Shirayuki is a young woman who works as an herbalist in the kingdom of Tanbarun, and is known for her unusual red hair.
When the prince of her land wants her to become his concubine, she flees to the neighboring kingdom of Clarines. There, she falls in with Prince Zen, and becomes a part of his closest companions.
As the first reason of the anime series progresses — based in part on the Snow White with the Red Hair shojo manga by Sorata Akizuki — Shirayuki and Zen gain each other’s trust, respect, admiration, and eventually each other’s heart.
Exploring the story
As the title indicates, “Snow White with the Red Hair” (hereafter SWRH), is based on the fairy tale of Snow White, or at least as the fairy tale is popularly known, though the connection is loose. In the first episode, a few elements from the Snow White story make appearances, but are presented in ways different from the fairy tale. After that, references to the fairy tale seem to disappear, and the story takes its own paths.
This is very much a romance story. It’s the way in which it is done in this story that makes it notable. In fact, a case could made that the way Zen and Shirayuki are handled in this story could be seen as a good model for how such relationships could be handled, especially given the overwhelming number of ways such relationships are badly modeled in stories on TV, in book, in movies, and in real life, both in the world and in the church.
A good example of this contrast between good and bad models can been seen in the first episode. The bad model is shown by Prince Raji of Tanbarun. While having little more information about Shirayuki then that she has unusual hair, he orders that she become his concubine, treating her in a shallow and selfish way. By contrast, when Shirayuki first encounters Prince Zen, he obviously isn’t blind to her, but nor does he let that cloud his judgment. He doesn’t trust her until she has shown that she is trustworthy. But once that’s established, he does make her welcomed and treats her with respect.
Trust and honor are two things that strongly epitomize the relationship between Zen and Shirayuki. One example would be during the test Shirayuki takes to become a court herbalist, Zen honors her studies and efforts by refusing to throw his authority around to make sure she is the one chosen, because he knows she would want that position only if she has earned it. But it’s shown in how they treat each other over the course of the story, respecting the things they have in common as well as their differences, respecting each other’s wishes and goals, learning to trust each other in difficulties, and even chiding each other when its needed. It’s a story that’s well done, such that when the time comes that they finally realize how they feel for each other, it doesn’t seem contrived or contorted or unreasonable, but more like the blossoming of a flower we’ve watched grow.
There is no recurring villain, even Prince Raji, when he appears in a couple of later episodes, shows some small signs of improving his character, but there is a recurring source of conflict—social status. Zen is a prince, Shirayuki is a commoner originally from another country, and some people either frown upon the classes fraternizing with each other so closely or wonder if she’s either using him for her own ends or maybe being a bad influence on him.
Much of the music for the series is effective, in that it’s not easy to remember. It does well to enhance the atmosphere of the scenes without drawing too much attention to itself. There is one humorous exception, though. One piece of music that’s played during some of the light-hearted parts drew my attention, because a part of it was very much like the theme from the old Woody Woodpecker cartoons.
The animation is top-notch. One can see the quality and beauty of the art in the first scene of the series, a view of the sky and treetops as they are reflected on a dewdrop resting on a leaf. And the high artistic quality is maintained throughout.
Clean romances can still be told in interesting ways
I know that there is a place for dealing with the ugly side of things. But there is also a place for the ideals, for good models, and they don’t have to be presented in ways that are so sanitized or so syrupy that they are largely uninteresting. How this interest was maintained in this series may be worth a bit of a look.
A few times in the past year and change, I’ve read or tried to read some of the more common types of Christian novels. One thing that struck me is simply how quickly I grew tired of scenarios like “As Bob went about his job of herding cats into their litter box corrals, he simply couldn’t get Maybelle off his mind. Her long orange hair, her smile like a ray a sunshine, everything about her was always on his mind.” Understand, I like a good romance element in stories, but I like it when it’s one element in the story. When it takes center stage, and everything revolves around trying to get Bob and Maybelle together, and it’s pretty much all the two people fated to get together think about, I guess I start to lose interest.
In SWRH, the romance progresses through a series of events and adventures where it’s not the foremost thing in the minds of either Shirayuki or Zen. Each of them have their own lives, things they want to accomplish, things they want to do, and they don’t seem to spend time playing the “How do I get him/her to notice me?” types of games. They grow closer as they help each other face various kinds of challenges and difficulties, and don’t resort to things like silly flirtations.
Fantasy without magic
Because of its connection with the fairy tale and its setting, SWRH is a fantasy story, but there is one interesting problem about linking it to the genre of swords and sorcery. While there is some swordplay in the series, and at one point even violence and blood, there is a distinct lack of magic or related things like mythical creatures. Shirayuki is an herbalist, but there are no bubbling cauldrons into which bat’s wings and newt’s eyes are thrown while those gathered around cackle wickedly.
Different takes on biblical accounts
I want to be careful of reading into things here, because I know nothing about the author of the original manga series this anime is based on, and so far in the anime religion has not come up outside of a time in the second episode when a bit of biblically-based wisdom about those not working also not eating is mentioned. But it’s not unreasonable, I suppose, to note that Prince Raji treats Shirayuki in a way that is similar to how David treated Bathsheba, wanting to use her in a selfish way that disregards what she might want. And the way Prince Zen treats this stranger from another country, making her welcomed when she proves to be of good character, can be likened to how Boaz treated Ruth. These parallels are very likely unintentional, but are a bit of something I noticed.
I did warn about spoiler material. Yes, in episodes 10 and 11, Zen and Shirayuki do confess their love for each other, and it results in Zen’s proposal to her. Given the nature of the story, that’s probably not so surprising, but it’s the nature of his proposal that I’ve found worth a few more comments.
Being a man of this time and culture, of course I’ve been influenced by the stories I’ve heard and read and seen concerning how a marriage proposal is suppose to be done. While certain elements are variable, like putting the message on signs at ball games or having an airplane write it in the sky, there is an expectation that the real moment will involve the guy kneeling down before the gal, holding up a ring, and asking the question himself.
Being a man myself, though as of yet not one who has needed to “Pop the question,” I’ve usually thought there was something off with the whole kneeling thing. Not that it was something I’d think overly much about, but whenever I’d see it on, for example, a jewelry store commercial, I found it embarrassing. As strange as it may seem, it was the proposal in this series that caused some things to fall into place in my mind, and helped me see what it was that seemed wrong with the one in the commercials. The commercial proposal was beggarly, and in a way even trite and undignified. There is a sense in which the man is dishonoring himself, even if only in a pretend way. And in behaving in a dishonorable way, he was demeaning both the woman he was asking the question to and the occasion of his proposal.
When Zen knelt before Shirayuki, there was nothing beggarly or dishonorable about it, he does so more as a knight pledging himself to a worthy lord than as a beggar groveling for a handout from a rich-looking passer-by. He was no less a prince when he knelt before her as he was at any other time, and his act was not trite or demeaning to either of them. He wasn’t setting aside his dignity when he does it, and if anything that made it more meaningful than the stereotypical proposal as portrayed in our various kinds of media.
Maybe it’s things like dignity and honor that seemed to be missing from the stereotypical proposal in the commercials or movies. When a man pledges himself to a woman, and asks her to walk by his side, maybe it should be a solemn and dignified event. The weight of what he is pledging and what he is asking should be taken seriously by both of them. To make it trite or buffoonish doesn’t make it romantic, but dishonors the occasion and the people involved.
We must be wary in trying to set up anything human as being an example to be followed. We are fallen and sinful, and the stories we make and the characters we create cannot but be affected by our fallenness. But taking that into account, if we can point to numerous bad examples out there in the various types of media we watch and listen to and read, there may still be some good in pointing to good examples, while still noting their faults.
I think SWRH may be one of those good examples, not a perfect one, but one that at least shows a better example of honor, respect, and dignity than most we are exposed to. This first season is very enjoyable, and I look forward to the second season when it is released. While it may be a light series on the surface, there does seem to be some depth to it, with things to give a viewer reason to think. I can recommend it very highly.