There’s no question Akagami no Shirayukihime has been excellent through six episodes. I really appreciate the way it doesn’t try too hard to sell me anything – drama, heartbreak, comedy, romance. It just lets the material speak for itself, and the material is more that strong enough to do so eloquently. Really good shoujo can be that way, but it is a demographic where even the better ones are prone to try a little too hard sometimes.
With that stipulated for the record, I very much like what Izana has brought to the chemistry. I’m not always a fan of Ishida Akira – he can be a bit too much himself sometimes, if you know what I mean – but I think this silver-tongued and diamond-edged bishounen prince is a good fit for him. And Izana (as was strongly hinted at in his introduction last week) is a character who defies easy description. He’s neither a hero or a villain in this piece (though he is a hero of sorts to Zen) which makes him more interesting than if he were one or the other.
Stories that are essentially romances (and this one certainly qualifies) tend to utilize supporting characters as a means to an end, a way to frame the relationship of the main pair and nudge their relationship forward. And Izana is solidly in that role here. It’s his low-key hazing of Shirayuki that prompts the very powerful opening scene of the episode, which finds her seeking comfort in Zen’s arms after Izana’s unmistakable message that both she and the Clarines royal family would be better off if she made like a banana and split.
This is about as close as Zen and Shirayuki have come to acknowledging their feelings, though they still nominally avoid doing so. Zen’s remark that he “let go without thinking, but wanted to stay in that position a little longer” is as close to a declaration as one can get without declaring. But as part of his refreshingly honest relationship with Shirayuki, Zen wants her to understand why he loves and respects the man who’s just treated her so harshly. He tells the story of how Izana played two rival lords like a concert grand, using the ruse of extracting money for a castle in order to expose their craven greed and dishonesty. It was a scheme that required enormous patience and nerves of steel, but Izana has those in droves it seems.
Izana truly is an iron fist in a velvet glove, and it’s easy to see why Zen treats him with such deference. Izana’s opposite is surely Raj, who’s been a buffoon or worse for the entire series. But he gets a small measure of redemption here, because although he’s never the bigger man even when the other party is Shirayuki, he’s really shown to be more of a weak and insecure child than someone truly wicked. The dressing-down Shirayuki gives Raj is certainly humbling, but it’s actually the most mutually respectful interaction that’s occurred between them. Telling him that she wanted him to become a prince she could be proud of as a native of Tanburn is so very in-character for her, and it seems to have reached him in some small way.
In the final analysis, it’s Izana who’s the real obstacle to Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship, villain or not. His assessment that there are “other women of more worth” for Zen to marry is cold, but in context perfectly true. There’s a reason princes rarely married commoners – political alliances were the lifeblood of medieval kingdoms. Izana tests Shirayuki perpetually, right up until the moment he kisses her forehead after telling her she’d be better off with Raj. He wants to know how much steel she has – in part to measure her as a match for Zen, but much more, I think, to assess just how hard he’s going to have to push her before she breaks. It’s not maliciousness – it’s just Izana doing what he sees as his job, both as an older brother and crown prince. It’s harsh, but that’s why he’s an interesting addition to the cast.