Somewhere down the line, we all began to question fairytales and their oversimplified, sometimes warped views of romance. Who does that Prince Charming bloke think he is, presuming to kiss a sleeping woman he’s never met full on the lips? We know he means well, but why is a kiss from an absolute stranger considered such a life-defining gift in these stories? In comes Snow White with the Red Hair, the prescribed antidote, led by a bonny and blithe small-town pharmacist who escapes the pretenseless creeper prince. This fair maiden, Shirayuki, then proceeds to fall head over heels with the very next prince she claps eyes on. Not that she could have helped it. He was travelling incognito when their paths happened to cross on a spring day, sun silver in his hair.
For all that Shirayuki talks about finding her own path, working to find the destination she hopes for, in the early stages of this series she doesn’t get to do a lot of that on her own merit. She’s smart and we love her for it, but Prince Zen – voiced with Blood Lad lead Ryota Osaka’s indiscernible allure – does all the overt dashing to the rescue, while her quick response to deadly situations falls short for no good reason. The closer she gets to the sweet prince, the more she comes under target as a commoner overstepping her bounds. So she is required to learn to stand her ground and save herself, digging for a hard determination beneath the intelligence and unconditional compassion.
As Shirayuki works on this, Zen is more difficult to penetrate beyond the alabaster knight dutiful to his realm. He has suffered loss at a much younger age than anybody should, and undergone gruelling, controlled exposure to poisons for his own protection. But even so, he is the character least permitted to release any frustration, or express his trauma. Even a probable flirtation with Atri, a palace guard instated under his young service and certainly flirtatiously performed by Romi Park, is repressed for the sake of the main narrative.
Nonetheless, his and Shirayuki’s love is a good, kind one that should be raised up more often in romance, lilting on the keening strings and piano of a deliberately Disney-evoking score. Learning the facts of life and love, they resist being consumed by one another to forge their own paths; Zen’s crucial to the kingdom, Shirayuki’s beholden to no-one but herself. Aside from that, the class divides between territories are only vaguely portrayed, no outcomes too severe. Episode ten, with its parable of men of power taking liberties at the cost of cultural values, was the first inkling of a social landscape and politics beyond the palace walls. Even this came at the detriment of a fascinating and endearing character, friend to nature Kiharu Toghril, who is held to a minor impact by her late entry into the series.
The real revelatory moment comes in an assertion that the first kiss isn’t the be all and end all. In love, there will be doubts, miscommunication and trials of faith, and Shirayuki and Zen are each given time to feel these issues through. Reflecting on their weaknesses, Zen realises that he must learn to rely on Shirayuki for her unique strengths, and she in turn is taught that giving into her feelings doesn’t mean she will lack that strength as he continues to need it. Even better, Zen’s apology for an impetuous smooch makes it all the more romantic. Remember folks, consent is sexy!
Extras: English dub; episode 9 & 11 commentary; clean opening/closing animation; promos & trailers.