What They Say:
Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Tanbarun, there lived an independent young woman with beautiful red hair. A skilled herbalist by trade, Shirayuki used her knowledge of plants and medicine to heal the people of her city. But when her apple-red hair drew the unwanted attention of the devious Prince Raj, she was left with two options become his unwilling concubine, or leave her home forever. In the dead of night, she cut her hair and escaped to the neighboring kingdom of Clarines where she was found by a kind young man named Zen. The mysterious stranger turned out to be none other than the dashing prince of her newfound kingdom. And with his protection, Shirayuki was finally free to chase her dreams.
Now, she’s set her sights on becoming a royal court herbalist and it will take a lot more than poisoned apples, scheming lords, and challenging exams to stand in her way.
Contains episodes 1 to 12 on Blu-Ray with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles.
The audio has a 5.1 release in English and a 2.0 in Japanese – I watched the first disc in English and the second disc in Japanese to compare – and with the Japanese release I did have to raise the volume a little from my default settings, however, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc – the quality is high overall. The dub is excellent too, with this being discussed in the commentary just to the amount of care and love is put in the show, you feel the cast did the same in both languages.
Similar with the audio, the video is set in full screen format via NTSC transfer to PAL format with the show combining animation with some of the brightest clarity I’ve seen on a Blu-Ray, it is incredibly well defined and in your face with the animation (considering its studio BONES, who behind a ton of beautiful series from both Fullmetal Alchemist variations, Soul Eater and Wolf’s Rain just to name a few) with the amount of work behind the locations, even minor things like the books and animal designs –with no real problems with the subtitles, the sound synching in either language, no pause lag or in general, it is a quality release, perhaps one of the best ones out there.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu on both discs is pretty basic – offset by the beautiful line drawings of Zen and Shirayuki on either side – almost fairy tale like (ironic considering despite the title there is very little to do with the actual Snow White fairy tale) – a red bar is underneath them with the selections Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras – easily selectable and also via the pop-up menu can return to these selections (bar extras) – straight forward but fitting for the show’s style.
There are a few extras on this release – the main one being two dub commentaries.
The first one is for episode 9, featuring what is known as the writers commentary, as the writers for the show Rachel Robertson (Writer/voice of Garaku) and Jamie Marchi (Head Writer/voice of Kiki) – it is basically about how writing for the show works as you look into the show’s original language, it’s background, previous works of the mangaka, and then take it and see how it is showcasing the characters, specifically how Shirayuki is as a female heroine in a show with elements of both history and fantasy involved and how to create the right balance. The layers of the characters, how the royalty is different, how the translation has to work with the lip flaps, the techniques used, etc.
The second commentary is on episode 11, which involves Cris George (ADR Director), Brina Palencia (VA of Shirayuki) and Josh Grelle (VA of Zen) which is pretty much them saying everything I agree with about the show – they gush about it, say how the crew and others have actually watched it in their free time outside of working on it mainly as not a typical anime or what one may think of anime as either a DBZ like show or a fanservice show, they discuss the relationship of Zen and Shirayuki in it’s development of one of the best representations of a good relationship in anime, neither lead plays second fiddle to the other, the changes that the characters go through (especially from friendship to romance), there is no clear villain and everything is like black + white, the story telling, the translation, (any commentary that references Weird Al Yankovic WORD CRIMES makes it automatically awesome), the art and the amount of respect it has been given as a potentially niche show. Probably one of my favourite commentaries ever due to just how much the cast clearly love it compared to times you feel they may have just been asked to say it.
A few standard extras as well with some Promotional Videos, commercial collection, the clean opening and endings, and a set of trailers played as one for One Piece Season 8, Barakamon, Spice + Wolf, Sky Wizards Academy and Summer Wars.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
My most recent review (Shimoneta) actually made me question more recent anime – there was a period pretty much late 2000s that most anime had some sort of fanservice quick money scheme in terms of their content and whilst there were still some great shows made, it felt like the regime had stuck to its guns, and was fearful that it was returning to that time, especially with other recent reviews like Absolute Duo, No-Rin and Mikagura whilst nowhere near as bad, still had those motifs and had been a while for a series to actually grab me. Sure One Piece did, but that’s a long runner and knew of it for a while.
Snow White With The Red Hair blew me out of the water and brought back hope.
Based on an ongoing manga starting back in 2006 (original title: Akagami no Shirayukihime), the anime debutted in 2015 and whilst the 2nd season is due later this year (which I may have pre-ordered immediately) I confess to not knowing much about it going into the anime despite being a long running manga. Fortunately, friends and my own need to know more have helped out as this series is no fairy tale, in fact it almost makes parody of the three references to Snow White they do in the first episode (the mirror mirror sequence is spoke to via a servant, Snow White sees the beautiful flower…and immediately disregards it for an uglier but much more suitable plant for her herbs and medicines, and it’s the prince who eats the poisoned apple…)…
The series is in a sense, a coming of age story mixed with slice of life and romance – but it isn’t immediate. Our heroine, Shirayuki (Snow White) is a lovely young woman with two unique traits. 1) she’s a very talented herbalist, specializing in plants and medicine and 2) her beautiful red hair which is very uncommon in the country of Tanbarun. The hair is considering both unique and attractive, so much that the pig-headed Prince Raji of her land demands she be his concubine which needless to say isn’t something she wants. A strong young woman, she instead leaves Tanbarun (but not before making sure her patients up to date get their medicine before she leaves – work ethic and little things like this really showcase her kind and hard working nature) and heads to nearby Clarines, cutting her hair beforehand. Affectivelly running away, she bumps into a trio of friends, Zen, Mitsuhide and Kiki who help her shelter whilst she uses her skills to heal a wound of Zen’s (after proving she is trying to heal him, not poison him, again, little things when you learn about the characters like this make it so much better). However, the prince has caught up with her and gives her a basket of apples, as the messenger says she has to eat one. Instead Zen does, and is apparently poisoned and Shirayuki must marry the prince to get the antitode.
However, Zen is made of sterner stuff and is actually immune to poisons (initially a bit of a deus ex machina, but a later episode actually explains how he is which then makes this scene make sense) and reveals himself to be a prince of Clarines – after scaring Raj into submission (both Zen and Shirayuki alike ^^) Shirayuki becomes a friend of Zen’s and begins to look for a job as an herbalist in the city, but is asked to maybe try being one for the court instead. This gives the story the whole commoner is friends with royalty feel, as others either see her as a gold digger, someone they can manipulate to get into power or in episode 2’s case, use her as someone they can exploit for profit. Shirayuki whilst not a fighter, is certainly not a damsel in distress either and that bit of steel behind her eyes whilst Zen is in the back ready to strike anyone near her with bad intentions makes them a very good duo. People trusting Shirayuki as a commoner visiting the prince is a common theme, leading to some new friendships, the main one being Shirayuki’s bodyguard named Obi (originally a potential assassin if she wasn’t having good intentions) and the young boy Ryu, a court herbalist at age 12 who becomes Shirayuki’s superior when she passes her court exam.
Obviously this screams romantic tension, but it is very subtle. It shows some decent time has passed throughout the castle allowing Zen and Shirayuki to become firm friends but then feelings are mixed with both of them to slowly develop into becoming romantic. When some soldiers from one of Zen’s out of town forts becomes ill, he sends for her to help seek a cure and when she discovers how the sickness occurred, Zen finds the party involved and makes them pay – the two work as a good team and Zen is definitely one of those young princes who wants to see the world, yet doesn’t shirk off his duties (his two guards Mitsuhide and Kiki help out in that, Mitsuhide in particular is the quiet type, but when he speaks, Zen listens…) – this is better explored when his older brother, Izana, enters the free, he too is suspicious of his brother and Shirayuki’s relationship, even bringing Raji along for the ride, which leads to both learning the history of Zen and Izana (including Zen’s childhood friend, and what he really was to Zen combined with Izana’s more ruthless and manipulative way of doing things, though this is still no match for Shirayuki’s will…) and in turn, strengthening the bond of Zen and Shirayuki whilst learning more of characters like Mitsuhade and Obi.
The final few episodes basically conclude the friendship into something more with a nice arc where a young girl named Kiharu comes on official business for the prince as her home islands birds are threatening by local poaching, her retainer in favour of it but the birds have exceptional hearing and tracking skills which Shirayuki showcases as an idea when Zen feels he has no choice but to deny her (as the only way he could help is if the birds would be useful for Clarines’ society) – it leads to Shirayuki taking no crap from the retainer as he thought he could use the fact she was a commoner to bribe her, he imprisons her but she escapes, foils his plot to try and stop Kiharu’s mission being a success, but does get hurt during it. Zen visits her, and they share a kiss – which of course makes Shirayuki conflicted and later in tears as she doesn’t know if her feelings can be acted on from friends to something more…
The actual development of the relationship is one of those rare things in anime that just everything clicks. Shirayuki is not a fighter, but she isn’t weak at all – she will step up to you, blade unflinching to tell you her thoughts, she will shout at you if you say she is just a gold digger or can be bribed just because she is considered a commoner, and being used to too much unwanted attention due to your red hair will toughen you up. She is not afraid to speak her mind, but has a good heart and the fact the concerns are questioned, Shirayuki always proves them wrong. It helps that she and Zen have a lot in common, determined, hard working, kind who want their own paths in life and she seems unintentionally to brighten other people up (Obi becomes quite attached to her and Ryu may have a young boy crush on her but he definitely mellows out with her). She gets out of scrapes with intelligence, her skills as a herbalist come into play more than once, but her charm and personality combined with the relationship with Zen push her into one of those gem of a female protagonists.
And her partner in crime is also one of the better male characters I’ve come across in recent years – Zen is a tougher than you expect young prince. His sword skills are top notch, but his mental toughness is perhaps underestimated – in the episode which debuts Ryu, you learn he has taken poison since HE WAS 13 to build an immunity to it (leading to a cute moment when Shirayuki cries for his pain, Ryu – not used to this emotion – runs out of breath to ask how to help her). He has had a trouble past – you learn about his first friend Atri, and what he really was considering his relationship with Izana – yet he is smart (his first meeting with Shirayuki was actually well thought – he didn’t want the medicine she gave him just in case it was poisoned, after all, cute girl or not, it is their first meeting and a prince can never trust anyone initially). His contrast with Izana is something that most likely will be built up more but the contrasts are there, and you wonder if Izana is being a chessmaster or if Zen is actually the one moving the pieces…
The focus is with these two but the supporting cast make up a lot of the fun – Obi is the main one, a former assassin working on behalf of one of the castle higher-ups as thinking Shirayuki is a gold digger, he’s in fact a very likeable rogue character who soon gets hired as someone permanent on Zen’s side, specifically as Shirayuki’s bodyguard. Whilst there are elements that he may have an interest in her, it is swept aside for his care for his prince, combined with his fighting skills and intelligence (figuring out a way to make a very bitter medicine still potent but taste better actually one ups Ryu and Shirayuki, showcased when he worked on some fruit fields, but again to Shirayuki’s credit, gives him all the credit to the head herbalist) – Ryu is a nice addition too, a much younger character who has a position of skill and power, yet Shirayuki talks to him as an equal and feels that he is happy working with her despite his stoic nature and bounces off her character well enough as well as the head herbalist in Garack, one part demanding but one part entertaining in her workload. And of course Zen’s two loyal guards in Mitsuhide and Kiki – Mitsuhide does get a flashback episode and you learn the history of him with Zen so does get a bit more development but Kiki you can tell keeps him in line, so they keep their roles simple, but memorable.
What I also like is that the antagonists in their show also have chances to either get showcased or even change – Izana is the biggie being Zen’s brother, being quite manipulative and cold, yet sneaky and smiling all the time. You can tell he is pulling stuff behind the strings, yet Shirayuki seems to be able to handle his tricks and you wonder what he could be planning. Bringing Raji back after he seemed like your initial weak opening boss was interesting as he seemed to be the vain prince who got his commupance, but when he returns he does actually learn a bit from Shirayuki and you wonder if he is going to change for the better…Kihara seems to be set up as the first true female friend outside of Kiki Shirayuki may get (I also loved after the test that Kihara’s family see Zen as someone they could trick…and he has none of that as they realize he is not to be underestimated) and even a one episode villain gets enough depth (Mihaya, episode 2) that you understand his motivation, but still are happy Zen gets to him in time before he could strike Shirayuki…
It is hard to fault this anime unless you simply don’t like slice of life genres – it has decent action with Zen and Izana both ready to fight as does Mitsuhide and Kiki, some fun comic moments (Shirayuki + alcohol = instant knock out) and some smart discussion especially when it comes to the herbalist talk. The amount of details with the animation is stunning (reminds me a lot of Spice + Wolf, fitting as Brina Palencia who voices Shirayuki in the dub also did Holo), the music is also amazing (Michiru Oshima who did it worked on the original FMA, whilst it was recorded with the Orchestra of the Paris National Opera) and just the sheer chemistry, the developing relationship combined with good story-telling, intelligent characters/writing, it is up there in one of my favourite series of all time, it could easily be top 10 depending how Season 2 turns out. I seriously can’t wait till July when it is due, it has been a LONG time since I’ve been this hyped for a show and so glad Anime Limited grabbed this gem.
It is niche yes, but when it is different from the norm, I hope that makes it stand out, because it deserves to be loved.
Snow White with the Red Hair was the fairy tale I wasn’t expecting, because it is not a fairy tale in the traditional sense, yet it gives a hope and whimsy that there are still amazing shows out there. Shirayuki and Zen are quickly added to that top 50 pairings list I did a few years ago as they start as friends and it slowly develops into a romance but also showcases both characters worries and insecurities (Shirayuki – commoner in a royal court, red hair gives too much attention, Zen – under the shadow of his older brother, having to mix his outside work with his throne work and falling in love with Shirayuki) – combined with a great supporting cast where even the villains aren’t exactly black and white, a gorgeous looking and sounding show which is damn near perfect unless you simply aren’t into slice-of-life. If you are even remotely though, please check it out. The last A+ I gave was Clannad: After Story Part 2 which was a LONG time ago – that’s how highly I rate this.
Episode commentaries, Promotional videos, Commercial collection, Textless Opening & Closing themes.
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Anime Limited via Funimation
Release Date: March 27th, 2017
Running Time: 250 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.