So, a while back I was on Hulu and was browsing through anime titles and I find the interesting title of Snow White with the Red Hair. Being the fairy tale geek I am, I was intrigued. So, I decided to give the show a watch.
Snow White with the Red Hair is based on a shojo manga (translation: girls’ comic) by Sorata Akizuki. The show and comic are about a young woman named Shirayuki. Shirayuki is a skilled herbalist with very, very red hair (like apple red, not carrot red). When the prince of her home country decides to make her his concubine, she chops off a length of her hair, packs up her belongings and runs away. As she runs away, she comes upon Prince Zen of the neighboring country of Clarines and his attendants Kiki and Mitsuhide. The rather free-spirited Prince Zen takes it upon himself to solve the problem with the local prince. Shirayuki then follows Zen to Clarines and takes a spot as an apprentice herbalist at the palace. The rest of the series focuses on Shirayuki adapting to her new surroundings, working towards her goal of being a court herbalist and her friendship with Zen as it evolves into something more romantic.
Now you may be asking yourself “What does any of this have to do with the story of Snow White?”
The truth is, not much. Remember in my RWBY review how I said that I would be looking at some media that didn’t adapt the tales directly? Well, this is the other one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some “Snow White” in there. The name Shirayuki actually is the Japanese translation of Snow White. “Shiro” is “White” while “Yuki” means “Snow”. Also, there are very strongly felt echoes of the story in the first episode. The prince of Shirayuki’s home country, Prince Raj, plays the part of the Evil Queen. Only instead of wanting to be rid of Shirayuki, he wants her all to himself. Also, while the Queen’s actions are downright villainous, Raj’s actions are played as more comedic. Shirayuki, like Snow White, seeks refuge in a house in the forest where she meets those who would help her. Prince Zen even jokes that she can’t treat him like “some dwarf”. There’s even a poisoned apple plot. However, the similarities stop there with the first episode.
So, what could possibly have influenced the show’s creator to invoke the name of “Snow White”?
Perhaps it’s best to look at the show in terms of symbolism. It’s commonly accepted that fairy tales and their characters aren’t just loaded with symbolism but become symbols in human culture. Possibly the most fraught with symbolism is Cinderella. When we speak of a “Cinderella story”, we mean the story of someone moving from rags to riches. A Cinderella story is ultimately a story of ascension. It’s such that there are both an Eminem song and a movie about boxer Jim Braddock titled “Cinderella Man”. Or how about “Little Red Riding Hood”? This story and the symbol of this story are often used to represent someone, usually a woman, led into dangerous temptation. The symbol of Red Riding Hood as the victim led astray and the Wolf as a predator of various kinds sticks with us and appears in various media. Or how about simply “Jack”? “Jack” who climbed the beanstalk, slew the giants, went off to seek his fortune, jumped nimbly over a candlestick among other feats. The name Jack is a common one, but it is generally a more familiar form of Jonathan or John. This combination of familiarity and commonality suggests an everyman. Further suggesting an everyman is the term “jack of all trades and master of none”, which suggests someone who is not particularly skilled in any area but dabbles a little at everything. There’s also another side of the name Jack. It can also mean a rogue or scoundrel. One antiquated term for a rogue is a “knave”. The term was commonly used to describe a certain type of card in a standard deck of playing cards. However, the knave soon became more commonly known as the Jack (I refer you here to the nursery rhyme “The Queen of Hearts”). This could also explain why roguish characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Jack Harkness are named the way they are. But what could “Snow White” possibly symbolize for the Japanese? Well, typically the tale of “Snow White” is seen as representative of the conflict between generations as well as the pitfall of vanity. The Queen, an aging beauty, seeks to destoy Snow White, a blossoming beauty, because she perceives that Snow White is taking her position as the “fairest of them all”. Ultimately, the Queen can’t destroy Snow White and is punished for trying. It’s important that we mention that here, because we can now rule it out. None of that really factors into the story of Snow White with the Red Hair. With the story’s focus on romance, it could represent love found in an unusual place. In the original tale, the Prince finds a woman who seems to be dead and becomes enthralled with her. She ultimately wakes up and becomes his bride. By the same token, Prince Zen finds Shirayuki in a place he does not expect, the house where he and his attendants are staying. Also, because she is a commoner, she is an unlikely person for Zen to find love with. This kind of drifts into territory more commonly associated with “Cinderella”, though. It’s possible that Snow White could represent inner beauty that surpasses even great outer beauty. In the tale, both the Queen and Snow White are physically beautiful. However, it’s Snow White that the reader or listener ultimately sides with because the Queen’s actions mark her as evil while Snow White’s mark her as the innocent victim. In the anime, much is made of Shirayuki’s red hair. The red of her hair is deemed rare and is what makes her so ardently pursued. However, it’s not her hair that Zen or the viewer will ultimately fall for, it’s Shirayuki herself. Much can also be made of Shirayuki’s chosen profession as an herbalist, and its parallel to the poisoned apple from the original fairy tale. The two are almost opposite sides of the same coin. Both are representative of the hidden nature of plants. However, while the apple is the ability for plants and nature to harm, Shirayuki’s position as an herbalist shows their ability to heal. A similar dichotomy was represented by Leafe in the anime Pretear, which is also based on “Snow White”. Ultimately, this is all just speculation. There could be even greater symbolism that I haven’t touched on.
However, what about the anime itself? Well, it’s pretty good. I’m hardly the target audience for this show, being a 30-something American man. That aside, it’s a really sweet show. The centerpiece of the whole thing is the relationship between Shirayuki and Zen. The show also really earns its moments. You watch patiently as Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship builds and when their first kiss happens, it feels like it was worth the wait. That’s not all there is to it, though. The website The Mary Sue recently put up an article lauding Shirayuki’s character. I agree with what they say regarding the character’s strength and her ability to show it while still exhibiting more commonly female traits. However, I think even more notable is her sense of balance. She loves Zen, but still focuses on her work as an herbalist rather than simply being oriented around love. Also, she doesn’t push Zen away when he reveals his feelings. Maybe this is because I’m more used to viewing boys’ anime than girls’ anime (something that’s becoming less common the longer I work on this blog) but I’m not used to seeing anime where the characters have complex, varied lives rather than some degree of single-minded obsession. It’s actually rather refreshing.