This is probably one of the best 12 episode anime stories to be made. It makes an engaging and compelling story without any need for grimdark undertones. It just takes a minuscule bit from a fable, Snow White, to tell an original story. There is no prince kissing Snow White; instead it features a pro-active likable female protagonist leaving her country of origin to avoid being the concubine of a misogynistic prince and eventually entangling herself into the life of a prince from another kingdom whom she develops a friendship with. The main character, Shirayuki, eventually works hard to make her own place as a top-notch herbalist in the neighboring kingdom.
Zen, second prince to the neighboring kingdom, is just as likable as Shirayuki and works hard to make his kingdom a safer place. What’s interesting about their character dynamics is that, unlike most anime where characters continuously try to have idiotic slapstick comedy filled with cliches of the female calling the male an idiot and voyeuristic bath scenes, this anime portrays a completely normal, healthy relationship between two characters and it is entirely realistic. Part of the realism is that it’s a normal relationship that naturally progresses to romance and doesn’t have any cliches like “He saved me so I’ll devote my life to him”, or “The power of friendship”, or “It’s a man’s job to protect a woman”, or any other typical, nonsensical anime/pop culture cliche. What binds them together is their capacity for hard work. Shirayuki wants to prove that she isn’t just some lucky girl who is trying to use her friendship with Zen to either marry him or harm him for personal gain. Certain guards and the first Prince have strong misgivings about Shirayuki’s intentions due to assassination and kidnapping attempts in the past. Shirayuki wants to prove them wrong, she wants to feel equal to Zen, and most importantly of all, she wants to work hard and prove to herself that she can be a respected herbalist because that’s her dream goal.
Throughout the anime, we see her strive towards passing her exams and becoming a full-fledged member of the Royal Herbalists in the Castle. Her desire to be of use bears fruit with the fact that she heals a platoon of soldiers on guard at one of the Kingdom’s borders. Zen requires her skills and asks her to come along; her work helps to cure the sickness, find the cause through process of elimination, and she helps give the recovering soldiers medicine for the duration of their eight hour shifts; nearly causing herself to collapse from lack of sleep because she took so much time working on the medicine and holding herself to a timely schedule. This is among many other achievements throughout the anime.
Zen works hard as the second prince to prove that he’s a competent ruler to his brother. He feels some shame for being born into nobility because of a friend in his past remarking jealously about how Zen will never have to fight and kill to survive. He can always expect guards to protect him, a loving home, and food on his plate every day. His friendship and eventual love for Shirayuki is equally compelling to Shirayuki’s own. Just as Shirayuki doesn’t feel equal to Zen, Zen feels that Shirayuki flies far above him in terms of personal strength, commitment, and endurance. While he was born into the life of the castle, she worked hard to achieve her place among the castle’s people, she can always be relied upon to help others in any given situation, and her herbalist skills become increasingly needed to provide valuable medicines for the kingdom. Zen thinks of Shirayuki as a strong, competent, and tireless individual who he’s regrettably entangling into the drama of royal politics. Shirayuki gets placed into physical danger on more than one occasion because of it.
Beyond that though, they both seem to really, really like each other and the chemistry isn’t forced, has no cliches, and just seems so shockingly natural that it wouldn’t be a stretch to call this anime the best romance anime of all-time. Shirayuki does get kidnapped but she fights back and occasionally breaks out of her prisons through her wit alone before Zen and others can come to take down the villain. The stress takes a toll on Shirayuki but thankfully she never becomes bitter because she can rely on Zen as much as Zen relies upon her.
Overall, this anime series gets a 10/10 in my book.