Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Hanebado – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hanebado

 

Similar: Haikyu!!

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Stars Align

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Sports

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The badminton is great

Negatives:

  • What is with the protagonist?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Split personality storytelling
  • Worst parent in anime

(Request an anime for review here.)

What a rollercoaster of opinion Hanebado is for me! This was a request from a dear reader for an anime I hadn’t heard of (though did see a clip of the badminton). When I looked it up to see what it was about, I noted the poor ratings. Didn’t think anything of them at the time. We fast-forward to this week, where I am supposed to review Yowamushi Pedal (finished watching it over a month ago) and am watching Hanebado for the future. Hanebado turns out to be such a baffling anime that I must talk of it immediately.

The story is about high school girl Ayano who reluctantly joins the badminton team. This prodigy had stayed away from the game for a while after her mother, a 10-time badminton champion, abandoned her.

Or!

The story is about Nagisa, captain of a high school badminton team, who hasn’t gotten over a 0-21 loss at the hands of prodigy Ayano last Nationals. She takes out her frustrations on members of the team. One day, an Olympic player joins as their coach and he recruits Ayano to the team with sights on Nationals.

I’ll get to the reason for these two versions of the story in a moment. I want to start positive with my first impressions.

Hanebado opens on the Nationals match between Nagisa and Ayano on the verge of a 0-21 finish (perfect game). The animation is fluid, the choreography is tight, and sound design is flawless. Everything about this scene draws you into the sport. If you’ve ever played badminton, you’ll know the feel of flicking the racquet, that ping of resistance when the shuttlecock hits the strings, and the swiftness of your shot into the opponent’s court. Hanebado captures this.

With such a good first impression, those poor ratings return to mind. What could possibly go so wrong?

The first negative, though not a critical one, is indecisiveness on the protagonist. This relates to my two story angles above. It starts by presenting Nagisa as protagonist, but then from episode four, Nagisa is barely in it and Ayano takes the position. It switches again later. Whoever wrote this (or adapted it, if different from the manga), could not decide on a clear direction. We even see a smaller version of this problem later, where some guy we barely know form the boys’ badminton team gets a dedicated episode. If you only watch this one episode, you would be excused for thinking him protagonist. It’s a mess.

Not a deal breaker though.

Early episodes are standard sports anime fair. You meet the team, there’s a bit of comedy, a bit of personality, ambitious speeches, the shy one, the mean one, and the cocky one. The usual. Then it gets stuck into the matches and we see Ayano’s competitive side. During a serious game, this timid girl turns into a coldblooded killer of badminton. She even has the dead anime eyes when “in the zone”. It’s cheesy as hell. More than this, her whole personality changes into a bitch. She becomes so nasty to everyone that no sane person would want to associate with her again. When a friend wishes her good luck, she insults her for it. She even badmouths a teammate for trying hard to win.

What a failure at portraying a “tough” character. She has split personality disorder, surely, but the writer doesn’t treat it as such. Barely anyone even comments on how nasty she is. I cannot emphasise enough how disparate her two versions are, as if replaced by a different character. And if I haven’t made it clear yet, she is trash writing. This also ties back to the protagonist confusion, as when Ayano is “in the zone” she comes across as the antagonist!

The justification for her personality is from past trauma. This is where I introduce you to an even worse character – the mother. Let me give you the 411, as they say, on this woman. She abandons her daughter after she loses a match while sick (the opponent pinned her down and coughed on her because it wouldn’t be fair if only one person was sick). And her justification for this? It’s for Ayano’s good, that it would make her a better player. Which parenting school did she go to? Abandon your kid for years out of some sense that it will be good for her? Ayano spots her years later in a magazine alongside a Danish girl, a badminton champion and her adopted daughter. Replaced… Harsh.

It would be one thing if she were a neglectful parent antagonist to Ayano’s arc. However, Hanebado doesn’t see her that way. When she comes back to Japan, there’s barely a criticism against her. The grandparents on the father’s side don’t seem to care whatsoever for abandoning her infant. Their response is akin to having missed her daughter’s school play. “Oh that’s too bad. Maybe next time.”

As for Ayano’s response, she’s mad at her mother at first, but the final episode cops out and ends with, “Eh, I’m over it.” What just happened?

Usually when a story has a poor writing decision, I can see what the author was trying for. The result may not have worked, but the idea makes sense. In Hanebado, I don’t know what the author was thinking. Either it doesn’t make sense, like I have perceived it, or the author somehow thinks that the mother’s parenting is good and the split personality behaviour is praiseworthy.

When I say author, I want to be clear that I don’t know if it’s this way in the manga. I’m questioning whoever is responsible for putting it on screen.

It’s a shame that the characters and story have such problems, as the badminton itself is great. I love the matches. The animation, the cinematography, and the sound design – all fantastic. Sadly, there isn’t much outside of that to praise.

Art – High

Easily the best aspect of Hanebado, the art is clean, the animation fluid, and the opening sequence is beautiful. Such a waste on this story. I like the practical character designs that make sense in badminton, except for the pink haired girl (should have tied her hair up during the game).

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either Japanese or English and the casting is similar. The music is solid as well. Fine all around here.

Story – Very Low

A girl reluctantly joins the badminton team after bad memories of her mother kept her away from the game. Hanebado starts as a standard sports anime before it takes a turn for the stupid with baffling character choices and drama.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you want to see some well-animated badminton, stay away from Hanebado. I still don’t understand the story choices.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Induces StupidityRubbish Major Characters

Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yuu Yuu Hakusho

 

Similar: Bleach

Hunter x Hunter

InuYasha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Comedy Fantasy

Length: 112 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fun, likeable characters
  • Good pace for a battle anime
  • Surprisingly strong dub considering age
  • Foreground artwork holds up…

Negatives:

  • …most background artwork doesn’t
  • Overuse of several battle tropes

(Request an anime for review here.)

There are many classic battle anime from the hand drawn age, few of them any good. I thought I would look at one – just one – in full to get a feel for the classic era outside of Dragon Ball Z. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files comes the highest recommended so let’s go with that. And at a mere 112 episodes, it can’t be that hard to suffer through if the worst comes to the worst.

However, to my delight, one of Yu Yu Hakusho’s strengths is a good pace. You don’t feel its length across the four arcs as no fight drags beyond a few episodes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yu Yu Hakusho is about a 14-year-old delinquent who dies one day saving a boy from being hit by a car, which goes against his nature. The kid baby in charge of spirit realm admin gives Yusuke a chance at revival if he can complete several tasks to prove himself as a Spirit Detective. Under the guidance of Shinigami Botan, he races against the clock to keep his spirit alive and his dead body intact. The story starts off, as most shounen do, with a series of smaller stories before it dives into longer arcs with bigger action.

Something I immediately like about Yu Yu Hakusho are these smaller stories. It avoids the tedious “monster of the week” structure found in the likes of Bleach, instead foregoing action in favour of a character focus. Early episodes are about Yusuke’s soon-to-be friendship with Kuwabara, another delinquent always hungering for a fight, who can’t handle that his rival is dead. He’s my favourite character, voiced brilliantly in the dub by Christopher Sabat (you wouldn’t know he voices Vegeta when you hear him here). Great dub, by the way. Kuwabara is such a meathead but you love him more for it.

These early episodes are the best of the show, for me. Perhaps I have seen too much shounen action – this action is good, mind you, and we’ll get there – but I like the character and humour focus of the first season, where Yusuke goes on mini capers taking care of incidents around town. The demon world is also a rather unimaginative setting (think a wasteland like any other). As such, later seasons aren’t as engaging. I suspect, however, I am in the minority for this opinion.

Yusuke also enlists the help of, begrudgingly at first, two demons when it comes to fighting the stronger denizens of the other realm. Kurama the fox spirit and manipulator of plants acts as the brains of the operation, while Hiei the fire demon born to a tribe of ice demons brings pint sized firepower. Get used to the idea of enemies becoming friends, for this writer loves the trope. As a set, the team make for a good balance of characters that don’t feel like usual archetype slots of a shounen cast.

Now to the action. Yu Yu Hakusho defies expectations of shounen action. Fights don’t last a dozen episodes – most are over in one. It knows when a fight is insignificant in the grand scheme and doesn’t drag it out. If this were Bleach or DBZ, every minor squabble would take 10 episodes at least. Here, the fight lasts long enough to have meaning and for the combatants to entertain, but then it moves on. It also mixes things up in who wins or loses. Only major fights take a few episodes, usually as the big finale for the season, and there aren’t many of these. Yes, one could tighten a few encounters, though not a major issue.

Villain designs, while dated, are entertaining at times. This anime has the most hilarious muscled villains. Muscles on top of muscles. It’s like a parody – “Oh yeah, you reckon going Super Saiyan was ridiculous? Check this out!” Straight out of botched surgeries.

Furthermore, Yu Yu Hakusho skips over training arcs. It shows a little to give the audience an idea of what Yusuke’s up to before the narrator says, “In this way, two months of training passed.” More anime should do this. The one notable training arc it doesn’t skip over in a later season has other threads woven through to avoid hitting a dead stop (rasengan training in Naruto still haunts me).

There has been a fair amount of praise from me so far, so let me temper this with criticisms, all of which revolve around the action. I despise the trope of enemies explaining how their ability work to the hero for the sake of the audience. This makes them stupid and I hate stupid. One opponent even tells of his technique before the fight. You can perhaps get away with a single enemy cocky enough to do this, not the majority, as seen here. Then we have the constant commentary from the sidelines that the hero can’t possibly win…right before they win. Lastly, it also overuses the trope of:

“You may have beaten my teammate, but he was weaker than me.”

“You may have beaten those two, but I am stronger.”

“I may be the last of my team, but the other guys were nothing compared to me.”

This happens with just about every enemy team, particularly in season 2, which is a tournament arc. These tropes are fine in moderation. Yu Yu Hakusho likes to wolf them down like a kid at the desert buffet going back for fifths. This repetition hurts the series the most and contributes to times when the pace feels off. And once you notice the pattern emerge, what’s to stop you from skipping a few episodes when you’ve seen this already?

Even so, Yu Yu Hakusho is an overall success. This isn’t the battle shounen to change your mind on the genre. It’s still for that core demographic. However, if you are part of that core and are tired of modern series going on forever, look no further than Yu Yu Hakusho with its complete story at a mere 112 episodes.

Art – Medium

The art is a mixed bag. We have moments of great animation (usually the battles) and some quality backgrounds. We also have sliding animation, bland backgrounds, and streaks. Done by hand with texture is a plus.

Sound – High

With a surprisingly good dub for such an old anime, you can go with either track here. The opening song, which stays throughout the series, doesn’t seem to fit a battle anime, but it grows on you.

Story – High

A delinquent and his unlikely allies have to deal with all manner of supernatural entities on the streets and in the arena. Fun characters, good pacing, and solid action make Yu Yu Hakusho a ride to the finish.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For classic shounen fans. Yu Yu Hakusho won’t convince those averse to battle anime to change their minds, but it is a good classic of the genre and doesn’t drag for 100s of episodes.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Beastars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Similar: Land of the Lustrous

Aggretsuko

Shiki

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Successful CG
  • Engaging characters
  • A different setting and focus than usual

Negatives:

  • Needs more world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t believe I am saying this – I mean, it would have happened eventually – but I still can’t believe there is a great looking CG anime. Not only that, it has a great story too.

Beastars is Zootopia meets high school anime drama. In this world, all animals live together in a passable sense of harmony. We focus on Cherryton Academy where a drama club prepares for a grand performance before the school. Our protagonist, Legosi the grey wolf, hides in the shadows behind the stage lights. His shyness is nothing like the red deer Louis, who commands enormous respect driven by ambitions of becoming a Beastar, the highest possible honour for any animal, achieved only by demonstrating excellence for the betterment of society.

The story kicks off when a carnivore kills Legosi’s friend, an alpaca. In a twist of world building for the premise, carnivores are the discriminated group in this world. They have the presumption of guilt against them – “Most kills are by carnivores, therefore all carnivores are killers.” Legosi does everything he can to go unnoticed at school. Even so, everyone finds his large stature and sombre tones intimidating. He must be up to something! On the opposite end, you have Louis, a deer that desperately wants to be a carnivore. He wants that strength, that power, that intimidation and though he is friends with Legosi (or is he?), he resents the wolf’s efforts to throw all his gifts away. I love these two characters. They by far and away are the stars of the show. The complexity of character versus their place in the world and the dynamic with those around them is compelling. You want to see what they’ll do next.

Supporting them are other members of the drama club, including a tiger jealous of Louis’s popularity, and a slutty bunny called Haru. There’s no other way to put it. She will jump anything with an extra leg. She is a small creature, often taken advantage of or treated as a fragile thing, so she uses her sexuality to take control. Another good character. She doesn’t deserve my boy Legosi, but a good character nevertheless.

Their relationship begins when he catches her scent one night and almost kills her. The next day, he sees her at the garden club when tasked with collecting flowers for the stage play. She assumes he’s like the others and does her thing on him. Legosi manages to escape her evil clutches (you go, Legosi, stay away!) but can’t stop thinking of her. This unconventional relationship works well to complement Legosi’s theme of fighting against his nature, as any good subplot should do.

This is a good time to talk about the world building. Beastars has good social world building – the “speciesism” against carnivores, Louis craving for strength he can’t have, Legosi’s personality through environment, to name a few. However, it lacks physical world building. How does this world operate? How is it that all of these different animals can live in the same place? How does anything work?

To put it simply, think of how our world accommodates people with different disabilities. Imagine there was a story focusing on a paraplegic. And in that story, we are told that he lives a rather normal life considering his circumstances. The paraplegic travels a lot, yet the story never shows us how he manages this (also imagine you don’t know how this works in real life, so you can’t fill in the gaps). They would need to show the wheelchair, the mechanisms of an accessible home, and the ramps and lifts around the world. Go into detail.

Beastars, for the moment (it will eventually go into detail, surely), assumes too much of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. “What do you mean you don’t see how you can have a city that works for both the elephant and the mouse – isn’t it obvious?” No, it isn’t. I’m not asking for the Encyclopaedia Beastarica. But I do want something. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as classic Disney films with animals instead of humans, like Robin Hood, where these details don’t matter. Beastars is going for a serious take, made all the more important when the conflict centres on the dynamics of this world.

One can’t help but draw comparisons to Zootopia with its brilliantly realised world. That film managed to create a world easily five times more complex than Beastars did and in less than half the minutes. First to mind is the detail of how a street vendor sells to a rodent class animal by dropping the drink down a chute to collect at the ground. Beastars has glimpses of great world building. In fact, the best episode is all about expanding this world through the illegal meat market and Legosi’s reaction to it. This episode elevates Beastars beyond an interesting premise. The goat with price tags hanging off his fingers for sale is one of the most unsettling moments in anime. Give me more.

Finally, I can’t end without going into the art, specifically the CG. Like all of you, I imagine, hearing the term CG in any relation to anime makes me uneasy to the stomach. Good CG doesn’t exist on a budget and the reason they use it for anime is budget. An association with CG characters alone put Beastars on my “not interested” list. It wasn’t until a friend raved about it that I moved it to the watch list, yet with a sense that it would be an endurance test. Imagine my surprise when I open Beastars and it isn’t just better than other CG anime, it is great. Studio Orange did a fantastic job at making the 3D look like anime 2D. The trick is in the lighting, colouring, and outlines to mask the 3D coupled with 2D for environments where suitable. Look at the screenshots in this review. They seem 95% made in 2D. It is a truly impressive job.

It isn’t perfect. The 3D stands out much more in motion, particularly in mouth movements. In traditional animation, one’s mouth jumps from position to position with perhaps extra frames in between for the larger movements. CG however, is smooth from one position to the next – like reality. The increased smoothness of CG animation makes it look worse when trying to be 2D. You need the mouth to jump frames for it to work. Smooth animation works when aiming for a high quality CG scene, such as a game cutscene or trailer. Such quality is expensive though. Beastars needs to, ironically, lower the animation in parts to improve the final effect.

I am excited for more of Beastars. I’ve started on the manga at a friend’s request, as he doesn’t have the patience to wait for spoiler discussions. Don’t miss out on this one either.

Art – High

The CG is great in Beastars, as unbelievable as this sounds. This CG is a success with real effort in texture, lighting, and a mix of 2D. Only the unnatural smoothness of the animation really stands out as a problem. I love the stop motion opening.

Sound – High

The original Japanese track is superior here. The dub is fine, if that’s what you always go for, but the Japanese casting and energy is notably better. Great opening song to go with the stop motion. The rest of the music isn’t memorable, however. The script is solid and better written than the manga – more dramatic.

Story – High

A wolf deals with school drama as he develops feelings for a rabbit, his prey. With great characters, high conflict interspecies drama, and an engaging premise, Beastars is a hit. That said, it needs more in the world-building department.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Even those averse to CG anime should watch Beastars.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Fruits Basket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fruits Basket

 

Related: Fruits Basket 2001 (old version)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Kamisama Kiss

Kobato.

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant and good natured
  • Improved over the 2001 version

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is unflinchingly nice and upbeat
  • Comical antagonists
  • Desperate to make you feel sad

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have known of Fruits Basket for a long time. It was a big deal shortly into the new millennium and I’ve never had the urge to watch. A reader requested it, so I guess I have to give it try at least. To my surprise, it isn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I did stick to the new 2019 edition where the art isn’t hideous like the 2001 version, which made all the difference (goes back to the higher standards in art demanded by the core demographic, as I mentioned in Snow White with the Red Hair).

Tohru Honda is a girl down on her luck. She lost both parents, her grandfather can’t keep her any longer, the rest of the extended family hates her, and her tent barely holds it together in the woods. All of that changes when, one day, she stumbles upon the house of Shigure and Yuki, a popular boy from her school. Alongside Kyo and others, they make up the Souma family. However, should any of them hug the opposite sex, it would reveal their true form as an animal of the Chinese zodiac. Seeing her pitiable state, they agree to take her in on condition that she never reveal their secret.

Young girl surrounded by handsome boys, each one fitting an archetype of the reverse harem as they obsess over her. This is as classic shoujo as you can get!

Fruits Basket was an influential manga of the genre in the 90s & 00s, which can be a curse, especially if it is so easy to imitate and, more importantly, outdo. There is no complexity here, whether of story or of character. The reverse harem shoujo formula is as plug and play as the shounen battle anime. This isn’t like Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, or Death Note, where you can copy them, change a little, still expecting to have something decent of your own. It takes more than the formula. Every successful anime has galleries of imitators, but the best anime have few that come within arm’s reach of competing in quality.

As such, if you have any familiarity with shoujo anime/manga, nothing – and I mean nothing – will be of surprise in Fruits Basket. It doesn’t feel outdated after the polished remake, yet it doesn’t feel new.

However, let’s look at it for what it is or for the uninitiated.

The protagonist Tohru, I am not a fan. She is too nice. She’s nice it that annoying sort of way, where if she were a real person, you’d suspect it’s all a façade to cover the truth that she abuses animals in private. I exaggerate of course. She is impossibly happy and unbeatable in life to the point that conflict doesn’t matter. The story is structured as a collection of subplots for each character, as seen through the eyes of Tohru. We go through several of the zodiac boys with their tragic backstories and her school friends. Throughout this, nothing makes Tohru flinch. She is an upbeat, sunshine-filled, empty vessel to navigate the subplots. Fruits Basket desperately want you to feel sad for her, from the endless tragedy in her life down to the opening ballad carefully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. When you have a character as unrelatable as Tohru, none of this moves me a millimetre.

The supporting cast is more interesting and the reason the core demographic is here. Each boy fits a type, so one can pick a favourite. It’s unrealistic to have a teenaged girl surrounded by guys like this, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s yaoi baiting, naturally – wouldn’t be shoujo otherwise.

The boys’ conflicts centre on the zodiac “curse”. The curse is simply the transformation, but it is enough to wreck their relationships and their lives. The shouta kid (he’s older than he looks, they swear) transformed into a rabbit when his mother held him, which filled her with disgust and anger, driving her to attempted suicide. In the end, the Dragon of the zodiac erased her memory of him to give peace. This is a common story with the members of the zodiac. Some fall in love, their partner can’t handle the truth and have their mind’s modified, while the zodiac has to live with the memories and broken heart. The stories are simple and as I said earlier, done to death. You should see it all coming.

As for the antagonists – if you could even call them that – they are comical. They are the flattest characters of them all. The head of the Souma family just leers at everyone and makes threats. I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face at the things she utters. The most hilarious villains have to be Tohru’s extended family. Her cousin, who is supposed to be respectable and wants to be an officer, goes on a rant about how she’s a slut for staying with boys. How comically flat can you get? These people are funny, not threatening.

If one were of the core demographic for Fruits Basket, a tween girl, there would be stars in her eyes as she dreams of her best boy and yadi yada lovey dovey stuff. For everyone else, there is plenty better shoujo anime out there. If you want a comedy that parodies the genre, I can’t recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun enough, or you’ve got Little Witch Academia and Kodocha.

Art – Medium

The production across the board is much improved over the original, though it isn’t anything to write home about. The art is pleasant enough to match the story’s tone. Could do with less full screen bloom. Go easy on my eyes, please.

Sound – Medium

The acting and the script is fine middle-of-the-road quality that gets the job done but won’t stick with you. All that stands out is the extra mountains of sugar. The first opening song is a little much in forcing you to feel sad for Tohru.

Story – Medium

An orphaned yet upbeat girl finds lodging with a group of handsome boys that turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged. She grows close to them as she unravels their mysterious pasts. Each character gets their time in Tohru’s arms for her to learn their backstories. None of them rises above average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans only. You have to be a shoujo fan to enjoy Fruits Basket. It is as typical shoujo anime as you can get.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Snow White with the Red Hair – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Story of Saiunkoku

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Protagonist has purpose and agency
  • World feels cosy and lived in

Negatives:

  • Not enough intensity
  • Needs more romantic conflict

(Request an anime for review here.)

Of the shoujo story types, I tend to like the “ordinary girl draws the attention of an important guy (or the reverse)” type the most, especially in a fantasy setting. I like how it gives a clear coupling to the romance. I never hide my dislike for harems (inc. reverse harems) due to the lack of direction in relationship developments – doesn’t help that the characters are often atrocious. By giving me an indication of where the story intends to go, I don’t feel like I am wasting my time before things even begin. The fantasy setting is an added bonus, as it requires more effort in world building.

Snow White with the Red Hair follows a young herbalist in training called Shirayuki with shockingly red hair that draws much attention, including the unwanted infatuation of her nation’s prince. She only manages to escape life as a concubine when Prince Zen of the neighbouring country of Clarines comes to her rescue. Her new ally also opens the opportunity to become a palace herbalist. Passing the exam – and curing the prince from a poisoned apple – sets her on a path to success she could only dream of in her sheltered life.

Seeing this premise of a girl with [insert profession here] meeting [insert rich handsome guy here], I assumed her skill with herbs would be irrelevant. This is a common failing of shoujo anime and rom-com films. How often is the protagonist a journalist/architect/ad executive/author/etc. and it never plays a part in the story? You know it’s only there because it would be weird if she didn’t have a job. I assumed the same of Shirayuki. When a scoundrel kidnaps her, the expectation is that someone rescues her or she lucks her way out. To my surprise, however, she uses her knowledge to burn the right herbs together for a paralysing effect on her attacker. Alright! That’s what I want to see. She still needs some help in the end, but she did something and used her brain. I like an active protagonist with intelligence. Shirayuki endeared herself to me with that single action.

Further on, her studies and career as a herbalist continue to hold relevance throughout the story. We see her studying new mixtures, experimenting with ideas, researching plants, and taking exams. Probably my favourite element of the story. It adds depth to the world and makes her environment lived in.

The romance with Prince Zen is typical shoujo fare and works, for the most part. You do have to suspend your disbelief that a prince of the realm can have a public relationship with a commoner against little opposition, but that’s the way of the genre. They do make for a good couple and complement each other’s qualities.

Where Snow White with the Red Hair fails is in the UTTER LACK OF DWARVES! WHERE ARE THE DWARVES?! I kid, I kid. No, the problems are in the lack of escalation. Conflict starts well with Shirayuki’s sudden move to a new country, a new life, and while we do have some political, physical, and romantic conflicts afterwards, none of them hit a high-tension point. For instance, one romantic conflict arises when Zen has to “interview” a prospective wife for a royal marriage. Shirayuki isn’t bothered by this, and why would she be when nothing comes of it. When you have a cross-class romance, there should be a question of “Will they end up together despite the difference in status?”

The big finale of the series sees Shirayuki kidnapped by pirates. This is disappointing on three counts. First, it’s another kidnapping. Second, the pirate queen is a flat character unworthy of a finale. Third, this conflict doesn’t relate to the core themes of the story or offer any resonance (repeated kidnappings don’t count as resonance). It feels like a side story on the way to the next step of the main story. There is no intensity.

These failings ultimately leave me a little disappointed in how Snow White with the Red Hair turns out. I love the world, find the characters endearing, and had a great time in the first half, but when the “big” romantic, political, and physical conflicts flop like a dead fish on the cutting board, it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm. I think continuing with the manga is in order – another season is unlikely after four years.

Art – High

A great thing about the shoujo market is a higher demand for good-looking art compared to the shounen market. If Snow White with the Red Hair was an isekai for the shounen demographic, it wouldn’t have these beautiful colours and attention to palette.

Sound – High

The acting is good and the music is nice, suited to a fantasy shoujo. Not much to say here.

Story – Medium

A herbalist in training finds the opportunity of lifetime (and a beau to match) when she catches the eye of a prince. This typical shoujo fantasy has all the right ingredients to satisfy the core, though it could do with turning the drama up a level or two.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. Snow White with the Red Hair won’t be dramatic enough for general fantasy fans, but those looking for something fun with that light-hearted shoujo romance will enjoy this anime.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None