Snow White with the Red Hair was everything I could have imagined it to be, for better or for worse. This show suffers from the same problem that I criticized Shirobako for: its safe environment. I’ve seen the term “competence porn” thrown around here and there, and it describes this show pretty well.
The main character, Shirayuki, is very successful at getting what she wants. Prince Zen and his two attendants are no slouches, either. Obi does as he pleases. Shirayuki’s work at the royal pharmacy is filled with talented people. Because they’re all such skilled and perceptive people, things get resolved fast and cleanly. A mysterious sickness at a faraway fort is shortly cured and the responsible party captured. A lousy rumor about Shirayuki being the prince’s fiance is largely ignored. Any social misunderstanding usually gets resolved as soon as the next episode if not sooner. The kingdom of Clarines itself seems like paradise, without any major strife or unrest amongst the nobility and citizens. Not that it’s terribly needed, of course. The story is mostly about Shirayuki’s slow ascent in a hierarchical society and doesn’t necessarily need the plight of the lower classes to complicate things.
However, a bit of complexity here and there certainly wouldn’t hurt. The show’s safe nature makes conflicts simple, resolutions fast, and the mood perpetually light. It’s a very clear weakness that affects how seriously I take the setting in relation to the character’s achievements. It makes every small victory feel the slightest bit manufactured, like the show purposely set these situations up for the heroes to succeed. In a lesser adaptation, this could easily be construed as a Mary Sue narrative where situations are specifically made for the main character to succeed in the most efficient ways possible.
What makes this weakness not seem so bad, however, is that the show knows how to be tasteful with its safeness. Shirayuki’s aspirations are, with each incremental step, modest. She determined, assertive, and ambitious, but not lofty or arrogant. She is, however, reckless at times. Zen, similarly, takes his duties as a prince seriously and always keeps his status in mind when doing anything, but is not afraid of bending conventions here and there if the situation applies. In fact, no one in the cast is really looking to step far too outside of their bounds: they’re just looking to succeed within the confines of a dated social structure, which Shirayuki finds herself at odds with at every turn. The heroes have small triumphs that are met with equally small celebration in terms of direction. The most the show usually does is a slight adjustment in lighting and a bit of lens flare whenever anything emotional is happening, as opposed to other shoujo shows that go balls to the wall with the orchestral swells and bubbly backgrounds over the smallest things. Even when Shirayuki and Zen finally confirm each others’ feelings, the show knows to keep itself contained, and by that point I’m just impressed. That delicate touch in the directing, I feel, is what really elevates the show. Instead of having anything really profound to say about the human condition, I just feel extreme satisfaction knowing that my expectations were met. That’s not something I can say about every anime, and it’s certainly not something I say every anime season.
So it’s no surprise that the second season is the show I’m most looking forward to once Winter 2016 hits. Because it’s the only show out of the bunch that I know exactly what to expect.
- It feels good when a good staff list happens to make a good anime. I mean, Masahiro Ando directing, Oshima Michiru composing, Mieno Hitomi not screwing up the series composition, BONES animating… I’m just glad it turned out as well as it did and then some.