White Album 2 – 13 (End) and Series Review

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Sometimes we find gems where we least expect them.

This is what I said way back in October, when I blogged the premiere of this series:

“This might be that golden unicorn – a high school romance that avoids getting so bogged down in the usual bullshit that it offers something worthwhile to the genre.”

Mission accomplished.

I certainly had no expectations for White Album 2.  I bailed early on the first series, and I’ve never played the VN either show is based on.  And let’s face it – for every good pure romance set in high-school there are dozens that range from mediocre to awful, and very few that have anything new or interesting to say, and the ability to say it in an interesting way.  I take pride in my ability to spot the sleepers on every schedule, but there’s no substitute for keeping an open mind and watching as many premieres as humanly possible.  And for the recommendations of people you trust.

If you’d asked me how I thought the final episode of WA2 was likely to go, this is about how I would have guessed it’d play out.  But that’s not a criticism – if anything, it’s a testament to the fact that the narrative of this show progresses in a believable way.  I said earlier that it was like a romance equivalent of Shiki – a tragedy where the tension and heartbreak comes not from suspense, but from knowing exactly what was coming and not being able to look away.

The fact is that very little happened for much of this episode for the simple reason that it didn’t have to.  It was pretty clear to everyone what was happening.  Of course we did get a tastefully (thank goodness – that wasn’t necessarily a given with this show) done sex scene with Haruki and Kazusa at his apartment – another rarity for anime teen romances, one where they actually acknowledge the act of making love.  But it wasn’t fetishized or even especially erotic – it had more of a feeling of desperation about it.  Both of them knew that this was the end of something and not a beginning, and for all the regrets they’d each accumulated about the way events in this series played out, neither Kazusa or Haruki wanted to go through life never having been intimate with the person they fell in love with.

The narrative choices this adaptation has taken have been interesting – jumping back and forth in the timeline, leaving out chunks of information so the audience would see only the part of the truth the writer wanted us to see.  As the romance part of the story passed Setsuna by, she became the point-of-view character – giving us the outsider perspective on the events of the final day of the series (though not, thankfully, the one that took place in Haruki’s apartment).  Setsuna is certainly adrift – she’s lost her partner and her best friend – but she’s not the only one suffering.  And in point of fact, she stays pretty true to herself right up to the end.

Setsuna is frankly right in that she’s done more to bring this situation about than either of the other two – I’ve made my views on that clear – though in not getting angry at Haruki for what’s happened she’s actually making him feel worse.  My personal view is that she knows this very well and that’s one of the reasons she’s doing it – Setsuna has always known more than she was letting on.  I think Setsuna is quite addicted to playing the martyr – for example, when she broke down crying in front of Kazusa after just having effectively stolen Haruki out from under her.  Here it manifests in her insistence in dragging Haruki to Narita to try and find Kazusa before she leaves, despite his preference to let things lie.  She knows what’s going to happen when they find her, and she wants to experience that brutal sadness both because she thinks she deserves it, and because it’s her way of making herself the victim.

The funny thing is, Setsuna already is the victim here, really – Haruki has betrayed her for another girl – but as always with her, she can’t just leave it alone.  Since Haruki and Kazusa overload the drama with errors of omission Setsuna has to commit enough errors of commission for all three of them – and she’s more than up to the challenge.  I don’t think anyone – certainly not Haruki or herself – believed the lie she told him about not liking him as much as Kazusa did, and only confessing to try and keep the group together (which makes no sense to begin with, in all honesty).

There’s no happy ending here.  Haruki certainly can’t go back to Setsuna after what’s transpired, nor would he want to.  Kazusa is off to Vienna, and while even in 2007 E-mail and cell phones make distance a relative term, it’s not the same as being together.  But (obviously, since this is the “introductory chapter” of the game) there’s a sense here that this story isn’t over.  I don’t think Vienna at her mother’s side is where Kazusa ultimately wants to be – I think it’s somewhere she has to be, for now, in order to move in with her life.  There’s no question she and Haruki are deeply in love – they both know it beyond any doubt – and even thousands of miles apart, that counts for something.  In a sense it might almost be easier for Setsuna, because at least in practical terms she can move on, if she can muster the strength – but for Haruki and Kazusa, their hearts are on-hold as long as the possibility of the other remains out there.

Will there be more White Album 2 in anime form?  It seems a more practical question here than in most cases, because there’s source material that’s explicitly a continuation of the first season, and BD sales look like they might be halfway decent.  If the game seems a spike in sales it could well happen, and I’d certainly like to see it if the same creative team is behind it.  There’ve been a lot of complaints about the animation over the last few weeks but to be honest, I love the look of the series and I’ve been fine with what we’re seeing.  This has been a classy (apart from some unnecessary fanservice early on that was more crass-y), skilfully written and directed show, right up to finishing with the song Haruki wrote for Kazusa – the one that was conspicuously skipped when we saw the trio perform at the school festival.  It was the perfect note on which to end.

It shouldn’t be so hard to make teenaged romance this good – but clearly, it is.  White Album 2 succeeds by showing us bright, talented kids who simply lack the experience and judgment to avoid the heartbreak that’s steamrolling towards them from the premiere onwards.  They’re all responsible and none of them are to blame, and that’s why all this is so sad and beautiful.  If I’m to compare WA2 to a recent series it would me Mashiroiro Symphony, another VN adaptation – they’re very different types of stories, but they have in common that they treat their cast with a dignity that’s all too rare in high school anime.  In both shows the chemistry between the eventual romantic pair is strong, but the feelings of the others in the cast matter too – the romance is part of the story but not at the expense of everything else.

It’s nice to be right, and it’s nice to be surprised – but most of all it’s just nice to have a series turn out to be as good as this one.  White Album 2 stands as one of the best series of the season, and one of the best romances of the year – and maybe the last couple of years, as that hasn’t been a particular strength in anime lately.  Just when I’d come to believe that the industry was fundamentally incapable of making good romances in a high school setting , a show like this comes along and takes advantage of the ages of the characters for a beautiful, sad story that wouldn’t have worked anywhere else.

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ED: “A Love That Cannot Be”

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  1. A

    I kind of suspect the sex scene may be rather less classy on the blu-rays, as I think the layer of darkness may be removed.

    I recently rewatched the original "White Album" series and while I still like it, I have to admit this series is just significantly better in terms of characterisation and story.

    This was one of the highlights of the season for me, and I do hope they get to continue the story.

  2. I'd have no problem with nudity in the context of a lovemaking scene. It's the extraneous butt shots and undressing without any context that came off as crass to me.

  3. s

    To play devil's advocate, there is a fine line in any type of visual story-telling medium between trying to portray a scene as tasteful fanservice (or to use it to make some sort of significant statement) and being crass. I dont think its more about context; but rather, how you frame and shoot scenes that may be titillating that dictate if the scene comes off as crass or not. From what i saw in this series for the most part, the fanservice was quite tasteful (save for some very few instances). I dont remember any undressing without any context (if ya wanna be technical, undressing while in your room is a perfectly excusable situation in the context of a bedroom). Sometimes, we get "random" undressing scenes not for the sake of randomness or fanservice (though that is a reason). It also serves the purpose of just showing the viewer the daily motions of life the character goes through and perhaps, what thoughts or emotional burdens are probably on their mind when going through said motions. Again, I think the way scenes are shot and framed are what, to me, determines whether it comes of as crass or not.

  4. J

    yeah,, when is the next episode,, been waiting :)

  5. J

    Hopefully they will continue it. Screaming for a 2nd season!!

  6. R

    >Mashiroiro Symphony

    Oh god Enzo sometimes I don't know if your taste buds are working correctly or not.
    You are free to like that show as much as you do but that's a pretty awful recommendation.

    I think there's a whole load of the "usual bulsshit" in Mashiroiro Sympthony to recommend as something comparable to White Album 2.

    Even the setting is quite the male fantasy: an all-girls school that's about to become co-ed. They send a small group of students to test the waters. One of them is YOU… I mean, the MC "Shugo", your usual earnest do-gooder student that's both friendly and kind.
    There's the twin-tailed tsundere, whose mother is the principal of the school.
    A loli imouto that's not blood-related.
    A maid who calls YOU "master". Sorry, I mean to the MC.
    A genki red haired girl.
    An ara~~ ara~~ sempai.
    And a weird creature as a pet for everyone.

    I would only recommend this show to people who liked actual similar stuff like Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka, Fortune Arterial, Wind, Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi, etc.

  7. And I would wholeheartedly disagree. Mashifony was a special show, and it was special because it took all those cliches and showed that they can actually be transcended with dignity and grace.

  8. m

    I agree that it handled the clichés better than most others, but overall the show wasn't that great. It was essentially omnibus with a random heroine chosen who had nothing to do with the earlier storylines. Plus I found her to be extremely annoying. I've both lost pets, and known others who have, and there's a significant difference between being very sad and being traumatized by it.
    Although admittedly I can't argue with you about how well they handled their characters and how it did have its genuine moments. I just never enjoyed the overly nice MC and main heroine. No one has personalities like that.

  9. p

    Though I wouldn't call Mashifony a bad series by any means, I do agree it is a rather poor comparison. To me White Album 2 is comparable to the seinen romance drama greats of True Tears and ef tale of memories, though unfortunately without the production values or the artistic merit. True Tears was a visual treat and to this day I still think it's PA Works anime, though Uchouten Kazoku this year did give it a run for its money, but in the end it's hard to compare since they are different genres. Ef tale of memories was very poetic, almost Shakespearen in approach and Shaft's rather avante-garde, simplistic artstyle matched it to a tee. It remains director Shin Oonuma's best series, and it will take this year's Watamote for him to get back on its feet after doing garbage like Baka Test and Tasogare x Amnesia. Was worried that he was going to be a one trick pony director in all honesty. But production values, and "lack" of artistic direction is what's holding White Album 2 perhaps back from being on the same tier as True Tears or ef, but it's damn close.

    Really want the "closing" chapter to be adapted now, since that is apparently where the beef of the story is and what we've seen so far is merely the prologue.

  10. D

    I agree with Richard on Mashiroiro. That maid episodes still gives a bad taste in my mouth after all those years. Granted, I watched it early in my anime career. Maybe I lacked a bit of context to appreciate it as a 'meta'-show as Enzo does.
    I really appreciated ef (rooftop scene!), True Tears (not the first episodes as Noe is too anime-ish) and Kimi ga Nozumi Eien. But what sets White Album apart is that there are no external circumstances creating the drama. There's only the three characters and their relations.

  11. "All these years"? Goodness, it's a 2011 show!

    I don't see much of True Tears or Ef in WA2, to be honest, but that's me.

  12. i

    I agree that Setsuna, as is her name was meant to be this way. I think she wants to see happiness rather than be happy. That's probably why I liked her so much and wanted her to be with Haruki. I thought the hole within her was so distorted and unique than I really wished it would be healed. Kazusa's story has been told so I think that whatever will happen, if it happens, in the second season I hope that whatever caused Setsuna to end up like this way is told because its tragic that she should want to her hurt herself this way.

    Something similar to Kimi ga Nozumi Eien is what I predict for the possible second season. But I still feel that Setsuna will be given the short end of the stick. If Haruki couldn't be loyal to her once he certainly won't be when Kazusa inevitably returns to Japan.

    WA2 was certainly a breath, a wind rather, of fresh air into the stalest genre in anime for the last 5 or so years but I hope it doesn't become a trend. The strength of a tragic tale is that people cannot believe something so sad can happen and if tragedies constantly pop up their power of the tear ducts will diminish. That said I do hope for more romances that treat girls like people not moe/sex objects and guys who have balls but don't have their brains stuck to them.

  13. M

    "but I hope it doesn't become a trend. The strength of a tragic tale is that people cannot believe something so sad can happen and if tragedies constantly pop up their power of the tear ducts will diminish."

    So much this.I'm now personally content in the romance department enough to last for a while.Not to say I wouldn't watch/enjoy another romance of WA2's caliber but I won't be craving for one that much for now.Excess is never a good thing or we will inevitably end up appreciating new anime less despite being as good as the classics just because the later came first.

  14. m

    What I enjoyed most about this show is that you see these chars abd think "I know someone just like that". They aren't the typical romance anime chars that have one personality trait (also usually hairstyle too) that defines who their character is. I didn't always like each of the characters (especially setsuna), but I think that's part of the shows charm. It never makes you feel like you want something bad to happen to any of them or that you hate them. You just want to knock some sense into them.

  15. A

    Well at least Coda's gonna get animated…good, good


  16. M

    You're right that Setsuna feels she has to suffer as an atonement for what she has done. Given that she has lost her boyfriend (who she still has to face everyday), her best friend and her school/college idol status, she really should stop beating herself up for her mistakes. But she also forced Haruki to go to the airport for his and Touma's sake, not only to inflict pain on herself.
    Haruki, on the other hand… His indignation about Setsuna not getting mad at him was kinda lame. He only came clean with her because she practically forced it out of him. Also the fact that only Touma said sorry to Setsuna before she and Haruki kissed, shows that Haruki needs to learn a lot about empathy. From both girls.

  17. c

    I stumbled by accident onto this anime this season, not really expecting much, but it turned out to be the one anime i waited for every week ! It still has left me with heart ache for those three: what a mess………i hope there will be more but maybe it was just perfect to leave it with this ending…….of course i would like to imagine Touma and Haruki finding the way back to eachother in the future………

  18. S

    Extraordinary series! I came into the show very skeptical for the same reasons as you Enzo, but I was completely blown away right off the start. Superb anime that isn't as popular as it could be mostly due to the first series' reputation as not being very good.

  19. M

    So when I first saw a preview for White Album 2,two things popped in my head:

    1 – Oh boy,here we go again…Even if it's not a sequel to the first White Album it'll probably be something similar.I'll probably watch it with the "it's a trainwreck" mentality.

    2 – That one still HAD potential to be a good romance although it failed utterly but maybe,just maybe this one will do it right.

    After the first episode I was already getting hyped as it was better than anything the other White Album offered but was trying to not get my hopes up,as the first few episodes of that one showed promise -albeit not as much- too.Week after week,WA2 continued to exceed my expectations and putting the though in my head: "Could this be the romance anime I've been unintentionally waiting for a few years now? One of ef: A tale of Memories & Melodies and True Tears's caliber?" Lo and behold,it was.What it lacked in animation compared to those,it made up with it's three main characters which were,IMHO,better fleshed out & developed.

    I won't beat around the bush,this is definitely my favorite anime of 2013 as well as one of my favorite romance animes of all time,right up there with the three I mentioned above.

    Thank you Enzo for providing excellent coverage for this great show.

    Now,I'd keep thinking & hoping that we'll get to see all of the story animated but I'm not sure how well I'll handle the disappointed in case it doesn't.As such,I'm looking forward to some manly/comedic/silly/ show(s) to make the wait and possible confirmation that WA2 doesn't get another season easier to handle.LET'S GO SPACE DANDY!

  20. J

    In light of Nagi no Asukara, I find it hard that anyone can say no one can be faulted. If 14 year olds can be conscious of the decisions they make in light of their friends and how they might react, then High Schoolers, especially this trio, should be held accountable.

    Haruki was traitorous; he threw aside his friends, not just Setsuna, but slapped his friend Takeya in the face by ignoring his pleas to let things go with Touma.

    Touma was selfish; when she couldn't have things her way, she would rather have abandoned the friends she needed, the ones who reached out to her, than stay with them. It was either her or Setsuna. It shouldn't have to be played that way.

    And last, but not least, Sestuna was foolishly naive and thoughtless. She knew the group dynamics and yet her reactions were hasty, careless, and detrimental to her friends. I don't care if you want to get in a relationship with Haruki. THere's nothing selfish about that, because that shouldn't prevent anyone from loving Touma as well. But Setsuna certainly was the catalyst to these events, and she could have prevented it all from happening.

  21. A

    I don't think anyone believes no one is at fault. Just as the characters realize how much responsibility they each hold in this situation, so do the viewers. I think the issue you may have is that people aren't mad for the characters not owning up to their mistakes as they should, right?

    That's where NagiAsu and WA2 differ. The conflict and resolution of the event in WA2 are easy to relate to since this scenario is very likely to happen in real life given the circumstances. That doesn't necessarily make Haruki and Kazusa's love scene or Setsuna's conscious meddling necessarily right, but given the information we were shown, we can relate to why they took such actions, even if it makes us scream on the inside. NagiAsu, on the other hand, has the benefit of having fantastical elements to it that allow us to suspend our disbelief a bit more than WA2. I don't really see much of a comparison, since people would most likely call BS and even not find WA2 as dramatic and enthralling had the characters been idealized and less flawed. Different types of storytelling warrant different reactions to certain situations and circumstances.

    I, for one, was yelling at the characters on screen during this finale for their actions, but also understood what led them to making those choices. It doesn't make those choices less wrong, just more relatable given the realistic setting of the story.

  22. c

    I know that what im going to say is not going to be received very well, but i have to go with ,my gut.. i love this anime, but it didn't have a very good resolution to it. whether bad or good, the ending felt not complete. and i don't mean complete as in finish the series complete, but they could have gone a little further than leaving them staring at the sky like that, it just felt wrong.

  23. K

    I recently just marathoned WA2, so all the emotions I felt were quite condensed. I especially liked the way the deep relationship/ connection between Kazusa and Haruki was revealed in flashbacks near the end of the series. It really put into perspective how Kazusa felt about Haruki and how much he meant to her. I'm very biased towards the quiet tsundere archetypes (ie the characters where being tsundere is a trait, as opposed to it being the defining characteristic), so I was rooting for Kazusa right from the start. I was expecting Setsuna to be the first one to break down, so seeing Kazusa do so first, followed immediately by a 2-episode flashback dedicated to her, just broke my heart.

    There are obvious comparisons to Golden Time, and I can see now just how similar Kazusa and Linda are. They are clearly in love with the MC, yet they purposely try to distance themselves from him for someone else's sake. It saddens me to see great characters having to go through such pain.

    On a different note, the use of music throughout the series was excellent, and I always enjoy it when shows forgo the OP or use a different ED to emphasize the emotional weight of the events in the episode.

    Overall, I'm glad I got the chance to watch such a good series, demonstrating that love triangles are not all facepalm inducing plot elements and can actually stand on its own with the right characters.

  24. K

    This is the first time for me to make this kind of thing, and I don't know if anyone will like it but, I honestly hate tragic romance, and I not so long ago somewhat did something like this (without kissing my ex or "touching" the other girl. But the pain for us was real). I watched the first White Album and hated it very much, specially that ending where we are not told what happened next to Yuki and the MC; all along while watching this anime I was hoping it to not turn like that but well it did….and I knew it would from episode 1's opening speech.

    I do hope this anime will have a second season, but I hope it to be a happy ending with Setsuna, or an arced series, somewhat like amagami ss (thou I don't think it's possible to be like that). I really do prefer Setsuna because they became together first, but yes I do want to see a Kazusa happy ending since he did "touched" her (I'm not too fond of this kind of modern relationship thou, I believe in the "old" take responsibility, you took something meant for marriage thing, 俺みたいな日本人がこう言うこと言ってもしょうがないすけどね).

  25. K

    I hope Nagi no asukara and Golden time isn't going to be tragic romance, honestly I have had enough of tragic romance….

  26. t

    just finished marathoning it for the last couple of days.
    man,,,that killed me. really.

    god it was amazing. WA2 is a gem in the anime world. in that genre(drama romance) in particular. and not for nothing it is placed 4th in my favorite this year. and really WA2 is a must series for 2013. best romance and drama of the year. I passed the entire 2013 waiting for a series to hook me up that much in terms of romance and drama. quite funny I ended up watching it in the early days of 2014..but it's still 2013 Ha 😛

    it's something I didn't think I'll get to see in the anime world. I mean…there are a lot of drama-romantic anime..but very very few can handle it so well and in a matter that is so good in its execution. because the whole execution of romance and drama was unlike most of drama-romance anime that aren't steady (NnA and GT are good examples).
    I just like it so much..the atmosphere and the way they built the plot. and the OST…damn. I want to play the VN (when it's translated of course).

    WA2 killed me…but damn I liked it.

  27. M

    I really really really really hope that they will do closing chapter .

  28. M

    will there be even a Season 2 in this Anime White Album 2?

  29. No one knows. It didn't sell horribly for a VN adaptation, so there's at least some chance.

  30. t

    as you said, so far it didn't sell horribly, but scratches the threshold for S2.

    I really hope for S2. from my understanding, so far they adapted only "introductory chapter", later on "leaf"(it's the company, like there is "key" which did little busters, clannad, air and kanon) released "closing chapter" which is..2-3 times longer than the "introductory chapter". so if there will be another season it should be longer as well.. I guess (though I don't know how the routes and everything is going in there).

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