It was announced this week that the second cour of Akagami no Shirayukihime will air in January (as, I hope against hope, will Hi Score Girl). This series was labeled as a split cour from the beginning so this is the best result we could have hoped for – though I confess I’d forgotten about the “split” part, so I was just a bit disappointed. Fall is looking as lean as any season has for me in a very long time, that’s for sure (if One Punch Man turns out to be a bust – oy…).
It ain’t hardly very original – I said it myself last week – but damn, if you looked up “character-driven” in the dictionary there really should be a screenshot from this series. What’s amazing about Snow White with the Red Hair is that it’s plot-intensive, but feels incredibly meditational and even relaxing. So much happens here, but there’s almost no plot in this series that doesn’t spring up directly from the characters themselves. They’re the reason pretty much everything happens, and you don’t realize how rare that is until a show like this that actually practices the style highlights the fact that almost no others do.
In truth we’ve had two episodes that act as a sort of origin story/coming out party for two members of Zen’s retinue (perhaps Kiki will have her turn soon), an indulgence many if not most shoujo fantasies would consider excessive. Not this one, though, because Akagami is all about making us understand why every major character in the cast does what they do – and also because these stories which center on the supporting players ultimate matter most in the way they shed light on the main couple (both as a couple and as individuals).
One thing we can pretty much confirm now – Obi is definitely developing feelings for Shirayuki. That’s going to be interesting to watch play out, because it’s clear that he feels strong loyalty to Zen, but at the same time Obi is a fundamentally covert person. We can already see hints of this as Obi finds himself looking after a still-tipsy Shirayuki (this girl really can’t hold her liquor). Obi is clearly uncomfortable here even as he enjoys the closeness and Shirayuki’s vulnerability, because he can sense himself treading into dangerous emotional waters. And of course when Zen finds out that the two of them are wandering the castle grounds together, he’s quite upset – nominally because of his concern about Shirayuki’s safety and privacy, but perhaps because he senses what’s happening as well.
In fact there is someone spying on Shirayuki (we don’t find out for you), whom Obi snares rather easily. And when he deduces that Shirayuki had planned to go to Laxdo to check up on her patients, Obi reveals that he already visited after Zen allowed him to leave the castle – and in fact he’s returned with a gift and a journal from Shuka and greetings from the entire fort. Obi is a pretty perceptive guy, and he seems to have a good handle on Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship – to the point where it almost seems as if he’s asking some intentionally provocative questions. He also has a clear and sober view of his own situation – he labels himself as a mere spectator to the drama playing out between the prince and the herbalist.
Meanwhile, we see how it was that the wall of suspicion between the young Zen and Mitsuhide was breached, and this part of the episode is especially interesting because superficially it seems completely extraneous. There’s nothing in the episode that would feel incomplete without these scenes, nothing that wouldn’t make sense. Yet it would undeniably be diminished if they weren’t present, because they tell us so much about the two young men. That Zen was able to look beyond the pain of the moment and get past blaming Mitsuhide for what happened to Atri is an indication of just what a remarkable chap he is. As for Mitsuhide, his act of saving the arrowhead as way of remembering a would-be assassin is strangely noble, an acknowledgement that Atri’s life had meaning and that he shouldn’t simply be buried in an unmarked grave and forgotten (though of course, Zen never could).
The story seems ready to take a turn now, with new characters in the preview. But I hope and suspect that Akagami no Shirayukihime isn’t going to stray too far from its core elements as it goes forwards, because it seems always to have its eyes fixed squarely on the prize. It’s a remarkably grounded story, especially for a fantasy, and that quality more than anything makes it unique. That BONES and Masahiro Ando are capable of creating series as diametrically opposite in tone and style as Akagami and Zetsuen no Tempest is a testament to just what a great studio and director they are.