Being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Shirayuki finds herself at the center of a storm both political and martial this week, as various story lines converge and new ones begin to take shape. Princes in the ball room, kidnappers in the hall, and unwanted ships and ‘ships looming just out of sight. So much for my “sleepy little slice-of-life fairy tale” synopsis.
As Shirayuki told us last week and as the episode title reminds us, “change” continues to be the main focus of this cour, and especially the small, subtle shifts occurring within and between individuals. In Tanbarun, Raj takes Shirayuki’s words to heart and seeks to build something more meaningful than the… well, neither of them quite know what their relationship is right now, but Raj wants to be respected by the one person who demands he earn that respect, and so he gets to work proving to her that he’s a capable ruler.
Along the way, he actually starts to become a capable ruler, too, learning more about his kingdom and taking other people’s concerns (such as Shirayuki’s anxieties about the ball) into account. He’s still Raj—still wearing his emotions on his sleeve, still prone to temperamental outbursts and ridiculous poses—but he’s beginning to “acquire what he lacks,” growing into someone worthy of Shirayuki’s esteem.
True to its title, Snow White hasn’t been afraid to play with classic fairy tale arcs and tropes, but outside of the premiere they’ve tended to be fairly indirect or vague, such as “the prince falls for the commoner” or “the girl gets locked in a tall tower” (and then dives out the window like a boss). This week, though, the imagery seems to intentionally and directly allude to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, particularly with Raj’s expansive library and the rose that symbolizes his hope (and skepticism) for an improved relationship with Shirayuki.
Which is fortunate, as I likely wouldn’t have noticed the parallels otherwise, and they’re mighty fine parallels. Raj may have never been a literal beast, but he was a self-centered ass who acted on his basest impulses with no consideration for others until Shirayuki (and Zen, to a lesser extent) came along and challenged his worldview, pushing him towards respect and responsibility.
As it’s done from the start, Snow White seeks to modernize these fairy tales by adjusting key elements. Where the original Beauty and the Beast is a (not untroubling) tale about “gentle woman civilizing beastly man” and/or “the power of love to change people,” ours really isn’t. While it helps that early-Zen contrasts so strongly with early-Raj and keeps the story from making blanket statements about gender, the central difference is that this isn’t a love story.
As such, it’s about respect instead of romance, and about becoming a good ruler rather than a good husband. (Remember, Shirayuki won’t acknowledge Raj until the people of Tanbarun approve of him first.) Our Beast is learning how to consider a kingdom’s needs by first considering the needs of a single person. Our Beauty changes others because she believes in their ability to change themselves. Removing the romance makes this a much more nuanced story, and in many ways a more inspiring one, too.
But just as things start going well in Tanbarun, trouble comes roaring out of Clarines. I owe Mihaya an apology, because despite last week’s moth foreshadowing he did in fact turn down Kazuki’s offer and reported to Zen. And the news ain’t good: Team Kazuki learned of Shirayuki’s departure and are on their way to Tanbarun. (So too is a busty lady-pirate, but only the audience knows about her right now.)
This news spurs Zen into all kinds of action and leads to the second major relationship shift of the episode. He approaches Izana for “permission” to go to Tanbarun, but it’s a question asked out of courtesy rather than absolute loyalty; Zen is going to protect Shirayuki whether Izana wants him to or not. And why is that?
Zen’s jumping into this rather quickly, but it’s worth it to finally see a look of unguarded surprise on Izana’s face. He acquiesces, but with a condition: If something happens to Zen and Izana has to get involved, then Shirayuki’s as good as banished from the castle. As with everything that comes out of Izana’s mouth, it’s both said out of concern for Zen (“I don’t want you to get hurt”) and for the kingdom (“I don’t want this turning into an international incident”). Kinda unfair that Shirayuki has to bear the brunt of that, but hey, Izana’s never pretended to like her, either.
And so Zen rushes to Tanbarun—but not before a certain pretty-boy can come in through Snow White‘s favorite piece of architecture.
So far Snow White has done an excellent job of having a protagonist who isn’t a fighter but also isn’t constantly being rescued by the menfolk. It’s accomplished this largely because Shirayuki (like most people in the real world) is smart enough to avoid physical conflicts and stick to the dangers she can fight (like illnesses), but we’re reaching a point in the story where she can’t simply steer clear of the more violent forces bearing down on her.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a worried about how the series is going to handle this (a lifetime of stories about damsels has jaded me but good), but as I’ve said before, Snow White has earned my trust, as has its level-headed protagonist. This will be a major challenge for her and Zen. I’m nervous for them, but also curious to see how this smart series chooses to play out its tricky little arc.
This, That, and the Other
- Snow White Part 2 has been doing the plot-and-tension thing well, and I’m always excited for the next episode, but… I do miss my weekly ShiraZen warm fuzzies, not gonna lie.
- It’s a testament to this show’s talent that it can include a pushy little sister-type and make her amusing instead of insufferable.
- Raj tells Shirayuki about a bunch of vigilantes fighting bandits in the mountains. Well that doesn’t sound like foreshadowing at all!
- And speaking of foreshadowing, befuddled Obi continues to grapple with his feelings. For Shirayuki and Zen. The poor guy might wanna take some time off from bodyguarding when this is all over.