Review/discussion about: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season
I’ve never liked apples.
Sure, their outer casing is both shiny and biodegradable. But it’s a literal chore to completely peel the skin off (if one does not have a utensil or does not like the taste). Plus, they hurt my teeth. The acidity has always ruined any chances of me eating anything more after consuming these “toxic” fruits.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season features an apple of sorts. But, thankfully, it is an apple that is far from toxic.
Akagami returns for the continuation to its split-cour. To be expected, Shirayuki, Zen, and many others return as well for more fairy-tale happenings.
Looking at Akagami’s narrative as a whole reveals an interesting direction. Two-thirds of the season are dedicated to a single, long-lasting conflict. The last one-third is comprised of episodic, slice-of-life events one right after another.
The decision to split up the season in this fashion holds both positives and negatives. On the positive side, the season gets all of its tension out of the way early to make way for lighthearted fun and frivolity. Plus, by keeping the two halves separate, the major conflict remains focused as opposed to lost amongst the laughs and gaffs. On the negative side, ending the season with arguably pointless material makes the narrative come off as aimless, possibly lost. Also, the shift from heavy drama to almost no drama makes said heavy drama lose weight.
Nevertheless, the narrative’s structure holds a different purpose: it matches the tone of the anime itself. Shirayuki is “forced” to go back to Tanbarun and away from Clarines, the place she (now) calls home. So it makes sense that, as she struggles with leaving behind both her work and more importantly Zen, she encounters more troubles abroad. Practicing being a proper lady. Finding herself lost in an underground labyrinth. Getting kidnapped from her kidnappers. In other words, where the first season brought balance, this second season brings imbalance.
It is not until Zen, Kiki, and the others arrive, and subsequently the whole gang gets back together again, that she feels safe. That she feels at home. And so the events from then on reflect her comfortability. Obi being reacquainted with an old friend. Mitsuhide acting goofy. Zen treating Shirayuki as the love of his life. Balance.
Not all of the events manage to maintain execution, however. The stopwatch that Zen gave to Shirayuki meant next to nothing narratively despite earning some importance. An argument for it breaking and its time stopping has some nice symbolism to it (her “time ended,” both for going home and possibly her life), but the watch does not actually serve a grander purpose.
Also, the whole Shirayuki’s-father idea almost comes out of nowhere and has little impact on the events after the revelation (since it comes at the end of the long conflict that goes right into the laidback events). It does continue with the anime’s theme on home and leads to Kazuki kidnapping Shirayuki (by misunderstanding her situation), but it is still a weak inclusion.
And it was a bit too convenient that the one dude just happened to have family that did business with the Claw of the Sea which led to them invading their hideout.
Yet the worst problem, a problem inherent with the given structure, is the separation of Zen and Shirayuki. Technically speaking, Akagami is meant to be a tale about Shirayuki and Zen. Not Shirayuki and Raj. Not Shirayuki and Obi. Shirayuki and Zen.
To be fair, the forced separation does have purpose. Shirayuki does nothing romantically with the other two, solidifying her feelings. The direction helps those two men rather than Shirayuki herself (more later). And their time away from one another allows them to understand that what they miss most is each other. But when Shirayuki is away from Zen and vice versa, it disrupts what the anime is supposed to be about. I.e., Shirayuki and Zen.
The long conflict is not without its happy or funny asides. The slice-of-life episodes are not without their own conflicts. And Shirayuki and Zen do share a lot of moments together regardless of the separation. Meaning, overall, the narrative rests on middle ground.
As to be expected of the second half to the split-cour, the art and animation levels remain as high in quality as they were with the first half.
Coloring in particular is vibrant once again. The landscapes are painted with greens, blues, and purples to get back to that fairytale feel. Lighting also contributes to this feeling – sunsets, nighttime moonlight, and sparkles galore fill many sections of the show.
The animation levels are back, too. During fights, characters jump, swing, and dodge against their opponents. Choreography also makes the fights more fun to follow. When fighting is not going on, the characters’ hair, eyes, and clothing likewise see fluid movements that keep the show from being static.
And the character designs do not change too – a clear positive. Shirayuki herself gets a few extra outfits, like the one she wears to the ball and the one she wears when Prince Izana summons her to receive her reward from Tanbarun. Zen, Mitsuhide, and Kiki’s designs return as well, and, similar to Shirayuki, Kiki gets an extra one during the fake marriage interview with Zen that perfectly captures her beauty.
(Thinking more on the coloring of their hair, these couplings hold weight. Red and white are colors that complement one another well. Much like Shirayuki and Zen do. Similar thoughts can be written about yellow and blue for Kiki and Mitsuhide respectively.)
New characters receive nice designs as well. Umihebi, the leader of the Claw of the Sea, looks intimidating with her yellow-green eyes, ponytail, and multiple pieces of clothing. Mukaze, the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, probably gave Shirayuki some of his hair genes (but not his sense of clothing), considering his faded, brownish-red hair. And Torou dons the femme fatale look with her long brown hair, nice figure, large earrings, long skirt, and white boots.
Admittedly, there are a few hiccups. The rocking of the characters in the boats during the whirlpool pursuit was not handled with care. And Shirayuki’s smile as she spins in the opening track’s visuals makes her look more goofy than cute. But the rest of the art and animation make up for these small grievances.
Interestingly, the anime does not place too much focus on Shirayuki’s and Zen’s characters. Instead, most of the attention goes to two other people: Raj and Obi.
Raj was the prince from the first season who initially tried to steal Shirayuki back after she ran away from his snobby eyes. When he later visited Clarines, he was scared out of his mind given his promise to Zen to never see Shirayuki again. These characteristics, snobbishness and courage, are what the anime targets for this season as well. But rather than inflating them further, the goal is to reduce them.
To this end, Raj invites Shirayuki to Tanbarun. Part of it is a test for Shirayuki and Zen on Izana’s behalf – to see if Shirayuki can successfully prove her worth and hence her (in Izana’s eyes) compatibility with Zen. Part of it is to see Shirayuki’s compatibility with Raj. And the biggest part is Raj wanting to mend his relationship with Shirayuki regardless of the feelings involved.
Thus they learn more about each other during their time together. Shirayuki learns of Raj’s violin skills as well as willingness to better himself. In turn, Raj learns of Shirayuki’s trust of others and of her thoughtfulness which she uses with everybody.
Raj’s younger siblings have kindhearted intentions with their meddling, but Shirayuki and Raj both understand that they do not love the other as lovers but rather as friends. Where their relationship was once in a rocky spot, it is now exactly where they want it to be.
The culmination of their time together was originally supposed to be their dance at the ball, but, when Shirayuki gets kidnapped, Raj finds himself needing to test whether or not he has left behind his snobby and fearful days of old. That is, he needs to prove whether or not Shirayuki has left a lasting impression on him.
And prove he does. He opts to join the horseback chase after the Lions of the Mountains. He makes a personal appearance before his people, pleading for their aid in his time of need. He leads the charge after the Claw of the Sea, declares his friendship with Shirayuki for all to hear, and courageously carries his men through the raging whirlpools. All choices that demonstrate Raj has changed for the better.
Afterwards, he and Shirayuki finally do have that dance (with the music Shirayuki had pointed out at an earlier point), but, to reiterate, this send-off is not the highlight. Instead, it comes with the necklace and official decree of her new title: “Friend of the Crown.” The letter Raj writes for Shirayuki is kind, reflective, and sincere, indicating without a doubt that Raj is finally the kind of prince, the kind of person, that Shirayuki always knew he could be.
Next to Raj, Obi is the other prominent character. The first half of the split-cour initially had him as an enemy of Shirayuki and Zen. Very quickly, he finds himself working for his new master Zen, and he also finds that he has some feelings for Shirayuki himself.
Near the start of this second half of the split-cour, Obi is still in the same spot. When Shirayuki must go to Tanbarun to prove herself, he duels Zen for the honor of accompanying her. Obi surprisingly wins – giving him the chance to also prove his worth to Shirayuki.
Obi has generally looked over Shirayuki from afar, but this opportunity allows him to look over her while afar. He behaves the same, too. He guards her, tracks her whereabouts, and escorts her when necessary.
Yet when she needed him most, he fails. The (first set of) kidnappers arrive with impeccable timing, defeating Obi and stealing Shirayuki. He did not prove his worth. Whether it was because of his feelings for her or because of his pride, it does not matter. All that matters is that a switch flicks on within Obi – and anger brims forth.
He finds one of the kidnappers, the glower on his face indicating easily enough his current mindset. When Zen finds him, though, he gets scolded by Zen. Not for losing Shirayuki but for making Zen worried about him, too. This small interaction sets the seed for his eventual weening.
For that’s a major motif of Obi’s character during this season of Akagami: weening away his deeper feelings for the red-headed girl. Zen’s trust in Obi affects Obi since it is something he is not used to. Shirayuki (after being rescued) asks him to continue helping her, simultaneously easing his mind about his failure and indicating the kind of relationship they share (i.e., a friendly one, not a romantic one). And the episode afterwards, where his friend from the past reappears, allows him to understand that he likes the friends he has in the present and does not want to lose in the future.
The culmination of his character comes when he gets Zen away from Mitsuhide’s overprotection. He encounters Shirayuki but leaves her to get Zen, indicating his newfound outlook on himself and the group he cares for.
Both Raj and Obi highlight a specific theme among the characters: understanding one’s self and where one wants to be personally.
The story targets something similar – the idea of one’s home – but that is more physical. This theme is more mental. Raj confronts his shortcomings. Obi learns about what he truly cares for. Shirayuki and Zen know they want nothing else but each other. Even Mitsuhide and Kiki learn about themselves – Mitsuhide and Kiki care for their prince and, more than implied, one another.
Speaking of Shirayuki and Zen, they feel the negative effects once again of not holding the spotlight. Shirayuki does grow in terms of proper ladyship, but she has always been confident and determined, so the change is more minor than major. Plus, the longer conflict has her (once again) getting dragged along against her will. She has to wait for everyone else to rescue her rather than her rescuing herself – a lost opportunity.
Zen gets it even worse. Obi takes his spot for the major conflict, and, once back home, his biggest change is not averting his older brother’s gaze. Weak. At the minimum, his actions and words make it more than known that he loves Shirayuki. Even if their relationship is not as official as it could be.
The other side characters are a toss-up. Kazuki’s defection does not have much exploration but his role as homewrecker works. Prince Izana only commands and laughs, but he forces the characters to act. And both Mitsuhide and Kiki do not have their own romance blossom, but it was appreciated that they got some attention after almost two whole seasons of nothing.
Altogether, the cast is filled with positives and negatives that ultimately balance one another out.
The opening track is leveled in its approach. The start is slow with the singer and instruments working at a methodical pace. The halfway point builds up the emotion, giving way to a second half that is slightly faster and slightly loftier. Not a lot; just a tad. Weirdly, the piece comes off as simultaneously grandiose yet not-quite-so, leaving it in a less-than-ideal spot. No matter how fairytale-esque it may be.
The ending track somewhat follows in the footsteps of the OP, but it picks up the pace a bit earlier. It still has the same leveled tone, but the ED is more of a happy piece than it is a fairytale one. The final held note from the vocalist proves her strength, but the entire track leading up to the end lacks emotion and power – details that a single strong note could not hold up.
Sandwiched between the OP and the ED is the rest of the original soundtrack. Luckily, it contains the same lovely tracks from the first half of the split-cour. Dainty tunes, magical ensembles, and romantic arrangements come together to make Shirayuki’s second tale feel like a fantastical story once more.
As for the voice acting, it sits somewhere around average once again. Saori Hayami as Shirayuki and Jun Fukuyama as Raj deserve the only shout-outs. Ms. Hayami’s soft way of speaking and Mr. Fukuyama’s frazzled yet determined voice help to make the characters stronger than they would be otherwise.
Like many anime for me, this one was somewhere in the middle.
Those first seven or so episodes, while containing spurts of romance or other such happiness, were not the most entertaining. Relegating Shirayuki and Zen to more of a side role, and thereby reducing the amount of overall time they spent together, was not favorable. The action was not all that impressive. Umihebi and Kazuki were not interesting characters regardless of their respective affiliations. Raj and his younger siblings were thankfully around to make these duller parts more entertaining.
I also was not a fan of the anime (still) thinking about the Obi route. Not that he did anything overt. Just the long bout of subtleness – the way he looked at her or the words he said – before he made up his mind to back off had me somewhat frustrated.
The last four episodes, however, were a major delight.
I laughed extremely hard at Shirayuki’s dad yelling immediately after Zen declared his feelings of love for her. I half expected a response of that nature, but the quickness and loudness of his response made me laugh uncontrollably.
Mitsuhide’s specific episode was a lot of fun, too. Especially when he accidentally knocked Kiki over. He grabs her waist and hand as he speaks gentle words in her direction. But it was Kiki’s absolutely disgusted response (“Huh?”) and expression that had me laughing hard. Obi’s own stifled laughter was a bonus.
Mitsuhide getting visibly angry (in a comedic way) when Obi brought up Kiki getting approached by other men. Zen’s intimate moment with Shirayuki in the garden and up atop the tower. Kiki not denying Obi’s (incorrect) recount of what Mitsuhide said (about her being the most beautiful woman in the world) while he was delirious. All funny and likable moments.
I am talking about Kiki and Mitsuhide so much because I wish the anime would have made their more-than-obvious romantic pairing more definitive. But I suppose that will have to wait for another season sometime soon.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season is not an amazing anime, but it does do a lot right. Character development for a couple of the members of the cast. A purposeful narrative structure. Nice comedy, art, and music too. Unfortunately, the forced separation of Shirayuki and Zen has a ripple effect across the entire show. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or one can just use this anime as a supplement instead. Maybe.
Story: Fine, a quirky narrative structure, a theme on home, and other problems (inherent or not) balance everything out in the end
Animation: Great, colorful artistic direction, above average actual animation, and nice character designs
Characters: Fine, Raj is great, Obi is good, and the rest either serve their role or needed more but never got it
Sound: Fine, okay OP, bad ED, great OST, okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, a less-than-fun first two-thirds gives way to a more-than-fun last one-third
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3