The gang makes like McGruff and takes a bite outta crime.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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! 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
- Please enjoy this reaction image of Zen putting on his skepticals.
- 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.