White Album 2 – 08

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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.

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16 comments

  1. h

    Enzo, you are very perceptive in your analysis of this episode. I also think it's nice that you skip the summary and instead spend more time on expanding your thoughts.

    I liked the use of supporting characters in this episode. They have an idea of what might be going on, but they care about all three main characters, and there's not much they can do at this point other than watching and hoping that the fragile balance between the main trio somehow holds up.

    Anyway, glad you're covering this show! It really deserves more attention.

  2. m

    Agreed. It's a complete shame that this gem – a niche gem, but a gem nonetheless – is receiving so little attention.

  3. H

    This show really isn't hurting for attention. It's the 6th most talked about new show on 2chan through a week ago, and I know of quite a few people who are ranking it very highly, as well as it moving consistently up kevo's aniblogsphere Anime Power Rankings, solidly in the top 5, as well as being a top VN for quite a while as I understand it. the anime is not ruining the mindshare that the game has.

    If there aren't that many bloggers talking about it, I put more of that down to the fact that most bloggers don't really like to blog about romance shows (out of 8 writers at Metanorn, I'm able to pick up just about any romance show I want, because noone else wants them).

  4. Arigatou, Spring-person. I just don't see much point in recaps apart from premieres and movies – if you didn't watch the ep you're probably not reading the post to find out what happened if you're reading it at all…

  5. Z

    Not everyone likes romance fiction. White Album, and other VN romances of its ilk, are neither in short supply nor popular support. PP and SnK like to get shat on by that crowd (arguably justified) but it's slim pickings out there. You have to take what you can get sometimes.

  6. M

    I think it's correct that in the real world everyone would be left alone, as to much damage would have been done by the time it gets resolved. But as the anime world rules want an 'happy' ending I think we're heading to Touma/Haruki.
    Setsuna knows she's losing. Watch how she notices Haruki's reaction when Touma says she could have a boyfriend next year. But I don't think she's actively invoking the passive-agressive strategy. As Haruki reminds us, the reason is that she's still scarred from earlier experiences.

    What keeps setting this series apart from so many other romances is how the characters keep acting like real people. Their friends aren't complete idiots; and Setsuna and Touma may love Haruki, but when he acts like too much of an ass, they hang him out to dry and go to the party.

    Final thought: when Setsuna said "I wish you were a boy", I was just thinking the same. Couldn't they ditch Haruki and go third option? They'd make a nice yuri couple

  7. M

    I can imagine that if Touma was male and the MC of the series,"his" & Setsuna's relationship would just go too smoothly and it'd probably get boring after a while.Gotta have that spicy dose of drama!You rarely see it done right after all 😛

  8. Yes, these kids are refreshingly realistic. And I'd say about 75% of Setsuna's emotional manipulation is subconscious. But it's still happening.

  9. R

    I think that Setsuna really wants (consciously or not) to make her idol dream come true: turning a small high school band into celebrities. That kind of fairy tale.
    This is, I believe, why she wants the 3 of them stick together this hard, and shoehorning singing in nearly every conversation.
    My main clue is how she got super-fixated on the Sound of Destiny song for the festival, and why her parents had an issue with her singing. I may be reading too much into it but it fits. She may have done the same with her previous circle of friends.

  10. M

    Looks like that train still wants to accelerate some more before finally crashing down.It's becoming almost frightening now…this momentary peace is just too deceptive.

    Honestly,I expected to see Haruki & Setsuna more interested in each other now that they're dating and if not him,then at least her.I thought she was going to push her advantage but she wants to keep the status quo instead.Seeing as she's still as perceptive as ever makes it hard to believe that she just let her guard down.Setsuna's is certainly the most curious character for me.While she can be perceptive,straightforward & selfish,she still manages to be very naive.

    Touma is still managing to stay composed but Setsuna really isn't making it any easier for her and Haruki being as persistent as he is doesn't help either.Makes you wonder how much more she can take.

  11. i

    Obvious heartbreaks ahead, yes, yes, yes. More importantly I was just checking out your Chihayafuru stuff on Amazon and the first season's full episode DVD set was 'currently unavailable'. Does that mean Amazon don't have it or LiA don't have it?

  12. It means whoever is supplying Amazon is. I'll check later and see if I can find another listing somewhere on there – is it the import or the US edition?

  13. i

    Its the import, does that complicate things?

  14. No, just want to make sure I'm checking the right ISBN. Unfortunately it looks as if Amazon's supplier is OOS – until they get it back there's nothing I can do. It's the only SKU for the full season on DVD anywhere on Amazon.

  15. y

    Beware of bootlegs everyone. This is not a legitimate release, even if it's listed via Amazon Marketplace.

  16. K

    Is this guy really a man? I can't believe he didn't do anything!

    TQ

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