The path that I walk on is, so to speak, my own story. I cannot draw with someone else’s brush.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or “Red-haired Snow White Princess,” wouldn’t have shown up on my radar had I not run into its fanbase. The manga itself isn’t hugely popular, yet fans swear upon its fresh premise and story as outstanding among the heaps of clichéd shoujo. It’s a “hidden gem,” I was promised. I’m never without speculation, but I must give the idea some credit: the fatuous Prince Raji catches wind of a peasant girl born with unique apple-red hair — none other than our heroine, Shirayuki. To avoid becoming his concubine, Shirayuki cuts her red hair and sets out toward a neighboring country. On her way, she befriends a young man named Zen, but these two encounter trouble when Raji’s henchman come trailing. By no means is it the most original spin on a fairytale, or any tale for that matter, but it was enough to let my imagination get the best of my expectations — oops.
Shirayuki is a person with quiet strength. She doesn’t look the type to rebel, and not once do we see an angry side, but her actions speak loudly. The decision to cut her hair, to pack up and leave, pins her as a character who cannot — and will not! — settle for a life she did not choose. Under no circumstance will she play a puppet’s role, and what she wants and does spawn actions motivated to protect her autonomy and those she cares for. On choosing to leave home, she explains: “I would be like an apple [Raji] buys from a fruit store. That’s why I think he’d get tired looking at a piece of it, so bunched my hair and left it behind.” Ha! Shirayuki is an all-around respectable character (as is the entire main cast), but this is as far as my praise extends.
Prior to indulging in Akizuki’s somewhat medieval-like fantasy, I imagined a world rich in character growth. I wanted a story that thrives on steadily-built relationships from which both life-long friends and romance grows. I love build-up and I wanted thrill, adventure, and enough plot and development to emotionally invest in, but AnS doesn’t contain any of this — it doesn’t allow for it. The summary’s focal point — Shirayuki running away from Prince Raji and joining Zen’s gang — is a short-term conflict as far as volume one is concerned. This manga lacks what I hoped it would have: an overlaying story paired with ongoing conflicts. With the story proving to contain much more episodic drama, it almost leans toward the slice-of-life genre. Even then, I’m a slice-of-life fan… granted that characters and their relationships are interesting enough to care about.
In regards to AnS, however, what I am supposed to care about (i.e., Shirayuki and her relationship with Zen) makes itself known in an obvious, forceful manner. The main romantic pairing — Shirayuki and Zen (ShiraZen?) — have a ship nearly ready to sail within pages of their introduction. I strongly suspected ShiraZen to be endgame prior to reading, but I did not expect the mangaka to shove it into readers’ line of sight before the relationship has any groundwork to grow from. Rather than caring, I feel apathetic toward ShiraZen’s outcome with strong disinterest toward the manga’s transient conflicts. What’s the point, I have to ask, when issues resolve quickly yet don’t appear to serve a greater plot? …To continually highlight the strengths and bond between ShiraZen, both as a pair and as individuals? Antagonists target and aim to sabotage Shirayuki’s future goals and her closeness with Zen, except our heroes prevail by every chapter’s end. Well that’s nice. But I’ll pass…
I gladly give Akizuki a gold star for not only creating a duo that’s individually likeable, but that actually communicate. If I earned so little as a penny from every OTP that stumbles into dramaland from miscommunications (or a complete lack of communication!), I’d be one rich girl. Zen is such a gentlemanly and heroic character, yet the story never falls victim to the damsel in distress trope. Shirayuki is too clever for that, and instead becomes the Damsel in Defense. She might get kidnapped — and Zen might provide some help near the end — but the likelihood of Shirayuki rescuing herself is far greater than her needing another’s aid. You go, girl. Even so, this doesn’t make up for the volume’s summation of letdowns.
While I’m not smitten with AnS, whether other readers will enjoy it depends on the type of reader and what readers are looking for. If a light story with short-lived shenanigans sounds good, and you don’t mind an innocent romance trailing slower than a sloth, go for it. If not, I suggest you move on and don’t look back.