And so we turn the final page on our cozy little fairy tale.
With a surprise messenger and a moonlit conversation, Snow White comes to a warm, heartfelt conclusion, providing a finale that’s open-ended but also satisfyingly complete. As is the norm, I’ll spend the first half of this post providing a spoiler-free review for those curious about the series, and the second half talking about the episode itself. Hit the jump for glowing words and screenshots alike.
I already reviewed Part One here, so I won’t bother repeating myself by gushing about the production itself–the lush fairy tale backgrounds, the careful direction, the beautifully integrated music–and how they all came together to form a dreamlike whole unique in flavor and tone. There was a stretch this season where the animation was a little sloppier (or maybe just more simplistic) and the direction a little flatter, but that’s to say that it dipped from “exquisite” to “pretty good.” On the whole, BONES delivered another great-looking series, and Ando and his team made their simple story shine, hitting emotional and humorous beats with equal effect.
What I’d like to talk about here is Part Two itself–its strengths, weaknesses, its overarching story–and then discuss the series as a whole. After spending its first half focusing on our primary couple and establishing itself as a series whose warm, comfy tone was equivalent to drinking hot cocoa on a chilly day, Snow White changed pace for a while, expanding its cast and world and trying its hand at a more plot-centric, adventure-laden story line. The results were a bit mixed, leading to some well-written character arcs and solid comedy, but also to a story that didn’t always know where it wanted to go.
Part Two is a single arc split into three acts. In the first, Shirayuki steps out of her comfort zone to challenge an old antagonist; in the second, our cast finds themselves separated and with as little control as they’ve ever had, struggling to stay composed; and in the third, we slip back into our old, cozy patterns as we deal with the arc’s aftermath.
Act One provides solid set-up and world-building, a surprising but well-earned redemption arc, and some of the show’s best comedic animation. Act Two gives us a more standard fantasy adventure series. While I appreciate what it tries to do in terms of throwing our characters into situations where they can’t play to their strengths and really challenging them, it’s ultimately the weakest portion of the show, relying on flat villains, rapid-fire twists, and a few too many kidnappings (although its ability to avoid true damselfication is a huge point in its favor).
The staff don’t quite feel comfortable with the material either, leading to some of the show’s more flatly directed and animated sequences. It’s never bad, mind you, and it may work a lot better for those who wanted Snow White to be a more conflict-driven fantasy; it’s just not up to par with the rest of the series, losing sight of its characters in favor of an action-packed drama that’s never as tense as it wants to be.
Yet for all its little stumbles, I will passionately defend the second act’s right to exist, because it serves as catalyst and groundwork for a fantastic third act and satisfying finale, allowing relationships and opinions to change in small but significant ways. Best of all, our central five-person cast goes from being acquaintances to true friends, creating a new closeness that leads to well-earned character development and some terrific silliness. If there’s one place where the second half of Snow White improved upon the first, it’s the comedy, and so much of that comes organically out of the characters, as they grow closer and let themselves relax around each other.
So what is Snow White, when it all comes together? It’s a modern-day fairy tale, playing with classic stories–the prince who falls for the commoner, the girl who gets locked in the high tower, the beast who learns how to be human–and offering its own contemporary twist on them, pushing for equality and respect and personal freedom. It’s an idyllic romance that promotes trust and communication, but is also interested in the many unique, just as valuable relationships that can develop between individuals (as friends, as coworkers, as employees), and how those relationships can change people. It’s a quietly progressive tale about female agency and the many ways women can live their lives, and (as long as they aren’t hurting anyone) accepts them all without judgment. It’s a nice story about nice people being nice to each other. It’s comfort food. It’s the “once upon a time” our generation could use more of.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I adore Snow White with the Red Hair. As I’ve said before, its sleepy pace and relaxing tone won’t work for everyone, and its idealized characters mean that high drama and extended conflict tend to be avoided in favor of quiet conversations and low-key resolutions. And there’s nothing wrong with preferring those kinds of stories.
But I’ve seen those stories before, a dozen times over. Snow White gives me something new, and it gives it to me with affection and grace and without compromise, always staying true to itself. It’s a soothing story and a beautiful series, and I’m so grateful BONES and Ando believed in it enough to give us these 24 lovely episodes. I look forward to cuddling up with it again sometime.
Series Grade: A
And with that we’ve finished the review and are now entering finale chatter land! Newcomers should click away to avoid spoilers. The rest of you can slide past our very last Raj Face™ for Episode 24 commentary.
I’m sure you will be unsurprised to learn that I loved this finale, as it did a fantastic job of tagging an epilogue on to our major Part 2 story line, as well as more-or-less tying up our final ongoing conflict (such as it was) with Izana. The door stays open for more adventures down the road, and while I’d happily snuggle up with the manga if it ever saw a licensed release, I’m also perfectly satisfied with ending the story here. So let’s all go out with an “aww” together, shall we?
The catalyst this week is an unexpected messenger: Raj’s attendent Sakaki, with Mihaya in tow to show off his new title and offer his allegiance (er, of a sort). It makes for a tidy epilogue to our Tanbarun story, assuring us that the changes we saw before did in fact stick and our neighboring prince is still working to improve himself and his kingdom. More importantly, it solidifies Shirayuki’s relationship with Raj and shows that the effort she put in earlier this season has indeed borne fruit.
I’ve been jaded by past fiction, so I braced myself when Sakaki showed up with that necklace, worried it would be a marriage proposal to inject some last-minute forced love triangle drama. Thankfully this is Snow White we’re talking about, and the series instead makes it clear that (despite Sakaki’s hopes) Raj values their friendship–his first!–and wants to do his part to help maintain it. He and Shirayuki basically become pen pals (adorbs), and the sight of them both curled up in bed reading, miles apart but connected by words both past and present, is a lovely bit of visual work to establish closeness even in distance.
That personal bond leads to a political one, too, when Raj turns his bluff into reality and grants Shirayuki the title of “Friend to the Crown”–a title that only she has ever earned. I want to stress that word “earn,” by the way, because while Raj does do this to help his friend (more on that in a minute), Shirayuki worked plenty hard to make that relationship happen and to encourage Raj to become the kind of person who would want to help a friend. That title is a reward, and Shirayuki should be plenty proud of it.
It is also, as Raj puts it, a “shield,” granting her the freedom to travel to and from her home country at will and the political power to stand as an equal in the eyes of society and the law. Izana’s laughter is as much relief as amusement, I think, because an official title will make it significantly easier for the Clarines princes to defend the validity of Shirayuki and Zen’s relationship. Shirayuki not only passed his Tanbarun test with flying colors–she earned extra credit.
The question now, then, is not “can Shirayuki and Zen stay together,” but “does Shirayuki want that life for herself.” It’s not a matter of wanting to be with Zen–she’s clearly wants that very much–but of how to walk her own path (as an herbalist) while also staying by his side (as, presumably, a princess). Before, she never really let herself think about their future (“I’m glad you’re with me now,” she said after his fake marriage interview), because Shirayuki always tries to focus on “what I can do,” and she knew how little control she had over an official relationship with Zen. Izana could have dismissed her with a word, after all.
But now all that has changed, and Shirayuki not only can consider what a future with Zen would look like, but feels like she has to make a choice about it, too. Snow White isn’t really a show about conflict, but much of its forward momentum and tensions come from a central contradiction: Shirayuki is, by nature, independent and egalitarian, wanting to meet everyone as an equal regardless of social rules, but she’s also achingly aware of those rules and the restrictions they place on her. It’s modern values vs. fairy tale world, in essence, and I think it’s at the heart of Shirayuki’s struggle this week.
Which is why her conversation with Zen (good call on the communication thing, Obi!) and his response is so important. It gets a little lost in translation, but the optimal word throughout this is kangaeru (考える): to think about or consider something. She tells Obi that Zen has likely thought about their future already (the “for me” in that line being a “for my sake” rather than him deciding her future, by the way), and her main question for Zen is kangaeteii (考えていい). The Funi subs translate this as “Can I think it?” but my own interpretation based on my understanding of kangaeru is more along the lines “Can I think about it?” She wants to stand by his side “someday,” but she needs time to consider the best way to go about doing that without giving up on her own goals in the process.
And, in a pair of beautifully staged scenes–surrounded by nature and hidden from society in both, but with the two rising up and going from darkness to light between the two–Zen assures her that he’s perfectly fine with that. He’s not quite ready either, after all, and hopes she’ll wait for the “proper words” (a proposal, one assumes) at a later date.
Relationships are, Snow White has shown us time and time again, a series of small, almost imperceptible steps that eventually build into major changes, both for the relationship and the individuals involved. Raj and Obi are the most obvious examples of this, but it’s true of every relationship in this series, too. So it stands to reason that ShiraZen would move forward at their own steady pace, too, walking their own paths even as they work to make sure those paths stay next to each other.
Fittingly, the series ends with Zen reminding us that they are in fact working adults with plenty of other things on their plate besides romance. The two temporarily part ways, Shirayuki reaffirming her determination to paint her life “the color of fate”–which, as I mentioned last week, essentially means carrying her future in her own hands just as she carries the red of her hair with her. And so I am left with beautiful screenshots on my computer, a silly grin on my face, and a soft warm glow in my chest. Snow White, I’d say that’s a mission very well accomplished.
This, That, and the Other
- ShiraZen’s reaction to Izana’s sudden, open laughter mirrored mine almost to a T. Also, the sound of eyes blinking will never not be amusing to me.
- Watching Zen slowly gain enough confidence to meet his brother as an equal is something of an understated character arc, but also one of my favorites, particularly in how happy it makes the (likely rather lonely) Izana. Just another example of slow, gradual shifts in relationships having an effect on individuals.
- The ‘ship teases continue with Obi passing out in Zen’s bed and then joking(?) that Mitsuhide came into the room for a “lover’s tryst.” At this point I think everyone in our five-person main group is attracted to everyone else, so what the hell. I ‘ship ’em all. Long live polyamory.
- Thanks to everyone for watching along with me! I’m sad to see our weekly dose of joy go, but I’m glad we were able to end on such a pitch-perfect note. Hopefully you all enjoyed reading (and flailing) about it as much as I enjoyed writing (and flailing) about it!