Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Snow White with the Red Hair
GN 2 - 4
Now officially an apprentice court herbalist, Shirayuki is able to live at the royal palace in Clarines without any issues. She and Zen continue to grow closer as both carry out their duties, but there are those who are not thrilled that the second prince seems to have formed an attachment to a red-haired commoner from Tanbarun. When Zen's older brother Izana comes home, he does his best to test their bonds, even going so far as to invite Raj to the palace on an official visit. But when a Clarines noble's treachery results in injury for Shirayuki, it is Zen, not Izana, whose feelings win the day.
These three volumes of the original Snow White with the Red Hair manga bring us to the end of the anime adaptation's first season (barring one episode) and the OVA, meaning that by the end of 2020, fans of the series may be able to go beyond its animated boundaries. While that's a tantalizing thought, there's still plenty to enjoy in the source material, even if you're already perfectly familiar with the events described in these volumes.
One of the delights is only partially related to the actual plot – watching as Sorata Akiduki becomes more comfortable with the story and her own storytelling. Volume one of the series was more like a collection of interrelated short stories, and volume two to an extent follows that same format, although we can see the plot beginning to better carry across each chapter. With volume three, however, things begin feeling like a full-fledged serialized story. This is largely accomplished by having the storyline from volume two – the return to Wistal Palace of Izana, Zen's older brother. Izana has heard rumors that his little brother has developed an attachment to a certain red-headed commoner, and he's come home fully determined to figure out what's going on and possibly to put a stop to it. Among his tactics are inviting Prince Raj of Tanbarun to visit Clarines, although precisely what he hopes to accomplish with this is a bit uncertain. Possibly he believes that Zen stole Raj's paramour; he could also simply be testing Zen and Shirayuki's commitment to each other. Both would be perfectly in character for Izana, as is his playing his cards close to his vest – he's canny and comes off as a little underhanded, which may in fact be deliberate on his part. He's serious in a different way than Zen is; just as devoted to his role as Crown Prince, but he lacks Zen's straight-forwardness, which makes him appear to be a decidedly shady character possibly invested in upending his brother's happiness. Zen being Zen, Izana's machinations simply make him more determined than ever to come to the point with Shirayuki (which he does in volume four), and it certainly is possible that Izana was counting on that to a degree when he began his campaign.
Even more than the actual events of the story (the sick soldiers at the fort, the endangered bird species), it is Izana who functions as a catalyst for the romance plot of the series. Shirayuki is generally reluctant to admit to her emotions beyond her love of herbalism, and her determination to do the right thing sometimes wars with her feelings for Zen. Zen, on the other hand, isn't quite secure enough in himself to just come out and say something, so in this instance, Izana's meddling absolutely serves a major purpose. While not every story with a significant romance plotline can survive after getting the two romantic interests together, Snow White with the Red Hair does appear to have enough else going on that it can pull it off, and this is also a case where, due to Zen's royal status, dating (or “courting” in this case, given the time period) is no guarantee of a complete happily ever after, at least not without the sort of major hoop-jumping that most contemporary romances don't have to reckon with. That means that the romantic moment at the end of volume four is merely a reward for the readers without feeling anything like a conclusive end to the romance narrative, which is certainly reassuring given the fact that as of September 2019 there were twenty-one volumes in the ongoing series.
None of this is to belittle the other events of these volumes, however. Volume four is the strongest of the three in this case, primarily dealing with Zen and Shirayuki working together to save a species of intelligent messenger bird from the snobbish nobleman who owns their habitat. Not only is the race plotline exciting, but this story also allows Shirayuki to come out of her shell a bit more than usually, showing her determination to help her new friend and the birds while refusing to take any garbage from anyone. While she's done this a few times (cutting off her hair was certainly the first time we saw it), most of the time she keeps her determination quiet, channeling it into her work as an herbalist, as we see in the fort plot in volume two. Here she's forced to step outside her comfort zone and show everyone what she's made of, and not only is it impressive, it's important for the readers to be reminded that she's not the quiet wallflower she at times can be mistaken for. It also is another factor in forcing Zen to act; Shirayuki's reckless behavior makes him realize that he can't take her for granted as well as pointing out that she's nothing like the usual people he interacts with.
This last is important, and a short glimpse into Zen's past in volume four gives us a better understanding of why. Experiences in his younger days forced him to be aware that his status as a prince may color people's interactions with him more than he'd like to believe, and a small piece of him very likely wonders if his feelings for Shirayuki, genuine though they may be, are going to come back and bite him in the end. This is also a potential reason for Izana's attempted intervention, but it's something that Zen has to deal with himself, and seeing Shirayuki throw herself into danger for her beliefs gives him the shove he needs to move things forward. That he's unquestionably supported by Mitsuhide and Kiki (and more or less by Obi, who may have his own conflicting emotions in this case) certainly helps, but ultimately it is only Zen who can confront his lingering fears.
Alongside her storytelling, Akiduki's art also improves over the course of these three volumes, gaining more fluidity and quality of line. While there are still persistent issues, such as movement and torso-to-leg ratios, by volume four this is a very attractive series. Also nice to read are Akiduki's sidebars, most of which talk about her family's reaction to the series and the process of creating it; her father's take on Izana is particularly fun to read about. All told, Snow White with the Red Hair has really settled into a good rhythm and becomes a more engaging story with each new volume. It's not as action-packed or angst-filled as some other shoujo manga out there, and that means that it gets to stand on its own as a charming fantasy story.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Story and art increasingly good. Character motivations make sense.
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