White Album 2 – 09

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What a fine bloody mess this is turning out to be.

It’s a shame none of the central cast of WA2 has heard that old adage about ripping off the band-aid, because the longer this whole confrontation is deferred the worse the pain is going to be.  I’ll give Kazusa credit for at least trying to exercise a little common sense here, but there’s not much of that coming from the other two parties.  The funny thing is that all three of them know better, but knowing better is at best half the battle in life, and usually less.

I think romance anime are a lot like horror in one important respect, and it’s in that sense that White Album 2 reminds me a lot of 2011’s Shiki.  That seems like an odd comparison I admit, but I think romance series, as do horror, fall into two broad categories.  First we have the suspense stories, where the tension comes from the mystery and in not knowing when something terrible is going to happen.  But then there are the tragedies, like Shiki, where it’s pretty clear early on what’s happening – and the drama comes from knowing what’s going to happen and being unable to do anything about it.  It’s not as though Elizabethan and Greek theater-goers didn’t know how Macbeth or Oedipus Rex were going to end, but that wasn’t the point – the playwright’s job was to get the audience caught up in the experience.

I found myself quite torn in watching this episode, part of me really wanting to hate these characters (Haruki, Setsuna and Kazusa in descending order) for what was happening.  Then another part of me says well – they’re kids, and it’s the privilege of youth to have your heart broken because of inexperience in romance.  But that’s too simple a canard, really, because the fact is that older people make the same sort of mistakes in romance that kids do – they just don’t have as convenient a blanket excuse.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this – while I expressed my frustrations three weeks ago with WA2 for Haruki being another clueless male lead and wondered if it was just an inherent flaw of the high-school romance genre, this series may just be an example of the high-school setting for romance being used in a good way.  I suppose one way to say it is that the characters here are “believably stupid” – they’re actually smart kids, but their lack of experience in relationships (and older role models to help them, seemingly) is leading them to disaster.  This works narratively because the characters are indeed likeable and not generally idiots, and also because it’s hard not to feel a certain empathy for what they’re going through.  It sucks, but these sorts of things do happen to teenagers, and rather a lot.

That said, my urge to strangle was stronger this week than ever.  Haruki, especially, because it’s now clear beyond any doubt that he’s fully aware of his feelings for Kazusa and he continues to proceed with Setsuna.  And not just proceed, but accelerate – getting a little more physical, and trying to get more alone time with her.  It’s interesting how the two of them react differently to the hard truth they both pretend doesn’t exist.  Haruki is trying to force himself to feel committed to her by putting them in “couple situations”, as if that will make him more accepting of the fact that she’s the only one for him.  Setsuna – as she has from the start – is desperately avoiding couple situations because she doesn’t want anything to force Haruki to confront the truth head-on.  They’re both living in a sort of fantasy, and each trying to perpetuate it in opposite ways.  Haruki seems to think acting as if they’re a couple will fool them into thinking they really are, and Setsuna that refusing to act like a couple will keep them from realizing they’re not.

There’s more than enough blame to go around here, that’s for certain.  In point of fact I still believe Setsuna pushed Haruki into a commitment he wasn’t ready to make, and it was a sort of Hail, Mary pass for her – she saw it as her only chance and she forced the issue.  She may have been right, but in fact I think Haruki does have romantic feelings for her – yes, people do legitimately have them for both opposite corners of a love triangle sometimes – so if she’d waited, who knows?  She was probably screwed either way – I do think his feelings for Kazusa are stronger – but it made their relationship a house of cards from the get-go.  I can’t think Setsuna will have missed the subtext of Haruki’s “I need to prove you’re the only one for me” comment – a shockingly awkward thing to say, as he realized almost as soon as he’d blurted it out – but she’s so invested in her fantasy that she’d rather perpetuate it than bring things to a head.

It’s really only Kazusa – for all her irritatingly juvenile personal interaction – who’s trying to do the right thing.  She’s trying to extract herself from this tangle but the other two just won’t damn well let her go – and of course because she’s in love with Haruki and suspects he is with her, there’s always the temptation to allow herself to be pulled back in.  If Haruki and Setsuna are a couple they can’t be best friends with Kazusa – period, end-of-sentence.  They all know it (so do Haruki’s friends, especially Hayasaki) but Kazusa is the only one who’s trying act accordingly.  Her only recourse, then, is music – it can distract her, give her an excuse to avoid the others, and give her a goal to focus on.  But it’s not enough to make her forget (she makes that indisputably clear in her own words) and as long as the others keep dragging her back into the pile, eventually she’s worn-down and allows herself to be dragged.  She deserves better, but really, they all do – they’re good people.  But since all the heartbreak they’re about to experience is of their own making, that fact just makes it harder to watch it all unfold.

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  1. E

    Let's just hope Haruki doesn't turn into another 'Makoto' from School Days.

  2. m

    He won't. He's far from flawless, but he is no bastard either. Nevertheless, better brace for heavy drama.

  3. h

    Once again, awesome analysis!

    The characters are definitely not clueless – it seems pretty clear now that Haruki knows that he likes Kazusa, and Setsuna, being the most perceptive character of the three, probably has a near full grasp of the situation. I think last week's episode showing Setsuna noticing Haruki's reaction to Kazusa may having a boyfriend made it clear that she knows which way Haruki's feeling lies. The only thing is that I don't think Haruki really knows that Kazusa likes him as well.

    Yet, none of them is coming out and say what's going on. They're all trying to avoid the issue in their own ways, which isn't working out well. I love the writing in this show.

  4. m

    I'm 95% in agreement with your summary, GE, except for one little detail: I do NOT think that Kazusa is aware how much Haruki is torn and wavering. She is aware of her own feelings – absolutely. She is clearly laying the groundwork to sever contact and leave. This is why she has been giving Haruki the cold shoulder. This is why she chose Beethoven's "Les Adieux" Sonata (hat tip to Arya for figuring this out). This is why she was trying to get one more "lame" look of Haruki to burn into her memories while publically claiming that "she never feels a thing" doing so. Liar ^_^;

    I think that Kazusa has simply decided to break free from the close threesome (which would leave her unhappy), and she is pushing Haruki – who had (seemingly) friendzoned her earlier pretty harshly – on Setsuna to make sure that she won't be lonely. And without Haruki and Setsuna, music is all she has left.

  5. h

    I don't blame any of them. They are blindly navigating the sea of love, as we all do. If they were more rational, it wouldn't be love.

    Haruki loves Setsuna and wants to intensify their relationship. He is aware of his affection for Touma, but sees no sign she is interested in him that way. And if you asked him which he loved more, he might even say Setsuna.

    Touma can't bring herself to get between her friends, and in any case doesn't see herself as any rival to the appeal of Setsuna. Moreover, her ingrained depression keeps her locked up, choosing sadness over happiness as her normal state. I don't see her exercising "common sense," just falling into her normal state and preventing herself from being hurt.

    For me, no blame attaches to Setsuna. She is straightforwardly pursuing her love, while still not pushing it too far…yet. I'm not so sure she understood Haruki's statement about proving something to himself, and in any case it can be felt as romantic rather than doubtful. Even now, I think that if Touma took herself out of the picture, the Hazuki-Setsuna relationship could flourish. Of course, much as Touma thinks she wants to bow out, in the end she won't.

    In any case, this episode (as opposed to last episode) returns this show to a very high place in my affections. Definitely my favorite show of the season, with sensitive portrayals of the nearest thing to real emotion anime provides.

    The comparison with Shiki is brilliant. Disaster has been looming from the start, and we are just having the details lovingly painted for us as we proceed toward the tragedy and (hopefully) its aftermath.

  6. M

    I also liked the comparison with Shiki.That show's like,so under-the-radar…I just stumbled across it about 2 years ago and found myself marathoning it in one night.I just couldn't stop,heh.

  7. I have to admit, I was rather pleased I thought of that… LOL

    I definitely don't absolve Set-chan from blame here – I think she's been manipulating the other two far more than they've been manipulating her. Her intentions are good, but I see her making a lot if mistakes driven by her insecurity. She's knowingly (at least on some level) pursuing a lie because she's afraid of the truth. It's childish – but these are still basically children.

    I admit it's an open question just how much Kazusa suspects the truth of Haruki's feelings, but I think she has a pretty good idea that he's at least conflicted between the two girls, and that makes her feel guilty. I think that as much as anything is driving her to separate herself from them.

  8. M

    Well,as opposed to the other two,Kazusa is indeed trying to do the right thing but she's not going too well about it.I think she's trying too much not to hurt Setsuna at all by still keeping slight contact with her while ignoring Haruki.In doing so,she only makes him more anxious and she should be well-aware how persistent he is.Her way of separating herself from the two will backfire on her.

  9. H

    I find it hard to 'blame' Setsuna for anything here. She *should* be able to keep both her friend and her boyfriend, especially since they don't hate each other. I don't even see where Kazusa is doing anything that could be remotely construed as leading Haruki on. First she tries to set appropriate boundaries, then correct his behavior, and finally tries to avoid contact with him. I also don't see why she should have to give up her friendship with Setsuna, but she's even willing to try that for the sake of Haruki x Setsuna. The main problem I see is Haruki's inability to deal with his crush on Kazusa, and he even realizes this. Still, he stubbornly tries to continue seeing Kazusa, even as he thinks of trying to focus on Setsuna.

  10. M

    It's a bit odd that you describe Setsuna as a bit manipulative (and rightly so), but seem to have missed the point of what she's trying to do. She's not avoiding couple-situations any more.
    Her message to Touma about the birthday party is clear: she wants Touma's approval of their relationship going further. If Touma comes too they'll just be three friends having a party. If Touma doesn't come, she gives her implicit ok to Haruki and Setsuna being together, alone, in an empty house,…
    I'm not saying it is the right thing to do, but for Setsuna it makes perfect sense. Because of her past, she desperately doesn't want to do anything that could be interpreted as going behind Touma's back.

  11. I think that's taking the best possible view of Setsuna's actions, which if course you're perfectly entitled to do. Touma (unless you know VN spoilers we don't or I missed an important line of dialogue) has no idea Setsuna's family isn't going to be there, so as far as she knows she's not approving anything. For me Setsuna is just doing her usual routine of trying to have it both ways.

  12. S

    Is this just me or is anyone reminisce of the Kimikiss dynamic in this show, with the exception that they combined Mao + Eriko into Touma and Asuka + Yuumi into Ogiso? I can feel them almost going towards the same ending.

    Though, does anyone know if this is gonna be one cour (White Album 2 introductory chapter only) or two cour (with the three year time skip, though its gonna be funny to see how they title this sequelization)?

  13. e

    Not watching this (still undecided) but going by Enzo's posts so far actually the dynamics in this remind me a lot of the Kimagure Orange Road anime, down to to the fairer haired-one and brunette saxophone+piano player one behaviour (my first and unforgettable Madoka in anime. Also one of my childhood-defining mighty fictional girlcrushes ) in condensed and more srs bsnss from the start form :> .
    For how frustrating that series could get for me as a kid I liked the KOR ending – and adored their charades. Akemi Takada was one of the best when it came to design soft round-ish and attractive features – but I'm not sure I would subject myself to watch again a somehow similar – or different. Especially if different – outcome unfold. Which kind of ending they're gonna pick and how they go at it here will probably be the clincher for me :,).

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