Let’s start a list.
It sounds like a sequel title.
It’s a high school romance centered around a love triangle.
It’s an anime is based off a video game.
The video game it was based off is an eroge.
Yep. I am sitting on a keyboard begging you to watch an anime based off a smut game.
Chances are that got your attention, but don’t click away (or get too excited) just yet. I made it through all thirrteen episodes of this series without ever guessing as to the origins of the anime. I can count the number of ecchi scenes with one finger.
That’s right. One. Finger.
So then what’s the big deal? If this anime isn’t fanservice central 2013, it’s just another school romance. Didn’t we clarify in the preface that all romance anime are pretty much the same thing? Just one hapless guy acting stupid and undecided as his love interests fight over him?
This isn’t that either.
White Album 2 ‘s synopsis sounds as simple as they come. Haruki Kitahara is a guitarist in a music club. He wants to perform in the school festival, but the club doesn’t have enough members. Setsuna Ogiso is an earnest, popular girl who loves karaoke and yearns for a genuine friendship after being burned in the past. Kazusa Touma is the stoic, reclusive daughter of a world famous pianist who doesn’t seem to have much interest in anything.
Haruki sets out to recruit the mysterious pianist one window over from his practice room (later revealed to be Kazusa) and stumbles upon Setsuna singing on the roof along the way. After some convincing, both girls join the music club. The trio spend time together preparing for the school festival and conflict occurs when both girls discover that they have feelings for Haruki.
Cliche as hell, right? You can assume that the series will end with a heartfelt confession from Haruki and an ending where he and his chosen girlfriend finally get together. Except in this case, it’s one of the love interests that confesses…and they start going out mid-series.
I know, right?! That revelation was actually what got me to watch this show because I’d never heard of such a thing. Where could they go after that? Was someone going to die or get put in a coma? It was enough to make me tune in and get current while the show was still on air last November.
White Album 2 episode 1 begins in medias res– right in the middle of the trio’s performance at the school festival. It shows an energetic, upbeat scene full of smiles and cameraderie against the source music of the performance. At a break between songs, Haruki’s voice over begins: “One Saturday afternoon, late November, on the second day of the Houjou Prep School Festival, the three of us experienced our closest, most enjoyable, and happiest moment.” The present falls away to a montage of scenes from later episodes– fast, subtle moments that convey a weight equal to the ominous tone of Haruki’s final words before the title card. “It was also, the last moment the the three of us could truly be together.”
Intrigued? You should be. Despite it’s roots, this anime breaks most conventions of your typical romance anime. It keeps a tight focus on the three main characters, allowing Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa enough screentime to really develop their personalities. The mid-season confession really throws a monkey wrench in what would otherwise be “just another love triangle” by forcing one character to step out of the romantic realm. However, it avoids the potential to become a stale “happily ever after” plateau with some innovative conflicts – the struggle to retain friendship while in a relationship, the silent suffering of unrequited love, and the martyrdom of putting others first emotionally.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a series deal with some of these topics period, let alone deal with them so elegantly. There is a ton of dramatic irony here where the love triangle is concerned, but worse still is the fact that throughout the series (arguably up until the last few episodes) not one of the characters does anything ostensibly wrong.
No one lies. No one sets out to hurt or dupe another. If anything the tragedy of this show is that all three music club members really care about eachother and are constantly trying to keep their group together and protect each other’s feelings.
The final acts were damn near Shakespearean and left me, literally, weeping several times. When shit really started to hit the fan, I wanted nothing more than someone to blame…but often, it was hard to point fingers. That’s the beauty of this show though, these characters are all likeable to the point that no matter what pairing you’re ‘rooting’ for, you can’t help but empathize with all of them.
Before the series ended, I remember stumbling upon the perfect summary of the emotional burden of this show. “Nobody has done anything wrong,” I explained excitedly to a friend who humored me as I recalled the melodrama I was watching, “but everyone is going to get hurt. Everyone.”
There is no easy happy ending, and if I said that I was satisfied with the show’s finale, I would be lying.
Don’t misunderstand, dear reader– the ending is good, as is this series–however this is a story where no one really wins.
It is Lucia di Lammermoor plus highschool, minus suicide & death.
It’s a cathartic tale that perfectly encapsulates that moment I believe that everyone has lived from some vantage point. The moment of alienating a friendship. The moment of endangering one for the sake of potential romance. The moment of swallowing raw and jagged emotion just in order to stay close to a person you care about, even if it’s not in the ideal way you want. It’s all of that, but with an omniscient vantage point that let’s us take a higher road as a viewer.
It is uncomfortable and painful to watch at times, but for all the right reasons.
The animation is modern and fluid to the point where I don’t pay it much mind. Perhaps it’s the eroge roots, but all you really need are the often understated expressions of our protagonists…and those are done exquisitely.
The music is haunting and well-integrated. The music club practices three songs for their performance, and these songs often serve as source music for the show. The main theme has elements scattered throughout the background soundtrack, and the background music itself often mirrors the three leads in their relationships. With Haruki represented by guitar, Kazusa by piano, and Setsuna by vocals or core melody, it’s easy to lose yourself in the intros and outros.
White Album 2 is a strong stand-alone 13 episode series with great writing, voice acting, and music.
For a taste of what you’re in for, check out the opening…and then give yourself enough time to make it through the whole series. You can thank me later.
White Album 2 OP