What’s this – an actual relationship in anime?
Sometimes (not very often) they get the end exactly right.
What a contrast today’s two series finales represent – the sincerity-puncturing irreverence of Osomatsu-san against the unapologetic sincerity of Akagami no Shirayukihime. Osomatsu is a near-certainty to get multiple sequels, a genuine social phenomenon, while this is very probably the last we’ll see of Akagami in anime form. There might be an OVA or two down the line – Bones has a track record of producing those for otherwise incomplete adaptations – but as a TV series, this is almost certainty the end. But I’ll be jiggered if that wasn’t a perfect way to go out.
Without wanting to be a broken record, I have to once again shower some praise on Bones. These guys are truly a superb studio in every sense of the word. Their production values are consistently stellar, they actively strive to work with outstanding directors (in the past year they’ve brought in the two brightest young stars in the field, Matsumoto Rie and Tachikawa Yuzuru), and they actively seek to offer a broad range of genres and demographic. Bones isn’t just good, they’e good for anime – they make it a more diverse and broad-thinking medium, and for that they deserve immense credit.
As for Akagami no Shirayukihime, it’s just another example of the cream rising to the top. Shoujo fantasy might not be a genre Bones is known for, but they didn’t miss a beat in nailing this adaptation. Sometimes I think we forget how truly great a director Ando Masahiro is – he’s a master of so many divergent styles, and he has an innate gift for juxtaposing intimacy and epic scale. He also likes to partner with Oshima Michiru for music, and to say that’s worked out well in shows like this one and Zetsuen no Tempest is a massive understatement. The soundtrack for Akagami is almost another cast member, so vital is it in so many crucial moments.
There may have been the odd moment when I felt the second season of Akagami no Shrayukihime wobbled a bit, and on balance I’d rank it a hair below the first, but this final episode was spot on. Odd as it may sound I’ve noticed that the finest anime episodes almost always result in one of two things on the scratchpad that always sits next to my computer when I watch anime I intend to blog – either it’s jam-packed with notes, or it’s virtually empty. This ep is one of the latter examples, because it so eloquently and simply makes its case.
I think Akagami is at its best when it doesn’t try too hard – with plot, with action, with violence. This is at heart a show most at home showing us the daily lives of people it seems like it’d be nice to get to know in a place you’d love to spend some time. At it’s best, this show is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – it says volumes wth minimal fanfare. And this finale was Akagami at its very best. Endings are hard (any anime fan could tell you that) and the best ones usually make them seem a lot easier than they truly are.
As to what actually happened here, a couple of specific events are certainly worth noting. First, we have Prince Raj (thoroughly rehabilitated now) sending Sakaki and Mihaya to confer officially on Shirayuki the title of “Friend of the Crown”. This may seem merely like the kind act of a fawning popinjay prince, but it’s actually an extremely savvy move for a character that’s been portrayed as somewhat shallow and dim (that’s why Izana laughed the way he did). It was also an extremely selfless act, because what Raj is effectively doing here (and his letter confirms this, though Shirayuki may not fully understand until later) is giving Zen cover to be with Shirayuki. A title, even a makeshift one like this, is a hugely important symbol in a feudal system like this one. Raj has acted to make it possible for the woman he loves to be with his rival, which is quite a gesture in any book.
The road ahead for these two still isn’t going to be easy, because even with this “shield” in-hand Shirayuki remains well below Zen’s station. But I sense Izana is starting to accept that neither his brother nor Shirayuki is going to be moved off their position. She may not answer Izana’s challenge to tell him herself what she wants from her relationship with Zen, but it’s not due to any uncertainty on her part – Shirayuki simply doesn’t yet believe she’s in any position to hope her dreams might come true.
The engine that drives Akagami no Shirayukihime is, always, the relationship between Shirayuki and Zen. It’s one of the most natural and unforced in any anime I can recall, shoujo or otherwise – it flows like a river, meanders and all, from the first episode to the last. Simply put, this is one of the most bullshit-free love stories you’ll ever see. It takes some time for them to admit the truth, the awkwardness still lingers, but the physical intimacy slowly grows. They open up to each other, they hold hands, eventually they kiss. In the finale, Zen even kisses Shirayuki on the neck (how rare is that in mainstream anime?), literally kissing her off her feet in the process. Want to see an anime beautifully depict two people meeting, falling in love, and slowly and realistically become a couple? I don’t think you need to shop around any further.
In the end, this final episode gives us everything anyone could reasonably want apart from a sequel announcement. The love story takes center stage, but fittingly for what’s at heart a slice-of-life, life goes on: everyone plays a part, and the show closes with Shirayuki and Ryuu heading off together to yank herbs out of the ground. I seriously don’t know how any fan could watch this episode and not feel a sense of happiness – it’s just warmth, honesty and unpretentious and open emotion from every pore. This is why I love Akagami no Shirayukihime – what I’ve adored about it from the very beginning. It’s not often a series can say it closes by putting its very best face forward and reminding you of everything that’s great about it, but that’s exactly what Akagami does here. From Akizuki Sorata’s manga through to Bones and Ando, it’s a triumph of good storytelling – and one of the best shows of 2016.