The Summer 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Snow White with the Red Hair
How would you rate episode 1 of
Snow White with the Red Hair ?
Community score: 4.2
Are you a Disney princess lover? Is the sparse release schedule of classic-style Disney fairytale movies getting you down? Frozen was almost two years ago now, and nobody does the formula quite like the house of mouse. (Those who have tried don't live long to regret it. Lookin' at you, Quest for Camelot.) Isn't there something new to fill the void while you wear out your yellowed clamshell VHS tapes of fairytale classics gone by?
Well, look no further than Snow White with the Red Hair! Despite the very mildest smatterings of anime trappings, this sharply-written and magically immersive Studio Bones series is Disney princess crack in all the right ways, and unlike the grand majority of shojo anime, it's also beautifully animated! Visually, nothing can compare to a Disney feature film, but it does look way better than Disneytoon TV shows looked in the 90s, especially ones with princesses in them! (That's a low bar if you're not aware. Some parts of childhood are better left forgotten.)
Since it's adapted from a shojo manga of the same name (and needs to fill many episodes to come), this isn't a straight re-telling of the Snow White story, but a hodgepodge of fairytale elements from all over, smartly distilled down into a story that feels new and familiar all at once. As the title implies, Snow White is a redhead in this version, and her rare beauty is coveted by the kingdom's prince, a foppish brute who rides a perfect line of flamboyant non-threat that makes him entertaining in that oh-so-Disney way. When she is summoned to the castle to become his concubine, she cuts off her red hair and escapes into the forest to turn more tropes from the Snow White tale on their head by running into her true prince, a roguish rapscallion with lovable comic relief bodyguards. After she uses her knowledge of herbs to heal his wounds, he takes the poison apple in her stead, and through a few heartwarming metaphors about love and fate, the two conquer the evil prince and are brought together to seek new adventure over the horizon. (Okay, the good prince has also developed an "immunity to iocane powder" so to speak, which makes the apple less immediately deadly.)
I feel lazy for just falling back on the same comparison over and over, but I have literally never seen a shojo series this close to the magic of the Disney formula, in all its saccharine sculpted simplicity. If you don't like Disney princess movies, you probably won't have any use for this show, but if those animated classics awaken a joy in your heart incomparable to anything else, this is absolutely appointment viewing. It's off to a strong start, and I can't wait to be charmed by more in the future.
In fact, the only thing missing from this spiritual successor to Disney princessdom is the presence of literal magic. No magical elements have been introduced yet, but I can hold out hope for talking animal companions down the road, right?
Snow White with the Red Hair is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Rating: 3Snow White with the Red Hair has exactly the kind of aesthetic that I like. I was immediately drawn to its sunlight-speckled forests, its glistening meadows, and its ornate architecture. I loved the shot of the sun shining through a panel of stained glass windows at the palace, and the quaint German architecture that populated the town. The character design is pleasant as well, though it borders on generic. If the entire show was just an endless reel of the main character walking through a forest picking herbs, I think I might be okay with that.
Instead, it feels a little too simple for now, although this may change in the upcoming episodes. The main character is Shirayuki, a talented herbalist who also happens to have hair "as red as apples." She's disgusted when she's summoned to the castle to be the prince's concubine, and chooses instead to run away. Exhausted, she stops by an uninhabited house where she meets three passersby who often use the house as their personal hang-out spot. One of them, the white-haired one (which I guess is not abnormal for youngsters in their world, nor is blue), takes an immediate liking to her, but falls prey to a poison apple incident.
After all, while this particular Snow White story is not your typical Snow White story, it still borrows a lot of elements, which may delight fairy tale enthusiasts. From a "mirror, mirror" quip to a basket full of apples (my fingers are crossed for Shirayuki to face off with a dragon), there are a lot of cute little touches for those who like such things.
It turns out, the white-haired man is actually a prince from the neighboring lands, and he puts a quick end to the first entitled prince's nonsense. And while he technically does "save" Shirayuki from her fate as the prince's mistress, it's important to know that she's not helpless. Not only is she a learned herbalist, she makes her own decisions and follows them with confidence, even if it won't always lead her to a positive outcome. It's nice to see women protagonists given that level of control over their fates, though time will tell how she fares with her new compatriots.
Overall, the first episode of Snow White with the Red Hair was pleasant. It wasn't particularly exciting or noteworthy (except for those who especially like fairy tales, and viewers like me who like this certain art style), but it was charming and entertaining enough, and worth checking out again next week. I'm interested to see how the story progresses from here, and what kind of role Shirayuki will be relegated to in her new group.
It's no secret that I love (and teach) fairy tales and folklore, but I have to admit that “Snow White” is one of my least favorite stories, despite its overwhelming popularity. Therefore I was all set to go grumpy professor on this show, readying my rants in my head. As it turns out, I was incredibly wrong and this is my favorite debut of the season thus far.
The story only follows the Snow White tale type on the surface. Shirayuki (which translates to “snow white”) is an apothecary, a profession she seems to have inherited from her deceased grandparents. She's known about town for her apple-red hair, which you get the feeling was uncomfortable when she was little, but now in her late teens (?) she seems comfortable with it...until she catches the eye of creepy Prince Raj. Shirayuki really values being able to dictate her own life (implying that this is unsual), so when Raj demands that she present herself the following morning as his concubine, she cuts off her trademark locks and leaves. She finds an empty house and spends the night outside it, and the next morning she meets Mr. Romantic Interest, a quirky lad named Zen. Poisoned apples, mutual rescues, and the start of a likely adorable romance ensue.
What I really liked about this episode, apart from the fact that, despite very simple character designs, the animation is fluid and beautiful, is the personalities of the characters and the ways that they interact. Shirayuki isn't all sweetness and light; there's a tough core to her that allows her to prove trustworthiness to Zen and to leave a snarky message for Raj when she runs off. She's kind enough to worry about the customers she'll be leaving behind, and also smart enough to know when someone has offered her a really good option. Shirayuki values herself and her skills, and that makes her an engaging heroine. Zen is also pretty great, allowing Shirayuki to make her own choices and able to laugh at himself when he needs to. His guards, Mitsuhide and Kiki, are probably the least developed character in the episode, but given that the hero and heroine are well drawn in only one episode, that's okay.
There are references to the titular fairy tale, and to be perfectly honest, the black hair from the original tale really isn't as big a deal as the title might imply. The name “Snow White” simply comes from her pale skin, although in some versions it can also be the snow her mother's three drops of blood fall on. In this respect, Snow White With Red Hair is right on the mark, as are the basket of beautiful poisoned apples Raj delivers to her. Making Raj into the Wicked Queen figure is a very interesting choice, as is making his dead-eyed henchman into the mirror, especially since once theory has the mirror representing the male gaze in the tale.
All folklore aside, this episode was fun to watch with its strong characters, start of a sweet romance, and references to the original fairy tale. Shirayuki is a smart, strong heroine whom I will enjoy following, and Zen is a nice change from the kind of shoujo hero we typically see. If you like shoujo you should definitely check this out, but more than that, it looks like this is going to have a good story beyond any demographic idea, and that makes it worth a look.
Shirayuki, a girl with brilliant red hair, lives out a quiet life as an herbalist, until one day the wicked prince Raj demands her hand as his concubine. Not wanting to give up her freedom, she cuts her hair and runs away, eventually bumping into the carefree swordsman Zen and his friends out in the forest. The two form a connection almost immediately, but when Zen is poisoned by an apple meant for Shirayuki, she learns her new friend is actually Zen Wisteria, the second prince of a neighboring nation. Freed from Raj with Zen's assistance, Shirayuki now takes her first steps into a new world.
I kinda wish I was grabbed by this one more than I was. There's a lot to like here, with the show's easy greatest strength being its absolutely gorgeous production. The lush backgrounds, full of colorful skies and beautiful cities and ornate forests, remind me more of Makoto Shinkai's film work than most television anime. And the animation is almost as good, with this first episode containing some flavorful character animation for all of the cast and even a brief but well-composed clash of swords. The music is also lively and engaging, making this overall one of the more impressive Bones productions of recent years.
But the story… well, it just kind of is, so far. Beyond the fairy tale trappings of Shirayuki's fateful red hair and the war of princes, everything that happens here falls into a pretty predictable shoujo romance pattern. Lots of long, meaningful looks, lots of billowing hair, lots of slow pans as the characters stand just absolutely dazzled by each other's presence. Zen is carefree and noble in a way that makes him indistinguishable from any number of other dashing princes (in fact, he's even more vanilla than you usually get in these characters), and Shirayuki is mainly just kind and starstruck so far. This first episode moves efficiently through the show's setup, but none of the characters or worldbuilding variables really hooked me; it's certainly pretty, but so far it's a pretty articulation of the most predictable possible fairy-tale romance.
On the plus side, Snow White's first episode told pretty much one entire self-contained prologue story, so the show could actually go in any direction from here. Judging by the opening song, it seems like Shirayuki will become some kind of assistant to Zen, with the two growing closer over time. That's all well and good, but the biggest problem is I just don't care about either of them yet. Hopefully the upcoming episodes can help them stand out more - it'd be a shame if all these beautiful backgrounds and animation went to waste.
Review: Shirayuki (whose name, if I'm not mistaken, directly translates as “white snow,” hence the title) is a young, pretty herbalist in her home country of Tanbarun, but she stands out even more because of hair as red as an apple, which is quite rare. That has brought her to the attention of her country's vain Prince Raj, who seeks to make her a concubine. Shirayuki does not want to be claimed like a piece of fruit bought at a stall (a comparison she uses herself later on), so she departs Tanbarun. In the woods she encounters a trio led by the dashing Zen, who has an interesting way of looking at the world which appeals to her. Tanbarun's man has tracked her down, though, and when Zen unknowingly eats one of a basket of poisoned apples left for her in trying to make a metaphor, Shirayuki is desperate enough for the antidote to reluctantly heed Raj's demands to return with him. But Zen isn't ordinary, either; he is a Second Prince of a neighboring kingdom, and hence has been conditioned to not be so vulnerable to poisons. After Raj is put in his place, her offers Shirayuki a chance to find out if, indeed, the red of her hair indicates a fated connection in a good way rather than a bad one.
Snow White with the Red Hair is based on a shoujo manga, and the effect that has on the story is evident throughout, if not necessarily in the artistry; those, like me, who are normally turned off by distinctive shoujo artistic style points have no need to worry here. While Shirayuki is clearly not going to become an action hero (that role will be left to one of Zen's companions, a woman who is apparently quite physically capable), she is nonetheless a woman of means and determination, one who is not going to merely let herself be swept off her feet by a prince and is looking for something much more than just being a concubine. That makes her instantly likable and respectable as a heroine, though I do hope that the series eventually allows her hair to grow back out. What action there is in the first episode isn't much to speak of, as the writing is clearly more interested in using symbolism and exploring Zen's self-deterministic philosophical bent, but it does have its own dashes of humor. That and the character archetypes used here tend to be more anime-typical, so this is more using some standard elements in different ways than anything radically different, but they are used in pleasing enough fashion to not be tiresome. On the downside, the writing pushes too hard to work in allusions to the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story, to the point of awkwardness.
The artistic effort comes from BONES, and while it is not top-notch or particularly bold, it is good enough and offers some nice attention to clothing design. The soft, breezy soundtrack sets a low-key tone probably intended to evoke the impression of a gentle love story, and Zen and Shirayuki are already showing signs that they would make a good couple. Overall, this one gives off a vibe akin to last year's The World Is Still Beautiful, despite is radically different story approach, and that is not at all a bad thing.
In the kingdom of Tanbarum, the selfish prince Raj asks the eternal question: who is the fairest of them all? The answer: Shirayuki, a girl with unnaturally red hair who works as an herbalist in town. Raj won't rest until she belongs to him, so she takes flight into the woods, where she meets the handsome husbando Zen, grey-haired noble warrior with an enlightened view on self-reliance who's here to help Shirayuki become the shojo heroine princess she's clearly cut out to be.
Raj sends a bushel of poison apples (because, you know, Snow White) and Zen winds up taking a bite, which means they have to confront the foppish prince for the antidote. Zen isn't taking this lying down, and he scares Raj into leaving the two of them alone… for now. Holding hands, Zen and Shirayuki commit to a lifetime of sweet, nonthreatening fairytale adventures together.
‘Pleasant fairytale romance featuring capable female lead’ is a subgenre in shojo and Snow White with the Red Hair is so archetypal of that subgenre that it may as well show up in the dictionary next to the phrase. Right from the get-go the story lifts from Beauty and the Beast, the eponymous Snow White and even a little Princess Bride for good measure, and it does it all with a gorgeous, understated pastel aesthetic (and some really great character animation – whoever handled Prince Raj was showing off, big time). Honestly I thought the story was a little dull, but I liked the lead character and I'm curious to see where it's going. The closing credits feature the two leads in royal wear doing a little ballroom dancing in a palace of their own, so if this is just going full-tilt Disney Princess Fantasy Time, that's fine.
I didn't find Snow White with the Red Hair to be particularly special – it's all a little too rote and convenient to really grab me. I appreciated that they basically scuttled the evil prince as a serious threat right away, but they gave me no hint as to why I'd be interested in the further adventures of Not-Belle and her prince charming, but it is exceptionally competent and above all, it's just nice. It's nice. Sometimes it's OK for a show to just be nice. I cannot imagine this won't be a big hit with the crowd that loved stuff like Yona of the Dawn or The World Is Still Beautiful. Whether or not you were a fan of those will tell you instantly if this is the show for you. Hell, looking at the key art probably did that, right?
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