Shirayuki lives in the kingdom of Tanbarun as a herbalist until one day the Prince (having heard of her unusual hair colour) orders her to become his concubine. Rather than accepting that fate, she cuts off her hair (in a somehow perfectly straight line) and crosses the border into the Kingdom of Clarines. There her story really begins.
Alright, I’m going to admit there will be some gushing in this review. And no, I won’t argue that this is a ‘perfect’ anime or story but I am going to argue fairly passionately that this is storytelling done well.
Snow White with the Red Hair starts out very Disney. You’ve got your Princess character (though she is of low birth) and the Prince who wants her (although as a concubine so icky). She runs away and through the forest and comes across an empty house, though because she respects break and entry laws she sits outside and waits for the owner to return. We never do find out who actually owns the house, but a boy named Zen and his two attendants come by because they use the house and this is where the story really takes off. Zen is actually the Prince of Clarines but it isn’t his princliness that get’s Shirayuki’s attention. It is hs general advice about finding her own fate and the two embark on one of the most interesting relationships I’ve probably encountered in romance focussed anime.
Ultimately, this is a love story between Shirayuki and Zen (two of the sweetest and yet well rounded romance anime couples I’ve ever encountered). Both of them have issues, particularly their tendencies to take on everything rather than ask for help, but they are both genuinely striving to improve themselves and to help others. That said, they aren’t sickly sweet to the point of having no other personality. At times Zen is quite stubborn and childish, even having a temper tantrum after losing both a sparring match and a verbal argument with the first prince of Clarines, Izana. He’s also impulsive but has enough sense to heed the words of his attendants (most of the time). Shirayuki is the strong female character done right. She doesn’t need to be a violent psychopath, she uses her words and steely determination to get through things and when all else fails she can accept the occasional rescue. Not that I have anything against female characters who fight, but I found it refreshing to have a female lead who could clearly be labelled strong entirely because of her personality. Anyway, I featured Shirayuki way back when I did my top 5 list of female red heads because she is an amazing character.
Even if the rest of the anime stank, the relationship between Zen and Shirayuki would be enough to sell this story. Fortunately, the rest of the anime is pretty good.
Visually it does look Disney like. From the sweeping shots of the castle in Clarines, the forest sequences, to even the character designs to a point. It is a beautiful anime and has some quite bold colour choices for romance. I normally find romance anime to be a little washed out and faded looking (not all, but a lot), however Snow White goes for some fairly striking colours. The red hair for Shirayuki is obvious, and the various flowers and herbs being used are quite distinct, but even Zen’s standard blue for clothing and eyes, the forest greens, Obi’s darker brown and greens all draw your attention to whatever the current focus of the scene is. The colours work well and distinguishing mood and characters and are just visually appealing.
The music will sweep you away. While it is all pretty standard fairy-tail fare, it is so perfectly chosen to the story that you can’t help but be moved by it. Even the ending carries such a feeling of hope and a sense of moving forward that you kind of just get drawn on to the next episode before you really think about it.
The supporting cast are standout. Kiki and Mitsuhide as Zen’s attendants aren’t just there to be there or fill the background of scenes. They are rich and interesting characters in their own right (though you’ll have to watch season 2 for some more specific details about their relationship). Kiki is a physically strong female, but she is also gentle, caring, occasionally sarcastic (particularly toward Mitsuhide), and proud. Her interactions with Zen, Izana, Mitsuhide, Obi and Shirayuki are always interesting and informative. She’s fairly laconic but her choice of words is quite deliberate and the voice actress, Kaori Nazuka does an excellent job of conveying more meaning to the audience than just the words themselves. I haven’t watched the English dub but I really hope they managed to preserve Kiki’s character.
Mitsuhide at times comes off as a sound board for the other characters, but his is probably the most interesting relationship with Zen (other than Shirayuki) due to their history. This is hinted at several times early on and directly shown when it is revealed that Mitsuhide is the only one Zen really listens to once he’s made his mind up. Later in the series we get a flashback to Zen’s younger days which not only helps explain some of Zen’s emotional baggage but further elaborates on the relationship between Zen and Mitsuhide.
Of course, my favourite character is Obi. He’s so funny and he’s a little bit darker than the other characters so regularly makes fun at their expense. He is also the outside of the group, having first tried to scare off Shirayuki before becoming one of Zen’s attendants. This gives him an outsiders perspective on the group and his insights are usually amusing. His fighting style is also pretty impressive, as is his general agility. Possibly my favourite moment from the series (outside of a Zen and Shirayuki scene) came from the scene where Obi was looking after the drunk Shirayuki.
I’d love to write more about the cast (the other herbalists, the first prince, the prince of Tanbarun, the various villains who show up throughout the series, the couple of nobles we meet) but in honesty it would take too long. Basically, the cast works brilliantly and while no one detracts from the central characters, they all have their moment to shine.
Beyond that, the story itself is always interesting. Yes, this is a romance, but at the same time Shirayuki and Zen are both pursuing their own goals and the romance fits around that. There are episodes focussing on illness and Shirayuki working as a herbalist, episodes that deal with Zen’s childhood, episodes looking at the social status of the Prince and how he is seen by others, and all of this works really well to create a sense of moving forward and makes the moments where Zen and Shirayuki can have a quiet moment together and we see the progress of their relationship even sweeter.
I will say that I’m really glad there was a second season (season 3 where are you) and I will review that separately at some point.
Also, before I wrap this up I do need to add some criticisms.
- Why does Shirayuki’s hair not grow at all during the months after she moves to Clarines? Are they trying to suggest she’s cutting it off like that regularly because otherwise there’s no reason for it to still be that short.
- How did Shirayuki support herself after moving to Clarines before she passed the test to become a herbalist? She mentions once that she’s going to look for a job but when she finds out about the test she then studies for what seems like it must be weeks but doesn’t work. She has to be paying her rent somehow.
Yeah, they were petty criticisms but they bother me every time I watch this series through.
Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this anime to people who only like action or darker anime, but for everyone else, this is a must watch.