This is one of the finest examples of anime drama I have ever seen. Beautiful, beautiful work! Beautiful stories, beautiful characters, beautiful 2000s artwork, everything about this show is wonderful. And it is one of the saddest anime I have ever watched. It has almost zero tragedy in it, yet there were times where I’d no sooner turn on an […]
This is one of the finest examples of anime drama I have ever seen.
Beautiful, beautiful work! Beautiful stories, beautiful characters, beautiful 2000s artwork, everything about this show is wonderful. And it is one of the saddest anime I have ever watched. It has almost zero tragedy in it, yet there were times where I’d no sooner turn on an episode but I’d start crying, knowing what had come before and having no hope for what was coming next. This is anime drama at its best.
This show is split between two distinct storylines. The first follows a set of young adult characters in the Japanese idol industry (young female pop singers, for those of you not familiar with the term), and lasts for “two seasons” and 26 episodes. The second follows three upperclassman high schoolers who get together to put on a musical concert for a school event. None of this sounds like a very dramatic backdrop, but it sure does put on a show. It’s a bucket of tears nearly every episode the later you get in each series.
I love it. I’ve experienced the same kinds of feelings and reactions both times I’ve watched through this show, and I continue to maintain that it’s one of the saddest anime ever made. I do not know what makes the human race interested in crying over watching other people, but as long as storytelling exists, people will enjoy this sensation. And in anime, few shows do it as well as White Album.
As this show is two distinct seasons, while I will include both in this review, I’ll clearly delineate between the two in the individual sections. I’ll also say if f I mean for something to apply generally to both seasons.
Get ready, here come the memories.
Generally, between both seasons, the characters are humanly complex and beautiful. This is expected of the seinen romance genre, and I couldn’t be any more pleased with how wonderfully these characters fit in this genre. I’ve seen shows with characters who have greater depth, but those are exceptional, and few in number. These boys and girls have a great deal of human depth to them, and it’s very satisfying to me as a viewer.
The original White Album follows a pair of young lovers whose paths are suddenly diverging. I’ll mention this more in the Story section, but this is one of those things that makes this show so very sad even when you wouldn’t necessarily think it is. Right away we’re introduced to Touya Fujii and his somewhat reserved girlfriend Yuki Morikawa, and we quickly sense that their paths are separating. We see right away that they’re the main characters, but then this anime does something very clever with its characters that I very much admire.
We’re introduced to almost every important character within a very few episodes, most of them in the very first episode actually. This rapid-fire introduction drew me into the story as it progressed, because I felt it gave a sense of the kind of confused feelings that Fujii himself was feeling. We kept having females thrown at us faster than we could learn anything about the ones we’d met. And most of them pulled on our emotions a little right away. Haruka has undergone a tragic loss and is clearly suffering from it, pushing her closer to Fujii. Rina is overwhelming, magnificent, a dream become reality. Misaki seems desperate, but that triggers emotions enough by itself, and we also come to recognize why she might be so. And Yayoi…I’ll get to that in a bit.
Fujii is a high quality harem protagonist. What’s a low quality harem protagonist look like Hawk? Don’t laugh—this is supposed to be about a sad anime. But you all probably chuckled if you tried to think of examples of that. Because it is kind of a joke. Fujii is not like those characters. He has depth, has a decent amount of humanness and likability, and isn’t a diminutive kid. He’s a college student struggling to find his way. I like this character type in seinen romance. It’s certainly not unique anymore in anime, but in our modern age, more and more people identify easily with this character type day by day. Being able to identify with a character raises their humanness right away, and that is very important.
The one thing that does make Fujii like most other harem protagonists is the horni. He’s not crazed for sexual relations, but it weighs heavily on him. As he’s driven away from Yuki, he doesn’t know how to deal with that physical separation, and he takes advantage of the willing girls around him more than once in response to this. There’s not too much to this though; it’s pretty typical. The only curious thing about this trait in Fujii is when you compare him to the MC of White Album 2, Haruki, who I’ll get to later.
He definitely seems lost in his “travails,” but unlike most harem protagonists, he neither fully dives into the harem experience nor acts sheepish about the situation. Nothing he does feels super forced or put on, unless it’s supposed to. Tomoaki Maeno does a good job with his voice too. Obviously his voice is one of the least important in the show, but having to deal with that kind of situation in a main character can’t be easy for a voice actor. Maeno-san hits all the right notes at the right times, no pun intended.
Then you have the girls and their voices. They are central to everything. And while I’m not a big fan of the little-girlish voice that Yuki’s character has, that voice becomes like a goddess when Yuki is singing. Do you all know Aya Hirano, Yuki’s VA? She also does the voice for Lucy from Fairy Tail and Misa Amane, the idol character in Death Note (fun fact: they sneak her in there as one of the many guest narrators in Nichijou too). Ah they may just as well call her a goddess! That singing voice is rich and amazing, like the finest dessert you could never describe.
Yuki as a character is not very interesting to me though. I wonder if this is just me or if it’s an accident of the production, or whether it’s done so intentionally. I feel like, as central as she is to everything, she’s a little overshadowed. This is no surprise: how many times can we all think of where side characters overshadow main characters? This happen a lot, and it’s usually unclear whether it’s intentional or accidental. So I’m not sure whether Yuki disappearing into the background occasionally is intentional or not; I’d like to think it is in some ways. This would also parallel the situation Fujii is faced with, where it seems like everything is pushing Yuki away from him, like everything is trying to get between them. So if the writers here really did try to make it seem like Yuki was being pushed out of our awareness, that’s a nice touch, and shows good awareness of how they handle the characters within the story.
Ah Rina! Rina is magnificent. She’s the veteran idol, as much as such a thing exists. She’s in her twenties, so she’s “past her prime,” as they say. But she knows what she is and doesn’t put on any false faces. She goes and gets what she wants. She’s bold, calm, confident. That stuff is sexy. Her presence is overwhelming. Yet she behaves very humanly, not an aloof goddess like we might imagine an established idol might behave. And her form is sexy too. She’s not highlighted for fan service really (more on all that in the Artwork section), but she’s almost breathtakingly well-formed. She wears all her clothes perfectly. Clothes can wear the wearer, or the wearer can wear the clothes, both in real life and in anime. Rina does’t just fit in the latter category: she dominates her outfits. The outfit belongs to Rina, becomes part of Rina. And while some of that has to do with her form, some of it definitely has to do with her personality. She’s an immense pleasure to watch.
Her voice plays a big role in the sense of confidence she conveys. Nana Mizuki is one of those powerful voices that only comes around occasionally in voice acting. She’s most famous as Hinata from Naruto of course, but has also played roles in lots of other major anime as well, including One Piece and Fullmetal Alchemist. While I love Yuki’s singing voice, I could listen to both the singing and regular voice for Rina endlessly. Mizuki-san adds another layer of amazing to this great character. Wow she can sing!
Lots of the supporting characters have really good voice acting as well. Mana Mizuki, the high schooler Fujii tutors, is played by the prolific Haruka Tomatsu (Zero Two, Darling in the Franxx; Yukki Asuna, Sword Art Online) in what had to be one of her earliest roles. She’s always remarkable, even as a tsundere little girl of a high schooler. The character Haruka Kawashima is a beautiful character. She might be just a bit underutilized, or underdeveloped. She allows for one of the only two tragic sad elements in this show, with the death of her unseen brother hanging so heavily upon her. Misaki Sawakura gets more development than Haruka, as she allows her desperation to control her. I like her but definitely recoil a bit from her mentality, particularly when she decides to date Fujii’s friend Akira, who really loves her, but she still holds on to her unrequited love for Fujii and so treats Akira with a kind of cold polite kindness. All that definitely adds sadness to the story.
Menou is introduced very late, but I really like her. She’s gutsy, self-centered, beautiful, her hostile demeanor creating tense, frigid encounters with the people around her. She has a kind of psychological, silent violence about her. She knows what she wants, but won’t go get it. She’s a curious character, but full of depth and interest. If she were around longer in the story I think she’d be even more a favorite of mine. Some of her dialogue is quite startling, in a very interesting way.
But no one even comes close to the love I have for my favorite character in White Album. Even if Menou’s nature is harsh and her exterior cold, she’s nothing compared to the almost monstrous Yayoi Shinozuka. She is strong: she is immovable. Her personality exhibits a coldness more terrible than snow. She makes up her mind and pursues her goals, using her domineering nature to forge her path in this tricky world she finds herself in. I love the way she forces herself on Fujii. It’s always debatable whether she actually loves him or not—she explicitly says she does not, but I don’t think her words are necessarily reliable. Her intention is to draw Fujii away from Yuki, ostensibly so Yuki can focus on her idol career without an external attachment to interfere. Her maturity and keen sense of observation help her recognize what really motivates Fujii—sex. She forces her mouth to his time and again, and ultimately seduces Fujii to sleep with her. Her passionate kisses from her cold mouth are enough to tempt Fujii, leading him away from Yuki.
I think it speaks well of Fujii, and of the storywriters, that this isn’t enough to completely separate him from Yuki. It speaks well of the storywriters also that they created this character in Yayoi who embodies all the power of the forces trying to separate the two young lovers, the adult professional world forcing itself between them as they hurtle inevitably along their paths in life. Yet Fujii doesn’t completely let it happen. Yayoi’s strength and the power she can wield in her adult world are not enough to completely break the childhood love that Fujii and Yuki share. This is just another layer of beauty incorporated into this story, and Yayoi is at the center of it.
But push away all that stuff between the lines—Yayoi is astounding. Tall, dark, sinister, hostile, overwhelming. Her presence is powerful. My heart would skip a beat when she would eye Fujii behind her threatening locks of hair, or when she would lightly but irresistibly seize Fujii to kiss him, or when she spoke. Romi Park does the voice for Yayoi, and it is magnificent. I love the deep voice Miss Park uses for characters such as Hange from Attack on Titan and Rei Batsubami from Kakegurui, and we get to hear that amazing voice once again here. It’s enough to stop all your thoughts and absorb all your attention. It made my heart beat faster. It’s great because this is exactly what she’s supposed to be doing to Fujii, and we definitely get that sense even through her voice. Yayoi is a wonderful character.
Lastly, and quickly, there is of course Eiji Ogata, Rina’s brother and former rockstar who now runs their studio. I don’t understand the intent behind this character. His whole storyline adds confusion to a series that really should be all about Fujii and the girls. I get the interest factor of his plotline, and I think he’s an interesting character, but it’s like he’s in the wrong show. That whole thing with him and the paintings starts to give the show almost a mystery/suspense or even horror feeling. I couldn’t understand his inclusion in this story in the manner in which he was portrayed. Perhaps this character emerges from the visual novel’s author’s personal experiences somewhere. He feels a bit out of place.
The two biggest differences between the first and second White Album series are the ages and number of characters. Everyone in the 2009 White Album is around or exceeding 20 years old (Mana excepted), and there’s a multitude of them. The series has a more adult feel to it. The supporting characters are heavily involved in the plotlines surrounding the main characters. White Album 2, from 2013, has basically three characters plus some minor supporting characters. The supporting characters are pretty much totally in the background, only “supporting” the main characters whenever the need arises in the story instead of taking an integral part in the tale. And all the characters are in high school (parents excepted). From purely an external view, if you had seen the original White Album and had just started the first few episodes of White Album 2, you wouldn’t think the two should even have the same title. They seem so different, particularly from a character standpoint.
In WA2, we have the main male protagonist Haruki, a decent fellow who makes good grades in school and is reliable when called upon, watching his school music club fall apart. Through a series of events, he meets the pretty and popular Setsuna Ogisa and the cold but powerful Kazusa Touma, who enable him to revive his music club and help him attain his little dream, to play the song titled “White Album” (Yuki’s debut song from the original White Album series) at their school festival. More on all this in the Story section.
Compared to Fuji, Haruki is a saint. Even on the rewatch, I debated for a long time whether Haruki was even motivated by romantic—or sexual—feelings at all. I felt there was a good argument for his motivation being entirely centered around his desire for the three of them—Touma, Ogisa, and himself—to simply remain together. In the end, I think this argument is overwhelming rejected (more on this in the Story section), but nevertheless, Haruki comes off looking pretty clean. At the least he doesn’t allow his romantic interest in both girls to lead him to dark places like Fujii does (and by that I mostly mean dark bedrooms). As much sexuality as Fujii exhibits, Haruki almost seems to have zero motivation in this regard. His love for both girls seems fairly pure, and his physical desires don’t seem to play a major role in it. It works well for the story, but I find it remarkable how different this MC is from his opposite in the original White Album. The contrast is interesting to consider.
Two of my favorite Japanese names are Sakura and Setsuna. Sakura, as we all know, means “cherry blossoms,” which stirs my heart every time I think about it, but “Setsuna,” best I can tell, usually has something to do with “snow.” This probably makes sense, especially given snow’s role in this show and of course “Yuki” from the first White Album. It gives me that happy-sad feeling that warms the heart whenever I see a nice character named Setsuna. Setsuna Ogisa is the possessor of that name in White Album 2. While this character doesn’t stir my feelings particularly, she’s quite the character. I feel like she’s as close to paralleling any character from the original White Album, that parallel being Yuki herself. They’re both kind of the odd person out in the intricate situation these characters find themselves in. They both have a pretty strong love for their boyfriends, but their relationships are driven along by currents they cannot control. And they’re both forced to watch it happen, with little they can do about it. They both are severely injured by it. It’s heartbreaking to watch and realize in hindsight, for both Setsuna and Yuki.
I love how Setsuna’s character is woven into this story. I’ll touch on this more in the Story section, but she’s both the trigger and the hindrance in this love story. She’s both innocent and grossly guilty. She’s both selfless and heartlessly selfish. It’s beautiful how the writers form her character. None of it seems forced or contrived either, which is magnificent. She is a great example of the kind of great things that can happen when an anime narrows its focus tightly to three or so characters. It’s beautiful to watch.
Then there’s Kazusa Touma. Cold, aloof, rebellious, perfect in appearance but certainly not in behavior, friendless and seemingly content to remain so, one can understand how she’s shunned a bit. She coldly and pretty stiffly rejects anyone’s advances, friendly or otherwise. Yet behind her hard exterior her heart is so very vulnerable. It rages with passions unspoken, unexpressed by action, visage, or word. Haruki’s somewhat dutiful but completely friendly advances touch her sad heart, and she is content to just watch him for a time, and you can tell that simply this action consoles her sadness and calms her confused heart as she rapidly falls in love. But she watches until she can stand to watch no more. I’ll get to these moments more in the Story section, but I about died crying watching her pour her heart out to Haruki late in the series. She is responsible for one of the saddest outpourings in anime history.
I love how Touma slowly comes to realize what she herself wants. The heart is a tricky thing. It takes a lot of watching Haruki, a lot of finally breaking out of her shell, for Touma to realize what she’s really feeling and what she really wants. It takes a lot of this kind of discovery for her to even recognize the choices before her, where before she wallowed in a miserable apathy of jumbled, unhappy feelings. The writers did a great job with her. Like Setsuna, she also shows what great writing can do when an anime focuses on a very few characters.
I love Touma’s voice. For a while I thought that her VA, Hitomi Nabatame, was doing a poor job with her dialogue. Everything seemed so stiff and forced, like from someone you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to just because of how coldly uncomfortable their tone was. But the more I listened, the more I came to realize that not only was this simply not a poor performance, but that Nabatame-san actually was doing this intentionally, and that it was perfect. Because whenever Touma would get more impassioned, however slightly, or loosen up a little, and speak her mind more plainly, everything about her voice began to feel very normal, very relaxed, and very beautiful. And I don’t know if anyone could have done as good a job with Touma’s passionate explosions of feelings late in the series. I had thought any words she’d spoken through tears up to that time sounded a little awkward, but in the end her voice truly sounded like it came from the heart. It was magnificent. And I tried to be objective. I definitely came in wanting to adore this voice. Nabatame-san plays the voice for my beloved Kan’u Unchou from the Ikkitousen series, who does nearly criminal violence to my heart with both her body and voice. So when I was not pleased early on, I definitely was objective about it. And I was just as objective when I was enthralled with her performance later on, and when I thought back on all this in hindsight. Nabatame does a great job with this performance.
Everybody else in White Album 2 is truly a supporting supporting character (yes I said it twice). Haruki’s friends liven up some of the lighter moments in the show, but don’t have any impact on his plotlines. Io MIzusawa, Haruki’s somewhat tomboyish girl buddy, feels like she’s in a position to turn this series into a full-on harem experience, but she doesn’t seem the least bit attracted to Haruki in that way. She is a minor fun character but no more, appropriately staying out of the way of the romance among the main characters. Touma’s mother, a famous pianist, plays her role appropriately, appearing and disappearing in good order. No, WA2 is not about a sprawling set of characters all sprawling over each other to get at the hapless harem protagonist. It really does zoom in on the lives of our three main characters, and I always find that pleasant.
Between the two different series’ characters, there is one consistency: the characters draw you into the action, making you experience the same feelings the characters themselves are supposed to be feeling. I like this a lot, and it speaks well of the authors. You can feel Yuki’s girlish conflict. You can feel Fujii’s tension and uncertainty. You can feel how lost Haruka is, and how desperate Mizuki reaches for what she knows she cannot have. You can feel Menou’s disgust and even hatred for her mother. You can feel Yayoi’s aggressive passion towards Fujii, be it forced or not, and the confusion that arises in our minds and hearts as a result. You can feel the power of Rina’s presence. In the second series, the same thing happens again. I can tell exactly when Ogisa falls in love. You can’t tell at all that Touma’s in love almost until it’s too late. You can feel Haruki suddenly become aware of his own confused feelings. You can feel Setsuna’s heart break when Haruki runs away from her. Above all, you can feel your heart try to wrench itself out of your chest as Touma cries her eyes out in the streets before Haruki. This anime is a powerful experience. Anytime a set of characters can draw you that strongly into their own experience, the writers and actors are doing something very right.
So while this show is primarily driven by its twining individual plotlines, these characters are powerful driving forces in the series in their own right. For me to not give characters such as these a perfect 10 rating speaks more to the otherworldly exceptionality of top-tier characters than to any imperfection in these characters. If perfect-10 characters are god-tier, these boys and girls are demigod-tier. They take these intricate plotlines and turn them into a powerful experience which you will rarely see anywhere. It makes you happy to be alive to see such characters as these.
Lots of pretty eyes, lots of kisses, lots of tears, and a lot of blue tinting.
Real quick: two different studios produced the two different White Album series, so the style changed slightly between the two. White Album has a very ‘90s style, while White Album 2 has more of the emerging modern style (2022 as of this writing).
The original series has the familiar styling of its era, as anime artwork emerged from the distinctive styles of the 1990s into the styles of the 2000s. The human form is much more human, the hair is copious and detailed while not adding a ton of size to the head, and the eyes are deep, large, and angular. The coloring is dim, mimicking the plainer colors of our world. And we recognize the relatively low saturation as a common feature of seinen anime. I always like this style.
White Album 2’s artwork begins to exhibit the signs of the modern age. While the angular eyes and the mild blue tinting remain, the hair becomes slightly extravagant, the forms of the bodies becomes very narrow and unnatural, and everything has a great deal of sheen, the eyes in particular. Where the eyes were deep and beautiful in the original series, now they had that glassy shine we associate with some of the most visually beautiful works in anime. I liked the original, but I did not dislike this change. The show is about younger people, and perhaps targeted a slightly younger audience, so the colorfulness is to be expected. I don’t want it to sound like I prefer one over the other though. Both are nice even in their differences.
The blue tinting is real. Some of this just comes through with the desaturation, but since that’s more present in the original series than in WA2, it’s less obvious in the original. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t necessarily understand it either. It’s noticeable enough to make me wonder about it.
In White Album, you have a small Yuki, the tall and dominant Yayoi, and the wonderfully formed Rina. Rina’s probably the most beautiful visually, hair going everywhere, big eyes, and a very shapely set of curves. Yayoi always has the business clothes on, but you can tell she’s got it where it counts, as they say, even if you can’t see any of that right off. Yuki is pretty much covered the whole time, but you can tell she doesn’t have a very mature body yet. All of this is not super obvious at first glance. Rina’s form is pretty obvious, but no one makes a giant deal about it.
Then we get to White Album 2. Suddenly, though the girls are obviously youthful in body, we’re getting close looks at odd angles. Enter fan service. This was totally absent in the original series, and emerged suddenly and heavily in the the second. I don’t understand it. I never even thought about it much in the original series. The girls were beautiful, and not just for their bodies. You didn’t even notice there wasn’t any fan service in that series until you see it appear in WA2. And it didn’t do anything for WA2. It was completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the story. Setsuna and Kazusa are decently pretty as far as anime girls go; they didn’t need fan service to enhance their attractiveness. Besides, the sexual side of things wasn’t even a major factor in WA2. You have the thing with Kazusa and Haruki near the end of the series, but it’s the only instance of anything physical other than kissing. And that scene has little fan service that I can remember. Oh well. Fan service.
The other little things work fine. The cinematography (for lack of a better anime word), particularly with lighting in WA2, is really nice. The little details like the scenes with snow are really nice. Animation doesn’t play a big role obviously, so there’s not much to say there. I’m never a big fan of all the gyrating that idols do when they’re singing on stage, but that’s a problem for the idol world and not for the anime world.
Overall, the artwork is nice enough, but nothing exceptional. The girls are a bit of a missed opportunity. Think of the really popular harem shows out there: you all can visually recall a Rias Gremory (High School DxD) or a Miku Nanako (The Quintessential Quintuplets). Most people, regardless of seinen audiences and all that, couldn’t visually identify most of these girls. If it’s about the girls it should be about the girls. So visually the artists missed just a bit on this. But I’m not dissatisfied. It’s anime art: it looks great!
The two series follow completely different storylines, but there are two constants in both series: they’re both heavily story-driven, and they’re both as sad as a non-tragic drama can be.
White Album follows Yuki and Fujii as they grow into young adults. Fujii doesn’t have a solid direction in life, but Yuki is on the fast track to stardom in the idol world. The first thing you might think about this show is that it’s similar to the American story that’s been remade in Hollywood movies multiple times (A Star Is Born). I think that keeps some viewers on their toes, even if you’ve never seen that story before. We can easily imagine the guy becoming jealous of the girlfriend’s success. I don’t know if people really are like that, but it’s a common storyline in dramas like this. Interestingly, this never obviously occurs.
Instead, Fujii is carried in and out of the currents that flow through this turbulent idol world. For this lucky guy, that means interacting with more than one very attractive female. Rina is the first to set her sights on him romantically, then Yayoi in her schemes, and finally Menou in the end as she tries to sate her dissatisfaction through Fujii. Not to mention his circle of friends from high school and college; these females seem to want him even more than the idol industry girls.
So it’s a harem story. But the truth is, it doesn’t feel like a harem story. Number one, we’re all probably accustomed to harem being rom-com. Drama harem is pretty unusual if you think about it. Second, the show is very, very sad. Most people think of harem as being titillating, not heartbreaking. It’s that sadness in this show that separates it from other dramas I’ve seen.
When most people think “drama,” they think of overdramatic shows, in any medium, where the scenarios are contrived for their drama, often including a lot of scandal or lasciviousness. That’s mostly not the case here. The drama, the sadness, in the original White Album comes from the real humanness of the situations these couples find themselves in. It is very dramatic, but it never feels contrived. These situations are familiar to most of us in our real world lives. Lovers’ paths do diverge when they’re faced with something as seemingly mundane as career choices, especially as they age out of the idyllic childhood age. People’s family members, who they might have been extremely close to, do die tragically occasionally, leaving the grieving person looking for someone to fill that hole in their heart. Having a lover forced away from you as a new and powerful personality inserts itself into that gap can cause a previously faithful lover to question himself. Calling your lover over and over again on the phone and he or she never picking up is stressful to the point of being heartbreaking. It’s very sad, and we don’t even realize it until it’s put in front of us.
For those who have had such experiences, this show is devastating. Everything is sad, and no other emotion displaces it. Yayoi kissing Fujii got me excited, but more made my heart hurt the more times it happened. Yuki standing at the pay phone listening to it ring on Fujii’s end was nearly unbearable to watch after a while. Rina’s gaze even made me sad eventually. Haruka’s sad eyes and soft, limited speech was very sad. Even the mild disgust I felt at Misaki was covered over in the sadness I felt for her situation. Even the snow was sad at the end, as I recalled such moments in my own memories of the past.
Here’s a bit of a story: I watched White Album probably in 2016 or so. I thought it was one of the saddest anime I’d ever seen. And I continued to maintain that as I continued to watch anime thereafter. I actually didn’t realize there was a White Album 2 for something like two years after finishing the original series. And after learning this second part existed, I remember my first set of thoughts that immediately followed: how could it be better? No way anything could be as sad as the original series.
I was very wrong.
For the first half or so of WA2, I thought my prediction was correct. The show seemed sweet, but was a little aimless, and lacked a little in the feeling that the original series mostly maintained all throughout. I figured Touma had some interest in Kitahara, but I gave no thought to how that would manifest. But slowly I became more and more aware not only of her feelings, but of how extreme they were. The sadness of the situation began to set in at that point. But nothing could have prepared me what was to come in the end.
Above I noted how it almost seemed like Haruki seemed unmoved by sexual desire, particularly in contrast to Fujii from the original series. It was almost extreme. I thought he was “friend zoning” both Setsuna and Kazusa. You could tell that Setsuna loved him from first sight, and Kazusa’s situation was becoming clearer with each episode. I really did think he just wanted the three of them to remain friends. Then Setsuna said the same thing. The only one who didn’t say anything about the three of them was Kazusa, who of course was hiding her feelings internally.
Then the school festival happened, they had their friend zone high point, and the wall began to crack. Kazusa shares another cold moment with Haruki before he falls asleep in their music room at school. She kisses him as he sleeps, the best she can manage to do to express her overwhelming feelings. She runs away, but secretly Setsuna sees it. Setsuna, motivated by the fear that she will lose him to Kazusa, does what Kazusa could not. She wakes Haruki up and confesses her love to him right there, which Haruki accepts.
Three distinct and wonderful story points are happening here. First is Haruki not understanding his own feelings. When I say it felt like he really just wanted the three of them to remain friends, I think the storywriters really wanted us to think that’s what he believed. He didn’t understand what he was feeling, couldn’t differentiate his feelings for the two together from each individual. This is another of those things that many viewers can identify with. While most of us may not know what it’s like to be torn between two loves, a lot of us have misunderstood our own feelings until it’s too late. Because eventually Haruki does learn exactly what his feelings are: when he’s about to lose the one he loves. And, true to his nature, he acts quickly upon his understanding, and there wounds Setsuna to the heart as he runs away from her in the end. It’s extremely sad.
Second, Setsuna’s storyline develops rapidly through here. Up til now she was the “new girl,” and she seemed really into Haruki and all, and you kind of figured she would end up with him at some point, but now suddenly it was happening. And as it become clearer what she knew, what she said, and when she knew and said it all, she begins to look a little suspicious. She was the energetic and sensitive young lover at first. Suddenly she was the conniving, jealous rival. At first this manifests as “I want us to all be friends” just like Haruki would say, but upon seeing Kazusa kiss the unknowing Haruki, she acts on impulse and takes what she wants for herself, and yet she maintains the “let’s be friends” thing even after this.
As irritating as this might be to an audience once they realize the truth behind the situation, this feeling only lasts a moment. Because almost immediately it’s replaced by a dreadful scene where Haruki runs away from Setsuna, with them right in front of their friends, running after Kazusa. Setsuna is left standing there in shame. My heart broke for her then, despite it all. She wasn’t so bad. She just was in love. People will do strange things when they’re in love. So I was sad again. But then nearly this same thing happened again! Setsuna still wants Haruki, even after Haruki explains everything to her as they both ride to the airport to see Kazusa off to Vienna (studying piano with her mother). They arrive at the airport, and as soon as Haruki sees Kazusa he bolts for her, again leaving Setsuna standing alone. She muses tearfully to herself that even though she truly loved Haruki, she knew she never loved him as much as Kazusa did, and that she’d come between them. It’s very sad.
Third, Kazusa’s situation is instantly changed for the worse. Here she was, struggling with her personality and her feelings and her situation at home, finally beginning to enjoy her life and her newfound friendships, and experiencing this blossoming love for Haruki, even if it was from a distance. Then suddenly it ends. Haruki and Setsuna are going out. A slow paced love story becomes a nightmare for her overnight. “We should all still be friends!”
Kazusa can’t say anything. She couldn’t say anything to declare her love before. How shall she say anything now? “No, I want him instead. I had him first. I loved him first. I’ve loved him for a long time.” She can’t say any of that. Because on some level she also wants them all to remain friends, yet, in her heart of hearts, she also wants Haruki. She’s unwilling to take the stab at their mutual friendship, unlike Setsuna. It was unreasonable for Setsuna to ask them to remain friends, but what other choice did Kazusa or she have? Ask Kazusa to go away? Say they weren’t friends, when that wasn’t true? Was Kazusa to leave them to their lovemaking and lose any chance she had to be close to Haruki?
Her watching Haruki and falling in love with him had become her watching Haruki as he and another fell in love with each other. And there was no more she could do about this now than she could to declare her love before. It’s magnificent writing. And it’s almost unbearably sad.
Behind Your Lie in April, and the moment between episodes when Kaori dies, these last few episodes of White Album 2 are the second saddest moments in anime that I’ve ever seen. The viewer is mildly aware of what’s going on with Kazusa, and realizes she’s having to watch these two be together as lovers. But there’s still uncertainty in our hearts too. Maybe Kazusa doesn’t love Haruki. Maybe she just sees him as a friend. Maybe she really does see him as an annoyance more than anything. I wasn’t ready when, before she left the country and Haruki attempted to persuade her to stay, she turned on him in the streets that night and said “How can you say that?” as she turns her back to him to hide her tears. “You’re the one who went somewhere I could never follow!” she said. “I can never have you, yet you want me stay around you forever?
“I get my heart ripped out in front of me every day…and that’s somehow all my fault?”
It only got harder to watch after that. This was the point at which I’d no sooner turn on a new episode and the music and the scenery would make me cry within a second. Haruki points out that he didn’t know she had feelings for him, that she didn’t say anything. She thinks he should have known, presumably because he was the only one she allowed into her life, teaching him about the guitar, playing in his concert, and above all, playing along with him on the piano when he was in one music room struggling with the “White Album” song on his guitar and she was in the other. Lovers often don’t communicate. Sometimes it turns out like this.
It was hard to watch. Most of us have had situations where we don’t communicate with someone we love carefully, and it creates misunderstandings or pain in our hearts. Sometimes it gets resolved well. Sometimes it doesn’t. I hope no one ever has to go through a situation where your heart gets broken because you couldn’t communicate your love until it’s too late. But I’m sure some of you have. Even if you haven’t experienced this kind of situation, we can almost all share the deepest sympathy with Kazusa here. Relatability is powerful in anime, and for it to be so powerful here in such a powerful situation is quite something.
The writers did a magnificent job building the drama to this point. It really didn’t seem like much drama was going on early in the show, but it absolutely was building. Later on we see flashbacks of Setsuna before she sings on the rooftop, or of Kazusa surreptitiously watching Haruki from her desk, and we see that all this really was building up during the early episodes. And when it comes to a head, it really comes to a head. And it doesn’t just blow up and disperse. This heart wrenching feeling stays around until the end of the series. It was hard to watch, in the best sense.
Another sad factor is another consistency between the two series: none of the lovers end up together in the end. It’s left open-ended in both shows. Fujii and Yuki seem to kind of have things resolved between them in the end, but they’re not boyfriend-girlfriend again. And in WA2, Haruki leaves his heart in Kazusa’s care as she travels to Vienna, and he and Setsuna have very little chance of being together. I guess there are arguments going both ways on whether this is a good or a bad thing. But I kind of like it being a hallmark of this series.
Some loose ends and then I’ll wrap this up. The Browning poetry thing with the goddesses in the original series was clever, but I’m not sure how intricately it was bound into the story, or whether it particularly added anything. I am not familiar with Browning’s work, much less the one being drawn on for this story. Still, it’s kind of interesting, even if I don’t fully understand its underpinnings. I can presume a guy at the center of a harem might truly feel like he has goddesses around him, but not having experienced that, I cannot be sure.
The timeline is a little weird in this show. Or I guess I should say the setting for the time. White Album is based in the late 1980s, if I’m not mistaken. WA2 is placed in the early 2000s, so both shows are based some ten or more years before their publication. I found that a little curious.
Lastly, I love the snow thing going on in this show. You’ve got “Yuki”, you’ve got “Setsuna,” you’ve got “White Album” and its snow themes, you’ve got the key events happening in winter amidst beautiful snowy scenery that makes the heart strain for paradise. It’s all very beautiful. Snow is such an ethereal, beautiful thing, yet it’s also so terrible and so powerful, it’s a perfect backdrop for stories such as these. It absolutely made everything about this show that much better.
This show is hard to watch at times, especially at the end of WA2. But only in that strange, human kind of way that we sometimes enjoy crying over a sad story well told. It was hard to watch because of how unimaginably sad it was yes, but I would never have stopped watching it. That’s another thing that makes anime great. Live-action drama can have its merits, but it will never have the sheer beauty and power that anime can in this realm. I am continually frustrated that there’s not more anime drama out there. Most successful anime films are dramas, so I don’t understand why TV series consign drama to the seinen category and so studios produce maybe four or five of them every year, if that. It’s such a powerful category in the world of anime. This is one of the finest examples of it.
Before I let any more time and text go by, I should note this is a music anime. As some of you know, I generally hate music anime. I didn’t even want to watch this show initially because I knew it was a music anime. It’s funny actually, because two of my favorite anime all time are music anime, this one and Zombie Land Saga. I’m not even totally certain why I so dislike the music genre. The gyrating idol thing is annoying, but surely that isn’t enough to form the basis of dislike for an entire genre. Perhaps even I do not understand all my feelings even at my age.
As far as the music itself goes: it’s okay. The good thing is it’s very sad feeling, and adds to the sadness of the show. I could not listen to that sad string section in WA2 after a while without getting tears in my eyes. The songs from the original White Album were okay, if they do have a little of that singular idol triteness. Still, they fit the show overall. And I love how they factored into White Album 2. Remember how I said I didn’t realize there was a White Album 2 for a long time? So when I actually watched it, I didn’t remember any of the details from the original series. So on the more recent rewatch of both series, I realized Yuki’s “White Album” was the basis for the shared musical interest between Kazusa and Haruki, and I realized that the second song the three friends did at their concert was Rina’s song from the end of the original series.
But the crowning music moment for me was how the series introduced the third song that Haruki, Kazusa, and Setsuna play at their concert. The concert happens around the halfway point of the series, but we don’t get to hear their third song even though Setsuna announces they’re going to play it. We skip right to the nighttime scene between Kazusa and Haruki in the piano room. So you’re left wondering about that song. Then, at the very end of the show, we flash back one last time and get to hear that song. And it’s a sad song about disappointed love, very similar to the very things the characters experience in the show. It was so sad. So when you sit there and listen to it, not only are you reminded of everything that just happened and you feel that sadness again, but you realize how the song did a bit of foreshadowing for the characters themselves at the time they wrote and played it. It’s really interesting how it ties into the story.
I hear tell that this was sourced from a “visual novel.” This was one of those PC CD-ROM games initially? I was surprised by this. I suppose it doesn’t matter: either way, it’s a well written story. And i suppose this isn’t that unusual, especially for romance and drama stories. We’re so used to seeing the majority of anime come from light novels or manga that perhaps this game/visual novel medium feels unusual.
This is one amazing, beautiful show. It’s in the top 5 saddest anime I’ve ever seen. Your Lie in April is immovable at the top, but this show easily competes with the films Grave of the Fireflies and A Silent Voice for position on that list. For this show to not be based around tragedy like those anime and yet still compare in sadness is quite something. You all know how devastating those anime are. This won’t leave you feeling dead afterward like those will, but it’s just as emotional an experience while you’re down in it. I honestly thought that, after rewatching this show, that I would rethink my opinion on its sadness. On the contrary, it has cemented itself solidly in that position. It will be hard to move it.
For fans of romantic drama, stop what you’re doing, take a week off from work, and grab your tissues and hold on to your heart, and let White Album wash over you as the tears pour from your eyes. It’s an experience that should not be missed.