I almost didn’t start watching this series.
When I first saw some notices about it, I had either finished or was close to finishing Yona of the Dawn. Seeing how much the girl in the image for SWRH looked like Yona, my first reaction was that it was some kind of cheap copy of Yona, so I dismissed it as something not worth watching.
Why did I finally give it shot? Maybe just because those notices kept showing up, but even that’s not really much of an answer. For whatever reasons, after a few days or weeks of spurning the suggestion, I finally gave in and gave it a try.
And from the first image of the first episode, I was drawn to it.
That first episode opens with a very close view of a dew drop on a leaf, and reflecting in the dew drop was the sky and the tops of several towering trees. It’s a very well-made image, displaying how much care had been put into the art and animation for this series.
After that, what kept me hooked was the interplay between the two main characters, Shirayuki and Zen.
Romance stories often rely on certain tropes, things that are common in such stories, situations that can provide tension between the two love interests until the end when they finally realize that they don’t want to live without the other. For example, the misunderstanding the makes one person angry at the other, the ex who shows up out of nowhere just as the two are starting to make some progress in their relationship, or the secret that one of them keeps from the other that they fear would ruin the relation if it should ever come out.
What struck me strongly after a few episodes of SWRH is that these kinds of typical tropes are either missing, or given a creative twist.
There is one early episode that plays on the idea of being spurned, where it seems as if Zen has banned Shirayuki from the palace. But one of the things this series does differently is that instead of having Shirayuki wallow in this misunderstanding, going away to feel miserable and alone, she determines to hear from Zen himself about what’s happened, and does so even when it seems like her own life may have been threatened.
So, I watched one episode after another, finding myself very much enjoying the series, until at the end of the first season I was ready to put it among my favorites. In fact, SWRH is the subject of the first review I sent to Speculative Faith.
What was it about this series that drew me so strongly? Why even did I keep thinking about it, pondering what I had seen in it?
After all, while this is a pleasant series, most viewers might think it’s not a deep series. A person watching it would likely not put it in the same category as an Evangelion, or a Fullmetal Alchemist, or a March Comes In Like A Lion, the types of series that have complex situations and complex characters. SWRH is for the most part just the slow unfolding of a nice romance.
Yet it’s how that romance unfolds that I found so entrancing.
I’ve mentioned one thing that drew my attention—the lack of the normal sources of conflict in such romance stories. But there’s more to this. What I was watching was two people who treated each other well, who respected each other, who honored each other’s efforts, who trusted each other, and who wanted to help and support the other in any way they thought was best.
This is a day of hyperbole and exaggeration. It’s everywhere, and it’s wearisome. An ad for food can’t just be about how good the food is, but about how someone is so obsessed with it that they can barely function without it, and must scale mountains and cross deserts and even fight karate-kicking koalas in order to have this food. I usually find I’m kicking against that kind of thing, trying to be more thoughtful, or maybe cynical, in my views of things.
So, it seems as if I’m going a bit against myself when I write this: SWRH is one of the few, the very few, romances I’ve seen, either in real life or in fiction, that has left me thinking that if I were in a relationship with a woman, I would want it to be like the one in this series, that I would want to treat her with the same kind of honor and respect, as well as affection, that Zen treats Shirayuki.
In our culture, relationships are a shipwreck.
For example, the divorce stats are horrible, and that’s dealing with divorce and separations merely as stats, and not as real-world events with real-world and far-reaching consequences.
But I don’t even have to look only at stats to see how bad things are. I can look at things I’ve seen and heard my own self: people dating each other who seemed to care only for themselves instead of the other person, husbands and wives who speak to each other with irritation and even anger, times when seemingly innocent words sparked a fire of disagreement between a couple that did not soon die down, separations and divorces that seemingly came out of nowhere. All of it has shown me a rather bleak picture.
While things are better in the church, they really do not seem to be much so. Perhaps, as some sources indicate, the divorce rate among those who are “committed Christians” is not as high as among those who are considered “marginal,” but at 38 percent that still seems rather a high percentage.
One little anime series is not going to cure these things, but at least for me, it’s given me some things to ponder on. Here are some examples.
There is an episode where Shirayuki is taking a test to see if she’s able to be a court herbalist. It’s a test that lasts a couple of days, and she has to watch over the plants in a greenhouse. At one point, the head court herbalist tells Zen that as a prince of the country all he has to do is to say the word, and Shirayuki will be accepted into the position no matter if she passes the test or doesn’t.
I’d guess that many people might consider that if Zen really did care about her then he would do anything in his power to ensure her position, even throwing his weight around a little to make sure she got it.
But that’s not what Zen does. He’s seen her prepare for this test, and knows that she would not want the position if she could not earn it honestly. Plus, he knows that she’d be very upset with him if he did use his authority in that way. He respect her efforts and her wishes, even if that may mean she doesn’t pass the test.
In a later episode, Zen and his crew travel to inspect a fort, but when they get there they find the soldiers are seriously ill, so along with Shirayuki they have to find out what’s happened.
Shirayuki and Zen work together to fix this situation, but in their own ways and with their own expertise: Shirayuki uses her knowledge to find out what’s making the men sick and is able to get them back up and going again soon, while Zen and his people set out to deal with the bandits who were really behind the cause of the fort’s problems.
But maybe even more significantly, this episode shows that Zen and Shirayuki can correct and even scold each other without the other person taking it personally and getting all offended about it. Shirayuki tells Zen to stay away from the sick soldiers while she’s trying to learn what’s happened, and while he does kick against it a little, he eventually accepts the advice and stays away. Later, when Shirayuki has exhausted herself in taking care of the recovering soldiers, Zen gently scolds her a bit for not asking for help when she was wearing down.
This is something else that can be uncommon in real life, where the person being corrected can all too often take the correction as an insult, an attack, and become offended at the one daring to tell them they are wrong. And this problem is all too often made worse when the person doing the correcting will do so in a way that seems to belittle the one being corrected. When the person doing the correcting is demeaning and insulting, or prideful and superior, that can make the correction all the harder to accept, even if it is needed.
The scene that really caused me to begin thinking the first time I watched through the series was the proposal.
We have certain popular images of how a marriage proposal is to be done. Two of those images are what I’ll call the Buffoonish and the Beggarly.
By Buffoonish, I don’t mean unintentional mistakes—I can understand any man making an unintentional buffoon of himself in such a situation—but an element of silliness and even foolishness that’s inserted on purpose into the proposal to make the occasion seem less serious than it should; for example, the man who has “the question” pop up on a screen during a sporting event, or the man who has “the question” written in the sky by an airplane.
The Beggarly is clearly shown in jewelry store commercials: the man and woman are walking in the park, chatting about this or that, then suddenly he drops to one knee, looks up into her face with puppy dog eyes, and with a pleading voice pops “the question”, and of course the lady in the commercial thinks it’s all moving and romantic, and the ad ends with the two of them kissing while the jewelry store’s jingle plays.
Only one word is needed for me to sum up my reactions to these two images…
When Zen knelt before Shirayuki, it wasn’t as a pleading puppy, and when he gave words to his feelings for her, he didn’t make a joke out of it. There was a necessary gravity to the situation and to his words, an acknowledging that what he’s saying and what he’s asking of her were not insignificant, but rather that they were serious and important, that the moment and their responses would bring great changes to both of them.
A proposal can be an occasion for joy and merriment, but for a man to make a joke of a marriage proposal or to act like a beggar is to demean and disrespect both the occasion and the woman he is asking.
The Bible’s relationship advice is often kinda sparse, usually addressing people already married with advice like, “Husbands, love your wives”, and, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” Zen and Shirayuki are not yet married, but in showing two people greatly respecting to each other, honoring each other’s positions and efforts, listening to each other, supporting each other, and sharing with each other their desires to walk by each other’s side for the rest of their lives, this story does give us a fairly good example of how that advice might look in practice.
Audie is a Christian of undetermined denomination. He hangs out at Reformed Anime Hub a lot, usually peacefully. Usually. Like all writers, he likes to pretend to himself that he’s a writer, and sometimes, on rare occasion, he even actually writes.