Random Reviews: White Album 2
Animation Company: Satelight
Genres: Romance, Drama, Music
Aired: Fall 2013
Number of episodes: 13
Summary: Kitahara Haruki is a final year high-school student trying to make his dream of performing as a member of the light music club in the school festival come true, but as members of his club leave one by one he finds his dream being close to impossible to achieve, until 2 other members, a singer and a pianist, begin joining him as he plays his guitar in the music room…
Today I’ll be reviewing a Fall 2013 series largely overlooked by the anime community, White Album 2. Before you close this review thinking it’s a sequel, it isn’t! White Album 2 is a standalone series that has practically nothing to do with the original White Album anime (that you should ignore) so you can jump straight into it if you’re interested!
Disclaimers out of the way, I’d say the main theme of White Album 2 can be aptly worded as “the love that cannot be” (which is the name of the OP, how cool is that!) Even if you love someone, sometimes happy endings just aren’t meant to be. This goes for both friends and lovers. You love someone, but you can never force yourself on them. You love your friends too, but you hurt them anyway. It’s unintentional, all in the name of trying to be happy and protecting your happiness, but the pain is real, and having your friends around you can’t help dull the sting either. The series goes about showing this reality through depicting a love triangle seen through the eyes of our 3 main characters – Haruki Kitahara, Ogiso Setsuna and Touma Kazusa, keeping things interesting with three very different views on events that unfold.
A love triangle is probably one of the most cliche romance tropes in any medium (anime included) but what makes White Album 2 a love triangle worth watching (compared to many other series that make use of overused, almost childish plot points like misunderstandings and outright rivalry that puts characters in bad light) is the emotional maturity of the series, and this is where the characters come into play. White Album 2’s biggest asset is without a doubt the characters that carry this show, all the way to its gut-wrenching finale. Every character in this series (even the side characters although they are not the focus of the series) feels authentic and act like mature, almost grown-up young adults but are in fact still new to what it means to fall in love and be in love.
Kitahara Haruki, our male lead, is definitely one of the better male leads to come out of anime in a long time. He’s smart, slightly manipulative even, but never really insincere. He remains considerate, even if it means it’s at his expense. He’s definitely more complicated than the series first lets on, but over the course of the series I have come to understand and relate to him. Moving on, Ogiso Setsuna, the first of the two leading ladies of White Album 2, is definitely like many teenage girls out there. She’s a lonely and slightly misunderstood girl who is genuinely nice and means well, but she ends up asking for more than what her hands can hold. She’s also incredibly self-aware (the most out of the 3) of her faults, blames herself and always questions the actions she takes to get what she wants but does it anyway and regrets it later. Out of the 3, I can say I relate to her plight the most. Lastly, there’s Touma Kazusa – she seems like a typical tsundere character at first, and is definitely the most trope-y of the three. But the authenticity of the dialogue in the series and her backstory (that was pretty heart-breaking to watch but handled with much subtlety so it doesn’t come off overdone) has her just come off as someone with genuine problems trusting people and a bad temper that causes her to take a much longer time to open up than most.
Even some of the side-characters get fleshed out, even though it isn’t very obvious. I especially enjoyed watching the differing attitudes of Haruki’s friends during the progression of the story in the final few episodes. Once again it helped to solidify the authenticity of the series by clearing a problem many anime seem to have – side (or even main) characters feeling flat because of how they all react the SAME way to a situation. That’s not how it plays out in real life, and I wish more anime understand this.
Some may complain that the pacing of the series is too slow, with only 2-3 major events spread out across 13 episodes. It is important to note though, that White Album 2 was never a plot-driven series but a character-driven one. A slower (but still great) plot progression gives much more time to really flesh out the main characters, understand them and their motivations through these major events, and in my opinion helped to build up to the finale masterfully.
Also, White Album 2 is one of those series where the journey is more important than the destination. Yes, endings are important and while I do think the series was well done all the way to the very end, I think the results of the events that have unfolded are not as important to the big picture as compared to seeing what led to this ending. In this case, I’d say that White Album 2 had a great ending, since its job isn’t to ‘tie up lose ends’ and provide a conclusive ending to the relationships between the three leads but as a way for the viewer to reflect and take in what has happened, and why(it is not a flashback episode or anything though, not to worry).
Ultimately what makes White Album 2 stand out from the typical romance light novel/visual novel adaptation (it is based on a visual novel) or even romance anime in general is just how real the characters are, and the mature outlook the series has when deftly dealing with depicting first love’s happiness and consequences. This makes it so that when, crudely put, shit hits the fan, you don’t see it as ‘cheap drama’ but something a lot more than that – it is simply the unfolding of unavoidable events of 3 teens learning how and what it means to love another.
Moving on to the aesthetics of the series, the visuals look great. The series has a great sense when it comes to the use of lighting, colours and the 4 seasons to depict various moods and tones in the series. The framing and composition are well done, and everything looks sleek and smooth. You can tell that studio Satelight put their budget with this series instead of their other Fall 2013 offering, Log Horizon.
The only major problem I have with this show is honestly the fanservice. You see, White Album 2 is CLASSY. It’s mature, bittersweet and mostly beautiful to watch unfold. I say mostly, because then suddenly the studio decides it would be fine and dandy to animate fanservice scenes at the most random times. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but in this case it is just distracting and very jarring. It cheapens the experience by quite a bit.
Moving on to the sound department, this is where White Album 2 needs to get right, since it is a music-themed series. And it delivers! I’m generally not a fan of J-Pop but the insert songs served me well, fitting the tone of the series. BGM is used at appropriate times and always added to a scene rather than being distracting. The BGM itself isn’t very much to write home about though, with one or two memorable tracks here and there. I especially enjoy the significance of the lyrics in the OP since it ties in to the story magnificently.
All in all, I really did enjoy this series quite a bit (if my constant praising of the series wasn’t enough to tip you off), although I wouldn’t recommend it to those not a fan of heavy drama or romance. It’s also a rather slow-paced series (although it wasn’t a big deal to me and I had much fun following it every week) but I can promise you it will pay off, especially if you enjoyed the first episode right off the bat, since it sets the tone for the rest of the series (although it gets progressively darker and sadder as it goes on).
If you’re like me and you’ve been out searching for a decent, even *gasp* GOOD romance series (since most anime seem to be handling romantic relationships like a 10 year old writing her first fanfiction would) released lately this is definitely a keeper. A sleeper hit of the fall season and it definitely has my vote for being one of the best series of 2013 as well.
Final score: 7.5/10 – changed up the score after watching Cross Game, a new favourite.
Alternate anime recommendations –NANA (if you think romance can’t get any more bitter), True Tears (at least until episode 9), Honey and Clover