This is such an odd little show, this Red-Haired Snow White. It’s certainly not a slice-of-life, but it may be among the most soothing anime I’ve laid eyes on. With an episode like last week’s that’s not so surprising, but the really odd thing is that even when it’s action-driven, Akagami no Shirayukihime is no less relaxing. That shouldn’t really be possible, but somehow it is here.
There is a certain risk with series about two unassailably likeable main characters falling in love. We see it with Ore Monogatari, which sometimes suffers when the focus is too much on Takeo and Rinko’s unidirectionally positive romance. I don’t think it’s as much an issue with Akagami, where the romance isn’t so much at center stage, and it also helps that the series is really taking its time with the process of Shirayuki and Zen getting to know each other (and us both of them) before it leaps into the romantic waters. As a result, both of them manage to come off as complex individuals who seem relevant above and beyond potentially being a couple.
On paper (and screen) this seems very much an action episode. Shirayuki has an errand to run in the mountains as part of her new job, and Zen coincidentally needs to investigate the goings-on at a remote fort (a coincidence I suspect doesn’t bother him in the slightest). And there’s trouble at the fort – the soldiers have been experiencing mysterious sickness and fatigue, which they’ve chalked up to a curse. This information is relayed to Zen and his party (which now includes Obi) by Shuka (Yonaga Tsubasa), a boy who’s less ill than the other soldiers (trivia: Shuka’s original name was “Brain’s Base”).
Well, it’s no leap to figure out that this curse is likely an illness, and that Shirayuki is the logical one to try and cure it. So Mitsuhide is off to fetch her, and when she arrives she shows her herbalist mettle – she triages and takes care of the symptoms first, then backtracks to the cause. That’s the firewood that’s being burned in the fort (yes, this can actually happen), which it seems was dropped off by bandits as a Trojan horse, part of their plan to rob the armory. Shirauyuki works herself into the ground treating the sick, Obi tracks down the bandits, and Zen’s fearsome foursome heads to their hideout to mete out justice.
That’s all well and good, but once again there’s never any sense that anyone is in real danger here. And it’s never in doubt that the real focus of the episode is not the plot itself, but what it reveals about the characters. Zen’s commitment to knowing his true country, the love with which he’s held by his soldiers, the deep trust he and his close circle have for each other (especially Mitsuhide, it seems) and the way his refusal to safeguard himself is a source of friction. And Zen’s growing respect for Shirayuki’s talent and intellect, coupled with a growing irritation that she won’t let her guard down and let him protect her more.
The bond between Shirayuki and Zen really is beautifully depicted, and as with Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii we have two capable and independent leads who are never in the other’s shadow. I loved the moment when Zen forced the exhausted Shirayuki to sleep without forcing a confrontation by having her close her eyes for a “slow 60”, knowing he’d never get anywhere near that number. Up to now we’ve seen Zen in situations where he’s very confident and assured, but with the arrival of the First Prince Izana (Ishida Akira) that may be about to change – we’ll see just how much the tone of the series itself changes in the process.