Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayuki-hime)
With a few challenges under their belts, court herbalist-in-training (with red hair) Shirayuki and second prince to the throne Zen are becoming closer and closer to each other, to the point where even the castle guards want to see them be together. But there are many forces at hand that seem determined to keep them apart, ranging from Zen's logical but cold older brother to just plain strange coincidences, it's going to be enough to keep Shirayuki, Zen, and their friends on their toes for quite a while!
The second cour of this show kicks off with the arc that I expected to end the first cour which involves princes, pirates, and some herbal knowledge. So, rather par for the course with Akagami, although I’ll admit I can see why the staff paced the show as they did in retrospect since this arc took up the majority of the episodes (which meant that there were very few new moments in the story for me, boo). I feel that in many ways this arc also encapsulates the good and bad about Akagami, the good is that it’s pleasant and consistent, the bad is that it’s also a bit dull and static.
Let’s get the icky out of the way first, Shirayuki and Zen undergo almost no character development at all in this second season. Zen possibly undergoes a little (by “hardening his resolve” towards his brother, ie being clear that he wants Shirayuki in his life) and Shirayuki unfortunately is buffeted around by the majority of the story and serves more as an inspiration to other (mostly, if not all, male) characters than an active participant in her own tale. The side characters actually state what my problem is, Shirayuki and Zen are so good they don’t need to change or so they all think! (for pete’s sake, Zen’s growth in this entire season is finding the resolve that he want Shirayuki at his side in the future!) I rather disagree with that thought. In YA fiction, which Akagami most closely resembles, there is always character growth of some kind, it’s part of growing up. I used to think that there couldn’t be anything interesting in adult fiction therefore, after all if the character had already matured at 16 what was left to do at 26 or beyond? Then I grew up and realized that you keep growing in adulthood (more than I expected anyway) and that yes, even in any adult novel worth it’s salt the protagonist is challenged and must change no matter what their age.
Perhaps Akagami isn’t a story with protagonists but one with only main characters then, we do see some growth in side characters (like the less frequently occurring Prince Raj and Obi who was already the most fleshed out character, heck he’s more interesting than Zen so this is one of the rare times when I’m more of a fan of the ObixShirayuki ship than the canon ship*) but even Zen’s retainers Mitsuhide and Kiki remain much the same (although apparently there is a small Kiki arc in the manga, I don’t believe it’s the same one that was present here so it could be that I’m jumping the gun when it comes to her). This is a character-driven story, I want the characters doing things, heck you could have created an entirely different plot for this second season (and only kept that Zen’s brother is overly antagonistic) and still ended with Shirayuki and Zen in the same place! This series is more fluffy and wish-fulfillment than I prefer, Shirayuki and Zen are more ideals than nuanced characters. Heck, I was thinking back to when I watched Ashita no Nadja and how the titular Nadja feels much more “realistic” than Shirayuki. Nadja is even more naive, childish, pure, and innocent than Shirayuki (even if Nadja goes through far more), and yet the story doesn’t equate that to complacent, Nadja has a huge range of emotions! I’m not saying Shirayuki needs to go to the “be physically restrained from beating up the villain” levels of emotions (Nadja gets pretty rightfully angry by the end of the story) but even when Shirayuki has a sudden familia encounter there’s no surprise, unhappiness, resentment, or even uncertainty, just a small smile and a “I thought so, I’m not hurt.” To me that didn’t feel like a low-key character going with the flow, that felt like a storyteller who hadn’t considered how people truly emote.
This is simply as far as I can go with romance-focused stories which makes me sad, if there was just a bit more development (and I don’t feel like any of the characters would have to change much since there is already room for growth leading to later change) then the story would grab me much more. But, even at it’s worst, the story is inoffensive and when I was struggling to keep up with any anime this past winter this was one of the ones I always made time for. Part of that is due to the visuals however, I’ve considered cosplaying from the series (the designers did a wonderful job translating manga-ka Sorata Akizuki’s designs into the anime, there’s a wide variety to the outfits but they all feel so cohesive) but had a moment of despair when I realized that I don’t know of a single cosplay photographer who can work with light and color anywhere near as well as this series does so I have no hope of getting photos that are anywhere close to as beautiful as this show. If you just look at screencaps for the show you might think it looks like a rainbow in motion but when actually animated the effect is much more subtle and yes it looks beautiful, like a pastoral, Victorian fairy tale, but far from a Lisa Frank sensory overload. For me the visuals were the star of the show, Bones clearly had a lot of fun with this series as the kept the tone light with visual humor (never over the top but still hilarious) and the few fight scenes shone nicely as well.
I can see why people enjoyed the show more than myself, there’s nothing actively bad to keep me from discouraging people from trying it, but I still feel like the Akagami should’ve challenged itself more and gone a bit deeper. At this point I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the series on DVD or not, or if I want to investigate the manga further, but I also don’t feel as if I wasted my time watching this series which makes me satisfied.
*I will also accept a ShirayukixObixZen OT3 since I will always take the OT3 option