Akagami no Shirayukihime – 02

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Akagami no Shirayukihime comes at this shoujo fantasy thing from a pretty interesting angle.

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.

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ED: “Kizuna ni Nosete (絆にのせて)” by eyelis

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  1. Y

    Zen really IS naive in many respects, but not unredeemably so. I don't believe he'll stay that way for long… He's extremely enthusiastic and dilligent when it comes to his duties as Clarines's prince, and those include dealing with tricky, often unpleasant situations (political or otherwise) on a regular basis, after all. As for the episode itself, for some odd reason, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and I believe it had a lot to do not just with the wonderful pacing and animation, but also with all the little moments thrown in-between the "bigger" scenes — I particularly liked the guards' role here, as they were given personalities and portrayed as something more than the usual cardboard cut-outs. I also liked the scene with the kid in the carriage, as well as Zen and Shirayuki's exchange on the birdge at the end. They all just felt somehow… sweet, you know? As in, I could see the cast and crew put real effort into bringing them to life, even though they weren't of any particular importance to the plot. Such moments paint a more organic picture, and I love that.

  2. R

    Laid back is a pretty good way of describing the series. I've always felt like it lacked the sort of forced drama a lot of shoujo is subject to. There's drama, no mistake, but the characters don't suddenly lose 50IQ points in order to keep it going. Shirayuki being the calm and logical sort helps the story keep its head on during those times.

    I'd say down to earth is another good adjective for the series alongside laid back

  3. w

    Ahhh it's been such a long time(years) since I last read the manga (ch 30s?) of this, and I now remember what makes the characters lovable—the main ones at least. This brings so much nostalgia. AnS has that slice-of-life feel for me, actually. It's quite relaxing to watch though, and the sceneries are superb, I think. (At least the palette looks nice against black and white and gray.)
    Zen finding her seems to me is not without him running around beforehand since he looks really out-of-breath (panting). I think that was a small but nice touch. ^^

  4. R

    If there is one show that I could compare this to, it would be the older (20006 to be precise) series Saiunkoku Monogatari. Both have similar free-spirited female lead who want to be someone more than just a princess: Shirayuki as a pharmacist, and Saiunkoku's Shurei as a government official/politician, though Shurei was less of an action girl. And they pretty much have the same laid back but capable and kind male lead (heck, Zen and Ryuki both even have silver hair).

    And I must say I am really liking this in the same way I liked Saiunkoku.

  5. E

    I love how straightforward this series is and how Shirayuki really uses everything in her arsenal in order to try and escape. Thats something you rarely see even in male heroines and it shows a lot of personality making it helluva fun to watch. The art in this show is actually prettier to me than shows like UBW actually, I love the watercolor backdrops and how the characters blend in, even if the action isn't as smooth. All in all I am excited to see where the series will lead and really hope that Bones keeps up the high quality.

  6. P

    I'm loving this new series too. Shirayuki is definitely NOT a damsel in distress, but a very strong-willed, courageous and independent girl. Zen is a great character too who treats her with respect but cares a lot about her as a good friend.
    Some people find boring the fact Shirayuki didn't escaped alone from Mihaya, but we need to remember she is a herbalist not a swordwoman like Kiki. Of course she would not win a fight against him. Even so, she put an impressive struggle and was defiant to the end.
    As for the fact Zen found her too fast, we need to remember as soon he discovered she disappeared for an entire day, he went in search of her immediately. And he knew where she went in search of herbs. Mihaya took her to an old mansion close, not a hideout. So Zen was close enough to see Mihaya's burning torch outside the mansion in the middle of night, thanks to Shirayuki's own attempt to escape.

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