Today we're going to look at White Album 2, a series which takes place in the same universe as White Album, but it isn't a sequel. It is a romantic drama series set ten years after the events of White Album that follows a completely new cast. It is a spin-off. The question is, how was it?
In collaboration with fellow ANI-TAY writer Aestevalis, this review is part of a review series called ANI-NOW (Anime No One Watched) that is helmed by Aestevalis. He has included some random facts at the end for you all to enjoy. I see our paths crossing a lot in the future based on this premise, so I look forward to more collaborations with Aestevalis in the future. Thanks for letting me in on it Aestevalis!
White Album 2 starts off with Haruki and Takeya losing the last member of their "Light Music Club", which was due to perform in just a few weeks at the school festival. Even Takeya starts going off and leaving Haruki alone in the classroom they once practiced in. Despite this, Haruki keeps practicing his guitar with the help of an unseen pianist in the room next door as the two keep a rhythm together.
One day, during the middle of this little routine, another unseen character starts singing along with the piano/guitar duo from the rooftop. This eventually leads to the reformation of the Light Music Club.
The main character, Haruki, is a simple and rather likable every-guy character archetype. He's resourceful, known for his competence his classmates, a bit indecisive sometimes, and he takes everything in stride. He has his sights set on the school festival and never loses sight of it for a second, even when considering that he's basically the only one left in the club. He's determined and he'll do what he needs to do to get to his goal.
In actuality, this guy is one of the most likable protagonists that I've seen in this marathon. They don't shoehorn a character flaw into the character to make him complex. Instead they opted to show us how the traits he does have can backfire in a way, particularly when matched with his fellow characters' own traits.
The other two main characters are Setsuna and Kazusa. They both constitute the really basic character archetypes that you'd expect from this sort of show (or are they?). Setsuna is the sweet and beautiful idol. Kazusa is the somewhat distant dark-haired girl that has some hidden depths to her character. Simple? You'd think, but that isn't really so. The writers play around with these basic archetypes by adding a little bit of complexity beneath the surface. In reality, they have some well-meaning motives and the actions they take to reach their goals can be questionable. It isn't malice though, they are just flawed.
The main characters all seem to be very simple, but something about them feels just different from what I normally see and I'm not sure I can describe it with words. They have some hidden flaws and complex motives that introduce the conflict to the series. It's a nice cast of characters, it really is.
The show ends up being heavily character-driven and it treats the character archetypes with a great deal of respect and tact. How the three characters interact becomes a crucial part of the tension in the series.
The soundtrack of White Album 2, like White Album before it, is rather good. This series sees the return of two of the big songs from White Album, "Sound of Destiny" and "White Album" (this is one of the only links that this series has back to the original series). In addition, the new inserts for the series are pretty good, especially the song "A Love That Cannot Be", which was the last song they did at the festival which we never heard (or so we thought, you sly writers, well played).
One of the impressive successes of this series is that, in a sea of increasingly complex and convoluted series, White Album 2 is a very simple romantic drama series. There isn't anything weird going on. There's a romance, a J-Pop plot, and a likable main character. No nice boats, no weird animation (chibi), no strange plots, nothing. It treads extremely lightly and it avoids most off the usual romantic plot shenanigans that so many of its contemporaries use liberally.
As if to take this even further, there is surprisingly little fanservice-for-the-sake-of-fanservice in the series. What fanservice there is can be easily missed or it doesn't feel out-of-place in reality. Thumbs up on this one!
Mash all of that together and we get a really simple romance series that just feels real. You could do a shot-for-shot remake of the series in live action and not really change anything at all. That is pretty rare from what I've seen.
As if trying to systematically wipe away all my problems with the original, this series doesn't overstay its welcome at all. The series is consistent and slow, but not to the boring end of the spectrum. The length of the series is just 13 episodes and every moment is there for a reason. It is amazingly well paced.
The main character, Haruki, is a likable nice guy protagonist that doesn't have any really visible character flaws. The series plays with this by showing off how a nice exterior can in fact be the flaw. He makes decisions without entirely considering the implications of doing so. This becomes abruptly clear in the romance plot.
The original White Album was extremely complex and had a labyrinth of complex relationship dynamics. In White Album 2: the plot is clear, the tropes at use are basic, and the characters aren't some brilliant new invention. They are both very different on this note. I loved the simplicity of White Album 2, but some might not appreciate the explicit simplicity as much as me.
One of two things will happen when you finish this series: you'll either hate Haruki as much as Makoto or you'll love what happens. Personally, I'm in the latter camp, but this is going to be polarizing for people that try to call Haruki out on his crap.
The series ends unresolved. There is a need for a continuation to clear everything up. There is a bit of closure, but it is a cliffhanger.
Let me say something right upfront here: if you have an urge to watch a serious, simple romantic drama series, you've got one here. Just watch it. While I only got around to it at the very end of its run, this is definitely one of the best anime from the 2013 fall anime season.
The plot is simple and the characters aren't gigantic labyrinths of character development, but there's something really special about this series that I couldn't put my finger on. It is a gentle and sweet romantic drama series that exploits its characters excellently. The fanservice is minimal and it avoids a majority of the weird animation techniques that anime employs.
The characters have simple personalities but have hidden motives and use some well-meaning (but flawed) approaches to meet their goals. Unlike White Album and School Days, I didn't feel the need to smack the main characters at all (there were one or two instances). They are relatable and their reactions to things aren't that bad (just misguided).
It just feels real, which is pleasant to see occasionally in anime.
The whole thing is pretty seriously played and I can't say that I have many problems with it. If you're looking for a serious romantic drama series, then I can think of no reason to say not to watch this. The only downside is that there is a cliffhanger at the end.
Don't let that discourage you though, it is a great anime, particularly for the holiday season. It was a surprise this month after the mixed bag that White Album was.
- In Japan, it is a common occurrence on graduation day for a male graduate to give his uniform jacket buttons to female students. It can be requested by a girl or the boy may give it to the girl he likes without being asked in which case the boy will probably give his second button. Why? The most popular theory states that since it's the closest to his heart it represents his feelings for that person. Why the talk about buttons? Go watch the series and you will understand (also more info here).
- White Album 2 is based on a VN. The novel is segmented into three parts: Introductory chapter, Closing Chapter and Coda. The Anime covers only the Introductory chapter, and that's the reason the ending may feel so abrupt, but there's a lot of material for a second season.
- "Koko ga anno ona no hausu ne" or "This is that woman house" huh? It's some sort of meme between White Album fans and it is used twice in the Anime once by Setsuna and once by the teacher. Think this is weird? Me too. Go figure!
White Album 2 is available for streaming Crunchyroll.
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
I actually have quite a few reviews to get through, so my next couple of days are in doubt. I have no idea which ones I'll manage to get before the deadline. All I can say for certain is that the 31st review will be coming and the awards articles will be there shortly after.
This is part of my Anime Review Marathon that I began in October 2013 to record my thoughts as I watch a variety of anime on my ever growing backlog. These reviews won't come out on a consistent basis, they'll come out when I feel I have seen enough of a series to pass a judgement on it, although I will usually finish the whole series before the review.