If you’re looking for high drama, Akagami no Shirayukihime just may not be the series for you. Even when there’s danger, somehow things don’t quite feel all that dangerous, and I think to some extent that’s due to the show being a victim of its own success. It’s so good at creating a wistful and inviting atmosphere (those watercolor backgrounds, oh my) that for me at least, I’m never quite taken out of it no matter what’s happening on-screen.
Of course, with this episode things are relatively low-key to begin with, focused more on politics and classism than genuine peril. We’re seeing a solidification of the dominant theme for Shirayuki’s character arc – she’s all about trying to be her own person. That mens making her own decisions about where she wants to live her life and how she wants to live it, and achieving her goals based on her own abilities. As epic fantasy plots go that may not be especially epic, but as the basis for a coming-of-age story it’s a damn good one – especially when the protagonist is a young woman in a medieval setting.
There’s another side to this too, though, and that’s Zen’s arc. While Shirayuki’s role in the story is pretty much worn on the series’ sleeve, Zen’s arc is teased out in tantalizing hints. We know he’s the second prince – we’ve never met the first (and presumed heir), or seen clues as to their relationship. We know he’s a young man who wishes to understand his people and his country, but also a bit of an impetuous and perhaps reckless sort (well – there’s no “perhaps” about it). I think Zen is something of a bad boy – a bit of headache and perhaps even embarrassment to his family. And I think we’re seeing hints of that this week.
Obviously the fact that there are those in the palace unhappy that a prince suddenly declares a commoner girl from another county has an all-access pass to enter is no surprise. They’re personified here by Lord Haruka, an advisor to the royals and clearly a man displeased by some of Zen’s choices. He warns Zen of the mistake he’s making by risking a public association with Shirayuki, painting her as a climber intent on using the prince to her own ends. And when that fails to move Zen, Haruka takes matters into his own hands and sets about severing the ties between the two on his own.
Funnily enough, early on this week I made note of the fact that I hadn’t noticed one of the two young palace guards was played by Okamoto Nobuhiko, and checked the credits to confirm. “Oh – I guess his name is Obi”, I thought to myself – but it turns out Okamoto is doing double-duty here (as he did in Akatsuki no Yona) and Obi is a rather more significant character. He looks like some sort of ninja, and Haruka seemingly sets him on Shirayuki to try and scare her away from the castle. Haruka also apparently forges Zen’s name on an order rescinding her right to entry. It’s to Shirayuki’s credit (and mangaka Akizuki Sorata’s) that she doesn’t accept this at face value (which would have been much more cliched). She recognizes that the Zen she knows would never do this, and refuses to be driven off.
I liked the way this all played out, with Shirayuki bulling her way through to Zen despite Haruka’s efforts to intimidate her, and then telling Zen she wanted to try and get to the bottom of this on her own. But I do think Zen was pretty lenient with Haruka, all things considered – I mean, appending a prince’s name to a court document is a pretty big deal I would have thought. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this conflict, or Haruka’s role in it. As for Obi, he seems destined to become an ally of Zen’s, and judgning by his skill set it looks as if he could be a pretty useful one. Even in a series like this one, you can’t have too many ninjas on your side…