I give this lovely little fantasy anime...a 93/100!
I'm not gonna lie: the anime industry isn't what it used to be. Now, I don't mean to sound like one of those crotchety old people who say "back in my day things were much better!" However, there's no denying it: anime now just isn't as good as it was years ago. True, there were some duds, but creators back in the 70s, 80s, and even 90s were able to churn out many episodes of whatever the heck they wanted, loved doing it, put a lot of effort into them, and as a result, many of them are well known and beloved, with some titles being Rose of Versailles, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Gundam, the World Masterpiece Theater, Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Digimon, etc. There's a reason they're all so well known and loved, and that's because people back then did everything they could to write passionate, riveting stories with three dimensional characters, and were able to utilize their time and tell the story they wanted...most of the time, that is. Now? Anime only get 11-13 episodes, with the occasional DVD episode here and there, and most of it is just wish fulfillment, self-insertion fare full of cute girls with big boobs, bland guys who get harems for no reason, moe stereotypes, phoned in voice acting, panty shots, questionable writing, stupid plotlines, etc. They make the most money now, and unless the industry changes somehow, I don't see the trend ending anytime soon. However, this doesn't mean quality anime don't exist anymore. There's fewer in number, yes, but they're still popping up despite the lack of success. One of those shows is Snow White with the Red Hair, or Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime...and I'm not gonna lie: this is seriously one of the best anime to come out in YEARS.
The story centers on a young woman named Shirayuki, who is well known for her work as a herbalist and...her red hair. Nobody in her country of Tanbarun has such red hair, and this makes her the center of unwanted attention. When the moronic Prince Raj falls in love with her and wants to make her his concubine, she refuses to let herself be subjected to a cruel fate, so she gives him the middle finger by cutting her hair and runs away to the next kingdom, Clarines, as she has nowhere else to go. While traversing through the forests, she finds herself befriending the crown prince of Clarines, Zen, who offers to let her into his kingdom to protect her from Raj. She isn't quite sure what his intentions are, but she does want to pay her debt to him, so she becomes a court herbalist in his castle. With this, her adventures in the Clarines kingdom begin.
From what I hear, Bones is a very well liked animation company. I've seen some of their works, such as Angelic Layer, the Escaflowne movie, and Ouran High School Host Club. But I wouldn't consider myself a big fan of them. However, I can tell you that the popularity Bones gets is 100% justified, as their work on Shirayuki-Hime has to be one of the best I've ever seen from them. The series has a soft, shiny, serene animation style that blends perfectly with the low fantasy setting, and the architecture design is great. The fluidity of the characters' movements, bird wings flapping, and other things are absolutely sumptuous. Even little things such as a character's hair swaying in the breeze, and tears flowing from someone's eyes are animated with such tender loving care that you can almost feel it. Seriously, Bones. You've earned my respect.
Both the opening and ending theme songs are wonderfully sung and animated, with the first one simply telling its story in little time as opening themes should, and the ending theme adopting a more artsy, Art Nouveau style that still matches the story's serene atmosphere. Both art styles compliment the series well, and the music does its job. The soundtrack itself isn't anything home to write about, but it fits the setting just fine, and I didn't find any pieces that I didn't like. Everything seemed to just fit into place. I did notice one thing about the soundtrack: it's always mellow and subtle, never bombastic, even during compelling fight scenes (and there's only ONE action scene in the entire series, which says a lot about the series and what its like for those new to it). I think the music composers did a good job in keeping the soundtrack like this, as even though Shirayuki-Hime is a fantasy, its more political and character-oriented in nature. There's no slaying dragons, no warring kingdoms, no princesses with magical powers, etc. Nobody said having those things was a bad thing, but nobody said NOT having them is bad, either. Shirayuki-Hime knows what it is: a mellow fantasy story about a commoner girl and a prince who has to deal with his responsibilities.
I know I praise the characters a lot in my reviews of anime, but for me, if an anime doesn't have good characters, then it doesn't win any points for me. Thankfully, Shirayuki-Hime's cast is fairly well rounded and great in their own right, and defy many stereotypes in shoujo manga. Shirayuki is friendly, kind, brave, and not afraid to do what she wants, but this trait can also get her into trouble, and she still has moments of vulnerability throughout the series that keep her from being perfect. Zen is a slightly mischievous and playful prince, but unlike most princes, we see him having to deal with his responsibilities, such as going to territory under his jurisdiction and making peace between countries using whatever methods he can. He is constantly under pressure, and his status as a prince is both a blessing and a curse, as a tragic event in his past involving a person whom he thought was a friend made him realize being a prince has both benefits and drawbacks for not just himself, but others. Seriously, how many cartoons in any country even go into this kind of stuff?! The only shows I can think of that also tackle the issues royalty face are My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Rose of Versailles. For someone who doesn't know much about how royal business goes in the real world, I think the show did a great job in showing the trials and tribulations a prince (or princess) have to go through in order to fulfill their duties. The other characters like Mitsuhide, Kiki, and Obi are also wonderful in their own right. There's even two guards who sometimes pop up every now and again who have very funny scenes and play off of each other very well. Even minor characters are given complex personalities and serve a purpose in the show, while still managing to come off as...well, people! I wish I could write characters like this.
I personally couldn't find anything the show that I actually hated or put me off. But I know some episodes are very character driven and slow paced, and this isn't a show for people who like high octane action or constant melodrama going on. Everything is presented in a down to earth manner, and there's no dragons or magic or alchemy or anything like that. Plus, I liked the soundtrack, but I wouldn't consider it the greatest soundtrack ever. Not only that, the show is very short, having only 12 episodes so far. I say so far because, wonder of wonders, it has a second season coming up, so it'll be able to explore more of its story! Though from what I hear the manga is still ongoing, with 12 volumes out, so the anime, even with 24 episodes, probably won't be able to tell the entire story. But nonetheless, I still find whatever it does tell to be very enjoyable.
If you're looking for a gem in a sea of excrement, Shirayuki-Hime is the anime for you. It's not perfect, but it's a diamond in the rough that deserves all the love and appreciation it can get. You won't regret watching it...but you do require patience and appreciation for atmosphere.