Reviewby Theron Martin,
Snow White with the Red Hair
Season One BD+DVD
Shirayuki, a young woman who runs an herbalist shop in the country of Tanbarun, has attracted the attention of her country's not-so-beloved Prince Raj for the wrong reasons: he's heard about her rare red hair. Not wanting to accept a forceful offer to become his concubine, she instead flees and winds up meeting a young man and his friends at a forest manor. They turn out to be Zen Wisteria, the second prince of the neighboring country of Clarines, and his attendants. Upon learning of her troubles with Prince Raj, Zen invites Shirayuki to come to Clarines. While looking for work there, she learns of an opportunity to become an Apprentice Court Herbalist, a job that would allow her to pursue her career passion and still stay close to Zen. Not everyone approves of how friendly the two are getting, for her status as a commoner calls her motives into suspicion, but neither is the type to wilt in the face of adversity, especially when their growing feelings of love are at stake.
The name for this 2015 manga adaptation comes from Shirayuki translating into English as “Snow White,” and a few pointed references to the classic fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs do pop up: the opening line of the series is the famous “Mirror, Mirror” line, poisoned apples get involved before the first episode ends, and the heroine initially meets her prince in the woods. Beyond these elements though, more overt allusions to the original fairy tale are virtually nonexistent. Shirayuki and Zen's tale instead treads an entirely different path to portray one of the most romantic anime fantasies of recent years.
Though Shirayuki is the titular character, she shares top billing about equally with Zen, allowing us to see that Zen is Shirayuki's equal as a character and broadening the show's scope. Both are very well-rounded characters, so we can easily understand why they've started to fall in love. Shirayuki is a hard-working, amenable young woman who stands firm in her dreams and convictions, determined to pursue them no matter the challenges that face her, and she doesn't easily back down from anyone. Only the prospects of love truly fluster her, making her even more adorable than usual in those moments. Zen is a dashing young man whose youthful verve is tempered by a worldliness demanded of him by being a prince; flashbacks in middle episodes portray exactly how his personality began to shift, as do references to the problematic process of building up immunities to poisons. Still, he is a free spirit whose philosophies about self-determination resonate deeply with Shirayuki, who stands as the practical epitome of his ideals. They mesh so well together that it would be more shocking for them not to fall in love.
Though Shirayuki and Zen could probably carry the series on their own, they are backed up by a superb supporting cast. The even-tempered, somewhat sardonic Kiki and more demonstrative Mitsuhide perfectly complement Zen as his ever-present attendants, but even they are trumped by the later addition of the sharp-witted, ninja-like Obi as Zen's agent. Prince Izana, Zen's older brother, gives the air of a schemer and seems intent on giving both Zen and Shirayuki a hard time, while Raj is appreciable as the pathetic bad guy who gives at least some hints of reforming in the future. (He has a more prominent role in the second season, where his character develops much more.) A handful of lesser recurring characters, whether it's the protocol-minded noble, a couple of guards, or Shirayuki's fellow herbalists, round out the fun and entertaining cast.
If the series has a weak point, it's the pacing. The presence of some ongoing developments is not enough to make this a plot-intensive story, so events tend to unfold languidly, with exacting attention to little details and character interactions. While this is a solid approach for a romantic tale where the humor and action elements are sidelined, it also results in some scenes becoming tedious or schmaltzy. The flashbacks to Zen's past, while valuable, also run long and result in the heroine having minimal screen time for almost two episodes. The natural charm of the leads compensates for this, as do some great displays of Shirayuki's determination, but only to a point. As a lesser flaw, the villain for one later episode is almost comically over-the-top in a way that probably wasn't intended.
While not flawless, the technical merits of this series are pretty good, making the show as pretty in visuals as it is in spirit. Detail work in settings and backgrounds are quite satisfying, and the use of light and color give the series a warm and positive feel even in nighttime scenes; even at the story's darkest moments, the overtones never get heavy or grim. Character designs favor typical shoujo style in a more subtle way than most, with slender figures and tall men generally standing above Shirayuki. That said, character designs are attractive in varying ways, with Shirayuki being the stand-out. She's pretty in an approachable way, with both strength and vulnerability evident in her appearance and the way she carries herself. The animation is also good, although fight scenes take some shortcuts, and some shots rely too much on frozen poses. The series presumably pulls a TV-14 rating because of one particular sequence involving lethal graphic violence, but there's nothing approaching fanservice, so it's quite tame as series with such a rating go.
The fully orchestrated musical score hearkens back to the romances of Hollywood's earlier days, which means that it tends to lay on its instrumentation a little thick. While that certainly evokes the classical romantic feel that the story is aiming for, its sweeping sounds can become annoying after a while if that melodrama is not normally something that appeals to you. The opener and closer both fit the tone of the series well but aren't otherwise exceptional.
Funimation's English dub turned out very well. Brina Palencia has shown in other series that she can capably handle the kind of soft-spoken, spunky earnestness of a character like Shirayuki, and Josh Grelle is also a nice fit as Zen. I couldn't imagine anyone in Funimation's established voice actor pool interpreting Obi and his peculiar attitude better than Austin Tindle does, and the same goes for Todd Haberkorn as Raj. The English script makes no fundamental changes and fully retains the feel of the original if not the exact wording.
Funimation's release of the series is its standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack in a slipcover. On-disc extras include clean opener and closer, series promo videos and trailers, and English audio commentaries for episodes 8 and 11. The first, which features series scripters Jamie Marchi and Rachel Robinson (who voice Kiki and head herbalist Garack, respectively) talking about the writing process, while the latter features main cast members. The former is much more informative, as Marchi and Robinson go into detail about certain writing choices that were made, including the levels of formality used for each character based on social status and how that was reflected in the script writing.
On the whole, the first season of Snow White with the Red Hair is a sweet, inoffensive romance featuring a heroine who could be seen as one of anime's best female role models. If you're looking for a good series to show to non-anime fans as representative of what anime can be, this one makes a fine choice.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Strong lead characters, solid supporting cast, pretty artistry
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