It’s always tempting to compare shows that are part of a genre that’s underrepresented in anime – sports, mecha (hard as that is to believe, it’s certainly the case these days) etc.. And shoujo fantasy certainly falls under that umbrella. It’s not really fair that Akagami should be measured against the likes of Soredemo Sekai and Akatsuki no Yona, but avoiding the temptation to to do so is hard.
Two episodes (and the chunk of the manga I’ve read) isn’t much to go on, but like all good series this one does have an identity that’s readily apparent. While it and Yona share an obvious link in having a red-haired protagonist (and another obvious commonality will soon be revealed), I think Akagami is definitely more temperamentally compatible with Soredemo among recent shoujo fantasy entries – but only just. They do both skew more towards the fairy tale side of the ledger (as opposed to Yona, which is more in the historical epic vein), but what really sets Akagami apart for me is that it’s quite – for lack of a better expression – laid-back.
What do I mean by that? I think that even in moments which find the main characters in peril, there isn’t a great sense of consequence here – the bad guys are either of the pantomime variety (Raj) or practically dripping with the sense that they’re redeemable (like Mihaya, who we met this week). And I think Zen reflects this sensibility very well, because he’s an incredibly laid-back guy – to a fault. I saw some refer to him as a “Marty Stu” last week, but that just seems comically inaccurate to me. The guy’s faults were apparent from the beginning – he’s brave and charming, but careless as hell. And he doesn’t seem to factor in the potential consequences of what he does.
That was again apparent this week, as we see Shirayuki starting to stretch her legs in Wistal, the capital of Clarines. She starts by looking for a job, which takes her to the local apothecary where she gets some info on the “bar exam” to become a court herbalist (she also sees this little fellow, but we’ll leave him for future discussion). She then decides to go to Koto Mountain (like much of the natural beauty in this series, depicted with a distinctly Impressionist watercolor sensibility) to study the local wild herbs, but before she does so goes to the palace to check in with Kiki and Mitsuhide – though she’s intercepted by Zen, who accompanies her down to the docks.
Watching Zen operate here is interesting. He’s got good impulses – he wants to learn more about the real country his family rules, which he understands he can only do by escaping the castle. And it’s clear in his interactions with the locals that he’s not only a familiar site in town, but a welcome one. But he’s incredibly careless about the risks he puts himself in, and in showing obvious public affection for Shirayuki and then allowing her to go off unprotected, he subjects her to risk too. Zen strikes me as pretty naive – does he not realize that someone of obvious value to a prince of the realm has serious value as a hostage? For better or worse, I simply don’t think he does.
The temptation proves too strong for Mihaya (Toyonaga Toshiyuki), who observes all this and follows her onto the ship for Koto Mountain (which is also his home). He abducts her, intending to sell her to the highest noble bidder who’s obsessed with her red hair (which most of Clarines seems to be), packaging himself as a guard in the process. Mihaya is the bad guy of the moment, but it’s clear from the beginning that there’s more to him, so when he drops his backstory as a member of a disgraced noble family desperate to reclaim his dignity that comes as no surprise. I’d bet Yen to yakisoba that we haven’t seen the last of him.
There are some nice moments during Shirayuki’s capture and attempted escape from Mihaya’s clutches. I like the fact that she doesn’t play the damsel-in-distress, and in fact shows a good deal of resourcefulness in using surprise and her knowledge of herbs to try and escape. Ultimately she is rescued by her prince without shining armor (how did he know exactly where she was?), but I think she makes it clear she’s smart, resourceful and independent. And perhaps more importantly, we see her story start to be framed – it’s really about her desire to choose her own destiny, rather than have it chosen by others. There are obvious implications in the way men want to literally own her because of her unusual physical attributes, but subtler ones too – and seeing how those are balanced against the obvious budding romance with Zen is going to be very interesting indeed.
ED: “Kizuna ni Nosete (絆にのせて)” by eyelis