Random Reviews: White Album 2

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53561l  Title: White Album 2 (TV)

 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!

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-14h09m26s164Disclaimers 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.

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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.

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-14h09m47s114Even 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.

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-14h23m16s253 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.

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-14h18m06s240Moving 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.

 

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-14h30m35s44 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

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sidekick

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17 Responses

  1. 123 says:

    Nice review! I think you summed up everything that I liked about this anime with regard to characters/plot/visuals. I don’t completely agree with you on the music aspect though. Most of the time it was fine, there were parts were it didn’t work for me. Since this is a general review, I won’t go spoilerish, but for example on the train in the last episode, they started with a brooding piano piece, but then moved onto a J-Pop insert song which was brighter and kinda spoiled the mood for me. On the other hand, the lone cello at the beginning of that same episode was absolutely brilliant. So a bit of a mixed bag for me, with regard to the music.

    • sidekick says:

      Well, I’m not exactly a music person so as long as the music doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the series I’d give anything a pass :p (and it’s hard to distract me, or rather, my taste in music is shit). Thanks for the comment! :-D

  2. Pablo says:

    Great review! The ending felt very unsatisfying at first, but after reading your review, you helped me realize the true intentions of the series. I completely agree with your point that the story is not about providing a happy and conclusive outcome but about analyzing the sentimental progression of the characters and realizing that love is a very difficult sentiment to deal with. Overall, the series was fantastic and as you mentioned, it is a GOOD romantic story to which one could possibly relate or attribute to their personal “love life”.

    • sidekick says:

      Thanks! :> Yeah, I saw quite a few people being unhappy with the way the story ended so I tried to clear that up a bit on the review. I definitely want to see more high school romance anime take a more daring direction like White Album 2 has. Not pandering to the audience but allowing us to reflect on love – its good and bad sides.

  3. Magicflier says:

    I’m glad that I’m not the only one that thinks WA2 is one of the best animes for this year. I honestly think it’s already the best romance anime right now for 2013. I got a bit excited when someone here wrote and released a review for this anime. It’s really sad that so many people will overlook this series just because of White Album, despite it clearly says everywhere that it clearly states in the relations that it’s not related in any way. Props to your review! I heard that this is adapted from the IC(Introductory Chapter), and that it’s popular in Japan because of the CC(Closing Chapter) visual novel. Hoping that there will be a second season to adapt CC and give us the best closure for these three heartbroken friends. :(

    • sidekick says:

      Yes, I’ve read somewhere that this is just the beginning of the visual novel. No nice boat ending though, I hope! I’ve met a lot of people who don’t even know that WA2 is a standalone season so I was hoping to get a few more people to watch this, think it’s criminally under-appreciated and definitely one of the best of 2013, alongside my other favourites of the year Uchouten Kazoku and Rozen Maiden: Zuruckspulen. Sales look decent though (if I’m not mistaken, although fall’s offerings have all been selling pretty bad) so there’s hope for a continuation, although I’m honestly happy with where this series concluded.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Eva says:

    Looks like I’ll be giving this show a whirl after all. The previous White Album show was just utter crap that even though I knew this wasn’t a sequel of any sort, it still left a bad taste in my mouth which had discouraged me to watch this one at all.

    • sidekick says:

      Yeah, this one is a completely different animal from the original White Album so you can cast your worries aside :-)

  5. Chris says:

    After I read this review, I marathoned the entire thing and loved it! Admittedly (at times) I was slightly reminded of School Days, but this is definitely a much better way of handling the sort of plot twist. Thank you for revealing this hidden gem to me… good times…

    • sidekick says:

      Great that you checked it out, Chris! :> But why school days? I mean, both male leads are technically cheating, but one is clearly less of a dick than the other, and there isn’t a harem setup…

      • Chris says:

        Well… for starters, every time it seemed like Haruki was going to cheat, those darkened eyes made me feel like yandere mode was about to activate (although that may be an after effect of watching School Days)…then you’ve got Haruki’s emotional breakdown whenever it seemed like he couldn’t get with the girl he really wanted to (but, of course, there were actual reasons for this in White Album 2 and it was handled much better)…I’m not saying that WA2 is School Days reincarnate (because I’d hate it if it were), but at times I just had traumatizing flashbacks…

        • sidekick says:

          I guess one never gets rid of the scars they get watching School Days. At least WA2 doesn’t reopen them, and I’m grateful.

        • Magicflier says:

          You could call this the more realistic approach, as I can compare this to a show like “True Tears” instead. There are friends out there that are abnormally close to each other, like in rare cases they were together since elementary or something like that. Wanting to stay together even if you spent doing something together which felt like it’s been years is a normal feeling. They are all to blame, and all their actions can’t always be explained by logic.

  6. sidekick says:

    Yes, this series does remind me a lot of True Tears (hence the alternate anime recommendation :-D). Wouldn’t say anyone is to blame though. What I like about this series is that no one is ever really the ‘bad guy’ – just a chain of actions with no real malicious inten

    • sidekick says:

      *intent. Which later led to disaster. (Sorry, posting a comment from my phone sucks).

  7. Cypher says:

    The original WA’s problem was its split focus between the idol plotlines and Touya’s disconnect. He was marginally connected to the events/players in the idol industry and the original WA suffered because of that. WA2 rectified that by having music as a motif that connected the simple love triangle of three close friends. I think that’s what I liked about WA2-it incorporated music in a way that connected better with characters and themes of its story. It was the simple love of music that brought them together and ironically its what tore them a part.

    • sidekick says:

      Yes! I noticed that too, and that final moment where all the pieces were set (Haruki realised who was playing the piano in the music room) was great.

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