Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 12 (Season Finale & Review)

And so we come at last to the end middle of things.

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Snow White hits its first-cour finale today, so it makes sense to spend the first half of this post providing a mostly spoiler-free review for anyone who somehow hasn’t made this a part of their watch list and is wondering if they should. Short answer: Yes, you should. Long answer: Hit the jump for some glowing paragraphs, and I’ll let you know when we’re moving back into spoiler territory.

I’ve spent the last twelve weeks falling deeper in love with this series, and that holds true through its finale. Snow White is a beautiful anime, a fairy tale for the modern age that approaches every element of its production with affection and a tremendous amount of skill. Each piece—writing, acting, art design and animation, music, cinematography—weaves together to create a singular mood that wraps itself around you like a blanket on a cold day, drawing you into its world and characters’ lives.

Showrunner Masahiro Ando (Hanasaku Iroha, Blast of Tempest) has a talent for creating works with a unique flavor that are greater than the sum of their parts, but he and the creative team at BONES have outdone themselves here. Dreamlike backgrounds, restrained but expressive characters, smooth, consistently quality animation, and of course Oshima Michiru’s positively transcendent score make Snow White the most polished, complete, and artful production of the season, and one of the best of the year.

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All of which wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if the original story wasn’t up to snuff, but fortunately Ando picked a lovely little manga to adapt here, elevating the material while still remaining faithful to it. In general terms, Snow White is the story of Shirayuki the young pharmacist and Zen the second prince of Clarines as they both struggle to find a balance between personal agency and public expectations.

They are joined by a gradually expanding cast of characters, including Zen’s retainers, Shirayuki’s fellow herbalists, and various political figures, all of whom are well-written individuals that serve to add color the world. But it’s our central pair who carry the story, and they do so with aplomb.

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Shirayuki is talented, level-headed, and determined, as dedicated to her work as she is her personal relationships, and while she struggles with insecurities and prejudice, she never lets it control her for long. She’s an excellent example of how a female protagonist can be complex and capable without being a warrior, and it’s easy to root for her whether she’s navigating her career, Clarines’s political scene, or her personal life. Zen is equally likable, a noble with a streak of wanderlust who’d rather be a commoner but has come to accept his responsibilities as a prince. And, unlike so many romantic heroes before him, he’s neither aggressive nor cold, but amicable, open, and respectful of others.

Simply put, they’re responsible, compassionate adults who deal with their problems using a combination of reason and empathy. They struggle with conflicts both personal and social, but they never let those problems spiral out of control, and they’re always quick to communicate honestly with each other. Their relationship is one of trust and equality, with each inspiring and pushing the other to improve. So, basically it’s what every fictional romance ought to be, and it’s wonderful.

Screenshot_2015-07-28-09-02-01In terms of overall story, Snow White is character-driven and semi-episodic, less interested in a single plot line as it is in story arcs that build on each other, developing individuals, relationships, and the politics of its palace setting at an unhurried, almost sleepy pace. It’s an intentional narrative decision that doesn’t lead to high tension, but rewards patient viewers as we come to know (and love) our cast, as well as dive into the show’s understated but ongoing exploration of the power imbalance between nobles and commoners and how those in positions of authority can best serve others. Oh, and those themes are explored via visual motifs as much as dialogue, because seriously, this show knows what it’s doing and does it exceptionally well.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a real complaint at this point. Maybe that the first couple episodes were a little repetitive and slow to get started? But even that’s part of Snow White‘s charm, the way it teases out personalities and relationships over time, allowing the audience to grow closer to Shirayuki and Zen (and the rest of the cast) as they grow closer to one other. I said in my Rule of Three Review that the level-headed protagonist, aversion to melodrama, and restrained tone wouldn’t be for everyone, and I suppose that’s still true. But if so, that’s a genuine shame, because you really are missing out on something special here.

Season Grade: A

…Well, that got longer than intended. Ah, well. Now all you newbies out there know how great Snow White is! So go watch it! Just don’t read past this paragraph, as it’s going to get real spoiler-y in 3, 2, 1…

And hello to all you continuing viewers and returning readers! I just clocked a whopping 800 words of review, so you’ll excuse me if the episode post is on the short side this week. The good news is “Goodbye to the Beginning” is relaxed even by Snow White‘s standards, functioning as a sort of coda to last week’s emotional climax, so there’s not a whole lot to add in terms of analysis.

We follow Shirayuki and Zen (and our Loyal Retainer Trio, of course) through Open Castle Day, a festival held every few years where a portion of the palace is turned into a kind of fairgrounds for the public. It’s a mostly lighthearted adventure where the biggest “threat” is an ambitious theater troop leader (the HORROR!), but it does some clever things thematically, and of course provides us with more wonderful ShiraZen moments.

Mine is an EVIL laugh!

Mine is an EVIL laugh!

Before we get to the meat of my commentary, let’s take a moment to appreciate our side characters. Obi’s constant needling of Zen never fails to make me giggle, and his loyalty to his “master” is genuine, even if his interactions with Shirayuki continue to be full of the mixed signals. I don’t think he’s a threat—he respects and cares for both Shirayuki and Zen too much to do anything untoward—but the series seems to be intentionally dancing him along this line between love and love, and I’ll be curious to see if that goes anywhere next cour.

Kiki remains woefully underused (fingers crossed for more of her next cour, too), but Mitsuhide makes up for it by being a delight, equal parts Group Mom and Overprotective Older Brother. His Glomp O’ Joy in response to Zen and Shirayuki getting together provided the biggest burst of heartwarming in an episode full of them, and easily earns him the spot of Best Bro Runner-Up of the Year (second only to My Love Story‘s Sunakawa Makoto, because obviously).

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As for our main pair, they spend the episode figuring out how to be a couple, and especially how to shift between the realms of the private and the public. The central conflict wasn’t my favorite of the series, as Zen gets a little “possessive boyfriend” with the hand-kissing bit, and there are some unsettling harassment/assault connotations to the stories about Shirayuki’s hair that, while tastefully and sympathetically handled, always feel a bit tonally jarring in a show as soothing as this one. But it does feed in nicely with the episode’s central ideas about performance, and leads to a finale that’s well worth the journey we take to get there.

Both Shirayuki and Zen spend large portions of this one in public spheres, and are by necessity forced to don disguises in order to blend in. Zen hides beneath a guard’s uniform so no one will recognize him as the prince; Shirayuki raises her hood to keep from drawing too much attention to her hair. Then we slap a performance on top of that performance when the two literally take to the stage, Shirayuki playing the part of the helpless princess and Zen the defending knight. Set before the backdrop of a castle almost as beautiful as Clarines’s real one, it’s the fairy tale we’ve heard before, and the one we may have expected Snow White to be.

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The two seem to have fun playing these temporary roles (Zen more than Shirayuki, for obvious reasons), but the series takes care to remind us that these are masks, not their true selves. Once the two are in private, their disguises fall away and we’re able to see them as they really are: Two compassionate, capable individuals who see past the other’s public personas and meet each other honestly, as equals.

Shirayuki is no one’s passive princess, and she demonstrates her own refusal to be boxed into that expected role by taking on the mantle of the active prince, kissing Zen’s hand and declaring her affection and loyalty to him instead. And, despite his occasional bursts of jealousy, Zen respects and loves Shirayuki for that. Snow White does a remarkable job of showing how two people can “rely” on each other without losing their individuality or agency, and it makes every quiet interaction between these two an absolute joy to watch.

We wrap up with Shirayuki reaffirming her decisions up to this point, coupled with one last unreasonably gorgeous bit of scenery porn courtesy of the lantern festival, because Snow White just couldn’t go on break without reminding us of how much we’re going to miss it. This is a beautiful ending to a wonderful little fairy tale, and if this was where the series had chosen to conclude, I would have been more than satisfied. The fact that I get to return to this world again is just icing on the gorgeously drawn cake.

So have one last lantern shot to tide you over for a few months, and I’ll see you again in January for the second half of Shirayuki and Zen’s tale. I’m counting down the days already.

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17 thoughts on “Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 12 (Season Finale & Review)

  1. Ahhhh, this show. Among all the other stories I’m either reading or watching, Akagami was always like a breath of fresh air. Everything always masterfully handled: score, visuals, character development, story telling, motifs… As a fan of shoujo, I’ve always liked the drama and agony that go along with the genre – but until Akagami, I had no idea I could do without these tropes that seem to define it. Sure, if every other story were like Akagami, then it’d lose its appeal; but as it is, it’s precious and unique.

    After last week’s episode reduced me to a puddle, I’m really glad this was a lighhearted, somewhat slow paced cap to the first part of the story, otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle it. Which just goes to show how well paced this series is.

    I loved the “theater/masks” thing going on, that was a very Akagami-esque metaphor. And when Shirayuki kinda knelt on the stairs, instead of the guy, I just smiled so broadly my cheeks hurt (I was also reminded of when she climbed the tree and jumped to the balcony to meet Zen, doing the “Romeo” thing. This show’s symbolism, man, I’m telling you). But of course: when she asked Zen to put out his hand and I realized what she was gonna do, I let out this completely inhuman sound that only dogs could hear.

    And YES: watching Mitsu ship ShiraZen THAT hard also made me think of Suna – how could it not?! Mitsu is too adorable. I’ll be waiting for Kiki to have her development (I totally trust she will), and to see what Obi’s gonna do. I do agree with you: his loyalty to Zen is no joke, he’s not gonna do anything to hurt those two ever. Besides, that’d be way beneath Akagami.

    And then, a festival of lanterns, to just make me fully understand how bad the wait’s gonna be until January.

    Dee, thank you SO VERY MUCH for having recommended this show, and for having done these absolutely wonderful recaps! You’re great at this, and reading your thoughts and opinions on the show only enhanced the pleasure I had with Akagami. Thank you so much for this! ^^

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love this season’s shoujo trend of the best dude friend who ‘ships the main couple as hard (if not harder) than the audience. Usually a character like that would be overprotective/suspicious of the girl, or turn into a romantic rival or something, but Mitsu and Suna? They’re out there practically creating tumblrs for their OTPs, and it is magical.

      You’re so very welcome! It’s always a gamble when I take on a show to blog week-by-week – will it give me enough material to talk about? Worse still, will it fall apart along the way and leave me hammering grouchy critiques into my keyboard? But Snow White just kept getting better, so I’m ridiculously glad I picked it and got to talk about it with everyone each week.

      And thank YOU for coming on and adding your own insights and squees to the conversation! Flailing about in a puddle of feels is way more fun with friends. XD

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      • Yes, I’m loving this trend! I’d seen a tiny bit of it in more recent shoujos – in Ao Haru Ride, for example, Kominato was rooting for his bro Kou, but NOTHING on the Mitsu/Suna level. Please, Japan, keep them coming! These bros are giving me life.
        I’m now wondering whether we’ve seen anything like this with girls/women. A girl shipping her best girl friend and the romantic interest, and actually working as a support system for the couple. I think Kimi ni Todoke had a bit of this, but again, nothing on Suna level. A female Suna would be nice to see, and it’d also help deconstruct that idea of “girls as rivals”. Someone should tell the shoujo genre that it is perfectly possible for 2 girl friends NOT to fall in love with the same guy…

        I think we’re all ridiculously glad you picked Akagami to blog about! ^^ We shall have more Akagami flailing and squeeing in January!

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  2. An amazing show I likely would have missed out had it not been for these recaps. Thank you, so much, for pulling me into this world.

    It may just be me, but the framing of the scene on stage was more that the actor playing the prince was going to push back Shirayuki’s hood and actually kiss her, rather than her hand. That is what seemed to set Zen off, as she didn’t know it was going to happen. It played back to his apology for having kissed her before without her permission, and his actions seemed, to me anyway, to be more a defense of her than jealousy.

    Of course, that was just my impression as I watched it, the way the guy was holding her and all. Zen was all “Nope” because that wasn’t right, and was taking advantage, so he put a stop to that.

    Obi, on the other hand, mystifies me. I was almost ready to buy into the belief that he had feelings for Shirayuki, then he spent the whole episode poking fun at Zen, like a best friend to them both. I’m not sure what to think now, but I still want to believe he’s reaching out to Shirayuki as a friend, and what little hints we’ve had of his background, maybe the first person he’s ever felt an actual connection of friendship to. The kind where he’s getting nothing out of it, except friendship in return, and having nothing asked, but the same. I guess we’ll see when the show returns.

    As well as more Kiki. Seriously, that lady fascinates me, and I am dying to know more about her. Can’t wait for the next set of episodes, or more of these wonderful recaps.

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    • Oh, yeah, my fault – I wasn’t specific enough with my Zen critique. Him stepping in to stop the de-hooding was A-okay, especially since he just took over for an actor rather than disrupting the play entirely. What irked me was right before that, when they told him the prince was going to kiss Shirayuki’s hand and Zen got all “Nope, I won’t let that happen.” Since that WAS in the script, presumably Shirayuki knew about it and consented to it, so Zen wanting to step in was a little overbearing, and surprising for his character. (Apparently because it didn’t happen in the manga, according to Meru in the below comment.)

      Agree on both Obi and Kiki. Seeing how SW develops them next season will be just as interesting as how they develop our main couple, I think. Hopefully we’ll get lots of good growth (and maybe some more backstory eps?) to talk about when winter rolls around.

      And h’oh man, seriously, my posts are the reason you decided to check out Snow White? I AM DOING THE LORD’S WORK. Seriously, though, that makes me so happy. I want this blog to help people find good series and knowing it’s accomplishing that is a huge boost to my motivation, especially during the very exhausting season finale/premiere week one-two punch that I’m entering right now. So thanks! And like I told Robbie, thank YOU for the weekly comments, too! It’s been great sharing this show (and all its feelings) with others!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, yeah, he did get weird about it before that. My mistake. I think I have such a high opinion of him, I got it backwards to keep him in the light I usually see him. It was slightly out of character for him.

        Of course, I don’t think he’s ever really been in love before, so there’s probably going to be an adjustment period where he has to check himself, much as he did after he kissed Shirayuki. So, yeah, not wonderful, but somewhat realistic, I suppose.

        To give credit where it is due, you didn’t just convince me to watch this show, but Ore Monogatari as well. Thank you for both. You’ve also been a huge inspiration to me as I begin doing my own anime blogging, so I am forever in your debt, senpai.

        Yeah, had to go there.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry for the reaaaaally short comment, but it’s just because I agree wholeheartedly with the whole review!

    I see you’re complaining about Zen getting a bit too protective over the whole hand kissing thing. I did too. The thing is, tha wasn’t there in the original material, and it felt completely out of place for me, someone who’s been around these characters for long than I can remember. That was not Zen. I guess they didn’t find any other way to connect that scene to shirayuki kissing his hand since this chapter wasn’t originally placed there, but it was a little bit of a disappointment by itself.

    But anyway that was probably the only bad thing I could find out of every wonderful thing that was going on in that episode. Thank you for always doing these reviews, they always bring a smile to my face!

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    • Oh, that’s interesting about the Zen addition, and explains why it felt like an odd thing for him to get all huffy about. You’re probably right that it was the anime staff trying to thematically tie the play in with the hand-kissing scene – they’re clearly fans of creating episode-long themes/motifs, so it makes sense that they’d try that. I suppose it adds a little extra humanity/fallibility to Zen as well, which isn’t a terrible thing, but… yeah, it was weird, definitely, and a rare misstep in terms of character writing for the anime.

      And you’re very welcome! Glad you liked the review and these posts! It’s always nice to hear from manga readers and get a better impression of the original series as well as a sense of whether I’m hitting the major thematic/character points accurately or not. So I appreciate the comment and hope to hear from you again in future posts, too!

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