I just have to scrape my jaw off the floor after that episode of White Album, to be honest. I’m floored by how good it way, and how unlike most of what we see in high-school romance (well, that may be the understatement of the Millennium). The direction reminded me very much of Watanabe Shinichirou – and coming from me that’s very high praise indeed, believe me. I don’t want to say WA2 came completely out of left field for me, but at least a very deep shortstop – given the prior series, the director and the studio, it’s fair to say this show is not at all what I was expecting. And equally fair to say this might just have been its best episode yet.
If I had to sum up what made this episode especially powerful for me, I think it would how effortless it was. I think we see total confidence in the material here – the characters express themselves, their feelings are clear, and we feel what they feel. The Watanabe comparison for me comes in the very minimalist style of the direction – the music is interwoven into the story (I love how Touma’s choice of piece reflects her state of mind) and never overwhelms it. There’s so much restraint and dignity in the way this story is told, but it’s by no means cold and detached – it simply understands that the point doesn’t need to be oversold. It’s speaking a language we all understand, and I think this is an episode you could watch without subtitles and have no difficulties in understanding everything that was happening.
Without a doubt Touma was asking a question fans of romance anime have wanted to ask of a hundred protagonists a thousand times – “Why are you so stupid?” Yet in truth, while I want so desperately to blame someone for all this pain, once the flush of the moment cools a little I realize – it really isn’t anyone’s fault. That’s not to say no one is responsible – all three of the protagonists are responsible to varying degrees – but I can’t reflect on the story and say any of them are to blame. They’re amazingly, maddeningly realistic 17-18 year old kids – smart, mature in many ways, but lacking the experience to read each others’ signals and the confidence to be honest with each other. I want to smack each of them, and then hug them.
It’s funny, because while Touma is the most socially awkward of the three by far, I think she’s been the least selfish in many ways. Her main contribution to the problem has been to allow herself to be swept along in the wake of the others, ending up in a situation she knew was untenable. It makes me think of The Godfather – “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in again!” She’s trying to break free – which is by no means easy for her, as Setsuna is her best friend and she’s in love with Haruki – but they won’t let her go. Haruki and Setsuna are both being selfish when it comes to Touma – they want her around because of their feelings for her, but are either blind to what her feelings are, or able to convince themselves those feelings are different than they really are.
Both the moment of reckoning between Haruki and Touma on the streets of Marunouchi and the elegant flashback sequence of how she fell in love with him are superbly done. The former is one of those moments where the urge to blame is strong – both for the character and the viewer. My dominant thought at the time of watching was that Haruki had a hell of a nerve making these kinds of demands of Touma – she’s not his girlfriend, Setsuna is. He’s not offering her a commitment, or even a statement of his true feelings – he, like Setsuna, wants it both ways. But as she says, this is a “nightmare” for her – they want her to be stared in the face every day by what she wants and can never have. Yet in truth, Touma has had every opportunity to come clean with Haruki, to tell him the truth – and she never has (and in fact, has gone out of her way to be dismissive of him). It’s no more fair for her to expect him to decipher her feelings unaided than it is for him to make demands on her when he isn’t her partner. Both of them are to blame, and neither.
It’s always the knowledge of what’s to come and not the mystery that drives the tension in WA2, so it’s only fitting that the narrative often goes in reverse. Knowing where things would end up, it’s even more bittersweet to watch the process of Haruki unlocking Touma’s heart slowly, with his dogged persistence and decency. It’s not hard to understand – for all that you want to strangle him for being so blind to so many signs, he’s clearly a person of substance. There’s very little BS with Haruki, at least where his romantic feelings aren’t involved. You can’t help but think that if either he or Touma had simply been honest with each other a little sooner, most of this heartbreak could have been avoided – because it’s never been less than clear to me that they were the two characters in the triangle who reciprocated each other’s feelings.
That’s the real tragedy for Setsuna in all this – she’s always been the third wheel and on some level she knew it, even if the other two didn’t. She did what she thought she had to – acted pre-emptively, while she had the chance – but I think she’s only deferred and intensified her pain, not escaped it. While Kazusa and Haruki never came clean with their feelings, Setsuna manipulated everyone and tried to hold everything together. She built the house, but it was built on the lies of the other two. All of them are responsible but it’s very hard to blame any of them, under these circumstances. Haruki and Kazusa lie to the other two – Setsuna lies to herself. But the truth can only be avoided for so long, because the heart wants what it wants and in the end, all of us are selfish by nature.