#1 Female lead with abundant agency
Snow White with the Red Hair tells the story of Shirayuki. She is a young alchemist who has chosen to flee her home country, after its infamous crown prince demanded she become his concubine. During her escape she is aided by a band of swordsmen, whose leader then reveals himself to be a prince as well. He is Zen Wisteria of Clarines, and he’d very much like for Shirayuki to come to his country.
That might sound like it has the makings of a cheesy fairytale story, right? A fair maiden rescued from the clutches of evildoers by a fair prince, with whom she promptly falls in love. While Snow White with the Red Hair does have a lot of traditional elements to it, it also defies those tropes by putting a lot of focus on Shirayuki’s agency.
Upon reaching Clarines, she doesn’t become some charity case while the prince fawns over her. She takes her skills as an alchemist and starts job hunting. She only ends up in the palace because she applies to become a court herbalist, beating out numerous other candidates in the process. A lot of time is spent on Shirayuki advancing her career. Her studies, exams, her day-to-day work. This is her life and she’s not going to trade that in, just because there’s a romance brewing now.
Even when she’s in trouble—boy does Shirayuki get into trouble—she uses her own skills to contribute to a solution. She can whip up medicine or alchemical compounds on the spot, often with whatever she happens to find in the vicinity. And while she is no fighter, she absolutely won’t sit still when in danger. At one point she even throws herself off a castle, refusing to be held prisoner by a scheming lord.
It’s nice to see a romance anime wherein the heroine has so much agency. It makes for a story that feels progressive and modern, without entirely abandoning the familiar appeal of a traditional fairytale romance.
#2 Non-magical fantasy
Snow White with the Red Hair finds itself in an interesting niche for fantasy. Its world isn’t just a fantastical copy of Europe; it’s a place with its own lore, history, and peoples. However, it also doesn’t feature magic or anything else of the kind. This creates the novel situation where we have a fictional world that behaves much like how our own did.
Getting to explore a world like this is a rare treat for me. It’s so fun seeing medieval cities operate and get a glimpse into these fictional peoples’ lives; safe in the knowledge that none of them could be solving their problems by conjuring up some skeletons. At the same time, the lack of an obvious parallel to any real-world nations means that there are plenty of surprises. You slowly get to learn and understand what Clarines is about, instead of figuring it all out right away because it’s just Fantasy France or something like that.
The lack of magic also makes Shirayuki’s work as an alchemist all the more impressive. She takes weird little plants and an hour later it’s medicine for whatever happens to ail you. She also uses the reagents available to her for other clever solutions, though I’d have to spoil some amazing scenes if I went into detail on those. These feats would’ve been nowhere near as impressive if some sorcerer could’ve done the same with a snap of their fingers. Or undone her hard work with that same ease.
#3 Court politics
While a lot of time goes towards Shirayuki and her career, we also get to spend significant time with the prince. He may be only second-in-line for the throne, but Zen has plenty of responsibilities to attend to. Even if he’d rather goof off.
It’s through Zen that we get to experience a lot of the politics of this world. The society of Clarines is strictly hierarchical. Nobles at the top, peasants at the bottom, wealthy merchants somewhere in-between. Zen’s responsibilities often come down to solving problems that occur as a result of this hierarchy.
One episode that I was particularly fond off involved a viscount that governs over a remote island territory of Clarines. His hunting hobby has driven a native species of bird to near-extinction, which was pivotal to this land’s culture. The lord has brushed off any attempt to make him stop, so the island is now petitioning Zen to solve the issue. Zen is a good guy and knows what the right thing to do is, but the viscount hasn’t done anything strictly illegal. Nothing that would void his post or give Zen a justifiable cause to intervene. If Zen does the right thing anyway, it’d be a violation of the hierarchical structure from which he himself draws his authority.
There is a brief though brilliant scene in which Zen looks at a gift the viscount brought. An item that itself incorporates feathers from the now-endangered animal that is being discussed here. Zen is being made complicit in this lord’s crimes, through a present that he is in no position to reject in the first place.
That’s a great episode, but it’s far from the only time where Snow White with the Red Hair ventures into court politics. I was especially fond of the dynamic between Zen and his brother, the actual crown prince. There is love and respect between the two of them, but his brother pushes Zen to take his role more serious. No goofing off, no debacles, and no frolicking with lowborn herbalist girls. He’s not unkind to Shirayuki or even strictly opposed to them being together. He wants Zen to prove that she’s worthy enough to outweigh the loss of a more tactical marriage.
#4 Speedy development
A typical issue of romance anime—particularly those with a longer runtime—is that they leave you waiting for an obvious outcome. An anime like Snow White with the Red Hair is obviously going to have the two main characters get together. You can’t keep postponing that inevitability and expect audiences to stay invested.
Snow White with the Red Hair is far more to the point. It establishes the mutual interest between Shirayuki and Zen early on, after which their relationship develops fairly quickly. The anime is more about them overcoming the would-be threats to their romance, as opposed to them sorting out their feelings for each other for 24 episodes straight. It’s a refreshing change of pace, that leaves time for character development and other kinds of storylines.
#5 Action-packed payoffs
A consequence of all the scheming and Shirayuki’s penchant for getting into trouble is that a lot of storylines culminate into action. Kidnappings, bandit attacks, attempted murders, and even some larger-scale confrontations. Here Snow White with the Red Hair proves that—although it’s a romance anime—it can hold its own when putting together a fight scene.
Action is fast and flashy. The action cuts between different swordsmen clashing, weapons get thrown, arrows are cut down just before they hit someone. It’s a darn good time, even if the choreography itself is nothing you haven’t seen before in other anime.
These action scenes do a great job at rounding off storylines. They carry a lot of emotional baggage with them and usually high stakes, especially those times where Shirayuki’s life is on the line. Or they are used to mark the turning point in a character’s development. There’s one amazing battle where almost 2 season’s worth of steady development for a side-character finally pays off in a big, exciting way.
More like this…
The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Romance anime with a protagonist that diligently studies her craft.
Log Horizon: Fantasy anime where the protagonist makes political decisions.
Princess Tutu: Modern take on classic fairytale tropes.
1 thought on “5 Reasons To Watch: Snow White with the Red Hair”
Yeah, I was really surprised at how much action and fight scenes there is in this romance anime! It definitely keeps you on your toes. And you’re right, Shirayuki really does get herself into a lot of trouble for one little herbalist!