Manga of the Month: Snow White with the Red Hair

Snow White with the Red Hair by Sorata Akiduki

Over the last year or so, I’ve been rediscovering my passion for Snow White with the Red Hair. Some of you may recall that I absolutely loved the anime and its cast. The manga extends far beyond the anime (and that’s saying something when, as of this writing, the English release is still about 10 books behind the Japanese).

Shirayuki is a self-possessed young woman who made a life for herself as a herbalist in the kingdom of Tanbarun. When she is ordered to become the concubine of the prince, Shirayuki instead decides to leave her home for the neighboring country of Clarines. In no time at all, she is working in the castle of Clarines as a court herbalist swiftly taking on new challenges, and falling in love with a very different prince than the one she left behind.

Despite the title, Snow with the Red Hair is not really a fairy-tale retelling, and the title is only vaguely related to the series’ initial meeting between the main cast. Beyond that, Snow White with the Red Hair becomes about the intertwined lives of Shirayuki and Prince Zen as they pursue their goals, grow as people and a couple, and the people, politics, and machinations of the kingdom around them.

Prince Zen is the second prince of Clarines and ripe to start taking on real responsibilities in the vast kingdom. Zen is down-to-earth, enjoys a little mischief, and chafes at the royal title but also wants to do what is right for the people of Clarines. In the mix is a lovable cast of side characters including the unflappable swordswoman Kiki, the earnest aide Mitsuhide, the aloof messenger Obi, the enigmatic first prince Izana, and the list goes on and on.

The love story at the center of Snow White with the Red Hair is incredibly satisfying and stands up to being a long series without adding in too much overwrought drama. Firstly, Shirayuki and Zen are quick to say they have feelings for the other and want to figure out what that means for them. Second, manga-ka Sorata Akiduki is masterful at creating swoony moments and slow builds. Third, Shirayuki and Zen have major stories outside of their romance that are just as interesting. (Fourth, possibly for me only, is that I am somehow able to 100% believe in Shirayuki and Zen’s love while simultaneously rooting for Obi.)

The story of Clarines goes further and becomes more grandiose than I would have imagined. Two years have passed in the series as of vol. 16 and so much has happened. Shirayuki and Zen have experienced adventures, setbacks, balls, political manipulation, victories, loss, friendship, separation, joy, doubt, love, and so much growth in their lives. Those around them have had similar trajectories and the world just keeps opening up further.

Snow White with the Red Hair boasts strong characters, heartfelt romance, a balance of drama and humor, and a well-crafted world to set it all in. Picking up the manga a few years after the anime has made me even more of a fan of Shirayuki, Zen, Obi and the rest of the gang, and I look forward to every volume to see where the story takes them next.

-Kate

Manga of the Month: Our Dreams at Dusk

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani

“You give yourself a little breathing room. But that breathing room is only the thinnest barrier between you and the dangerous maelstrom of reality.”

At the start of Our Dreams at Dusk, Tasuku is reeling from believing he has been outed as gay in his high school. As he stares over the edge of a guardrail, contemplating suicide, a mysterious incident distracts him and leads him to a meeting house of sorts. It’s there he finds a new group of people whose lives and stories bring him a new perspective on himself and the world.

The 4-book series goes on to explore various queer identities, the successes and struggles of Tasuku and those he meets, and the incredible power of finding a community.

The series also touts some abstract and thematic imagery highlighting emotions and moments. Although I was at first wondering if there was a supernatural or magical realism element to the story (and I imagine you might wonder the same after reading just the first chapter), I came to see it more as an artistic choice than a literal one.

One of my favorite pieces of this story is the age range of the characters who gather at the meeting house. It highlights how self-discovery and -acceptance can come at any age, and showed deep empathy for everyone on their own journeys without a roadmap or a right time to finish.

Our Dreams at Dusk is a coming-of-age story that is ageless. It is a beautifully drawn series about people coming together to support one another which manages to be hopeful without shying away from difficult conversations and the pain we all sometimes inflict or endure.

“Even if we get hurt, we have the power to stand up. When we hurt someone, we have the heart to reflect on that.”

-Kate

Manga of the Month: Blue Period

Blue Period (ブルーピリオド)
by Tsubasa Yamaguchi

Late in high school, Yatora Yaguchi finds a passion for painting that puts him on a new, and sometimes arduous, path as he strives to develop his art skills and pursues admission for the prestigious (and affordable) Tokyo University of the Arts.

From the first volume, Blue Period tackles the myth of talent head on. When Yatora initially strikes up a conversation at art club with a senior he admires, she pushes back on her “being talented” and lays out all the ways in which she has worked and spent her free time for years to be able to create her vision. This moment is a catalyst for Yatora to get to the hard work of being an artist.

And work he does! Having little interest in art before, Yatora finds himself learning basic technique while simultaneously producing huge volumes of work just to keep pace with peers who have been at it for much longer. But being a novice isn’t necessarily a detriment, and those around him prove to be valuable resources, reasonably-harsh critics, and sometimes great inspiration.

Yatora at first struggles with getting his mother on board for art school, and throughout the series many characters deal with varying degrees of support. As Yatora goes to extra classes and his friend circle expands, he grows as an artist and learns to talk about his determination to pursue art seriously.

There’s also a fascinating (and if I was in high school in Japan, practical) look into how each of the major art colleges of Japan admit students, their costs, and what they prioritize. Plus, the series also starkly shows that it isn’t cheap to be an art student, even if your tuition is paid for: Art supplies are a killer. All of this arms Yatora with tools to know where he wants to go and how he is going to achieve it.

One of my favorite parts of each volume are the breakdowns of different art techniques. The lessons on composition really stand out to me as spot on. They’re so good that the reader could learn either to use the techniques in your work as an artist or to better discuss and “read” art as a viewer. These portions also serve to further distance the story from the myth of talent, as teachers in particular pull back the curtain to show how works of art are calculated, and not just created.

We are still early in Yatora’s journey as an artist and hopeful student, but Blue Period lovingly and accurately captures the creative energy and self-doubt that comes with being an artist, along with the realities of pursuing art as a path in life.

-Kate

Learn more!
Buy it!
The anime premieres Oct. 9 on Netflix!