It seems that every year, I grow to appreciate the art of animation every year, by growing fonder of different studios, actors, techniques, narrative styles, and directors and the conclusion I have come to is that without Japanese animation, I would not harbor the appreciation for storytelling that I possess now. It takes a special kind of show to remind me of that to the point that I am left breathless by what has transpired. Akagami no Shirayukihime, or Snow White with the Red Hair, is that show.
In the kingdom of Tanbarun lives a beautiful young woman with beautiful hair, bright and red as an apple, a trait said to be unusual in this world. Her name is Shirayuki, and she is a herbalist. But one day, the mischievous Prince Raj hears of her and demands that she become his concubine. Not wanting any part of his wicked plans, she spends all night concocting medicine for every one of her clients in town, packs up her things, and cuts her long hair short, leaving the remainder on the window sill for the devious prince who craved it so. As she leaves she meets Zen, the prince of Clarines, and together, they chart a path to Zen’s homeland so that Shirayuki may follow her dreams, not stopping for anyone or anything. And so begins a young woman’s journey of discovery, adventure, and love.
Akagami is just as much a story of empowerment as it is a story of love. Shirayuki is the single greatest female character in anime and I am aware of the weight of such a claim. She constantly faces danger head on using her wits rather than resorting to combat to solve her disputes and her willingness to stand up to those who think less of her for her social class is an inspiring sight that deserves to be seen. She is the type of character I will tell stories about to my future children, especially if I have a daughter. When she meets Zen, the male lead and love interest of the show, they certainly make for great friends and perhaps she is attracted to him, but her motivations for going to his country with him are not to pursue him but to achieve her own dreams. She wants to be a court herbalist in his kingdom because herbology is a passion of hers. It is an extension of her desire to help people. Yet despite this, the show doesn’t ever judge her for also having real feelings for Zen and neither should it. She proves time and time again through the show that she is entirely in control of her destiny, and when that control is taken away, she fights using her knowledge rather than brawn as it would go against her character to do otherwise.
Zen is likewise a phenomenal character. His romance with Shirayuki is handled beautifully and the two talk with one another in a way that breaks down the barriers of their social classes, establishing each other as equals. When Shirayuki’s life is in danger, Zen scolds her for acting rashly in order to prove that someone is after her, but Shirayuki confidently affirms that she is aware of the dangers and doesn’t need to be scolded. And Zen compromises with her. The two are a paragon of trust and friendship, which makes the romantic development so much sweeter in the long run. His protective nature is inspiring but he doesn’t overdo it and fully trusts Shirayuki.
That being said, the rest of the cast is delightful as well, from Zen’s two attendants, Mitsuhide and Kiki, to the mischievous Obi, to the Chief herbalist, to Shirayuki’s young partner Ryuu, the cast is beaming with personality and charm. Even Raj, despite being an antagonist at first, grows to be likable, if a bit of a goof. Aiding in the character department is the acting. Funimation’s dub for Akagami is the best dub I have heard from them in a while, with the honorable mentions being Brina Palencia as Shirayuki, Josh Grelle as Zen, and Rachel Robinson as Garack Gazelt. If you are going to watch this show, watch it dubbed. It is worth it, trust me.
If I had to describe this show in one phrase, it would be “Ghibli-esque.” The visuals, vocal performances, and music all come together to make a show that captures the wonder and beauty that captivated me about movies such as Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, or the Cat Returns. The animation is done by Studio Bones, who I praised in my review of Kekkai Sensen as being the best animation studio in the world. This show is no different in terms of visual quality. It is beautiful and I can’t imagine any other studio creating the same environments nearly as well.
The show is directed by Masahiro Ando, who’s resume speaks for itself. He directed Sword of the Stranger, a truly phenomenal hidden gem of the late 2000’s and he also was the choreographer for the Cowboy Bebop movie and a key animator on some of the most critically acclaimed anime of all time. The guy might not get as much recognition as other big directors in the industry, but he is more than worthy of the respect.
The music is composed by Michiru Oshima, who has previously worked on the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Little Witch Academia, and Rokka no Yuusha, among many others. Her music works best for bright and colorful fantasy shows such as this. The feeling of joy that one receives by listening to her tracks almost makes her music easily identifiable. Without even knowing her name or knowing her involvement with other shows, I could tell she was that I was listening to her music just by listening to it when I watched Rokka no Yuusha a few months back.
When I rewatched the first season of Akagami with my sister in preparation for this review, she didn’t quite understand after the first couple of episodes why I held the show in such high regard. She was captivated and wanted to continue because she enjoyed it, but she hadn’t quite yet understood why I loved it so much. Seeing the characters grow stronger and closer together made it clear, and rewatching it strengthened my resolve in concluding that Akagami no Shirayukihime is a happy, beautiful, romantic masterpiece.
This show shows me the reason I watch Anime: To immerse myself in the machinations of creators who love to let their imaginations run wild just like me and who want to leave an impression on my mind, and my heart. I wish there was more I could do to thank them.
WHERE TO WATCH IT:
Akagami no Shirayukihime is available for legal streaming through Funimation Now and available on Blu-ray and DVD. Season 2 will be released on DVD on April 25th, 2017. Expect a review or at least a recommendation for that season as well after I have rewatched it.