This has turned out to be quite the interesting anime season. Not a great one by any means, but certainly unusual in that the best series (with some help from spring carryovers) have neatly arranged themselves by genre and demographic. We have a paragon example of a seinen, a sports anime, a classic shounen, a situation comedy, and in Akagami no Shirayukihime a shoujo fantasy. It may not be a great time for the genre-busting series, but what’s airing right now would make a pretty good anime textbook.
It’s pretty easy for Akagami no Shirayukihime to get lost in the shuffle, because it exercises a good deal of restraint in its storytelling and doesn’t try and compete in terms of flash. The visuals and music are stellar, but the narrative doesn’t reach out and grab you with the grand and the terrible. Rather, this is a more meditative experience. It’s no slice of life, but even when the plot is unsettled there’s never a sense of chaos or disorder.
In many ways, this was probably the most dramatic episode since the premiere. But Akagami seems to have mastered the art of depicting drama without being melodramatic. The judicious use of humor and the relative lack of histrionics (though the buffoonish Prince Raj tries his best) ensure that there’s always a peaceful air – even when the emotions in ascendancy are the negative ones, things feel more wistful than tragic.
The driver of the drama here is of course Prince Izana, Zen’s older brother. He’s a bit of an archetype character no doubt, but I’m not sure we’ve seen all there is to see of Izana’s character yet and I’m not sure he’s going to play a villain’s role. There’s no question things are tense between he and Zen, don’t get me wrong – Izana makes it clear from the moment he arrives that he outranks his brother, and that he doesn’t fully trust him. It’s plain he doesn’t approve of Zen’s “man of the people” style of governance, and he promptly takes Fort Laxdo out of his jurisdiction as punishment for Zen declining to punish the fort’s soldiers for what’s happened (knowing full well that’s punishing those soldiers just as much as punishing Zen).
Izana may in fact have the best interests of the kingdom at heart, and may see what he’s doing as trying to steer Zen onto the right path. But it’s when he decides to use Shirayuki to test his brother that he’s actions come off as rather more sinister. He knows in detail what’s transpired between Raj, Shirayuki and Zen, and invites the clown prince of Tanburn to the castle to… Well – to what, exactly? To humiliate his brother – or to test him? To try and get Raj to take Shirayuki back to Tanburn? These are the actions of a manipulator, someone who prefers to compel others to do his bidding without ordering them to do so directly. And that clearly grates with Zen.
A few things are clear here. Raj wants no part of Shirayuki – not after the scare Zen put into him. And this is the limit past which Zen won’t be pushed – he’s generally deferential to his elder brother, but he pretty much openly defies him when it comes to Shirayuki. Raj’s misreading of the situation (that Zen and Shirayuki are lovers and she’s compelled to stay in Clarines) is what you’d expect from an idiot like him, but it highlights the real truth of the matter: Shirayuki doesn’t wish to be owned, and Zen doesn’t want her to be with him because she is. She wants to forge her own path and he wants to allow her, because both of them are convinced that path with eventually lead her to him. Izana and Raj don’t understand that, and Izana almost certainly doesn’t wish to – but villain or not, Shirayuki is the point at which the brothers’ differences become irreconcilable. And as such, there’s going to be some sort of reckoning between them sooner or later. And the way things are going, my money is on sooner…