First Impressions – White Album 2

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And so enters the first wild card of my Fall schedule.

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 HorizonWA2 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.

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22 comments

  1. t

    Random trivia that caught my eye: the series composer for the anime is the same as the series composer for the VN (who has experience with VNs,but wasn't involved in the first white album, but none with anime).
    That's the first time I see that happening,I've seen writers of VNs write a few episodes but never get to be the series composer for the anime adaptation of their VN

  2. y

    Takahiro (Minatosoft) was the series composer on the KimiAru anime, although he only wrote a small number of episodes. Another example is Chihare Ameno on D.C. II/D.C. II SS.

    It's rare, but I'm a little surprised that some make such a big deal out of Maruto's involvement. This subject made the rounds back in 2007/2008, the peak years for VN adaptations…..

  3. i

    Can I say something? GE you deserve a lot of praise for working this hard on ani-blogging. Its a volunteer activity that I doubt can shine a resume but takes as much time, maybe more, than neighbourhood clean ups. All bloggers must have a huge amount of love for anime to do it but I think I'm right in saying that no one else in the ani-sphere, working alone, blogs as much or as quick as you. But that's only half the reason why you've done a great job. Like you said the commenters on LiA also chip in with hidden gems for you, it's almost like a scouting network in the Pro League. You've made a great atmosphere for people to appreciate the finer, blurrier, more subtle parts of anime and for that I should probably thank you.

    PS White Album is pretty good, fingers crossed for the first Satelight anime I complete.

  4. Thanks, Ish. I'd put up a "contribute" button (I won't lie and say I don't bust my ass doing this) but I fear I'd be booted off the interwebs if I did…

  5. t

    I must say I agree with ishruns, I am impressed everytime of your..writing passion every day and every week of variety animes and even just..off topic stuff from time to time.
    with every new review it's just…never cease to amaze me. really.
    plus I must say you have really good taste in anime 😛

    anyway, about white album 2..
    I am not familiar with white album at all. in order to watch that one, do I need to watch the previous one?
    is it good and recommended?

  6. Thanks for that.

    I didn't care for the first White Album and bailed, and it sounds as if many who didn't wish they had. But I'm told you absolutely don't need to see it to watch this one.

  7. b

    Yeah, I'm picking this up just because I heard it was really good and it's not connected to the first White Album which I haven't watched yet. And I really like it so far. That song at the end was pretty good. The characters don't have much life yet but we'll get there.
    I can't really help but be reminded of NGE's Asuka and Another's Akazawa with Ogiso though. And she has the seiyuu of the latter.
    This is my surprise show of the season and I hope it delivers well.

  8. If anything, this reminded me a bit of Ef: A Tale of Memories.

  9. M

    ^Lol!Same here.Now that's was a drama done right.As someone who actually finished the 1st White Album I can say that Haruki is already by far,a much more likeable MC than the one there,Touya.This premiere was already better than any episode WA1 could offer.

    It'd be too awesome if this were to be something of Ef's(I liked both Memories & Melodies) caliber,although that's a long shot…

  10. Z

    "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."

    Yes, it's basically off-the-radar in west, but I don't think it's off-the-radar in Japan. Basically this is adaptation of White Album 2 ~Introductory Chapter~, a "prologue" of WA 2 ~Closing Chapter~ : #1 VN in Japan if we're going with Japan's biggest VN database (erogamescape). It's beating series such as Clannad, Steins;Gate, Muv Luv Alternative (not that crappy spin off which was animated by Satelight), etc and it's even topped every games (including well-loved new Mario Bros games) in monthly review of mainstream games magazine (I forgot what it is). Japan loves WA2, it's just West still haven't had access to them.

    Well, they can still mess this, but having the actual writer of the VN personally handle the script at least should be a fine guarantee. There's also a chance of Japan having strange taste, but at least the first episode turns out to be better than my initial expectation. Excuse me for (probably) over hyping, but I think it's needed since it's pretty much unheard compared to other big names this season… In west, at least.

    P.S If we go by score again, WA 1 VN has a pretty mediocre score (far behind WA 2 introductory, let alone the closing chapter), add some bad execution and that's the reason of many bad experiences at WA 1 anime.

  11. The only radar that matters in this example is mine!

    Yes, getting the scenario writer to handle the script was a good idea, in theory, and rarely done.

  12. H

    I think one big key is that it's set up as a straight-up triangle. Not an 'n'-sided polygon, not necessarily a conga line. So that limits the shenanigans and wasted time among other girls (if one doesn't like that).

    I also think Haruki is a good lead. He's got a personality, he's got redeeming qualities (smart, outspoken, nice guy), and he's got his own life. He's not just being pushed around by the girls (at least at this point).

    The technical parts of the music were pretty well done also. The budget might not hold up (or they might not have too much music) but for now the playing was well-animated. I do wish I could figure out (definitively) what kind of guitar he's got, tho.

  13. K

    Well, given the shape, I first thought of one of those cheap (or affordable, if you will) Stratocaster-Clones.
    But looking at the tremolo bridge and also the pick-ups (Humbucker, Single-Coil, Humbucker) it's probably an Ibanez (fittingly, a Japanese company), RG or GRG-series (I've got a RG 370 DX myself).

    Although the fact that it has a second pick-up switch (as seen in close-ups) makes my head scratch, because those switches are used in stuff like the Ibanez S920E-BK (which has a different pick-up-configuration), but not both together.

    So it's probably something made up, but highly influenced by Ibanez-products (or someone proves me completey wrong and can pinpoint the exact model, which would be fine, my guitar-knowledge isn't as good as it used to be).

  14. K

    ah, apparently there are guitars with a mystery switch:
    http://ibanez.wikia.com/wiki/Forum:Can_anyone_identify_this_guitar%3F
    still different tremolo bridge

    or Haruki has something custom made…if he's a rich kid…

  15. H

    Yeah, looking at the headstock it does remind me more of an Ibanez, although with the seemingly-rounded body, I had thought it was a Japanese-made Stratocaster, especially since there were some of them made in the 90's with a Schaller Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut. But it also has the jack on the edge, not the face, so that's against it being a Strat also.

  16. t

    I am no expert in guitar and I just started playing some time ago too. But i've been looking for this guitar quite a long time but can't seem find one especially about the color.
    The closest one I found was this one.. http://data.yamaha.jp/sdb/local/products/images/16251/12073/16251_12073_1.jpg

  17. R

    I’m late to jump on the bandwagon, but what the heck. Enzo, I agree with ishruns and thedarktower — LiA is my go-to place when it comes to appreciating anime. I had been lurking around for quite some years and had never been vocal — I never had the guts and inspiration to voice my thoughts — till you appeared on RC. I like your writing, and I think you have good taste. Sometimes I think it’s probably your life experiences that make you see deeper — you often come with insights in your posts. I admit that I tend to gravitate to people who can provoke me to think and learn. However, that’s not just it. What compels me to come out of the woodwork and make posting here an enjoyable habit is you and your passion. You never give out half-hearted work, and you always do what you say — the amount of care that you have to LiA and to your readers is what moves me. The sincerity and tenacity of yours is admirable, and for that, thanks, Enzo.

    Back to this post, I watched the first season of White Album. I probably had more time back then; otherwise, I would have dropped it. Because I didn’t, I found myself enjoying it at the end. Don’t get me wrong — it was annoying for the most part, but it got really good in the last third of the show. White Album surprised me that a harem could also turn out good. Till now, it remains the only harem — or reversed harem — that I finished watching and liked. By the way, I like Yuki a lot.

    As for the new season, I need to wipe out my memory because it’s a completely new show with a new story and a new cast. I was a bit disappointed when I read the synopsis — I missed the college setting — but after watching the premiere, I liked it. I liked pretty much everything that you said — the characters, the animation, and the BGM. In short, it was a good start. I think I will stick around and see how things go. By the way, the insert song at the end was actually the debut song of Yuki in the first season — it can easily be an earworm, but I like Yuki’s singing better.

  18. E

    I didn't watch the 1st season because it's average score on MAL is 6.86, quite an awful and pitiful score on MAL for a harem anime. For comparison, even Infinite Stratos, an awful anime which should be renamed Infinite Transfer Student, is rated 7.36. To be rated lower, just how bad is this anime?

    Might give this one a try, if it really is different.

  19. Like I said, I bailed long before the conclusion just out of boredom. But this really is a completely different animal, supposedly.

  20. D

    Just to dispel any further doubts, I'm told that White Album and White Album 2 are written by entirely different authors. And the author of WA2 is writing the script of the anime adaptation himself, so I have high hopes for a faithful telling of the story.

  21. t

    I loved the first White Album, and probably the best romance/drama anime for me (at least before I got to know WA2). It's good actually, really. It's just that it's far from the usual romance series that we usually watch. Thats why the score is worse compared to for example Infinite Stratos.
    I mean, if you look for WA1 reviews, you'll find between very good or very bad review (which there are more). Unlike other anime when the majority says its good then few said it bad and rarely anyone said its worst and vice versa.
    I think most people can't stand WA1 because of the slow-pace, super annoying MC, confusing plot, and I agree with it. But, if you try to get along with it, pay attention the setting, details, I think you might enjoy it like I do, not to mention the art and presentation are kinda 'special' also the songs and BGMs are one of the best, it's beautiful.. From there, you can understand what makes the MC like that, I mean he's not that bad from the start, he has reasons lol, about episode 23 too there is a part that clears up most of the confusion that happened on the series.
    Also after talking with my friends that hate WA1, I my conclusion is they failed to see those things..
    It's worth to try, though I'm more confident to think that you'll end up hating it too 😀

    As for WA2, in short, there are no relation to WA1 except some songs on WA1 are reused on WA2. If not for that, I think we can say that it's completely a different series.
    Thats why many people say that WA2 could also be called 'Todokanai Koi' and still be fine. :)

  22. R

    Same here, I enjoyed White Album (to my surprise). I wouldn't call it the best romance/drama, but it's absolutely way better than Infinite Stratos in my view. It really got a lot better in the last third by drilling deeper into the characters and subtly surfacing their emotions. White Album is a split-cour where a lot of people call the second cour the 2nd season. The score that Eternia pulled out refers to the 1st cour. The 2nd cour has a higher score but by a small margin — I guess WA doesn't appeal to the mainstream to begin with, and it's too late to change the perception.

    White Album 2 is a totally different series, and I'm interested to see how the creators handle a love triangle or harem. The first episode comes off quite strong in my view — I like that the characters are treated with respect.

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