Back in the summer season of 2015, I was absolutely in love with Akagami no Shirayuki-hime. I adored its characters, relationships, setting, animation, basically everything it had to offer. I will admit that it’s not the greatest shoujo series to have ever graced the world of anime, but what it lacked in intricate writing was more than made up for by the beautiful atmosphere the first season presented. The show streamed on Funimation.com every Monday here in the States, so watching Shirayuki was like an exercise of after work relaxation for many people. Sometimes you need a complex piece of fiction, but other times you just need something heartwarming and optimistic. Shirayuki definitely filled that void for me (while also just been really well put together in general), so I was clamoring for the second season even before the first one aired its final episode. So, did the second season live up to my high expectations?
Why yes, yes it did. And I know right off that bat that’s going to confuse some readers, because popular consensus on this season seems to be that it was not as good as the first; which I somewhat disagree with. Don’t me wrong, I find it hard to confidently say this second season is better than the first. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. While this sequel has some incredibly highs in terms of dramatic payoff and intensity, the overall consistency of the production here is a bit rougher, especially in the earlier episodes. The beginning is pretty slow, even by Shirayuki standards, and that’s likely due to the fact that the first eight episodes of this season are one big arc. Compared to the first half there’s a lot more to setup, and the vignette-esque plots that used to dominate the show have been dropped entirely. The animation also takes a bit of hit, maintaining mediocre quality until the end of episode 4.
But the highs really are amazing! A majority of this series involves Shirayuki returning to her home kingdom of Tanbarun due to an ball invitation from Prince Raj, who if you remember, was the person who originally kidnapped Shirayuki in season one. Meanwhile back in Clarines, Zen and the others are desperately searching for a mysterious man named Kazuki who seems to be looking for a chance to kidnap Shirayuki. Admittedly speaking, this doesn’t sound like the best storyline for the series to focus on, but like the rest of the series the greatness of this arc lies in its details.
While most series would go for lazy love triangle with this set up, Shirayuki instead keeps the stakes strict and straightforward. Shirayuki and Zen’s bond is being tested, and Raj is still a stubborn child who needs to grow up. What makes Raj and Shirayuki’s new relationship satisfying is not that they’re “falling in love” in spite of past traumas, but rather that their overcoming Raj’s past mistakes, ultimately causing him become a better person. He doesn’t just flaunt off his wealth and woo her back into being on good terms, he gradually impresses her by learning more about noble politics and attempting to care for her and his kingdom. Obi’s unrequited love is also played nice and subtlely, never getting in the way of actual plot development.
And this all ties back into the one of the series’ core strengths: Shirayuki is an amazing leading lady. Even though she takes a slightly more passive role in this season, she remains a confident and independent figure throughout the series; to the point where even when she’s kidnapped she remains resourceful and motivated. One could argue that her desires are stereotypical and only revolve around pleasing Zen, but I’d argue that they’re much healthier than that. Shirayuki wants to be happy, and part of what keeps her going is being with Zen and living with him in Clarines. She loves her job as court herbalist, hanging out with Ryu in the garden, and laughing with Obi on the castle grounds. So when she heads off to Tanbarun in spite of the danger ahead of her, she does so because she loves the life she has and wants to protect it. It’s not about being taken care of by a big strong prince, it’s about her wanting to live the life she desires and maintaining her own self-interest.
That being said, the biggest problem with this season of Shirayuki is that it doesn’t bring a whole lot of new character development to the table. While it does test the bonds of Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship, and the final four episodes do a good job of finally exploring the side characters backstories, I found most of it to be surprisingly stagnant. Even though these two arcs are gripping, I can’t say they featured the same dynamicism as seeing Zen and Shirayuki confess their feelings for each other for the first time, or seeing them commit to each other at the end of season one. Still, the series ends on a strong note, showing the overall progress of the entire series. Raj is less of an a**hole, Obi has a place to call home, and Shirayuki and Zen are committed to standing by each other no matter where their journey takes them.
In the end, I think all of these compliments and complaints tie back into that Disney comparison I made back in my first season one post. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is idealistic, it takes place in a world where relationships are healthy, the villains are either redeemed or unsympathetic, and monarchical tradition can be fought against and eventually overcome. It’s a place where the sky is a beautiful blue, and the landscape is painted in pastels. And sometimes that kind of narrative is really all you need.