I think it’s best to look at last week’s Akagami no Shirayukihime as if the last two minutes were all that really mattered, both because the rest of it was so forgettable and because, well – they were. That was the game changer the series had been building up to for ten episodes, and it didn’t disappoint either in the moment or in the aftermath. If only other romances could emulate the approach to love taken by this one, anime would be a much better place.
One of the magical things about Akagami is that it can make the normal seem so special. That’s both a comment about how good this show is, and how rare it is for anime characters – especially young ones involved in romantic relationships or pre-relationships – to behave in a relatable manner that actually makes sense. This series is really all about characters behaving in a way that makes sense for who they are, which is another one of those things that sounds really easy to be but clearly is anything but.
We did get a resolution of the actual subplot of last week’s episode, as Kihal (who I should point out was played by Saitou Chiwa) took a trip back home with Zen himself in tow – along with Kiki and Mitsuhide – to get the whole messenger bird thing sorted out. It’s a chance for Zen to show he has the cleverness and perceptiveness to rule effectively by seeing through the local elder’s rather transparent attempts to sell his cooperation for 10 million of whatever the local (the place looks a lot like Okinawa, not coincidentally) currency is. Mostly though, it’s a premise – a chance for each of Zen and Shirayuki to be apart for a couple of days to think about what’s happened.
And that’s a lot of thinking. What’s really great about this relationship is how it achieves a kind of golden mean. We’ve made the jump to an actual relationship in a reasonable time, and after an increasingly enthusiastic string of innocent flirting. And after Zen has let the genie out of the bottle, both parties – though especially Shirayuki – are believably nonplussed about what’s happened. I mean, this is a big deal, it changes everything – and that would be true even if one of them weren’t a prince and the other a foreign commoner.
I quite liked the scenes with the left-behind Shirayuki trying to come to terms with this strange new reality. There’s some good stuff with she, Ryuu and Obi cooking up some medicinal tea for the chief herbalist, who’s been “working too hard” (I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that’s all it is), which has the effect of making me wish the series did more with Ryuu (as I do with Kiki as well). I quite liked Ryuu’s awkward concern over Shirayuki’s obvious distress, and the reaction of the others to it.
Then, of course, we have Obi. He’s clever and quick-witted – he comes up with the idea to steep sweet Roka fruit in the tea – but that means he’s clever enough to know he can’t possibly act on his feelings for Shirayuki. And make no mistake, he has them – he comes this close to holding her hand with extreme prejudice – and the way he keenly observes every little breath she takes is unmistakable. One has to feel a little bad for Obi, because he’s too smart to even allow himself to fantasize that he might have a chance – and the fact is, he likes and admires Zen too, and isn’t especially keen on the notion of betraying him.
It all comes to a head when Zen arrives back at the castle, just as Obi is accompanying Shirayuki into its captive woods. Zen is trying to give Shirayuki the space she needs, but it’s obvious that he’s dying for the answer to the question he’s posed to her – “what are your feelings?”. I don’t think there’s ever really been any doubt what her feelings are, but she’s smart enough to know how complicated this is and innocent enough to worry that those feelings might ruin the other things she has with Zen. Shirayuki loves those things, too, but once that other kind of love has been acknowledged you can never go back to that reality again.
It’s all about taking a gamble at this point, and both Shirayuki and Zen are risking a lot by being open about their love, even with each other. There’s one more episode left, but this is more or less where the season will leave things off I suppose, as it prepares to enter next Winter as a different series – this one about the challenges of being in a romantic relationship for a prince and an apprentice herbalist. It’s done such a good job getting us to this point that I have no reason to think it’s not up to the challenge of telling that story, and I look forward to seeing it.