Something felt just a bit off to me about this episode of Akagami no Shirayukihime. I find myself starting to notice the series is seemingly clueless about to handle certain characters (Kiki and Ryuu principally) whose role seems to be the odd reaction shot and to excuse themselves offscreen so the actual narrative can happen without them. That’s puzzling given how phenomenal the show is at dealing with character in general, even the supporting cast.
A more acute issue this week, though, is that the tone of the episode just wasn’t right. It was much sillier and frankly a lot less smart than the series has been up till now. We’ve seen a fair degree of moral subtlety in most of the conflicts, and a tendency to eschew the hyperbolic for the understated. Yeah, Prince Raj gave off a pretty rough first impression, but even he turned out to have a little more going on than we were initially led to believe.
What we got there, though, was a pretty much black-and-white fairy tale. And worse yet, we got a character, Viscount Brecker, who was not only a moustache-twirler but compelled to act dumb for the sake of advancing the plot. That’s pretty much the linear opposite of what I described last week, where I praised Akagami no Shirayukihime for the fact that it was the quintessentially character-driven story. There was nothing meditative or relaxing about the plot this week – it was just kind of a cartoon, villainous nobles trying to destroy the environment treasured for generations by simple local people and red-haired heroines jumping off 100-foot watchtowers.
My take on this is that anime, like water, over its course tends to find its level. Nine episodes of restraint and nuance are not cancelled out by one like this, and it’s this ep that’s much more likely to be an aberration. And there were positives – the music was great, as always. And it was pretty -including the blue seabird at the center of the plot (Popo) and his master, Kihal Torghal (though why she was wearing hot pants in this setting I’m not quite certain). The Kihal vs. Brecker plot shamelessly tugged at the heartstrings with every pandering cliche in the book, but at least it was nice to look at.
Let’s cut to the chase though – what makes it easy to look past this misspent episode is what happens in the last 30 seconds of it. That kiss is what really matters – we’ve been building up to it slowly and naturally, and I think it happened at just the right time. But that said, it certainly changes everything – all that was unspoken is now out in the open, and no one can pretend that Zen isn’t hopelessly in love with Shirayuki. And that no one extends to the likes of Izana and Haruka, both of whom are keenly aware of just how troublesome Zen’s feelings for Shirayuki could prove to be. The romance now goes from something nebulous in the air to the centerpoint of the plot – and for some in the cast, a problem that needs to be solved. And that’s a game-changer if ever there was one.