There a tragic sort of tone to White Album these days for me, despite the generally warm tone to much of the material. Rarely have I seen an impending train wreck depicted with such quiet dignity, but it seems pretty clear that’s where we’re headed. Sometimes nice people hurt each other without meaning to – certainly in high school they do – and knowing what’s likely to be coming paints the wistful events we’re watching unfold in a quite somber color.
Make no mistake, this series is very, very good. Not just because of its restraint but because it’s created four genuinely relatable and believable characters (yes, I include Takeya in that too) and put them in a highly realistic situation that’s generating the potential for drama. The way the feelings have developed has been patient and natural, and the many elements of the production – music, art, cinematography – perfectly balanced. It’s not as though Masaomi Ando has a stellar or even lengthy track record as a director, but this is very good work that show a fine eye for shot composition and staging. Ando is a name to watch, I think.
I will confess, though, that a couple of the characters are starting to annoy me. It’s the good sort of annoying – mostly – but annoying nonetheless. We can certainly start with Haruki, who’s both a genuinely good guy and a genuinely good M.C.. But seriously, his stupidity (and I can only assume it’s that rather than wilfully ignoring reality) regarding the romantic feelings of the girls is getting pretty ridiculous. Last week is was Setsuna, this time with Touma where be gets dangerously close to leading on. Nursing Touma back to health (the camera obsession with illness kawaii was a bit much), saying all these romantic things to her, about how he’ll always be there for her and to ask if she ever needs him, and then “Because we’re both members of the Light Music Club!” as if that explains everything happily. If a baseball player missed this many signs he’d be sent down to the minors.
When Presidents get involved in serious scandal, it often comes down to two unpalatable options – were they ignorant about what was happening on their watch or were they knowingly doing wrong? Maybe this is just an inherent flaw with high-school romances – maybe high-school guys really are just that dumb when it comes to women – but I sure don’t remember guys in my high school being that blind to the signs. Hell, we were looking for them, usually desperately. Haruki certainly isn’t a dumb guy by any means – quite the contrary – but he’s either just another clueless male lead or teenaged males (at least in Japan) really are that clueless and he’s just an accurate portrayal. Either way, it’s getting on my nerves.
And then there’s Setsuna. Again, a really nice person, a kind soul. But to be blunt, if I were in a social relationship with her the way Haruki is I’d be seeing more warning signs than at the C.D.C. laboratories. I think she’s headed down a very bad path here – extreme neediness, emotional manipulation, panic attacks, extreme use of guilt as a weapon. She’s got problems, and I think she’s trouble for anybody who gets into a romantic relationship with her. I give Setsuna credit for at least being more aggressive with Haruki than most in her position would be, but even here she’s not coming right out and making her intentions known – and clearly, he’s either (somehow) not getting the message or choosing not to commit until forced to. The net result is that her actions seem sort of presumptive – she’s acting as if Haruki is her property but she hasn’t even formally confessed to him yet.
I’d say Touma, for all that she verges on the textbook tsundere at times, is more generally honest than either of the other two – certainly more than Setsuna. She’s not being honest about her feelings for Haruki, I admit – even if she did ask if he was going to go out with Ogiso in a voice too soft for him to hear. But most of the time she says what she thinks, and acts on how she feels. It’s interesting in that Setsuna has had a childhood where she’s seemingly been idolized both at home and school and it’s left her insecure and needy, while Touma has had a childhood of genuine rejection (even by her mother) and isolation, and it’s mostly left her resigned to her fate. Both these girls see Haruki as an escape from their personal prison, but he obviously can’t be that for both of them. And Touma, as I mentioned last week, has pretty well decided she’s not even in the game so there’s not much point in fighting it.
Yes, this is a fine mess – and there’s the not inconsiderable matter of the festival performance to complicate things. There’s a third song added to the playlist now – the secret of the notebook Takeya gave to Touma, which contained the lyrics to a song Haruki wrote. The problem is that that performance is really the only thing holding this house of cards up – once that’s over, reality must be faced down. If one were to try reading the tea leaves I think it’d be hard to conclude things look good for Setsuna – she’s the jealous one, the needy one, the “obvious” one – while Touma stays third fiddle (well, piano) and coincidentally is the one who makes Haruki’s dream come true. I could also see Haruki deciding he couldn’t bear what choosing one girl would do to the other, and choosing neither. But the only thing that seems really certain is that everyone is going to get hurt – and at least one person is going to get hurt an awful lot.