Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

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Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Alice to Zouroku – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Sana, who belongs to a group of supernatural power-wielding humans known as “Dreams of Alice”, has escaped the research facility where she’s been held as long as she can remember.

While being pursued by the facility’s director, armed with other Dreams of Alice, Sana meets Kashimura Zouroku, an elderly florist, who gets caught up in the ensuing chaos.

He eventually agrees to let her stay at his place “for a while” as long as she helps him out and doesn’t use her powers.

A2Z, as I’ll be shortening it to, is a seinen anime, and as such, deals with what could have been a moetastic mess with a clear-eyed sobriety, a deliberate pace, and with a refined attention to detail. Zouroku is truly an Old Man’s Old Man, who wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and the way the young Sana instantly starts cramping his old man style is highly believable as well as entertaining.

We’ve seen plenty of “I don’t need this” characters, but Zouroku immediately earns that attitude by having so many years under his belt, and to a degree, having earned the right to live his life the way he wants. If a bunch of magic-using urchins start messing up his Shinjuku, well, he has a problem with that. Of course, once he learns where Sana is from, and how she’s no doubt had to deal with stuff no little kid should, his position softens, without breaking down into 3-gatsu no Lion Gushy Grandpa Mode.

I also liked the application of the magic itself. It’s weird, fun, and creative without getting too whimsical. As soon as we saw Tachibana standing on the palm of a giant hand, I knew we were in for some weird stuff, and her short but exciting dual with Sana’s mysterious benefactor, as well as the Mini car chase with the chain-and-arrow-wielding twins, are very well-directed sequences. The CGI is very much noticeable, but not distractingly so.

What I appreciated was that mundane scenes of Shinjuku are treated with as much care as those action scenes. This may be a first episode and the animation quality may well dip, but for now the world of A2Z is lively and lived-in, avoiding being too flashy, surreal, or stylized. Similarly, the character design is very simple, but effective, calling to mind that of Madoka Magica. A little kiddy, belying its more mature themes.

We don’t know exactly what’s up with Zouroku and his granddaughter, but my take was that she passed away or maybe moved out on bad terms (it’s suggested she’s older than Sana in any case). The sudden appearance of Sana in Zouroku’s life suggests this won’t be a one-sided relationship: both parties will get something out of it.

Sure, at first, that means more trouble for Zouroku, but whether he was planning on it or not, it also afford the opportunity for him to do something more important than a floral arrangement for a yakuza’s girlfriend.

What exactly that is, and whether or not he’ll simply stay out of the way when Sana & Co. go off on each other again, I look forward to finding out. This confident double episode was a surefire way to get me quickly invested.

Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 08

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Raj is back home and Shirayuki’s place in the castle is secure, but now half of Wistal is convinced she’s actually Zen’s fiancee, for better or worse, so Zen assigns Obi, recently returned from a no-supervision trip to test his trustworthiness, to guard her. The two have had a prickly history together, but end up getting along. The problem is, the Chief herbalist tries to pull a prank on them, unaware of just how much Shirayuki can’t handle her liquor.

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With Shirayuki thus knocked out, the rest of the episode is given over to the story of how Mitsuhide was assigned to Zen, just as Obi was assigned to Shirayuki. Mitsu struggled to connect to the young prince, who said he had to maintain distance to maintain authority, like his brother Izana (who ordered Mitsu to guard him), yet has an increasingly suspicious secret friend and brother-like figure in the archer guard Atri.

Like me, Mitsu was almost instantly weary of Atri, him because of his instincts, me because of all the shots of him making an arrowhead and squinting forebodingly into the camera. The last straw is when Atri says he’s switching to the night shift and would like it if Zen came out to see him then. Zen was obviously very naive around this time.

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Fortunately Izana assigned Mitsu to him when he did, because both of them are able to stop Atri’s associates, disgruntled rebels from Lido, from capturing or hurting Zen; Mitsu even manages to slice Atri’s arrow in two while it’s in flight, which is almost incredulously badass.

The naive Zen largely died that night when Atri, someone he thought was his friend turned on him, having waited for his opportunity the whole time. Even so, Zen mourns Atri’s death, and Atri remarks that it might have been better if Zen wasn’t a prince, otherwise they wouldn’t be in such a situation and could have been friends.

Obi gives Shirayuki the same line (which Mitsuhide overhears, leading to this flashback), but Shirayuki warns Obi not to talk like that, lest she take it as an insult. Zen is a prince, she’s an apprentice herbalist (who later accidentally gets toasted). On the path she’s traveling, she’s accepted all these things, and like a good politician, isnt’ about entertaining theoreticals.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 07

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Last week threatened to keep Shirayuki away from Zen in just the moment when she wanted to see him the most, but this episode washes that threat away by revealing Zen on the balcony above where she was looking. Somewhat surprisingly, rather than using the stairs Shirayuki climbs a tree in order to be on the same level as Zen, and they share a warm embrace neither is in a hurry to end.

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After they touch base about what was said at the banquet Shirayuki wasn’t invited to, Zen tells her a story about Prince Izana that paints a pretty succinct picture of the kind of man he is. One minute, he’s a 17-year-old playboy who has a palace built between two feuding countries, who proceed to send him riches to ingratiate themselves with him, to the detriment of their own people. The next, he’s a princely mastermind, expelling both lords, replacing them with the envoys he’s come to know and trust, and returned all the gold the old lords gave him to the countries to help their people. Thus ended the feud.

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Thus, we learn while Zen can sometimes use and manipulate people for his entertainment, the primary goal is the betterment of the people he rules. He knows what it means to be king, and believes Zen is staying from that path. When Izana takes the throne, should anything happen to him, Zen will succeed him.

Seeing him infatuated with some red-haired commoner is, like that feud between lords, something he feels responsible for solving. At the same time, he respects that Zen has grown a spine, and isn’t so quick to bow before his brother. Zen believes he can still be a good prince and a good king without leaving Shirayuki’s side. Izana is dubious, but allows Zen the chance to prove it.

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Meanwhile, Raj is still a guest of Izana’s, and as he tours the castle grows increasingly stressed about seeing Shirayuki. Last week he called her Zen’s fiancee, and the rumors have spread furiously throughout the castle. Knowing the power of his careless words all too well, Raj isn’t all that gung-ho about crossing paths with Shirayuki. It’s a great inversion of the power dynamic that formerly existed between these two.

Naturally, while seeking a medicine for his upset stomach (caused by all the stress), Raj does indeed cross paths with Shirayuki, and their equally awkward tense, and courteous encounter is punctuated when Shirayuki slaps away a topical medicine Raj is about to drink. She also tells Raj to become the prince of her homeland that she can be proud of, even if she isn’t living there anymore.

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Izana witnesses the entire exchange, and just as Shirayuki learned about him through Zen, he learns more about her. She makes it clear to him she isn’t leaving Clarines, or backing down, or even averting her eyes. Izana even kisses her above her eye (beating Zen to the punch in the facial kiss area), but she doesn’t flinch or recoil. Seeing how she dealt with Raj and himself, I’m certain Izana’s opinion of this red-haired “nuisance” has improved considerably, and may be coming to understand perhaps she won’t bring ruin to Zen’s prncely path.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 06

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Another week, another annoying obstacle to the nice thing Shirayuki and Zen have going on. Also, another week of the two of them not quite sure what that nice thing is, allowing people like Zen’s older brother, First Prince Izana, and others attempt to dictate what it is for them. But it’s pretty plain to see in their first enocunter this week: both are a little upset about the prospect of not being able to see each other as much due to their busy work schedules. They just aren’t able to fully express it.

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Izana comes in (where’s he been, anyway), and starts immediately throwing his weight around, playing power games like showing up without warning, barring Zen’s path with guards in his own castle, quizzing him on the changes in the castle he’s made, summoning him by wax-sealed invitation, and, of course, secretly letting Shirayuki listen in on their meeting before dismissing Zen.

All these games aside, he seems committed to security of Clarines, which means when his little brother invites a foreign girl into the palace, there’s either some definable value to that girl, or Zen is an unstable, “good-for-nothing” prince who is threatening his position and the kingdom he represents. At least, that seems to be Izana’s take.

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Shirayuki, when asks, can’t guarantee she can put into words what her value is to Zen, and again Izana capitalizes on the couple’s lack of eloquence on the matter. He also must have  a pretty good information network, because he invites Prince Raj to the palace for a state dinner…and also, perhaps, to hear another perspective on this Zen-Shirayuki business.

Raj, who is still weary of even speaking of Shirayuki after Zen threatened him, doesn’t appreciate the awkward position he’s in, and while he says what Zen wants—he supported the girl coming to Clarines—he also improvises, adding that she’s Zen’s fiancee.

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Zen drags Raj away to “get on the same page”, but his (lack of) explanation to Raj—they’re not fiancees, nor lovers; at least not yet—is hardly satisfying. Kind of like this episode. All the while, poor Shirayuki is listening in on men talking about her. She’s stopped on the side of the road she’s traveling, wondering if the way ahead is barricaded by these men.

But when she recalls what she said to Zen earlier—about wanting to see how he lives—and how he responded that he wanted her there to see him live—it looks like she’s finally able to find the words she needs to say to him to get on the same page themselves. Alas, when she runs to where she last saw Zen talking to Lord Haruka, he’s nowhere to be found.

Hopefully as the story progresses, the show won’t continue to use incidents of bad timing and missed connections to further bar progress in their relationship, or Shirayuki’s journey of self-actualization.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 05

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This week offers plenty of opportunities for Shirayuki to get kidnapped again, only for Zen to save her, but wisely avoids taking those roads. Instead, Shirayuki comes back from her solitary trip to town without incident, and Zen brings her to a fort where a mysterious sickness is sapping everyone of energy, even her.

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And as Zen tells her when she determines the cause of the sickness—toxic firewood—I’m in full agreement with him that Shirayuki is so damn cool. She and Zen make a great team, because they complement each others’ unique skills. Zen is the brawn and access when necessary; Shirayuki has the medicinal know-how and determination to restore the entire fort’s garrison in no time at all, earning all the soldiers’ gratitude and respect in the process.

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But not everything’s peachy. It turns out Shirayuki’s worst enemy this week is her own inability to take a damn break. She loses her balance on many occasions, even after the firewood mystery is solved, and Obi has to leap in to save her from taking a serious tumble, disobeying orders to stay away from her.

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Rather than blame Shirayuki for working too hard for too long, Zen blames himself as leader for not seeing her fatigued state sooner. He puts her to bed (once her eyes are closed, it takes less than three seconds for her to thankfully conk out), then takes care of the bandits who stole the forts weapons after drugging the soldiers.

He returns to her bedside to thank her for her hard work with a tender kiss to her hand; very princely. He also tells her never to keep quiet when she’s weak from overwork and insufficient sleep. He’ll certainly keep a sharper eye, but Zen needs her to take care of herself, not just everyone else. Her first herbalist mission outside of Wistal is both a resounding success and a learning experience.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 04

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What makes Shirayuki such a delight to watch isn’t just her striking hair, but her warm, striking, magnetic personality, and the fact that she’s not perfect, or even fully formed; she’s still searching and exploring, working hard and learning something new every day, picking up stones in sequence as she paves her chosen path.

And yet, it’s not a path she needs or wants to walk entirely alone. Zen may be a prince, but first and foremost he’s a friends, and someone who can calm her of exam nerves simply by resting her hand on his…and certainly not by using his position to get her a job.

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This week Shirayuki plunges into the world of court herbalism, first by meeting the castle’s chief herbalist, Garak, and then being given a small garden to tend and test her skills. She wants to do this right; gain the position with her own strength.

Zen, who as we know is under Shirayuki’s spell (who wouldn’t be?), is worried about her, so when he sees lights on in a greenhouse, he checks it out and they end up together, just before some unseen person locks them in together. His amplified concern is clear when she mentions a toxin in the water and he grabs her as if to save her life (the toxin isn’t harmful to humans).

What could have been a silly conceit, or an attempt to sabotage her exam through the appearance of nepotism, turns out to be something far more enticing, because Shirayuki changes the tone of the situation. Whether they’re locked in or not, she’s detected a toxin in the aqueducts that could kill everything in the garden if she doesn’t act quickly, even if it means having Zen help her. She simply rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.

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The sun rises, and with it comes Garak to unlock the door with her assistant. She’s surprised to find Zen there, but when she questions why Shirayuki let him help, she frames it as a matter of his highness’ safety. She also asks Zen why he doesn’t just snap his fingers and make Shirayuki is a court herbalist with his authority.

Garak probably already knows the answer that Zen gives her: that would defeat the purpose. Shirayuki doesn’t mind the occasional helping hand, but she won’t have someone doing all the work paving the road ahead; that’s hers to pave.

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Garak is impressed with Shirayuki’s skills, diligence, and I daresay wit, and passes her, making her officially an apprentice court herbalist. She’s paired with her superior Ryuu, who despite being a socially awkward little boy, is the herbalist version of Natural Police. 

Ryuu also tends to go with the flow, so when a patient comes in and refuses to be treated by Ryuu (fearing he’ll be made a test subject), Shirayuki wastes no time putting the asshat in his place, showing us her short temper for baseless conjecture, ignorance, and general prejudice. Fire-kissed hair, indeed!

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It doesn’t just hurt Shirayuki that the guy said those terrible things about Ryuu, but that Ryuu put up no defense. She’s been actively fighting for her freedom and her own kind of life for so long, she herself is ignorant to those like Ryuu who are more water than fire. When Shirayuki calls Ryuu “foolish” for telling her to let it go; it happens all the time, Ryuu is shaken, afraid he’s already ruined another relationship.

Still, the waterworks do come for Shirayuki when Garak, realizing she’s with Zen more than any of the other apprentices, decides to give her Zen’s medical records, so she knows what to do in “emergencies.” This isn’t something often given to a prospective girlfriend, but her position calls for it.

While I’m sure Garak probably saw it as a prudent, practical gesture, when Shirayuki reads through the journals intricately documenting the suffering Zen went through to work up his resistance to poisons, she is thoroughly shaken. And with good reason: she truly does care about Zen, and it’s more than fealty.

It turns out to be Ryuu, who sees her crying, who runs to Zen pleading for him to help her. Ryuu may have thought it was all his fault, but Zen knows that it’s his own. He also knows that Shirayuki isn’t going to turn her back at those records, but they might go down a little easier if their subject is right there beside her, alive and well.

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That’s exactly what Shirayuki needed, and when she returns to Ryuu both apologetic and grateful, everything turns out to be fine. And with Shirayuki smiling brightly, practically, glowing in the daylight, Ryuu not only betrays a blush, but stealthily confesses his affection for his new apprentice by telling her the plant that was the focus of her exam is his favorite because it’s “red and pretty.”

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 03

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As Shirayuki pays a visit to an overworked Zen and studies by his side as he catches up on some sleep, I’m reminded of a lovely scene from Whisper of the Heart in which the lead couple is simply quietly enjoying each other’s company in the library, exchanging looks of happiness and contentment. The connection is made stronger with orchestral music that calls to mind Nomi Yuji’s score from that film, one of my favorites.

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Things are peachy for Zen and Shirayuki…until, of course, they aren’t. Shirayuki isn’t kidnapped this week, but she is looked down upon by one of Zen’s liege lords, Haruka. A stern, authority and class-obsessed man, he will not tolerate Zen bringing in towngirls of low birth, and considers her hair color “vulgar”.

This guy has clearly painted a picture of a girl who wants to get something from the prince, and honestly believes he’s protecting the prince and his reputation, from her selfish feminine wiles. In other words…he’s a conclusion-jumping asshole.

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This asshole, and a lithe, ninja-like fellow named Obi he’s loosely allied with, conspire to keep Shirayuki out of the castle, but she manages to get back in before they warn the guards, to grab a book she forgot in the prince’s chambers. Once she realizes people who don’t speak for Zen and aren’t acting according to his will are messing with her, and her answer to that is to simply blow past them.

When Lord Haruka bars her way and tells her to leave, she invites him to join her to meet with Zen. He then draws his sword and names her an intruder…but asshole he may be, he doesn’t follow through on his threat to cut her. In fact, he seems downright flummoxed by Shirayuki’s utterly badass defiance. Despite having a sword in her face, she keeps advancing, until Haruka can only sheathe it, defeated.

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It is as Prince Zen told him: this girl is not the kind of girl to continually rely on the strength of others. She has her own strength, too, and she means to use it to become Court Herbalist so she can enter the gates of her own accord. She may be low-born (at least as far as we know), but Haruka saw a nobility in her resolve.

One could say her birth and her hair make Shirayuki someone who “makes enemies easily”, like Zen. But she couldn’t call Haruka an enemy, nor he her, because he didn’t know her, or what she was really doing in the castle. Now he knows: Shirayuki is a resolute badass.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 02

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The OP presages Shirayuki as a Court Herbalist of Clarines, but we’re not quite there yet; this episode opens on her job hunt as a new resident of Wistal, capital of Clarines. She learns there’s an annual exam to become a Court Herbalist, but she wants to educate herself about the herbs of Clarines, knowing that good medicines need good herbs need good land.

Prince Zen is delighted to get out of stodgy paperwork when she visits the palace, and he escorts her to the dock where she’ll travel to the mountain isle Koto to explore, but not before Zen remarks how their desire to learn more about their world and become better at what they do is very similar.

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But when two townsfolk talk about how unusual Shirayuki’s hair is (and what it could make them if sold), along with Shirayuki saying “she’ll be back by nightfall”, it’s pretty much a given that things aren’t going to turn out peachy for her on this trip. Sure enough, she’s captured by a young rogue named Mihaya, who—you guessed it—wants to make money off that hair.

Just when I was hoping Shirayuki would attempt escape as soon as she could, she does just that, sawing at the ropes, locking Mihaya in the cell, then using her knowledge of herbs to make a smoke that temporarily paralyzes him. This captivity represents a roadblock on Shirayuki’s self-decided road, with a detour to a road not of her choosing. And she simply isn’t gonna have it.

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She makes it out of the seemingly abandoned, labyrinthine castle, only to get cornered once more by Mihaya, who is now pissed off. He then gives her patter about how he’ll sell her to someone rich so she can live a comfy life of luxury. Unlike the last time she was kidnapped (by Prince Raj), she doesn’t give in, replying with a “Fuck That Noise” expression.

For this defiance, she’s about to take whatever punishment Mihaya is about to dish out, when Zen appears in the nick of time, which is just when we thought he’d arrive. Yes, the guy is rescuing the girl again, but Shirayuki is hardly a damsel in distress, demonstrating she did everything an unarmed person could have done in her situation. Also, she made things a lot easier for Zen by escaping from the castle.

I’d like to think if Zen hadn’t been able to make it, Shirayuki would have kept fighting Mihaya until she either escaped his clutches or he let her go out of exasperation. That’s how much faith I place in Shirayuki’s strength and resolve to travel her own path. She’s a fighter. I really like her!

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Zen also makes it clear, he’s saving Shirayuki not so he can use her as a tool, or a means to recoup a lost family fortune like Mihaya (I don’t particularly care about his story, he abducted someone, he deserves prison), but because he considers himself Shirayuki’s friend. And friends help their friends out when they’re in trouble.

Sure, I can see things being taken further than friendship, but like Shirayuki’s appointment to the Court, that’s yet to come. For now, Shirayuki resolves to watch her back, as her hair really does cause trouble; yet I like how there’s no discussion of dyeing it. Shirayuki isn’t trying to hide, she’s trying to better herself and live a free and fulfilling life doing what she loves.

Even before her trusty friends show up, those who threaten he freedom will find her a wily, resourceful handful. Bottom line: don’t mess with someone who doesn’t want to be messed with…and knows fifty ways to poison you!

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