Nothing like a quiet night in. …Right?
The gang takes refuge from a rainstorm to spend an incognito evening together, but what looks to be another comfy episode turns into a busy blast from the past. A new character arrives with a job offer in hand, and Obi takes center stage to show that, while you may not be able to erase your footprints, you can still choose to take a different path going forward. Prepare your heart for imminent warming.
The first half of this episode asks the question: “Hey, what would it be like if the gang just, like, hung out for a while?” And the answer turned out to be “Wonderful, we should do more of this!” Chillin’ Episodes can struggle with pacing, but this one works because (1) the cast is a delight, and (2) it doesn’t spend too much time on any one scene, moving us between groupings to keep the conversations and interpersonal dynamics fresh. Snow White also proves itself adept at humor, playing with bathing scenes, rivalries, and misunderstandings in a way that’s thoroughly silly without sliding into tired cliches.
There are a lot of nice, little touches here–Zen saying he wants to see his retainers happy (and Obi cheekily undercutting the sentimentality by saying he’s now stuck picturing Zen naked whenever he remembers that), the hints that Mitsuhide and Kiki are in something of an unofficial relationship, and that cozy scene of Shirayuki, Zen, and Obi on the balcony–but it all basically circles around the importance of togetherness and community, showing how close our cast has become. The ability to relax around someone and rely on them has always been central to the ShiraZen romance, but it’s also integral to other relationships as well. We’ll come back to that in the second half of the episode, too.
Mitsuhide and Kiki also call out one of Snow White‘s core elements: Zen and Shirayuki “don’t change”; rather, “things change around them.” Not to say they don’t have facets to their personalities or react differently depending on the situation–we’ve seen that they do–but that they were, when we met them, more-or-less fully realized individuals with a strong sense of empathy, a good idea of what they want for themselves, and a willingness to act on that. Their relationship has also always been based on a close, mutual friendship, so even if they shift from “friends” to “partners,” that “core” will remain essentially the same.
We tend to think of “good” fiction as being about the protagonist undergoing changes, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The trick, though, is to find other ways to initiate growth or movement, which I think was the main goal of this season and why we focused so much on supporting characters and their relationships with our protagonists. I mentioned a while ago that Shirayuki’s great strength is her ability to see people as individuals rather than as titles or roles, but that’s also very true of Zen, and we’ve seen that a lot in his relationships with all his “retainers” (who you could just as easily call his friends), Obi in particular.
Which brings us to the second, more action-packed half of our episode: The mercenary mission. Obi’s old sometimes-partner Trow asks him to help her track down a runaway rich kid who’s been stiffing his hired guards on payment, and Obi agrees, once again leaving behind nothing but a note.
It’s a chance to learn more about the unattached, hardened Obi we’ve seen flashes of previously, and to highlight how much his relationship with Team ShiraZen have changed him. It’s also a chance for Obi to get a taste of his old life and see if it’s something he still wants. The answer is unsurprising, but Obi likely needed that “one last mission” to be sure of his own choices.
There’s an undercurrent here about the trade-off between freedom and responsibility that plays out with the rich runaway (Kido Deena) and Obi. Kido fled his father’s “rules” but is living an empty life on the run, too self-centered to even pay the people he relies on for protection. On the other side, Obi tells Trow that he “can’t do anything of his own will” anymore, but what he really means is that there are people he doesn’t want to disappoint. Obi has lost some of his freedom, yes, but Snow White argues that the emotional connections he’s gained are ultimately more fulfilling.
And speaking of those connections, Team ShiraZen come after him, and both Shirayuki and Zen are thoroughly miffed. They’d just told him they could relax around him, so this feels like an insult–we trust you to help us, but you won’t trust us to help you? They remind him that they worry about him and that they’re here to help him, too. I think Obi needed to hear that, too, before he could truly plant his roots in Clarines (a fitting metaphor, given his reluctance to accept Ryu’s seeds in the Part Two premiere).
I didn’t drool over the visuals this week as much as I did last, but they did do some nifty things with lighting to demonstrate the two sides of Obi’s life/personality and the commitment he makes this week. The scenes at the inn with Team Zen occur under a soft, safe golden glow, while the scenes with Trow are under murky shadows and moonlight. The light/dark duality really calls attention to itself when Obi steps onto the inn’s patio to find Trow just outside of the light–and promptly takes up his own spot halfway between the two.
Interestingly, both Zen and Shirayuki do the same when speaking to Obi, but slip more fully into the light when it’s just the two of them. I’m reaching a bit here, I know, but I can’t help but see this as a reminder that they’ve both been through their own share of darkness, as well as a way to highlight their ability to reach out to others despite their difference in positions or circumstances.
It culminates in a less-than-subtle but rather lovely shot of Obi in the gloom of the abandoned mansion with Trow, looking out the doors at his friends bathed in morning light before he gets up and joins them, riding into the dawn and leaving his past life behind for good. I’ve joked that Obi doesn’t know how doorknobs work since he’s always coming and going through windows, but it’s also good characterization, so to have him both enter the inn and leave the mansion through the doorway with his companions is quietly poignant, suggesting that he no longer feels like an outsider or intruder with them.
I said last week that this season was really about Raj, but it’s also been about Obi, so it’s great to see them hitting a milestone for his character development as well. I know the manga is still ongoing (and I love these characters enough that I’d happily watch them hang out for many more episodes), but Snow White has a very real chance in the next three episodes to tie up the last major conflict/story thread with Izana and bring this anime to a full, satisfying conclusion. In Ando I trust.
This, That, and the Other
- Have I mentioned how much I love the way Snow White incorporates so many different kinds of women into its cast? Oh, I have? Like, constantly? Well okay then.
- Shirayuki’s reaction to bath time Kiki was pure gold. I love that this show lets its characters have these really nuanced relationships with each other–maybe Obi has feelings for Shirayuki, or Zen, or both; maybe Mitsuhide and Kiki are in an open relationship; maybe Shirayuki is attracted to Kiki–without worrying about needing to slap an explicit label on them.
- I, er, may have scribbled “OT3! OT3!” at the bottom of my notes during that Shira/Zen/Obi scene. Possibly. Maybe. ¬_¬
- ShiraZen generally act like cool-headed adults, but the way they fluctuate between being openly affectionate and super-shy with each other is a cute little reminder that they’re still pretty young and trying to navigate the waters of their first real romance.