So here’s a surprising fact I came across when researching Snow White with the Red Hair: this ongoing fantasy-romance shojo debuted way back in 2006! How Sorata Akizuki’s classic manga remained unlicensed for this long remains a mystery, but whatever the case, VIZ finally comes to the rescue thirteen years later. For fans who’d previously enjoyed the anime adaption, it’s a belated vindication they’ll certainly impose upon their manga-reading fans, although I doubt they’ll mind given this first volume’s solid re-imagining of a classic fairy tale.
To clarify, Snow White isn’t a modern retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale; yes, we witness some familiar aspects in drugged apples and a beautiful girl named Snow White — or should I say “Shirayuki,” the Japanese name — but the opening “Mirror, mirror on the wall” joke straight up informs us this is a different story altogether. There’s no jealous queen seeking to kill the one woman prettier than her, but instead a womanizing prince pursuing his latest concubine. Shirayuki fits the bill with her eye-catching red hair, but her herbalist dreams leaves little time for an idiot royal, and so she sneaks away from the kingdom. In the midst of pursuit, her encounter with the eccentric Prince Zen — Second Son of Clarines — will forever change her destiny.
What ensues is a slow-burn — aside from scant blushes and long stares, Snow White doesn’t dive into full-on romance, instead illustrating who they are and what makes them tick. Having primarily stuck to rom-coms for my anime/manga romance fix, it’s humbling the emphasis is less “when and how will these kooky dorks fall in love?” and more “what do these characters strive for, and how do they influence each other to make those goals a reality?” Yes, our hearts grow aflutter as Shirayuki and Zen bond via kidnappings and herbalist exams (“Time and time again, you’ve given me the strength to keep my chin up.”), but our investment in whatever characters these two will grow into will surely render that potential romance all the more sweeter.
More than anything, Snow White‘s success depends on Shirayuki’s strength as the protagonist. This is not the boring, male-dependent dame found in Disney and Brothers Grimm — she can think for herself, works towards a dream, and isn’t defined by her beauty. A prerequisite for any modern female character, mind, but note her relationship with Prince Zen — despite her immense respect for her savior, she doesn’t throw himself upon his feet and dedicate his life to him. Yes, she internally admits helping him is a burgeoning motivation, but her method of doing so (becoming a Court Herbalist) builds upon her previous studies and goals.
She ain’t no Golden Age Disney princess, that’s for sure.
Not that Zen isn’t a great character either; if anything, his mystery-box enigma (“I tend to make a lot of enemies” being the most overt hint) may be the most fascinating element in this volume, but we’ll touch upon that shortly. All four chapters within showcase his willingness to let Shirayuki do her own thing, not the least in the mutual respect evident within the herbalist exam: when reminded he could simply appoint Shirayuki as Court Herbalist, he scoffs at the thought, recognizing Shirayuki wants to earn the position on her own merits. Even if him letting her step into the jaws of danger during the “assassination” plot is questionable, it does show him recognizing her independent will. Whatever goals and dreams he possesses remains unknown, but surely his interactions with Shirayuki will bear fruit to one.
As a Snow White newcomer, it’d be remiss of me to dub it “pleasant” not merely in its swashbuckling escapes and character development, but in its lauded reputation. And yet, I can’t help but notice the idyllic bubble that is Zen’s castle — even in spite of Shirayuki’s goals, this story simply cannot be confined there forever, and I’m already wondering where it evolve beyond these episodic vignettes. Not that I’m claiming it’s aimless, mind; rather, I’m already prodding at clues littered throughout the volume. For instance, with how every chapter opens with Shirayuki reflecting on Prince Raj, surely we’ll witness other potential suitors with less-than-savory means of whisking her away. Could Zen being the “second” son of Clarines provide a clue?
As I understand it, Snow White was Akizuki’s first serial, and while her blurbs reveal the first chapter was originally a one-shot, traces of her greenhorn storytelling remains: the opening pages moves a tad too briskly for my tastes, wasting no time in introducing Shirayuki and Zen to each other when we have nary an inkling of who Shirayuki is, and there’s a plot beat here and there that doesn’t always make sense. (I’m still not sure how Zen came to be locked within Shirayuki’s greenhouse, but oh well.) At the very least, we’d be in trouble if the clunky “Colorful Seasons of August” 2003 one-shot — an included piece that Akizuki herself admits doesn’t hold up — was indicative of her output, but any missteps fail to impede our plucky heroine. Where Snow White will go remains unknown to me, but I’m already anticipating to seeing her blossom.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.