White Album 2 – 12

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Let the bloodletting begin – but as usual, it will completely miss the point.

I’m not going to use the pretext of yet another stellar episode of White Album 2 to dump on Golden Time.  That series is still reaching me on a visceral level and I respect that, but for me, watching the two shows back to back (with 48 hours in-between) really does call up just how much more grace and sophistication WA2 is bringing to the table.  While both shows are depicting painful things happening to people you don’t want to see in pain, this one manages to do so without being torture to watch – which is what GT has become for me a good chunk of the time over the last two episodes.

I suspect there’s going to be a lot of the blame game being played (again) after this episode, but for me, it bears repeating that what makes White Album 2 so effective is the depiction of the three leads as real, complicated, flawed but ultimately relatable people.  Yes, they all bear some responsibility for what’s happened but I just don’t think it’s anything but their inexperience catching up with them.  They’re all smart and mature for their age (though the latter is debatable with Kazusa) but the point is that 17 and 18 year-old kids can be mature about taking care of their personal responsibilities and planning for their future and still be complete babes-in-the-woods when it comes to affairs of the heart.  It doesn’t make them bad people – it makes them kids.

This episode had plenty of friends trying to be good friends, but actually being bad friends.  But guess what – they’re 17 and 18 year-olds too, and they have no more idea about the right and wrong way to deal with all this than the leads do.  Haruki’s friends have mostly stayed silent about his romantic life despite seeing more of the truth with the benefit of distance, which is actually more of less the right thing to have done.  But when the moment of crisis comes, the urge to meddle is strong – and inevitably that means taking sides.  And inevitably here that means taking Setsuna’s side, because she’s the good girl – the good student, the good girlfriend, and she’s good for Haruki.  She must be, right?  Hell, she’s too good for him according to Takeya, his best friend.  Only Hayasaka seems to see close enough to the mark to know to stay out of it, but he’s had a better notion of the real Touma than Ito and Takeya all along.

Here’s the thing about free advice – well, you know it.  All that sop about having a future together, “just forget about her”, all of it is nonsense.  In truth, it’s never been said better than Emily Dickinson said it – the heart wants what it wants.  Simple, to the point, and an eternal truth that we all live with whether we like it or not.  What we’re finally seeing here, so close to the end, is that these smart and innocent adolescents are doing what smart kids do – learning.  It’s late in the game and it’s coming at the cost of a great deal of pain, but they’re coming to understand the situation at last.

This is most obvious, of course, with Setsuna – she says it outright during her conversation with Ito but she’s been saying it silently for weeks, and she’s always known it.  I’ve stated in the past that my personal opinion was that Setsuna was more responsible for knowingly bringing us to this point that the other two, and I think her own words bear that out.  There was some question about how much she knew and how much she might only have known subconsciously, but I think it’s clear she knew everything.  She knew Kazusa loved Haruki, she knew he loved Kazusa back, and she knew what she was doing when she “got between them”.  “Harmony” in Setsuna’s words might as well be a stand-in for “chemistry” because that’s what Haruki and Kazusa have – their hearts know what they want.

When Setsuna was unburdening herself to Ito I was basically just agreeing with her – she really should feel regret about doing what she did.  I was with her right up to the point she started calling herself a terrible person – then she lost me.  She, too, was just following her heart.  Maybe an adult might know how wrong it would be to intentionally try to slide between two shy people in love before they have a chance to tell each other how they feel – but maybe not.  In any event it’s to Setsuna’s credit that at least she’s willing to accept that she acted for selfish reasons, and knew when she did so that she was hurting two people she cared about.  It’s still selfish, though – and especially selfish, I think, is that she refused to let Kazusa go as a friend even knowing the agony she was inflicting by forcing her to be the third wheel.  This is a recurring pattern with Setsuna – she tries to manipulate other people so that she can have it both ways, but this causes her to over-reach and she loses everything as a result.

But you know, Haruki could just have said “No, I love someone else” – and he didn’t.  As I said two weeks ago Setsuna built this house of lies, but she built it with the lies of the other two.  It’s less clear to me than Kazusa and Haruki knew the other loved them as it is that Setsuna knew, but at the very least neither of them was honest with each other.  I’m sure some idiots are going to mock Haruki for crying but he damn well should have cried here – he was losing the girl he loved, hurting the girl he least wanted to hurt, and there was nothing he could do to prevent either from happening.  It’s absurd to think that a kid experiencing this kind of heartbreak for the first time shouldn’t react the way Haruki did just because he has a Y-chromosome.  If there’s anything that redeems this whole sad situation, it’s Setsuna finally giving in – finally admitting that it there was no way out of the hole the three of them had dug for themselves but to allow Haruki and Kazusa to finally be honest with each other and see where that took them.

Just where that does take them, I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s wrong for Kazusa to go to Vienna to be with her mother, even if she and Haruki are in love.  It’s best for her career, and she and her mother have a great deal of unspoken business with each other that Kazusa needs to confront before she can move on.  But that doesn’t have to be forever, and the moments (that damn snow!) between she and Haruki are so absurdly romantic that it’s hard not to hope they might have a future together.  Kazausa’s smile when Haruki said he loved her told the entire story – that and the fact that she was outside his apartment when he said it.  The heart wants what it wants.  Neither of them wants to hurt Setsuna, but the want is stronger when it comes to wanting to be together.  In real life that very often isn’t enough, but whether it is or not it can be the foundation of a beautiful love story – and White Album is spinning one of the better love stories we’ve seen in anime this year.

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  1. S

    I'm a late comer to this show, got caught up last week and I have to say I'm enjoying this show more than most this season. Here's my take on the entire thing.

    Setsuna is the crux and catalyst of the entire story. Without her, no one would've gotten together. Haruki and Kazusa are both people that wouldn't have gotten together. They're both types that wouldn't have gotten together on their own. Kazusa couldn't face the reality of her feelings and would have remained in complete denial to protect herself. Eventually she would have moved on. Haruki is more or less the type of person that goes with the flow. It's not a flaw, but a reality of most human nature. Rarely does a romance start as mutual between two people. He didn't think Kazusa had romantic feelings towards him so he went with the person that did. You can't blame him for choosing Setsuna at that point. Sure he may come out as a tool right now trying to pursue a romance with Kazusa while he was in one with Setsuna, but that imitates real life than the ideal noble people we make out ourselves out to. When your sucked into your emotions and the moment, it's difficult to detach yourself and think rationally what's the right thing to do.

    Setsuna is the most interesting character of the bunch though, she makes the entire story work and she is the story. I don't think she had any genuine romantic feelings towards Haruki. I believe she's acting out of self defense than romance. The only thing she wanted more than anything were friends. In her past, due to her passivity her friends left her. She knew Haruki and Kazusa had feeling for each other but she didn't want to become the third wheel in fear her friends would abandon her. This time she took the active route, convince herself she liked Haruki and try to hold the group together with thin loose threads. She really had two routes she could have gone, help them get together which I think she intended but her fear forced her to take the other route. This time she's going to lose everything due to being active instead of passive. That's what makes her character the most interesting of the bunch.

    I don't think there will be a happy ending to this story. I can see one there but I don't buy it if it ends that way with the current character development. If everything is to work out, basically Setsuna would have to accept Haruki and Kazusa's relationship and attempt to remain friends with them. I wouldn't buy that ending given her current immaturity. Sure she has accepted she was in the wrong to get between them but I think resolving the story in such a fashion would be forced to have a happy ending. These are kids clumsily falling in love and even even as adults people are clumsy in love.

    I'm interested in seeing how this will resolve. The ball is Setsuna's court and unfortunately I don't think the story will end happily unless it's a forced ending via the writer. As much as I've grown to like these characters, I think a tragedy would be the best course of action for this type of story. It goes against the entire normalcy of today's love stories. Some people may think they've wasted their entire time on a tragedy story, but I believe a well crafted tragedy imitates real life more than the feel good love stories we dream of having. There's a connection to tragedies that make them more relateable to our own lives than a fantasy love story we either eventually have or hope to have.

  2. Thanks for that thoughtful reply. I do disagree on a couple of points, and I think it's worth pointing out that the first two minutes if the first episode pretty much spoil that there's no happy ending.

    I do believe Haruki and Kazusa might have gotten together even without Setsuna's involvement. They were taking baby steps in that direction, but she's a self-loathing recluse and he's supremely cautious, so who knows. Yes, Setsuna is a catalyst – that's definitely her role. She's the one who makes things happen, or at least faster.

    Secondly, I strongly disagree that Setsuna has no romantic feelings for Haruki. They're tangled up in her possessiveness, which manifests in her desire to control people she likes so she won't get left again. But I think she genuinely fell in love with Haruki.

  3. M

    About a tragedy ending:

    While I definitely see your point,that's not to say a show can't have a happy ending and still work just as fine or at least a bittersweet one.

    I think the main problem with happy endings in a lot of animes is the fact that they often feel the need to use cop-outs in order to get that happy ending.All's fine as long as it's portrayed in a realistic manner if you ask me.

    (deleted the two posts above because I posted accidentaly posted a spoiler to a show,sry!)

  4. i

    The thing about White Album 2 is that only the introductory chapter has been animated – hence there is no "end" as of yet. Although there's no news about the closing chapter being animated.

  5. S

    I must apologize about what I said about Hakuri and Kazusa not getting together if Setsuna didn't get involved. I wasn't being clear. I was thinking of the time table that I didn't mention. I do agree that they were taking baby steps towards that direction but that will take a long time. If the story happened in their second year then maybe there had a better chance. But as you said, who knows. It's a moot point and that's really the Kimi ni Todoke story.

    As for your second point, I do agree she did eventually fall in love with Haruki. It's natural to fall in love with someone once you're dating them. But I just don't think her motive romance was the impetus of their relationship but rather driven out of fear of losing her friends as a third wheel. I simply chalk that up to her never having true friends. She couldn't see a place where she could remain good friends with both of them even if they had gotten together. It happens all the time in real life but she doesn't have the experience of it to realize she had a place in that situation. I think you had it right about her possessiveness manifestation.

    I hope that clears up where I'm coming from. Friendly debate is always welcome.

    The only ending I don't want is Setsuna sailing into the sunset hugging Haruki's head. I'll feel completely trolled if that happens.

  6. I see very little danger of that. Avoiding anime cliche is what this series is mostly about.

  7. s

    Aaaahhh, it's good to see people realizing that while its okay to say that "this person was in the wrong for this", these kids are inexperienced and at the end of the day, just understand their circumstances. It sure as hell doesnt change a character's insensitive actions, but we should treat these characters like human beings instead of anime caricatures.

  8. R

    Very well said. I'm impressed

  9. M

    I followed you in your defense of Haruki last time. That because I agree that everyone in this series is at fault, but their faults are human and excusable. But in the resolution of it all, he made a big mistake.
    – Kazusa: the easiest one to defend. Yes, she could have confessed to Haruki, but with all personal issues it's understandable she didn't. On top of it, she was ready to accept the consequences and walk away. (though phoning him in front of his apartment makes it borderline)
    – Setsuna: Yes, she acted selfishly by confessing and lost everything because she want it two ways. But she accepts her mistakes and has pretty much everything as a result.
    – Haruki: I kinda blame him for accepting Setsuna's confession. But he was overwhelmed, so their are ground for defense. I don't blame him for kissing Kazusa, but he had plenty of opportunity to come clean with Setsuna and he didn't. I do accept that he just lacked the courage and didn't think of using Setsuna as his 'safe-bet' because he thought Kazusa had left. Still, he treated Setsuna horribly. Not only did he throw Setsuna under the bus, he pulled her back and pushed her under a train. Humiliating her (referred by his friend) in front of a the group of people they will spend their college years with (referred by Sestuna's classmate), is not done. Yet, he walks away with the girl in the end.

    Everyone has the right to make mistakes. It's how you try to set them right and face the consequences that determine your character. The girls qualify. Haruki has a lot work to do.

    I consider it a great credit to this show that I can get so worked up about it…

  10. M

    typo: Setsuna has LOST pretty much everything as a result.

  11. h

    "though phoning him in front of his apartment makes it borderline"

    It's worth noting that Kazusa actually wasn't standing in plain sight in the original story. She was trying to stay hidden while saying goodbye, but an ambulance passed by during the phone call and Haruki realized she was nearby.

    Wonderful write-up as always, Enzo.

  12. D

    KOR: Modoka FTW. (sums it up I think)

  13. h

    "…grace and sophistication…." Nicely put

    There are no two ways about it, this is my favorite show of the season (unless they somehow screw it up in the last episode, which they won't). And it's in the running for best show of the year. This is the stuff I like most. It's the kind of thing I got in Simoun, NANA, and house of Five Leaves: a delicacy and complexity of feeling that leaves my chest hollow and aching.

    I expect Haruki and Kazuna to have some years on separate continents now. And Setsuna will probably be in the same college that Haruki is. Strong possibility of pain, awkwardness…and danger.

    I believe that Setsuna really did fall in love with Haruki on her own. He was the first boy in the school to treat her normally, and not like some untouchable star. And he was no retiring wimp, but a guy who had a plan and worked to get her involved in it.

    Once again, Saturday can't come too soon.

  14. f

    The only thing that really really bothered me about this episode was when Setsuna started calling herself dirty/nasty and essentially wrong for getting between haruki and touma. Like GE says, love is a selfish thing. We only pursue it if we want it, and at the end of the day, make no apologies for it.

    The problem with Setsuna shaming herself justifies a torrent of negative opinion towards setsuna and paints her as the clear "loser" and Touma (with that somewhat cheesy/mickey mouse ending) as the definitive "winner", when I pretty much agree with GE's sentiment that no ONE individual can/should be held responsible for this unfortunate scenario. Of course, this is all based on the loose assumption that this episode had a certain air of finality to it. And with one episode, left there's a lot that can still happen; but i can't help but feel that setsuna, haruki and touma are now boxed into their respective roles as homewrecker, two timer and redeemed lover.

  15. m

    love is unapologetic, but i think that you can both feel guilt and still end up doing it. you do see that she's confessing to ito, but not exactly apologising to touma for anything. the guilt is there, but i think setsuna doesn't really think she's wrong in doing it,

    but, i do agree with you that she does get boxed into the homewrecker role, and touma as the nice girl who deserves the guy. which is a little sad, but well, we do need a winner in a romance, otherwise it's just tragedy.

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