I bailed pretty early on the first White Album anime – long before all the headdesk melodrama that seemed to have viewers of the series in agony, in fact. I was just bored and stopped watching so I don’t know anything about all that, and while I was likely to watch this premiere at some point, I bumped it up based on the surprisingly positive response to the first episode, and a number of personal endorsements from normally sensible commenters on LiA or ASF. That, and the fact that it’s purported to be a completely different story than the first series.
I’m going to have to take that last part on faith, though apart from the title it’s hard to find anything linking the two series – different director, studio and cast. I’d hate to see this White Album go down the plughole the way the first one did, because the first episode was a very good one indeed. It was a bit of a slow build for me – at the eyecatch I was only about half-interested. But things seemed to fall together in a pretty elegant way in the second half, enough so to give me hope that this might be that golden unicorn – a high school romance that avoids getting so bogged down in the usual bullshit that it offers something worthwhile to the genre.
In the first place, White Album 2 looks and sounds great. I sometimes think that Satelight must have two boxes at the top of every anime’s checklist, one which says “looks crappy” and the other which says “looks great”. There’s just no in-between with these folks – it’s either the lush and stylish category of Ikoku Meiro no Croisee or Mouretsu Pirates or the bland, cheaply-made realm of Arata or Log Horizon. WA2 definitely falls under the first category – fluid animation, beautiful character designs (from Ghibli veteran Nakamura Takeshi), terrific use of light and shadow. A series with a musical theme better sound good, and this one has that covered too – from the BGM to the insert song, this is what I’d call “mood music” that does its job admirably.
I’m not enthused to the same degree about the narrative content, but as I said the second half pretty much won me over enough to at least stick around and see where all this goes. One of the things that I especially look for in school romances – certainly not excluding those adapted from VNs – as a sign of quality is that they treat the characters with dignity. There was quite a dignified air to the first episode of WA2, starting with the main character Kitahara Haruki (Mizushima Takahiro). He’s smart, talented and competent, if more than a bit of a control freak. Haruki is the sort of kid others obviously rely on to make things right – I knew a few of them in high school, and he fits the bill. He’s leaned on by the Festival Organizing Committee despite not being a member this year, and his bandmate Takuya (Terashima Takuma) seems to expect him to hold the Light Music Club together, though he himself is the President.
The romance angle of White Album 2 appears to be very much of the “fated meeting” class, and a triangle to boot. The other corners are Ogiso Setsuna (Yonezawa Madoka), a staple of “Miss Houjo Academy” pageants and budding singer, and Touma Kazusa (Nabatame Hitomi) who I assume is the mysterious piano player in Music Room 2. We know from the opening scene that these two are going to end up in the LMC band with Haruki, and it’s strongly implied that romantic feelings are going to sever the ties of friendship that bind them. As these kinds of things go, the setup does feel pretty – for lack of a better word – romantic: Haruki plays the guitar alone in Music Room 1 every day, grateful to the gifted pianist who accompanies him from the next room (who he assumes is a boy), until one day he hears singing from the roof and races up there only to discover it’s Ogiso. These two have met under interesting circumstances – she’s trying to beg off the current year’s pageant and the committee has drafted Haruki to talk her out of it (much to their dismay, he takes her side).
I’ve seen plenty of off-the-radar series start off great, then quickly remind me of why they weren’t on the radar in the first place, so I’m keeping expectations in check. Still, this was very stylish and well-done. I see evidence here that the material could be unusually smart, such as the way Haruki pops Ogiso’s balloon when she’s going on about how her absence from the pageant could ruin the entire festival. Haruki is right, of course, that this is a spectacularly egotistical thing to say – I was certainly thinking it myself – but he doesn’t humiliate Ogiso in pointing that out. He simply sets her straight in a wry, direct fashion and she realizes what she must have sounded like. That’s the sort of realistic behavior I’d like to see more of in school series and the dignity I referred to earlier, and if it remains the series’ modus operandi White Album has a chance to be one of the surprises of the Fall season.