I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve never heard of a Raj Shenazade, nor was I aware that he was worthy of a character study.” Well, dear reader, just a short while ago, I was exactly like you. But no more. Just humor me for a moment, and all that is cloudy shall become clear.
You know, when I first started writing this blog, I thought I would be doing way more posts like this: deep-dive analyses into the books, movies, and TV shows that I enjoy. Character breakdowns and such.
At least, not with any consistency. And the ones I have done have been pretty niche: One Punch Man, Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, etc. Not exactly the most relevant pieces of media in the world.
So with that said, we’re going to talk about an extremely niche shojo anime you’ve probably never heard of and why I’m in love with one of the minor character’s arcs. Yay relevancy!
Hopefully, by the end of this, you will not only feel confident in your knowledge of a certain Raj Shenazade* but you will appreciate him at least half as much as I do.
*I’ve also more commonly seen his last name spelled “Shenazard” but that makes me think of Charizard so I’m going with the other spelling.
snow white with the red hair: fairytale but not
The anime in question is called Snow White With the Red Hair, and I think you can guess by the title what kind of vibe we’re going for. It starts off, at least, very heavily couched in fairytale conventions and then (remarkably) veers off the beaten path to focus on character development. I can honestly say that this show often surprised me with how well-written it was. Perfect? Of course not. But thoroughly enjoyable.
We begin with our titular character, Shirayuki (which basically translates to “Snow White”), a simple herbalist born with fiery red hair which, in this world, is extremely rare. (Even though, in typical anime fashion, there are also characters with white, blue, and pink hair. But I digress.)
She tries to hide it to avoid unwanted attention, but despite her best efforts, she catches the eye of her country’s first prince, Raj Shenazade of Tanbarun. He orders her to be brought to the palace to become his concubine (yikes, right?) but naturally, she flees.
But not before cutting her hair and leaving it for the prince in an epic “eff you” move, signaling from the start that she’s not your typical passive shojo protagonist. (Even though she does fall into another typical romance trope of being The Most Important and Specialist Girl in the World. But it’s not her fault she’s subject to her genre; I actually like her as a character 90% of the time.)
Shirayuki take refuge at a fortress in the woods, where she meets another prince, Zen Wisteria of Clarines, who’s definitely a knight-in-shining-armor type (but we’re totally okay with it because Zen is the best). Raj then sends a basket of poisoned apples intended for Shirayuki, but Zen eats one instead.
(Because oh, you thought from the title you were getting a straightforward Snow White retelling, right? Well, you thought WRONG! From here on out, poisoned apples or any of the other common elements of the fairytale are never mentioned again. And I kind of like it!)
Shirayuki then appeals to Raj for the antidote. Deplorable human being that he is, he tries to wheel and deal with her for it, but it doesn’t exactly go his way when Prince Zen barges in, apparently immune to the poison.
This episode resolves with Zen putting the fear of God into Raj, who turns out to be a giant scaredy-cat, and basically blackmails the vulgar prince by threatening to tell everyone he’d poisoned the son of an ally if he ever so much as looks at Shirayuki again.
And then Shirayuki goes back to Clarines with Prince Zen and starts a new life as a court herbalist, and Raj is never mentioned again. Or so I assumed.
raj shenazade: from royal pain to real potential?
When I watched the first few episodes of this anime, I was completely thrown off-guard by the seemingly convenient resolution to the whole Raj problem. So I was like, “Okay, great. This is one of those shows that’s just pure fluff and each episode is a self-contained conflict of meager stakes where the antagonist is never a problem again.”
Boy, was I (mostly) wrong.
Raj does come back. It just takes him almost an entire season to do so. By then, Shirayuki is living her best life in Clarines and falling in love with Prince Zen (and vice versa), despite the court’s scrutiny of the prince favoring a commoner. Raj and what he did (or rather, tried to do) could not be further from her mind.
And then he’s invited to come visit the palace in Clarines by Prince Zen’s older brother, who is definitely *not* trying to get rid of Shirayuki.
But this Raj is not exactly the entitled, morally depraved prince from the first episode. He’s still scared shitless of Zen and he avoids Shirayuki like the plague for fear of incurring his wrath, even though he’s technically there to steal her… he just isn’t very good at it. That’s when you start to realize that his actions in Episode 1 were those of a spoiled child and not a slimy womanizer. He saw a shiny thing and he wanted it.
And evidently, Prince Zen and Shirayuki herself were the first people on Earth to tell him “no, you can’t have that,” which completely shattered his reality.
Throughout the episode, you watch this prince you were supposed to hate in the pilot as he stumbles around awkwardly, so riddled with anxiety he can barely have an intelligible conversation, trying very very hard not to be the problem. He’s still rude and immature, but you actually start to pity him.
And then he and Shirayuki finally interact. Naturally, her opinion of him is marred by his uncouth actions toward her, but she’s a kind, forgiving person, and when she finds him alone, doubled over with stomach pain (no doubt linked to his anxiety), she doesn’t hesitate to help him.
And then they have surprisingly earnest conversation wherein she gives it to him straight with this banger of a line: “If you want me to respect you as if I’m proud of the ruler of my country, then rule my country like a prince I can be proud of.” (Seriously, I wish I’d written that!)
And that completely rocks his world.
mmm, redemption arcs. my favorite!
If you couldn’t guess by now, obviously we’re talking about a redemption arc. A difficult maneuver to pull off as a writer, since you have to start off with a character your audience is supposed to hate and then somehow convince that same audience to trust their change of heart implicitly.
We all know the golden standard is Prince Zuko and the cautionary tale is Kylo Ren. But how about it? How about another redemption arc you can believe in?
I would argue that Prince Raj is the best redemption arc I’ve seen in a long time. And the most satisfying thing about it is that you truly do not see it coming. You think he’s just there to set the story in motion and then maybe be a recurring nuisance later on. They certainly could’ve gone that direction.
The next time we see Raj, Shirayuki visits his palace in Tanbarun to attend a ball and extend a diplomatic olive branch, so to speak. In that time, it’s been rumored that Raj has actually started giving a shit about his country, to the surprise of, well, everyone. This further encourages Shirayuki to go.
Raj truly did not expect Shirayuki to show up and is extremely put off by her willingness to come, but in typical anime heroine fashion, she speaks the plain truth about how she hopes they can repair their relationship and become friends, and that encourages him to try despite his misgivings and general awkwardness.
You spend about an episode just watching them hang out (oh, right, I should warn you: this show isn’t the most fast-paced thing in the world, but every episode does move the plot) and you learn that Raj actually did take Shirayuki’s words to heart and is genuinely trying to be a better person, not just for her, but for his country.
And while there is some speculation (particularly by his meddling younger siblings) that he’s in love with her, he never acts with the same sort of possessiveness that he displayed in the first episode. If anything, he’s actively resisting it because he knows that his feelings had been founded on the novelty of the exotic, not actual attraction.
So instead of falling in love with her, I would argue that he falls in respect with her (lol, sure, that’s a thing) and learns through her how to appreciate and understand his fellow human beings.
But that’s not where his arc stops, nay nay.
from pampered prince to pirate hunter
Again, in typical shojo anime fashion, literally everyone in the world is after Shirayuki for some ungodly reason. She’s kidnapped by bandits and then those bandits are kidnapped by pirates and… no, I’m not kidding, that’s actually what happens and they kind of make a joke out of it in-universe. But I digress.
However, rather than sit back and cower as would be his normal function, Raj takes action, teaming up with Zen (whom he also learns to respect rather than fear) and other rag-tag allies to rescue Shirayuki from the pirates.
And then this kid, this slimy prince that you wanted to punch in the face in Episode 1, rallies a group of merchants by himself and leads a naval fleet to the pirate’s secret base where he proceeds to ram his ship into the pirates’ and run it aground.
Gratuitous? Perhaps. But fear not, he doesn’t instantly become some kind of invincible warrior; he’s seasick the entire time and he has no combat skills to speak of. But ultimately you learn that despite his pampered ways, he’s actually pretty clever and resourceful. Most of all, you learn that he has the potential to be a great leader if he tried.
Remind you of anyone? No? He’s Cardan from The Cruel Prince. He’s mother effing Cardan Greenbriar.
prince raj, prince cardan, whatever, just give me good character development!
I don’t know, maybe I’m easy to please (and I really do like Cardan, so I might also be biased), but I was thoroughly convinced by Raj’s redemption arc. Tropes aside, it was an absolute thrill to watch him go from selfish dickwad to earnest almost-badass.
And it’s not like there aren’t consequences for his mistakes, either; Shirayuki holds him to a very high standard after what he did (or tried to do) and he has to prove himself worthy of her respect by rising to the challenge. Which he does.
Something else I really appreciated about his arc was that it wasn’t some kind of total personality transformation; he was still anxious and a little yellow-bellied, he could still be a little rude, and he still had pretentious tendencies, but he was getting better. Change is a slow process, after all, even in fictional characters. It truly is a challenge as a writer to find that balance and I’d say they hit the nail on the head with Raj Shenazade.
Now, I’ve only recently forayed into shojo anime as a genre, so I can’t say just how typical this sort of arc is. But what I do know is that I repeatedly had my expectations subverted by Snow White With the Red Hair, which is difficult to do in any trope-heavy genre. This show especially excelled in taking characters you thought were one thing and revealing them to be another, and Raj Shenazade is the best example of that.
If you enjoy shojo anime, if you enjoy redemption arcs and seeing douche bag semi-antagonists become characters you can root for, and especially if you liked Cardan in The Folk of the Air trilogy, definitely check out Snow White With the Red Hair on Hulu. Aside from having good characters, I also didn’t get a chance to mention that it is visually a work of art. And the score! AUGH!
Okay, I’ll stop now.
P.S. I just found out that the American voice actor for Raj also voices Death the Kid in Soul Eater (which is why his voice sounded so familiar!) but also, more importantly, Mr. Pigeon from Miraculous Ladybug so that seals the deal for me.
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