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Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime, aka Snow White with the Red Hair is an absolutely adorable romance series made nearly perfect by one simple word: Agency.

There are major spoilers ahead.

The (Mostly) Honest Opening

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime has one of the best, and (mostly) honest, openings for 2015.

This opening beautifully showcases the look of the show, the feel of the characters, and their roles in the show. Note the sensible costume designs, that Shirayuki gets her hands and face dirty, and that Shirayuki is strongly associated with books. Shirayuki even gets a power walk in uniform.

There’s just so much in this opening that fits the show. I was half tempted to just post the opening as my review and say that Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is Exactly What It Says On the Tin, enjoy!

I must, alas, warn readers that this opening contains a blatant and reprehensible lie: That lovely ballroom scene.

THERE IS NO BALLROOM SCENE IN AKAGAMI NO SHIRAYUKI-HIME. THE OPENING IS A LYING OPENING THAT LIES.

By the end of the first cour I really wanted that ball room scene. FEH. The spoilers start now BTW.

The Set Up

The eponymous episode 1 Snow White with the Red Hair starts the way the series means to continue by having Shirayuki[1] save herself from a bad spot.

Prince Raj of Tanbarun has heard of a beautiful woman with red hair and sends a minion to collect her as a new concubine. Shirayuki is the local herbalist and basically has better things to do with her time. So, Shirayuki spends the night preparing medicines for her regular customers, cuts her hair, and skips town.

Slightly later on Shirayuki is investigating an unexpected house in the forest when Zen, the second prince of Clarines, jumps over the wall and trips when he sees Shirayuki. When Zen refuses her offer of treatment for his bruise, with a scabbarded sword pointed at her no less, Shirayuki deliberately whacks the scabbard into her arm before applying the offered treatment to herself.

Zen is, quite naturally, impressed by this and it’s safe to say that the romance starts here.

Agency Amid Amor

Agency is what Shirayuki is made of. Shirayuki may not be a fighter, but Shirayuki is never the damsel in distress[2], and always finds her path to her future.

The slow build of the romance towards episode 10 Inexperienced Heart, Going Deeper[3] is lovely to watch, but Shirayuki’s quest to create her own future is what makes Akagami no Shirayuki-hime truly special to watch.

Strong female characters have often been interpreted as fighters – think Buffy or Balsa[4]. So I found it refreshing to see strength in terms of academic ambitions. Shirayuki’s ambition to be a court herbalist is as, and arguably more, important to her as her growing romance with Zen.

Shirayuki’s personal development is a huge part of why the show works as well as it does, along with her willingness to stand up for herself in the face of pressure from other nobles to back off.

The Price of Royalty, the Price of Loyalty

Episode 6 The Back Full of Meaning and episode 7 Let Me Hear the Melody of your Smile introduce Zen’s elder brother Izana. Who, to be blunt, is a jerk.

I’ll grant that Izana is a jerk for a reason: to ensure that Zen fully meets the “spare” part of the “heir and a spare” saying as a prince who can rule if needed.

Izana’s reintroduction of Raj of Tanbarun to test both Zen and Shirayuki feels mean. It works out well enough, but Izana ends up as a character to respect rather than like.

This leads well into episode 8 Memories Draw Spirals of the Past and episode 9 Feelings That Connect and Reach, which are a superb look into Zen’s past, and in particular his relationship with Mitsuhide and his developing relationship with Obi.

These are the episodes where you see the success of Izana’s efforts. This is where you see how Zen learned the price of being royalty, and the price to be paid to earn loyalty. It’s impressive that Zen learned both lessons without becoming like Izana, and sealing the deal with the roguish Obi feels like a real victory when you see it.

Of Kisses and Consent

Episode 10 Inexperienced Heart, Going Deeper ends with a Stolen First Kiss that feels like a natural result of the story in general, and Shirayuki being awesome in that episode in particular. Despite the problematic nature of that trope[5], this moment really sang to me. It was just beautiful.

Then, impossibly, it got better.

At the start of episode 11 Encountering… A Color for the First Time Zen apologises, and promises to ask first next time, and to ask for Shirayuki’s feelings at that time.

Encountering… A Color for the First Time is a romantic episode built on mutual consent, and establishing each other’s feelings. The resolution is just beautiful, and the lead up to the second kiss is fabulous.

As I noted on twitter during this rewatch I am, on occasion, a soppy romantic and these episodes are just magical for that aspect[6].

This leads into the final episode Goodbye to the Beginning which is a filler episode around a festival in the castle. It’s amusing filler, but still filler. Encountering… A Color for the First Time is the real finale for the first cour and it’s adorable.

Other Bits and Pieces

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a beautifully presented series to look at, and supported by an awesome soundtrack. The soundtrack is mostly classical and consistently supports the mood of each episode. The ending is also fairly cool, but is also made of lies (Shirayuki does not get to wear that dress. Boo).

The Interim Verdict

The second cour of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime will be starting in 2016. I can’t wait, this was one of my favourites of 2015 and I’m really looking forward to the second half.

Truly an anime for the romantic in all of us.

[1] Shirayuki translates more or less literally as White Snow. Not a lot of subtlety there.

[2] OK, OK, there was that incident in episode 2 but even then Shirayuki about 80% rescued herself anyway.

[3] The ending to episode 10 was one of the few “Aieee! I can’t wait until next week!” moments of the season. The payoff in episode 11 justified it. More on that later in the review.

[4] Or for that matter Kiki who may well be the deadliest fighter among Zen’s three attendants. Although Mitsuhide is no slouch, and Obi definitely has his moments.

[5] Which I’ve discussed previously at some length when I took my first look at Say “I Love You”.

[6] There’s also actual story about Zen establishing new capabilities for the kingdom, but who cares about that when there’s ROMANCE on the line.