Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 19: “Wave of Determination”

The gang makes like McGruff and takes a bite outta crime.

shiranom

The Pirates of the Tanbarun comes to its thrilling(?) conclusion this week, perhaps proving more than anything that Snow White is a much better character drama and cozy fairy tale than it is a rip-roaring adventure series. This might be the show’s weakest outing since it’s second episode (meaning it was still “pretty good” by most standards, mind you), but it still had plenty of standout moments, and its ending opened the door to what could be a major paradigm shift.

Now that the danger has passed, the Obligatory Scenery Porn can return!

Now that the danger is past, the Obligatory Scenery Porn can return!

It’s not uncommon with fiction, particularly stories we really love, that we start to write our own arcs and conclusions, coming up with ways we want it to play out. I confess that part of my lukewarm reaction to this episode comes from that, because I wanted a lot more out of Shirayuki and Kiki and I didn’t get it. They weren’t helpless or anything—in fact they were both smart and patient, biding their time and waiting on the other pieces of this large, teamwork-based plan to fall into place before they made their moves—but that doesn’t keep me from wishing for a little more even so.

But as much as I’d love some Kiki-centric episodes, that’s not what this mini-story was about. It wasn’t even about Shirayuki, not really. No, this arc has been about Tanbarun, Prince Raj, and his attempt to become a better person and ruler, and the first half of this episode was meant to be a culmination of all those little changes we’ve seen up till now. So I want to focus on the episode from that angle—on what it wanted to do rather than what I wanted it to do—and talk about how it succeeded or failed in that respect.

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Raj has two defining moments this week: First, when he stands before the merchant captains and issues direct commands (because he’s so poorly regarded they won’t take an indirect one seriously), and then when he decides to brave the minefield of maelstroms to give chase and ensure Umihebi can’t escape when the other side of their pincer movement reaches her. The first moment is rushed and the second hampered by questionable physics, but I still appreciate the intent, particularly in how the maelstroms parallel the underground labyrinth from Episode 15.

Once again Raj finds himself needing to navigate a maze he doesn’t know full of traps he can’t see. One wrong move could lead to serious injury, even death. But where he froze up and cowered in the labyrinth, relying on others to protect him and help him find a way out, here he moves boldly forward, struggling through the dangers and risking his life (and his naval crew’s, yes, but importantly not the conscripted merchants, who are really just there to provide a show of force) to find a way to fulfill his role in this mission.

We see almost nothing of Raj after he cripples Umihebi’s ship, but we also don’t need to: With this moment, he’s completed his growth from bumbling, cowardly, insecure putz to bumbling, courageous, decisive leader, and it’s time to move on to other characters and events. And while Shirayuki may not have had much to do this week personally, her interactions with Raj were a huge factor in instigating this change. So maybe she was more involved in this climax than it initially seemed.

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Screenshot_2016-02-22-16-59-14Raj Faces™ never change, though, and thank goodness for that.

Still, though, despite its character arcs and… other wonderful things which I will mention last because I want to end on a positive note… I still see this episode one of the show’s weakest, and I think that comes from a significant lack of tension. Once we know the plan, we know our team is skilled enough to pull it off (Raj being the one question mark, perhaps), so there’s little uncertainty or concern during all the chases and battles. Which wouldn’t be a negative in and of itself, but Snow White really struggles with the execution this week, and I think a lot of it comes down to its usually great production values taking a noticeable dip.

There’s a flatness to the naval pursuit that dominates the first half of the episode—the ships glide stiffly through the water with no movement in their sails or ropes, and a few times the “rocking boats” are just a still frame getting jerked around—and while the land battle has its bursts of fluid animation and exciting swordplay, it relies on a lot of still frames and pans, many of which linger too long to properly convey motion. Even the music feels halfhearted. Episode Director Ohta Tomoaki has done some lovely work for Snow White in the past, but he and his team struggle with the action this week, and it made the story drag in a way it never has before.

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Fortunately though, Ohta does excel at quiet, understated emotional moments, and he brings his A-game for the episode’s best scene: Shirayuki and Zen’s reunion. Granted a sudden moment alone, the two cling to each other in the soft light of the stairwell, their fears falling away with their tears, just flat-out relieved to be with the other again.

It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment made all the more emotional because it’s so quiet and simple and understated and real. There’s no wailing, no lengthy professions or admissions about how frightened they’ve been. There’s no need. They both know perfectly well how much the other means to them, and how important it is that they’re together once more.

Faced with such a barrage of Snowmance, I naturally lost all ability to speak, think, or hold a solid form, never mind maintain a critical distance from the material, so please enjoy these screenshots as I melt slowly to the ground:

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The moment doesn’t last long, though, because our couple knows there’s still work to do. So Zen goes back to “wreak havoc” below and Shirayuki wisely keeps her distance from the battle, trusting the fighters to return safely. (Slightly bummed no one was injured enough to require Shirayuki’s life-saving herbalist skills, but I’m sure she’ll have plenty of time to be awesome later.)

The battle is over quickly: Umihebi is cruel but not stupid, and she surrenders when it becomes clear she can’t win. Obi’s still too ashamed to meet Shirayuki (expect that to be a conversation next week), so he stays below to help the Lions and Raj’s forces while the rest of Team Zen meets her at the castle gates for an adorable, tearful reunion. And speaking of reunions, here’s one I saw coming roughly three miles away:

Daddy's little Vigilante Mountain Princess is all grown up!

Daddy’s little Vigilante Mountain Princess is all grown up! Now to see how she reacts to this unexpected familial face and the complications that are sure to come with it.

This, That, and the Other

  • I’m no oceanographer, but I suspect giant whirlpools casually changing rotation direction every 10 seconds is not an actual thing. But then again, neither are most of the plants Shirayuki uses for medicine, so… fairy tales!
  • So often I watch a show about a “normal” girl in peril and find myself, as a fellow “normal girl,” shouting at her to do this or that. I never have that moment with Shirayuki. She’s not a fighter and she’s not reckless, but she knows how to find an opening and act on it, using it to escape or chomp down on somebody’s arm. I so appreciate that about her.
  • “Shirayuki’s dad runs the Lions. He’s the Lion King! That makes her Simbayuki-hime!” These are the thoughts that run through my head in the shower.
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9 thoughts on “Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 19: “Wave of Determination”

  1. My random’time to shake things up’ concept should happen soon if it is going too happen. Zen dies while in Tanbaum, leaving Shirayuki in a bind add to what to do now as Zen’s brother’s edict prevents her return there. leaving her with Obi andvRajb as potential interest and a sense of guilt as she tries to avert a war.

    To be clear i don’t want this too happen! ZenYuki forever! obi needs a rebound girlfriend to clear his head. Nothing life changing, just something comfortable and relaxed. Poor rapids the bird girl? Mitsuhide and the other one i forget should just get married!

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  2. Yeah, that Dad thing was so telegraphed it was almost shameful. I wanna see what they do with it, though.

    I LOVED your comment about Raj and mazes! Dee, you’re truly unparalleled when it comes to seeing motifs in a story. Your thinking is always way, way ahead.

    I do wish Shirayuki had had more to do. Like you said, she’s a very realistic heroine, she knows when to do something and when not to. But I would’ve liked Akizuki-sensei to have given her more to do…

    “Zen putting on his skepticals” made me laugh way too hard.

    Raj, though. What a blessing, in every way.

    Zen and Shirayuki’s reunion. I can’t. That is all.

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  3. Yeah, action is definitely not this show’s strong suit, and I have to agree that this episode was probably the weakest one so far this season. There were a couple of thoroughly enjoyable moments that had me grinning dopily like I did back in episode one, but mostly I couldn’t stop thinking about how the whole Kiki thing was a big wasted opportunity.

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  4. “Shirayuki’s dad runs the Lions. He’s the Lion King! That makes her Simbayuki-hime!” These are the thoughts that run through my head in the shower.

    I’ll admit it. I laughed. I think this arc’s problems weren’t just action, cause last two episodes the action cuts were much better than in this episode, but mostly that the show is bumbling around away from its strong suite. Furthermore, it finished an arc that was also about Shirayuki choosing home, only to apparently recreate the same “conflict” again, immediately.

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    • If I can get a good chuckle out of someone I consider it a week well-blogged!

      I do think the series got away from its comfort zone with these attempts at conventional external fantasy conflicts (although I liked the last 2 episodes a lot more than this one because they also contained some strong internal conflicts), but I’m not sure I agree with your point that this was an arc about Shirayuki choosing home. I think Shirayuki chose home way back in Episode 1. She’s always been a woman with a pretty good idea of what she wanted, at least when it came to location and career, so to me, the central conflict of the series isn’t “what choice will she make?” but “how will she handle the forces that stand between her and her choice?” Which is kind of a fantastic way to frame a series about a character whose hair and gender draw parallels to all kinds of real-world objectification and marginalization, I think.

      (Also apologies for the late response. I usually try to get back to people sooner, but these past weeks have been bananas.)

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      • I often respond to comments way too late, so no sweat about it ;-)

        On one hand, it’s true, it’s clear what Shirayuki chose. But I still think this is what this arc has been about. This arc has been about Shirayuki having to make that choice again. In some ways this is good storytelling, where characters make a choice, then they’re presented with new costs/challenges, and asked, “Are you still willing to make this choice?” and again, and again.

        The mention of “external conflict” in your reply is exactly what I’m talking about, but in a sort of a roundabout way – the show somewhat felt to have lost its track here because it tried to make the conflict about something that it shouldn’t have been, for our sake. It externalized Shirayuki’s choice and made it, or tried really hard, to make it seem that this is what the arc’s about.

        At least that’s my take. I mean, the latest episode went there, exactly as I thought it would, which made me sigh. After Shirayuki hugged with Zen, the show had to give it yet another go, for the same “conflict” of interest, of Zen versus other stuff. So yes, this felt weak because it’s not the “true conflict” of the show, but since this season began, it kept cropping up as if it were.

        I guess it felt it’s “romantic” >.>

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  5. richardvdhaak says:

    I’m wondering what Raj thinks his relationship with Shirayuki is going to be. Is he aware Zen and Shirayuki are in love ?

    And I also want more Kiki! We know so little about her.

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    • I think he’s well aware of Shirayuki and Zen’s relationship. I also don’t think Raj has romantic feelings for her. To me, he’s a guy who deeply respects someone and wants to earn her respect in return. He wants to be friends… or maybe he just really wants senpai to notice him. ^^;

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