point on, the main viewpoint changed from the King to his Queen, and said Queen was banished from the Kingdom due to the machinations of people who did NOT want to see her as their Queen. In a rare diversion, said woman did NOT take her banishment sitting down, so the rest of the tale was basically about her taking action to uncover who set her up and have them exposed to the King and his staff, because sometimes -- even in old folk tales -- you screw a girl over, you better be prepared to pay the piper. I really wish I remembered the name of that tale. I'm sure Nicoletta would've loved reading it.
My main worry about watching this show is that I feared it would end up being a bit too much like another shoujo-ish show I had bought; The World is Still Beautiful, which, while a fairly decent show, follows the shoujo trope of "the female lead must save the male love interest from himself", which is sort of a mildly irritating Mary Sue-ish trope to apply. Thankfully, Snow White with the Red Hair never really goes there. As Nicoletta mentioned, Shirayuki isn't a fighter, but she has developed a talent for medicine that she's allowed to work further on as the show goes along. In some ways, Shirayuki reminds me a lot of Erin from Beast Player Erin with herbalism instead of animal care. As with many leads of old, Scandinavian tales, she's very kind and generous, but unlike most of said leads, she also wants to do things, things that includes educating herself. (Hence my comparison to Erin.) In short, Snow White with the Red Hair has managed to make a compelling female lead who isn't automatically awesome at everything, and while the show started out with Zen having to save her from kidnappers or people who want to control her, that was mostly just the beginning of the show. Shirayuki and Zen basically lean on each other for support about equally, which makes their eventual romance all the sweeter for it.
The nice thing Snow White with the Red Hair has over The World is Still Beautiful is that the show really is more about people building their lives on an individual level, and those aspects of our characters' lives meld together in a way that's both believable and natural. Shirayuki uses her skills in medicine to help Zen, then Zen acknowledges that and uses his status as a Prince of a larger country to get Raj off her back for good. She moves into his country to practice medicine some more, which impresses him enough that he has her help him with various missions along the borders of his home. Shirayuki is a very self-assured girl who knows what she wants to do, but she never has this attitude that she knows people better than they know themselves, while Zen might be a Prince in his country, he doesn't really try to control anyone outside of what is expected in whatever station of duty is normal; I.E. he brings Shirayuki along to a border station because he needs to figure out what has happened there, and he needs her skills in medicine to do that.
The art and animation seems fine for the most part. The art style leans towards the general style of shoujo I rather like, and the whole thing takes place in a pretty nice representation of a fairly light-colored city and its lush surrounding countryside. The show is slow-paced enough that it can concentrate on its more action-packed sequences without looking terrible, and I don't really remember anything being off-model at any point. Since Nico made a point of mentioning that the music was forgettable, I put in extra effort to pay attention to it, and it's... fairly decent, if somewhat typical as orchestral music for fantasy shows, the standout pieces being some piano-and-violin pieces during the more emotional moments. It's nice, but it isn't the sort of thing you remember when the show is done, unlike the music from shows like Aria or Haibane Renmei. Or Cowboy Bebop.
As Nico mentioned, the show is very feminist friendly, but in a rather overt way that don't beat you over the head with it. Raj wants Shirayuki for her hair, and.... well, he wants her as a concubine, which is a "nice" way to say "girl he wants to have sex with whenever he feels like it", but so far, he seems to be one of the few with that attitude. (Since I haven't watched season 2 yet -- it'd have to be released on DVD/Bluray for me to be able to do so -- I haven't gotten to the slave trade part yet.) The show seems to treat women educating themselves and holding positions of power as perfectly normal; Shirayuki earns her position in the college on her own accord, and the lead Professor in said college is also a woman, which nobody seems to notice or comment on. Zen does give her special privilegies at first -- she's allowed to enter the Palace/Castle grounds without a permit -- but the show sort of treats that as an understandable reaction from the Prince's side, but still an issue of him doing something he isn't supposed to do, and the show acknowledges that (and allows Shirayuki to resolve that issue in her own way.)
On more of a downside, Snow White with the Red Hair can be rather... unsubtle on its own way. The show is called Snow White with the RED Hair, and boy, does it talk about that at times. People, from regular towners to hilariously rude children, will stop, gasp and stare. "Look at that RED hair." "Whoa, that hair sure is RED." "With that RED hair, we will totally get the fame we deserve." The show does go there on occasion, and it proves a weirdly sharp lack of subtlety in a show that's otherwise fairly laid back and natural about its dialogue. It's not like Snow White with the Red Hair has a lot of unusual hair colors, though Zen's light shade of grey-ish brown is unusual in its own, especially given that he's a young man. Outside of that, Shirayuki will point out from time to time that she's finally walking her own path in a rather weirdly metaphorical way. There's nothing really wrong with any of them pointing this out, but they're basically talking about things we can see for ourselves, and given how much I like this show, I can't help but feel disappointed that it feels like it needs to point out the obvious to me. (It also trots out some pretty clammy romantic cliché's in an otherwise sweet confession moment, but eh... I can live with that.)
It's a minor complaint, though, because overall, Snow White with the Red Hair is a lovely show that I basically devoured in two sittings. It's a bit more slice-of-life-ish than The World is Still Beautiful, which I actually appreciated a lot; that the show didn't devolve into constant back-and-forth's between Zen needing to open up and Shirayuki needing to be saved from the kidnapper of the episode, both scenes and aspects usually played out for the benefit of the female lead. I also appreciated that the banter between Zen's two closest aides, Rouen and Kiki, have been fairly benign. Rouen comes across as a bit hapless and weak-willed, while Kiki is more of a stereotypical badass female, but the show later subverts this, and while Kiki is more likely to tease Rouen, said teasing is always the mild, non-meanspirited kind. It's easy to see why Zen wants to keep the two of them around.
Shirayuki and Zen also have more important people in their lives. Upon entering the "college" (it's referred to as a pharmacy, but it also works as an education facility), Shirayuki meets Garack Gazelt, the aforementioned female head of the institution, plus Ryuu, a young and somewhat outwards emotionless young boy who's also a genius with plants and becomes Shirayuki's mentor during her stay. There's also Obi, who initially works for one of the Palace higher-ups who try to get Shirayuki evicted from the palace, but is later placed under the servitude of Zen, who makes him Shirayuki's bodyguard. He is one of the most intelligent characters in the show, at least when it comes to the happenings in the kingdom, which is natural, since he seems to be working as a spy/ninja/secret agent of sorts. He seems to be the sly sort, but he does also become one of Shirayuki's supporters, and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually falls in love with her, if he hasn't already done so by the end of the first season.
Zen also has a brother, whom seem to be the controlling type with a rather heavy "royality and commoners shouldn't connect" attitude, though his introduction also shows him to be a rather benevolent kind, saving two regions or kingdoms from their corrupt and greedy government officials, though he claims to have done that for his own amusement. For now, he seems dead set on separating Zen and Shirayuki, but he doesn't seem entirely unreasonable either, so anything can happen, I guess. It helps that the show acknowledges that any relationship between Zen and Shirayuki will come with its share of problems due to the class difference -- or rather, the fact that Zen is one of the ruling class -- and Snow White with the Red Hair is actually good enough not to just handwave it away with a "love will solve all your problems for you" generalisation.
Most of the episodes in Snow White with the Red Hair has been fairly self-contained, though they do occasionally mesh over a bit -- for instance, one episode introduces a character who presents an issue about her home that needs to be resolved, and the following episode follows up on that with a different, if somewhat related event. The show has action in it, but I wouldn't necessarily call it action filled. Nico called parts of it slow-paced, but I think that was mostly a reference to events in the second season. I'm always been a fan of slice-of-life-ish shows, and I appreciated that Snow White with the Red Hair leaned on that, though it does make me a little bit worried for the second season if I ever get a chance to watch that.
Bottom line: I absolutely adored this show. It has compelling and infinitely rootable characters, a story that knows when to keep its calm and when to step it up some, and even had the decency to end off on a relatively relaxing note with its cast taking some time off and having fun. Please bring on the second season as a physical release, because I definitely want more of this.
Endearing and fun, with a compelling cast. It's a shoujo fantasy gem. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The show is fairly light in terms of violence, the most severe example being how a group of people who came seeking revenge for the actions of Zen's brother were handled. Other than that, some people might not know what a "concubine" is, and those people is probably not old enough to watch this show either.
Version(s) Viewed: Region A Bluray, bilingual.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Snow White with the Red Hair (Season 1) © 2015 Sorata Akiduki, HAKUSENSHA/Akagami Project
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