Well, no question about it, we have a colossal mess on our hands now. Having danced this dance with romance anime many times before, I’m far too wizened and skeptical to accept what happened in the last few minutes of this episode as conclusive. If anything, getting kissed by the lead that early is a death flag of sorts, but there are always shows like Mashifony that come along and prove to us that expectations are made to be broken. Nevertheless, it caught me a bit off guard – and if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, I’m not the only one.
First things first – the episode was, in general, stellar. Apart from the usual discordant fixation on fanservice it was beautifully drawn and beautifully directed, and it had me a live wire from start to finish. In some ways I’m reminded of a “big game” episode of a sports anime – when you’ve been building up to an event for this long, you better deliver. And White Album did so here, in no small part because the off-stage drama was so beautifully woven in with the performance itself. It was exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time.
If your show is music themed you better be able to deliver good music (WA mostly does) and a climactic concert better bring it. If I’m to nitpick the one song I really wanted to hear – Haruki’s co-composition with Touma – wasn’t shown at all. There are obvious reasons for that, given how relevant to the love triangle it is, but it was still mildly irritating. As for the ones they did play, they were fine – “White Album” is certainly a more interesting song than “Sound of Destiny” – but the real action was the three-way dynamic taking place on stage. That and Touma’s surprise instrument shuffle, as she jumped from electric piano to tenor sax to bass. I did think it was pretty funny that she couldn’t put down her tsundere act, even when she was on-stage.
I find my own reactions to this trio interesting, and my perception is that if you told me the story on paper, I would have expected myself to be rooting for Setsuna at this point. I don’t normally have much patience for tsundere characters but there’s no question I find Touma the more compelling of the two girls even if I can’t say exactly why. And I likewise can’t say for sure that didn’t impact my perception of how events were playing out, but I was pretty much convinced right up to the last moment that all signs were pointing to Touma. Frankly I’m not totally convinced I was wrong, even now, but that may be why the ending was a mild surprise to me.
Again, I must ask – is Haruki really this clueless, or is he simply playing a game? How is it possible for him to be sitting in the music room with Touma, in the state she was in, and not realize the loaded nature of “I’d like to stay together after we graduate”? Over and over he keeps making romantic overtures, then segueing into “the three of us” and “Light Music Club”. For me it’s a stretch that he could be carrying the act this far, but equally so that he could be that tone-deaf emotionally. The “she’s a girl and I”m a person” exchange – especially Haruki’s reaction – would normally come across as pretty damning for Touma’s chances. But given what we’ve seen of Haruki, how the hell are we supposed to know what he meant by that? Maybe he really has no idea of the significance of it.
As for Setsuna, I’ll give her full credit for being the one to, as she says, make the first move – although in truth she’s been making plenty of moves already, without wanting to commit herself officially. The revelation that she and Touma met behind Haruki’s back and laid it all out there was an interesting one, and it was equally interesting to see it revealed during the performance itself. I wouldn’t call her actions towards Haruki subtle but apparently they were too subtle for him, so she upped the ante – and even then Haruki played the fool right up until the moment she kissed him. Full points to her for the “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” approach – not even Haruki was going to miss this signal.
The big question hanging out there is Haruki’s feelings. We know how Touma feels, and we sure as Hell know how Setsuna feels. But that look in Haruki’s eyes bespoke genuine surprise to me, and up to this point (apart from not dodging) he’s made no overt statement of purpose beyond his usual irresponsible “three of us” routine. Has it really been Setsuna all along – is it that simple? If so I’ve seriously misread the signals he was giving out, but it’s well-worth remembering that we have six episodes worth of s-curves in front of us and seven isn’t necessarily a lucky number in the romance anime game. I still don’t think we really know what’s in Haruki’s heart – and perhaps there’s a third possibility, that he doesn’t either.