Um, so yeah, that whole thing you guys are doing? It really doesn’t work.
Plan A: Invite girl you know loves your boyfriend along on an onsen weekend over Christmas.
Plan B: Make lobotomy appointment.
At this point, the realization is hit me that the reason White Album 2 hits me as hard as it does is because it’s very reminiscent of a real-life experience everyone has sooner or later. Simply put, when you see people you care about headed down a disastrous path and you can’t really do anything about it. Maybe you feel like it’s none of your business, maybe you tried to intervene and they won’t listen, maybe you just can’t bring yourself to be the one to burst their bubble so you just keep your mouth shut and hope for the best. But you know damn well the best isn’t what’s going to happen.
It seems as if I wasn’t the only one who noticed there wasn’t a whole lot of romantic spark between Haruki and Setsuna, while there seemed to be a veritable switching station between he and Touma – it’s just as obvious to his friends, though the others scold Hayasaki to keep his damn mouth shut about it. They’re the ones who see the storm coming but feel like there’s nothing to do but take cover. You can’t blame them – when a friend makes a choice, you support them, and by all superficial measures this is one that seems defensible enough. But these poor kids just keep digging themselves in deeper and deeper.
What’s happening between the main trio would be untenable even if Haruki were romantically committed to Setsuna – and we can’t assume that he isn’t at least conflicted and has feelings for both girls. He’s a lost cause altogether with his platitudes about staying friends, but sadly enough I think it’s Setsuna who’s the biggest cause of the impending heartbreak. She’s pretty clearly driven by her insecurities, and she probably pushed Haruki into a commitment he wasn’t ready to make because she knew if she waited, she’d probably lose anyway. I think on some level she realizes this and she’s trying to keep the status quo going as long as possible – because the status quo means she can call Haruki her boyfriend, but everyone can keep acting like a gang of friends. The minute Kazusa is out of the picture she and Haruki have to start acting like a couple – and dealing with the reality of what he might be thinking about missed opportunities.
There’s more to it, of course – I certainly don’t question Setsuna’s affection for Kazusa as a friend, especially given how few of them she’s managed to make and hold onto. But she’s become quite a smothering person, and this whole routine of breaking down in tears and making the person you’ve bested in a romantic rivalry feel sorry for you instead of the other way around is a pretty passive-aggressive move. In Setsuna’s perfect world it would be possible to stay best friends with both Touma and Haruki and have Touma happily play the role of gracious loser, but the heart doesn’t work that way. This is the pattern I see in Setsuna, of wanting to have it both ways – and Touma and Haruki are willing enablers here, because not only do they also value the group dynamic but this way each of them can be close to the person they’re really in love with without breaking the heart of a friend they love.
At a distance it’s easy to see it can’t last. Even close up it’s easy – Hayasaki sees it and so do Takeya and Io, even if they’d rather close their eyes to the truth. And I think Touma and Haruki see it too, but even as they know they’re heading towards the cliff neither one of them is reaching for the brakes. The onsen trip was the cherry on top of the sundae, really – just a terrible idea, but quite beautiful in a heartbreaking way. Everyone piles into Touma’s mother’s BMW (in itself a bad idea, whether she’s 18 and licensed or not – I have no idea if she is) for a Christmas (which is an almost purely romantic holiday in Japan) trip to the mountains. Setsuna is trying so damn hard to keep anything from changing, but the tension is so thick in the air – especially between Haruki and Touma – that you could cut it with a knife. And just to add a little whipped cream on the cherry, why not all jump into the bath together?
That whole sequence really was beautiful – some of the best artwork I’ve seen from Satelight since Ikoku Meiro – but even absent Haruki’s foreboding narration you know it’s all going to end it tragedy. My gut feeling at this point is that no one is going to be able to be with anybody in the end, as the guilt will simply be too much – and that’s really the saddest outcome in a way, because not only will Setsuna be heartbroken but two people who were probably in love and had a real chance at a meaningful relationship will never have it. Sadly, in truth life works out more often that way than not – and full points to WA2 for depicting that in a pretty realistic way, if that’s how the series ends up. But that won’t make it feel any more like a happy ending.