This is the season finale of Akagami no Shirayukihime, which thanks to its split-cour format is off until January (which makes it ineligible for the year-end Top 10 list, for the record). And it concludes for now with a truly superb episode, one that was beautiful in every sense of the word. If one were to complain, I can really only think of one – where does the series go from here? This season finale exemplified everything that makes this a wonderful show so perfectly that the notion that it ended too well is a legitimate worry.
There are so many words that spring to mind when it comes to this series. Dignity, restraint, minimalism – there’s never (apart from Episode 10) too much of anything, but neither is there too little. It’s as if the show stripped away everything that wasn’t essential and concentrated on making the rest perfect – like pruning a grapevine so that all the nourishment goes into the remaining fruit. Akagami no Shirayukihime has its priorities in order and executes its mission brilliantly.
The final episode is full of the little touches that make this series special. The music, always a companion to the story but never intrusive. Ryuu’s face as he watched adults behaving like idiots – the sardonic puzzlement of a too-smart child bewildered by the nonsensical adult world. The Impressionist backgrounds, beautiful in their muted and slightly off-focus patina, giving way to an explosion of color and light as the skies above the castle fill with candlelit balloons, making fireworks seem pedestrian.
This is a show that gets an awful lot out of its faces generally speaking, fitting for one that can say so much with so little effort. What the characters are feeling about each other is always there in their expressions if you look for it. It’s most obvious in Zen and Shirayuki, who are young and hopelessly in-love, and whose faces are practically shouting it out. But you see it in Obi, too – the frustration, the helplessness. Izana’s stern worry for his brother, Mitsuhide’s neurotic overprotectiveness. Every face tells a story, and none of them are unimportant. I only wish a little more time had been given to telling Ryuu and Kiki’s, but that’s a small quibble that will hopefully be addressed in the second cour.
The premise of the final episode is “Open Castle Day” but in truth, no series this season can do more with less plot than this one. What there is here is really present for the purpose of fleshing out the feelings of the characters. Prince Zen goes undercover as a guard so he can mingle amongst the people, and takes Shirayuki with him. There’s a company of actors (played by big names Uchiyama Kouki, Toriumi Kousuke and Kotobuki Minako – I might note that both Coach Aoi and Natchan were part of the troupe) here to entertain, one of whom breaks her ankle. This forces Shirayuki to act as a stand-on, which leads to one more heroic moment for Zen and a beautiful moment of bonding between them.
There’s a lot of subtext to this play, of course – Shirayuki is playing a princess, and Zen winds up fighting against the prince for her hand. One of the realities of Open Castle Day is that it serves a reminder of just how great the gulf that exists between Shirayuki’s station and Zen’s still is – and in case we might forget, the faces of Izana and Haruka are never too far away to jog our memories. Part of what that second cour will surely focus on is the power of love, and its limitations in face of overwhelming obstacles.
I’m certainly keen to see how that story plays out, and it’s not a stretch to guess that the second season of Akagami will prove darker and more conflict-driven than the first. But however that plays out, what’s undeniable is that this one stands on its own in magnificent fashion. This may not be the series ending (the manga is in fact still ongoing) but it’s a finale that works much better as an ending than most true finales could ever dream of. It’s another triumph for BONES, and especially for Ando Masahiro – it’s truly remarkable that a director could achieve such heights of scope and grandiosity with Zetsuen no Tempest, then succeed with a virtually unmatched economy of style with Akagami no Shirayukihime. When it comes to this series pedigree really wins out, and we’re lucky to have another season to look forward to.