This has been a really intense anime week emotionally, and it was pretty much a given that White Album was going to deliver some big-time feels considering where it left off last week. It’s a different sort of intensity with this series, though – more of a gentle and deep ache than an acute stabbing through the heart. WA2 is a lot of things, but one of them is certainly reflective – it’s a show that takes a very sympathetic approach with its characters, despite all the mistakes they make. If anything, this is a story about why hearts get broken even when no one intends to break them, and why young hearts are so vulnerable to being broken.
It was an interesting move, stepping outside the present in order to deliver the better part of two episodes as Kazusa’s flashbacks this late in the game. But given how great these two eps have been I can only call it a good one. It’s not as though she was especially good at hiding her feelings – certainly nowhere near as good as she thought she was, and Haruki was apparently the only one fooled. But despite the many traits she possesses that I normally find annoying in anime characters, it’s Kazusa’s perspective that I find the most interesting and the most emotionally involving among the cast. The reason, I think, is that these kids don’t come off as anime characters – they come off as people, and because of that, what in a lesser series would be dismissed as a tsundere comes off as a warm but emotionally stilted person who’s locked in a perpetual battle with herself that she can never win.
I won’t say there are any major surprises in seeing the events of the last six months play out from Touma’s perspective, but what they make clear is the extent to which she was in-touch with her feelings for Haruki, and for how long. Stealing kisses from sleeping crushes is a fairly pathetic move, honestly, much less when the crush’s girlfriend is in the back seat (she held herself back there, at least). What is it in Touma that makes her so keen to – in her own words – “treat herself like she doesn’t matter”? Clearly the rejection she feels – not entirely without justification – that she’s gotten from her mother (who has exquisite taste in wine, by-the-way – a bottle of ’89 Haut Brion will fetch more than $1000 at auction, which is the only way you’re going to get it) is a big part of it. As in many cases hostility expressed towards others is at heart hostility directed at ourselves, but it isn’t always easy for the other person to figure that out. When someone lashes out at you, it hurts – especially if that someone is a person you genuinely care about.
I think it would be valid to ask “what did Haruki know and when did he know it?” at this stage. After seeing this episode my sense is that he did try, in a very cautious way, to let Kazusa know he had romantic feelings for her. There was a lot of blushing on both sides, a gift that clearly meant something to him, and especially that conversation about the “other person” giving him guitar lessons. It’s interesting that Touma was teaching him even as he was obeying the unheard “follow me” order of the mystery pianist in Music Room 2. I could be wrong, but I got the sense that Haruki was trying to tell Touma that he knew or at least suspected it was her playing that piano (though he did seem legitimately surprised when he found out later) but it really doesn’t matter – there was clearly a connection between these two that each of them cared a great deal about.
The tragedy of all this is that all it would have taken is for either of them to be honest with each other and this story would have gone in a very different direction. Haruki played it cautiously and was put off by Touma’s consistent belittling, and Touma simply couldn’t bring herself to matter. In truth I don’t think either of them believed it was truly possible for the other to be in love with them, and that’s where Setsuna came in – she saw what was happening more clearly than either Touma or Haruki did, and she acted. The wisdom and ethics of what she did can certainly be debated – I don’t think there’s any question she knew Kazusa and Haruki were in love with each other and wanted to act before either of them figured it out. But it can’t be denied that she was decisive and open about her own feelings in a way neither of the others were. Her mistake, perhaps (though like all the mistakes in this story it’s eminently forgivable and more sad than anything) was in wanting to keep the three of them together as friends while keeping Haruki to herself in the romance department. Setsuna, Setsuna – you flew close to the sun, and you got burned…
It’s a sorry state all of this has built up to. It’s brutally clear through her perspective scenes just how agonizing it was for Kazusa to keep up the charade as long as she did. And it’s clear through her confrontation with Haruki in the snow outside Tokyo Station (I wish it snowed in Tokyo nearly as often as it does in anime – it’s beautiful and highly romantic) just what’s always existed between the two of them that never did between he and Setsuna – passion. Haruki and Setsuna act the role of koibito – albeit awkwardly – but there’s an electricity between he and Setsuna that could light up an undersea astronaut training base. And there always was, right from the beginning – it was always clear where his feelings ran, but not alas to Kazusa herself.
But that and ¥250, as they say, will get you a tall drip at the Marunouchi Starbucks. Their kiss (or kisses) was yet another case of a mistake that neither party can really be blamed for. It had been building for so long but where does it leave them? I don’t think Haruki was wrong for finally kissing her – how could he resist, knowing that the girl he loved really did love him back? And I don’t blame her for pushing him away and telling him “Don’t play around with me!” From her perspective he’s doing just that, though that couldn’t be farther from his mind. It’s the recurring theme of WA2 – somehow this kids just aren’t quite connecting, each of them too lacking in experience and caught in their own worldview to see things through the eyes of the other.
It’s worth nothing that this is merely the “introductory chapter” of the White Album 2 VN, so there’s no way we’re going to see this through to a definitive conclusion without a second season. And while I’d love to see that second season, I think that’s as it should be – there’s too much subtlety and depth in this story to see it artificially concluded now. Even if Kazusa weren’t about to go to Vienna to live with her mother, how could either she or Haruki extract themselves from the hopeless entanglement their feelings for Setsuna represent? There are no good options here, and no quick fixes either – all three of these kids are going to be hurt, though we don’t know who will be hurt the most. It’s tempting to see this as a question of ripping off the band-aid – is it a sharp pain now or a long, drawn-out agony for Setsuna and Haruki? That’s what it will be if they try to pretend the truth of Haruki and Kazusa’s feelings don’t exist, and he lives every day of his relationship with Setsuna thinking about what he’s lost with Kazusa. None of them deserve the painful time they’re going to endure, and none of them intended for it to happen – but it’s an inescapable truth that can’t be avoided. Perhaps, too, it’s a necessary part of taking the final steps from childhood to adulthood.