Akagami no Shirayukihime – 24 (End) and Series Review

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -10 Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -31 Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -56

Sometimes (not very often) they get the end exactly right.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -1What a contrast today’s two series finales represent – the sincerity-puncturing irreverence of Osomatsu-san against the unapologetic sincerity of Akagami no Shirayukihime.  Osomatsu is a near-certainty to get multiple sequels, a genuine social phenomenon, while this is very probably the last we’ll see of Akagami in anime form.  There might be an OVA or two down the line – Bones has a track record of producing those for otherwise incomplete adaptations – but as a TV series, this is almost certainty the end.  But I’ll be jiggered if that wasn’t a perfect way to go out.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -2Without wanting to be a broken record, I have to once again shower some praise on Bones.  These guys are truly a superb studio in every sense of the word.  Their production values are consistently stellar, they actively strive to work with outstanding directors (in the past year they’ve brought in the two brightest young stars in the field, Matsumoto Rie and Tachikawa Yuzuru), and they actively seek to offer a broad range of genres and demographic.  Bones isn’t just good, they’e good for anime – they make it a more diverse and broad-thinking medium, and for that they deserve immense credit.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -3As for Akagami no Shirayukihime, it’s just another example of the cream rising to the top.  Shoujo fantasy might not be a genre Bones is known for, but they didn’t miss a beat in nailing this adaptation.  Sometimes I think we forget how truly great a director Ando Masahiro is – he’s a master of so many divergent styles, and he has an innate gift for juxtaposing intimacy and epic scale.  He also likes to partner with Oshima Michiru for music, and to say that’s worked out well in shows like this one and Zetsuen no Tempest is a massive understatement.  The soundtrack for Akagami is almost another cast member, so vital is it in so many crucial moments.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -4There may have been the odd moment when I felt the second season of Akagami no Shrayukihime wobbled a bit, and on balance I’d rank it a hair below the first, but this final episode was spot on. Odd as it may sound I’ve noticed that the finest anime episodes almost always result in one of two things on the scratchpad that always sits next to my computer when I watch anime I intend to blog – either it’s jam-packed with notes, or it’s virtually empty.  This ep is one of the latter examples, because it so eloquently and simply makes its case.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -5I think Akagami is at its best when it doesn’t try too hard – with plot, with action, with violence.  This is at heart a show most at home showing us the daily lives of people it seems like it’d be nice to get to know in a place you’d love to spend some time.  At it’s best, this show is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – it says volumes wth minimal fanfare.  And this finale was Akagami at its very best.  Endings are hard (any anime fan could tell you that) and the best ones usually make them seem a lot easier than they truly are.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -6As to what actually happened here, a couple of specific events are certainly worth noting.  First, we have Prince Raj (thoroughly rehabilitated now) sending Sakaki and Mihaya to confer officially on Shirayuki the title of “Friend of the Crown“.  This may seem merely like the kind act of a fawning popinjay prince, but it’s actually an extremely savvy move for a character that’s been portrayed as somewhat shallow and dim (that’s why Izana laughed the way he did).  It was also an extremely selfless act, because what Raj is effectively doing here (and his letter confirms this, though Shirayuki may not fully understand until later) is giving Zen cover to be with Shirayuki.  A title, even a makeshift one like this, is a hugely important symbol in a feudal system like this one.  Raj has acted to make it possible for the woman he loves to be with his rival, which is quite a gesture in any book.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -7The road ahead for these two still isn’t going to be easy, because even with this “shield” in-hand Shirayuki remains well below Zen’s station.  But I sense Izana is starting to accept that neither his brother nor Shirayuki is going to be moved off their position.  She may not answer Izana’s challenge to tell him herself what she wants from her relationship with Zen, but it’s not due to any uncertainty on her part – Shirayuki simply doesn’t yet believe she’s in any position to hope her dreams might come true.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -8The engine that drives Akagami no Shirayukihime is, always, the relationship between Shirayuki and Zen.  It’s one of the most natural and unforced in any anime I can recall, shoujo or otherwise – it flows like a river, meanders and all, from the first episode to the last.  Simply put, this is one of the most bullshit-free love stories you’ll ever see.  It takes some time for them to admit the truth, the awkwardness still lingers, but the physical intimacy slowly grows.  They open up to each other, they hold hands, eventually they kiss.  In the finale, Zen even kisses Shirayuki on the neck (how rare is that in mainstream anime?), literally kissing her off her feet in the process.  Want to see an anime beautifully depict two people meeting, falling in love, and slowly and realistically become a couple?  I don’t think you need to shop around any further.

Akagami no Sirayukihime - 24 -9In the end, this final episode gives us everything anyone could reasonably want apart from a sequel announcement.  The love story takes center stage, but fittingly for what’s at heart a slice-of-life, life goes on: everyone plays a part, and the show closes with Shirayuki and Ryuu heading off together to yank herbs out of the ground.  I seriously don’t know how any fan could watch this episode and not feel a sense of happiness – it’s just warmth, honesty and unpretentious and open emotion from every pore.  This is why I love Akagami no Shirayukihime – what I’ve adored about it from the very beginning.  It’s not often a series can say it closes by putting its very best face forward and reminding you of everything that’s great about it, but that’s exactly what Akagami does here. From Akizuki Sorata’s manga through to Bones and Ando, it’s a triumph of good storytelling – and one of the best shows of 2016.

ED Sequence:

Epilogue:

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15 comments

  1. P

    “Simply put, this is one of the most bullshit-free love stories you’ll ever see.”

    Yeah and it gave me some serious ovary ache. Everything you said I agree with except how it seems you felt about the Pirates arc, it really served it’s purpose in upping their relationship and also gave us some Obi action.

    Speaking of which, my heart aches whenever mangakas create a solid second leading man/love interest because you know the end game (and rooting for it!) but a small part still wishes Obi could’ve won. All well…

    As for me, I couldn’t hold out anymore and started reading the manga while the show was still airing and though there’s some very good stuff, I doubt it’s the kinda thing to get a adapted to anime.

  2. J

    Typically I rate shoujo series slightly lower than you do, and I usually chalk it up to the paucity of anything in the genre getting an adaptation, but I’m right with you on this one. This is what “slice of life” should be – not horrifically annoying brats (“cute girls”) engaging in inanely pointless buffoonery (“doing cute things”), but using the events of the time and place as an effective vehicle to drive on the narrative and relationships.

    Time to pick up the manga I guess…

  3. Excellent review, and I could not agree more. If another season comes our way I would be thrilled, of course, but … well … yeah. I will believe it when I see it. In the meantime, though, huge huzzahs for a beautiful and incredibly faithful adaptation too the spirit of the source material. Sure they juggled as few things around chronologically here and there compared to the manga chapters, but man – the overall effect was a work of care and affection. More of these kinds of work-attitudes please? ^^

  4. Isn’t Tachikawa Yuzuru involved with Madhouse? Do I just not know he directed something with Bones?

  5. He’s directing Mob Psycho 100 for Bones this summer.

  6. Ah, I see now! Thank you for the reply, Enzo. I also second that music is another character in Akagami.

  7. Really good finale, all that scenery looked beautiful. I heard that the show has been getting pretty good tv ratings so the chance of a sequel might not be completely nil. But even though the manga is ongoing, I have to agree that the series ended in a great spot.

  8. > The soundtrack for Akagami is almost another cast member, so vital is it in so many crucial moments.

    Absolutely. Oshima’s score is integral to the success of scene on the individual level and the show as a whole, even more so, I think, than it was in Tempest. She’s a magnificent composer, and Ando’s directorial sense consistently makes the best use of her work possible.

  9. G

    While I like Shirayukihime a lot, what spoils the fun for me a little bit is the inherent sexism in these kinds of stories. It’s interesting that you don’t seem to be bothered with it here at all, while in the case of something like Grimgar or Tekketsu I’m not bothered with it that much and you’re quite outspoken against it. It’s interesting how these things go. From my side, I think I like it less in shoujo stories because I know these are specifically aimed at girls and I think it’s not the best kind of role-modeling.

  10. Perception is a fascinating thing. I find it incomprehensible that anyone could look at Akagami and equate it to Grimgar – Grimgar! – or Tekketsu no Orphans in terms of sexism. I mean, it’s a medieval fantasy and in that sense, isn’t it actually rather enlightened? Shirayuki is a pretty strong and independent young woman most of the time (I admit the last arc was a step backwards for that) and there a lot of tough, hard women like Kiki in here. In terms of the obvious measure for sexism most people seem to limit themselves to look for, fanservice, I hardly think this show is very shameless. I respect your right to disagree, but apart from Shirayuki slipping into a bit of a damsel-in-distress role in the last arc, I’m sorry – I just don’t see what you’re seeing.

  11. G

    I don’t recall equating Shirayukihime to anything, all I said was that I find it interesting that you consider this show near perfect and say nary a thing about sexism in it whereas you’re very hard on other shows. Aside from one overblown character, there really isn’t that much fanservice in Grimgar either, certainly not compared to many other shows – and what’s there feels better integrated (for lack of a better word), not “here’s some pointless fanservice for you horny otaku” type of thing. It’s like you’re basically hard on Grimgar because it focuses more on the male characters POV, which I think is understandable considering the target audience. Out of the girls, only Shihoru is worth complaining, Yume is very capable and can certainly hold her own, and Mary sure isn’t weak and is independent aplenty. So I honestly don’t see why it has to be torn down as some horrendous sexist POS, like you seem to be implying all over. While I like such stories myself, I have no trouble admitting that the whole concept of a girl needing to be uplifted by her prince to really succeed in life is quite sexist indeed. Fanservice really isn’t the only criterion…

  12. To say I find Akagami “near-perfect” must mean you’ve been ignoring my posts on it for most of this season, because it’s wildly inaccurate.

    The issue I have with Grimgar is nothing to do with whose POV the series is told from. It’s that the sexism is widespread, sinister and demeaning. Not only is the fanservice especially mean-spirited and crass, but the female characters are generally depicted as shallow and vapid. The issue of the disparity in simple competence by gender is one I have a hard time getting past.

    Obviously, there’s plenty of stuff in anime that’s demeaning to both sexes, but I just don’t personally see very much of it in Akagami. As far as Grimgar, I’m sick of talking about it – I said my piece and dropped it, and I’m not the one who keeps bringing it up. At this point I’m not even going to respond when someone else does.

  13. G

    Last paragraph first: I guess in the end I just wish you could have enjoyed Grimgar more and wouldn’t feel the need to bear your claws at everyone trying to defend it. Now, from the top.

    Enzo… No, I haven’t read all of them, but don’t you think it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that when someone comes in to comment on your series review, they must have read all your preceding episode reviews, and if they haven’t, that qualifies as “ignoring”? What an odd thing to say. In any case, the near-perfection I was talking about was was meant in the sense of being sexist or not, which has been the context of this entire discussion, so I didn’t think I had to specify that again. And in fact I used “near-perfect” in response to your “enlightened” and apparent claim that no significant fanservice in Shirayukihime = no sexism either…

    I never said anything even close to that Shirayukihime was a terrible sexist show, nor am I expecting you to say so. You were the one talking about me equating one show with another, all I was talking about was that it’s interesting that you’re fine with implicit sexism while tough on explicit. I like Shirayukihime, but I like Grimgar even more. And I simply don’t see how it’s appropriate to completely rip one show for sexism while hardly touching on it in another. Your reaction feels very disproportionate to me.

    The way you talk about Grimgar would make me think (if I hadn’t watched the show) that it’s complete and utter trash, while it’s far far far from it. When you use words like “sinister and demeaning” and “especially mean-spirited and crass”, it almost makes me think you’re confusing it with something like Valkyrie Drive or Cross Ange, because if not, you’re in danger of running out of hyperbole if you even needed to talk about those kinds of shows. Ranta acting like an insensitive asshole cannot be extended to the entire show, none of the other characters are supportive of that. Aside from Haru’s teacher character, the fanservice doesn’t feel forced in a situation where hormonal teens are thrown together into close-quarters living. It’s situational stuff that doesn’t dominate to picture and the MC in particular is no secret perv like so many of his colleagues in other anime.

    Female characters are “shallow and vapid”? Like Mary? Compared to Ranta and Moguzo? If you want to complain about not all characters being equally well-developed, that’s a valid critique, but it’s not gender-dependent. It’s even a major story point that the MC contemplates on how he hasn’t really been paying attention what these people are like, and since his POV is primary, it’s not surprising that the characters he hasn’t interacted with as much turn out to be less developed. That includes males, btw.

    There’s “disparity in simple competence by gender”? Are you quite serious? All of the characters in the main group are noobs in the beginning and all of them grow in competency as the series progresses. You must have “ignored” scenes like when Ranta looks on in absolute awe when he chances upon Yume’s rock-climbing training. If you think it’s sexist that the boys class for mostly close-quarter combat and the girls for ranged fighting, I don’t even know what to say…

    It seems to me that you were put off by some particular scenes early on (which are hardly definitive of the series), developed a preconception about the show, and have been harboring it ever since. I think that’s unfortunate, because for me, Grimgar has evoked an emotionally more satisfying response than Shirayukihime. I can enjoy destined romance series just fine, but in most cases there remains a sort of detachment from the storyline, which feels more like an extended exercise in postponing the inevitable than a natural progression towards it, and all the troubles along the way sort of feel more virtual than real. And, like I said, I do consider it sexist that shows marketed towards girls have to be about romance and getting the perfect man. I really do think that in the end, that’s a more sinister stareotype than being subjected to occasional ogling – one is fundamental, the other incidental. If I had to highlight an uncomfortable element in Grimgar, it would be its characters engaging in genocide-for-money, not its sexism. And even that is something the series doesn’t fail to address. It’s an artful, meditative SOL/action series, a rare beast that I think you’re being much too hard on, to your own detriment.

  14. G

    Apologies for missing the reply thread.

  15. A

    “I seriously don’t know how any fan could watch this episode and not feel a sense of happiness”

    Well, obviously because said fan would VERY MUCH SO see the rest of the story animated T_T
    (same for Akatsuki no Yona BTW, I don’t really like shoujo in general, but these two shows are a pretty big couple of exceptions and stole my heart ; please MOAR !)

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