White Album 2 – 10

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This is one of those anime episodes that make me ask – if the medium is capable of such brilliance, why can’t we see it more often?

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.

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  1. 1

    Great episode review, keep it up! I've been amazed by this series so far. Even though in this episode, most of the focus was on Kazusa and Haruki, I gotta say I felt most sorry for Setsuna. My heart broke at the beginning.

  2. S

    Reading your posts about this series is so enjoyable. It makes me want to rewatch the episode again with your analysis in mind.

  3. b

    A review so nice, you posted twice? πŸ˜‰

  4. Lovely to hear that, thanks 6F.

  5. h

    Setsuna "built the house, but it was built on the lies of the other two." Brilliant. "Lies" is the right word, but still sounds heavy. They are white lies, at least. But just as dangerous as the blackest.

    This show, for some reason, did not surprise me with its excellence. The fact that the studio, staff, and cast were all changed from the first series gave me irrational hope, and the trailer made me feel that the hope might be justified.

    Like you, I do not blame anyone here, despite the fact that they have worked together to bring this upon themselves. The human condition. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  6. M

    It definitely took someone as persistent as Haruki to break through Kazusa's shell.People like him can indeed be annoying at first but there's a chance for them to become some of your best friends.They have to be dependable enough to back up their words though(Haruki most certainly is) ,otherwise they'll just look like an annoying know-it-all who just likes to preach.I've known both cases πŸ˜›

    At any rate,a great episode and a great review as usual.I also definitely agree that it's hard to blame any of them once you understand their circumstances.Sure,we could be pointing fingers in all directions but I believe that would take away from the overall enjoyment of this awesome show.The characters's behavior is very human,they have their flaws like every one of us and are portrayed in a very realistic fashion – I'm more than content with that!

    Also,while I certainly appreciate a good parental figure in a show,I'm really liking the fact that they're going through this blindly,without outside aid from friends or family.There's absolutely no spoon-feeding here which makes it all the more enjoyable for me to see them try to sort things out on their own.

  7. S

    The best romance episode for a looong long time, regardless of medium. Heartbreakingly brilliant. And your review is quite inspired, too. Thanks!

  8. h

    That was one of my favorite confession scenes of all time. The way Touma gradually warmed up to Haruki and fell in love with him was also realistic. Haruki was the only person who kept approaching Touma and breaking down the fall she had built around herself.

  9. S

    Damn, this was good. For a moment there, Haruki overlapped a bit with Shinji, too– "How could I know if you never said anything!?" But yeah, super powerful. Great episode, although I'm still not too confident in how this show is going to hold up over 26 episodes.

  10. S

    Welp, I just learned that it's not actually 26 episodes. Makes a lot more sense that way, though.

  11. R

    However, it's an adaption of a visual novel. This is introductory chapter, closing chapter is like twice as long or something. The story won't completely finish unless we get another season. Don't know anything about where the story goes since I didn't read any of it.

  12. i

    I think I know why there aren't more anime like WA2. It's not to do with Otaku having poor taste and eyes only for moe girl, fanservice and pandering. Simply put it's the type of entertainment. I can watch a moe anime, comedy or battle anime while doing homework. The anime doesn't require any thought or brain processing power on my part to enjoy and in the case of comedy at least leaves smiling.

    But if I watch WA2 or Kyousogiga or GT I need to be focused and I need to think and understand what is going on because so much of the charm is in the things unsaid, little glances and muttered phrases. That taxes my brain and in the case of WA2 I haven't smiled once after an episode ends. It's a different and very enjoyable kind of entertainment, one built on tension rather than mystery, on tragedy rather than hope. A bit like watching Grave of the Fireflies, I'd say. I've watched Summer Wars/The girl who leapt through time a dozen times a piece but GotF is better and I've only watched it once. It's a different kind of entertainment and one that some people don't want to handle. It's the same with GoT, the best parts (having now read up to book 4) are omitted because they're not entertaining on a mass level but on an intellectual level instead, and I think it's obvious that the masses are not intellectual or at least don't want to be in front of the tube.

  13. J

    I hate it when love becomes adulterated with selfishness in the sense of "if I can't have him, then I am devastated and as good as dead." If there is no commitment between two parties, then you don't have a right to be jealous. Setsuna may be weird and clingy, but Touma is the kind of character I despise in love stories. She's the storm cloud character that causes everyone to get hurt and lose. Poor Setsuna, who sacrificed family time (though it was stupid of her not to inform her friends about it) to spend time with the two people she loved was not only stood up by her should be commited boyfriend, but by her best friend as well.

    You don't need to be committed to someone to love someone. Sure, that's really nice and it sucks you can't commit yourself to someone who's already committed, but muscling your way in to try and take him from your friend is just flat out wrong. Love is an action, not an emotion. It's why Clannad Afterstory will likely reign supreme as the greatest anime love story for a long time.

  14. m

    Your second paragraph feels weird to me, because it describes exactly what _Setsuna_ did, not Kazusa. It was Setsuna who was fully aware that she was trying to squeeze herself into the budding relationship between Kazusa and Haruki, and consciously trying to preempt Kazusa with her confession (things will get even more clear about this soon). She was always fully aware of that, too, and sought absolution from Kazusa on the roof.

    Kazusa, on the other hand, tried her best to deal with it constructively. She did NOT run a guilt trip on Setsuna. She told Haruki time and time again to cut it out and concentrate on Setsuna instead. However, she knew (felt!) that she couldn't be happy in this triangle. What are you blaming her for? Feeling unhappy to see the guy she loves being with her best friend?

    I don't blame Setsuna. All is fair in love and war, and she tries to be with the one she loves even if it means intruding in a pre-existing relationship. Fine. I don't blame Haruki much. He seriously didn't "get" it and gave up on Kazusa instead of trying. I do blame him for making a commitment prematurely, and being unable to truthfully tell Setsuna that he's wavering. But I sure don't blame Kazusa, who tried to be fair and how out, simply because she couldn't cope. It was due to Haruki's stubborn insistence that in the end her facade broke. A picture-perfect case of "shit happens".

    Noone has the right to demand their love to be reciprocated. But everyone has the right to get away from the person they can't have.

  15. J

    Setsuna didn't insert herself into anything. There was no budding relationship between Kazusa and Haruki. She figured out Kazusa like Haruki to the point she would have pursued a relationship, but Kazusa wasn't in any relationship.

    The whole 'woe is me, I can't have him' isn't love at all. It's selfishness and lust. If you can't be around your friends because the guy is someone you wanted to be in a relationship, then you don't deserve them as friends. You are better off running away. If she truly loved them, she could be with them.

  16. s

    You're misunderstanding Touma and generalizing true love and friendship. We see how attracted Haruki is to Touma in the hot springs episode. She does nothing to reciprocate his feelings. Had she continued to stay with the two, what would Haruki have done? The relationship between him and Setsuna would begin to collapse and Setsuna would feel sad and blame Touma for it. In fact, we see in these episodes Haruka seeking Touma out. Of course, part of his intentions is to make her hang out with them, but there's some underlying force behind it as well. Touma runs away not only because she can't have Haruki, but also because she doesn't want Setsuna to get hurt. Part of it involves your self-proclaimed "woe is me" selfishness, but nobody's perfect, and it's certainly not Touma's main reason. Just cite the times when Touma says to Haruki, "You have a girlfriend to take care of."

    True love? Some people run away/do seemingly bad things because they want to protect the people they love. For example, Kyou in her Clannad chapter.

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