“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.”
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.
ED: “A Love That Cannot Be”