WHITE ALBUM 2
An inadequate guitarist, a gifted vocalist, and a prodigious pianist: three melodies once distant eventually intertwined and thus formed something harmonious. But as it swelled to a crescendo, it became too much. Something had to give, and none of their own melodies reached… Neither did their love.
Three years later, the harmony is but a distant dream. With Kazusa having long since left for Vienna, both Haruki and Setsuna are left to pick up the pieces of their fractured relationships. Held captive by their destructive memories and overtaken by a mutual guilt, it’s all Haruki can do to avoid Setsuna as he throws himself into work despite her evident hopefulness. As they’re being strangled by the string of fate it’s a wonder if he can continue avoiding her. Three distractions come in the form of women Haruki finds himself coming into contact with. It’s all well and good for him to forget about everything that happened, right? Time to wipe the slate clean…
…Is what would happen if this were any other title. It’s not so easy for Haruki and Setsuna to move on as they’d like to hope, for the shadows of their past persistently linger, blanketing everything they do.
A new winter is on the horizon. A season filled with much pain for them, for it’s a season without –
Where the medium is concerned, there are numerous companies which would be duly considered the equivalent of household names, particularly if they have been consistently enchanting fans for well over a decade. To that end it would be remiss not to pay tribute to Leaf, a company which continues to enjoy significant popularity even among mainstream circles with spectacles such as Utawarerumono (2002), and To Heart (1997); further propagating the denpa aesthetic through what is considered to be the first visual novel, Shizuku (1996). While Leaf are still deservedly known for the aforementioned titles which contributed to diversifying the industry through novel depictions of flourishing staples, in recent years nothing has sent tremors through the industry like White Album 2 (2010). A spiritual sequel of sorts to the melancholic romantic venture White Album (1998), WA2 had quite a reputation to live up to for the original WA would be considered a dearly beloved winter exposition by countless readers who have been invested in the medium since its emergence. Nevertheless, it managed to take people by surprise through its undeniable zeal in portraying a tender yet agonising romantic drama. While its prequel Introductory Chapter was favourably received, it wasn’t until the sequel Closing Chapter where WA2 cemented itself as a masterpiece among the VN community.
CC took all notable awards by storm upon release (including scenario, character, music, and general categories on Getchu), and at the time of this review has the most prestigious honour of having its PS3 port grace the lofty heights of EGS’ ero list. Trailing behind it are heavyweights which any dilettante would be intimately familiar with such as Muv-Luv Alternative (2006) and YU-NO (1996), epic science fiction ventures with sprawling scenarios. Yet rising above such titles is WA2, this seemingly unassuming orthodox offering.
During my assessment of IC several months back, I briefly elaborated on what I found so rewarding about the prequel but in light of the anime’s airing several wonderfully thought out analyses have emerged which I will instead direct you to. IC proved to be sufficiently agonizing, yet its sequel is a departure both in content and tone, drifting towards the more extreme end of the scale. The adolescent fuck-ups which earn our sympathy pale in comparison to the relentless devastation which naturally arises due to the notion of casting aside society and all of its rules, both implicit and explicit. Characters are no longer offered a get-out-of-jail-free card which they accept with shaking hands, mumbling their awkward apologies all the while. To get what they want – truly, reach down to what they desire more than anything – something must be sacrificed. With a premise as hefty as CC’s, the idealistic possibility of obtaining everything is non-existent.
If you were not a fan of IC you are certainly going to loathe CC, of this I can attest. In recent months I have seen numerous accounts from fans imploring others that disliked IC to persist onto CC but it is very much a work you either care for or don’t from the very beginning. However, if you found yourself taken with the struggles of our terrible trio, I can guarantee that you will experience a truly special work deserving of its dizzyingly high accolades.
Our protagonist Haruki grazes himself every time he tries to gather up the pieces of his past. A mere shell of his former sturdy self, he has taken to ruminating over what happened three years ago, constantly indulging in the blame game with Setsuna. Gloomy assentation replaces his almost self-assured manner of before, not reacting to a single joke. It’s almost as if he can’t really be bothered anymore and doesn’t feel like he has a right to happiness, let alone getting involved with another woman. Kazusa’s swift departure left a deep wound in his heart, and he’s still quite taken with her to the point where he feels like no one else could ever replace her – be it ten, twenty years down the line. Such a wound can never allow itself to heal with Setsuna’s presence forever picking at it.
To escape the burdens of the past he utilizes his diligent nature for all its worth throwing himself into juggling three jobs along with coursework. Exhaustion is a common state for our hero to be in. One route has him working round the clock for a week straight with sleep being the furthest thing on his mind. When someone chastises him for it, he can’t be bothered lying. Usually though, this Haruki lies easily. Far too easily, for everyone can clearly see through them. Putting up a cheerful façade is bothersome; it’s easier for him to chug along life at his sluggish pace than it is to change and put himself out there. It should be easier for him to involve himself with women who know nothing about his past… Right? Haruki has become an exceptionally frustrating character since the prequel, and many of his actions will often leave the reader resisting the urge to yell at him. Just once, he muses that his parents must have hammered ‘don’t be a nuisance to others’ into him. But that doesn’t offer a clear-cut solution for his behaviour. Nothing does. Human nature isn’t so easily explained.
Just like Haruki, Ogiso Setsuna has confined herself to the boundaries of three years ago. Her time halting and personal development frozen, it chillingly says a lot when we see her room intact, unchanged from how it was. Still the same pink theme, still the same stuffed animals, and still the same kotatsu they all once sat under. Desperation lies heavy in the air when she likens their relationship to Orihime and Hikoboshi meeting once a year. She has become a larger than life existence and the reader almost begins to fear her every time she offers Haruki a sweet smile. Every time time she sends a strained message peppered with obsequious ‘I wonder’s. Every time she changes her mind on a whim. And soon enough, every time she shows up. Trivialities they may be but when they’re on Setsuna’s end you can’t help but feel cautious.
More than any other character in WA2, it’s Setsuna that carries an element of unpredictability. She is a melting pot of contradictions leaving many unable to pin her character down. Setsuna may believe that she has received her just deserts, compensation well and truly dished out… But a moment’s later, she’ll take it all back resulting in Haruki’s nerves and guilt skyrocketing. When it comes to him, she refuses to compromise. She likes to think she’d give it all for him. But our idol is quite the hypocrite. She relentlessly chases after him and puts up with unnatural lengths of emotional abuse both intentional and unintentional. Even after being told some truly appalling shit she takes it all on her chin. He loves her second most in the world? Fine. He thinks about someone else while they’re together? Sure, why not. Her reactions may surprise, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say she’s disconnected from reality with how she’s been treated all her life. The narrative constantly reinforces how much of a ‘good girl’ she is: to everyone, she’s in idol capable of doing no wrong. And this includes Haruki. As was the case with him the reader will be battling the urge to yell at her time and time again. While each member of the trio is multifaceted and very well written, it’s Setsuna who the reader will keep coming back to. Even when she’s not the star of a route, she still succeeds at taking the spotlight and your interest… Much like everyone else in her life, really.
Five years is a long time. Haruki and Setsuna have practically lived an entire life away going through college and their subsequent entering the workforce. To them, Kazusa lives in a dream world going from strength to strength almost effortlessly. The reality couldn’t be more different. She works herself to the bone, still spending upwards of ten hours a day honing her craft. To reach the point she’s at, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she has given up everything. While Setsuna and Haruki have ascended to a certain emotional and developmental plateau, Kazusa has tumbled down becoming more self-indulgent than before. All her time and effort spent at the piano could have been spent on other things, yet she is too lazy and simply doesn’t care enough. The concept of being a productive member of society mystifies her and when she flatly says she’d become a hikkikomori if she didn’t have the piano you can believe her. And what does she have to show for these efforts?
Cheap fame with the media hot on her heels because she’s a pretty national treasure. Taking to her like flies, they ask about trite matters like her style not even pretending to care about what she’s supposedly famous for. But none of it means that much to Kazusa anyway. Sure, a concert of hers may have sold out in half an hour. Yeah, she may have placed fourth in a famous competition but what of it? During practice she’s still getting dry comments like “I’d give you 75 points… out of a thousand”. If she shirks off practice she faces the consequences with the press tearing into her. Like the other two, you may also find yourself yelling at the screen (it’s not as if you spend all your time doing this, honestly) over her actions.
If she returns to Japan, where both Haruki and Setsuna are – will it be for the better or worse?
Waiting for Haruki after class one cold December day is our stubborn kouhai character, Koharu. She has a bone to pick with our reluctant hero over his exasperating vagueness in turning Mihoko, a friend of hers down. Going to a nearby cafe to talk things over, we quickly learn that she possesses a clearheaded approach to things but can be quite stubborn if the situation requires it. If something needs salvaging then Koharu will do everything within her power to help. Throughout further conversations (misunderstandings on her part, unwillingness to correct them on his) Haruki cannot help but observe how her tenacity is – was – much like his own. Koharu’s evident maturity bothers him for despite being three years her senior physically, they’re on even footing mentally.
A likable character, it’s no surprise that she’s a popular gal. Being former vice-captain of the tennis club and the helpful sort she is, people flock to her including the girl Haruki rejected. Possessing integrity, all Koharu could ever want is what’s best for everyone. But of course, with Haruki’s blood figuratively running through her veins a downfall is unavoidable. The approach to her route draws on WA2 as a whole, having one’s desires conflict with what society deems to be the right thing. Slipping into Haruki’s shoes three years previously, Koharu does arguably foolish things that cause the threads of harmony in her life to come undone. Whether it’s entirely her own fault or not though, much like Haruki, is up for debate.
An office lady more preoccupied with schedules and meetings than men and marriage, Mari is something of a workaholic. Serving as Haruki’s boss at the editorial company he works at, she’ll hole herself up in her office no matter the occasion be it a regular Saturday night or Christmas Eve. Her methods may seem extreme, but it’s all par for the course where her work is concerned. Despite her meticulous ways Mari can be quite warm showing evident concern towards her colleagues. On noticing that Haruki doesn’t seem to be feeling himself, she doesn’t hesitate to throw a nugget of wisdom his way. With her clumsy kindness and precision when it comes to carrying out a task, she can’t help but remind Haruki of Kazusa.
Mari’s route could have so very easily gone down the CHRISTMAS CAKE OH MAN HUFF HUFF route, drunkenly howling into Haruki’s chest about doomed relationships. It could have, and I expected it to but there was an unexpected josei slant in its presentation which I appreciated. Like Koharu’s route, Mari’s reflects a situation presented in IC while mirroring a member of our original trio. With her brusqueness being so like Kazusa’s is it any wonder that Haruki can’t help but pathetically latch onto her? Unlike other things at least, work will never betray her.
A classmate of Haruki’s in the literature department, despite her keen eye for details Chiaki is something of a slob preferring to mess about and leer suggestively at Haruki rather than work on assignments. She’s playful, and something of an impulsive figure. She’ll think nothing of locking herself into his room for an entire week or skipping class for extended periods of time. Why? Well, why not? Chiaki takes things at her own pace, so in that sense she’s the perfect friend for Haruki: she will never ask anything of him. All she does is make dirty jokes and keep his spirits (reasonably) light despite how gruff he may appear. Polar opposites when compared to Setsuna.
But there’s an impish element to Chiaki’s frivolity, a whiff of something ominous. Sometimes, what she says doesn’t quite line up with what the reader knows. WA2 does often make use of dramatic ironies, but where Chiaki is concerned their usage is enough to put the reader on guard from early on. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to Haruki… Like the other two CC side-heroines, Chiaki mirrors elements of another character but this time it’s on a more conscious, destructive plane. Her route offers the most severe reflection of the original situation presented in IC and I would strongly advise on doing her route last out of the three.
A tawdry scenario which you could come across in any manga, an ordinary hero has a fateful meeting with an extraordinary heroine. The distance between them evident, the story begins with a (perhaps mutual) attempt at shortening it. Later he takes up a musical instrument in order to woo her, coaxing through clumsy chords and worn-out words. Things that bring her to tears yet lull her to sleep, this chaste parade of blushing and shyly averting gazes persists for countless chapters. Not wanting to betray the reader’s expectations the climax will result in a two page spread engulfed in the most daintily depicted sakura petals. It’s certainly what ought to happen given our expectations. But if for some reason it can’t, then where does that leave our starring couple? With the characters afraid of getting hurt they start playing it safe. Readers who take note of the mangaka’s resignation grow increasingly bored, and so their interest wanes. With a lack of development to the point it lulls into stagnancy it’s obvious no one wants to read on. It’s a series which is only serialized out of habit and nothing else, but it’ll get dropped soon. A worthless series all in all possessing little to no value. With a romantic work, if the characters aren’t able to come together or progress then no one will get hurt. It may certainly perform poorly from both a commercial and critical perspective, but in-universe things are fine. All fine.
But maybe, just maybe, if our fated couple are to overcome such obstacles a traditionally happy ending may ensue. Transforming a season and a song that caused them pain into something they can feel triumphant about, they may be ready to move on. If this happened to be such a convenient work of fiction, WA2 would have concluded; leaving the point of consummation and sweet love words on a happy note. But things don’t work like that. An artificial love salvaged from mutual duplicities can never progress, and the narrative knows it, and wants you to know it too.
We live in an age filled with uncomfortable transitions where it’s taking longer to settle in and find ourselves, and such an attitude invites smug write-ups from sensationalist sites where we’re dubbed ‘the boomerang generation’. College graduates are finding it more difficult than ever to secure employment which doesn’t result in an unpaid internship or teaching English abroad. I’d like to imagine that a lot of people who’ve been so affected by WA2 fall within the 18 – 25 age bracket: the same age as the characters. Although obviously not on the same damaging scale, their transitional struggles end up hitting closer to home as a result. We ask ourselves the same questions they do: when making such weighty decisions do we possess the maturity we like to think we do? Is throwing away everything for the love you read about when you were younger really such a grand and beautiful thing? At the end of the day, whose welfare do you really have in mind? To become another well-oiled cog in the machine, one must take care in detecting creaks before they become an issue. WA2’s characters choose to avert their eyes to keep the machine functioning as intended. But the heart knows what the heart wants and sometimes, no amount of pretending can ignore it.
By the time Coda rolls around Haruki has all the makings of a life which society and its inhabitants would consider satisfactory. What would it take for it all to come crashing down? Despite what they would like to think, the answer is very little. Nothing is as ever stable as it appears and this especially rings true when it comes to a life built on sand: a name whispered threatens to wash it all away. WA2 is certainly not your typical romance, and I can appreciate that. When we reach the end there are no bluebirds singing amidst lush Fragonardian backgrounds, everyone laughing together and letting bygones be bygones with flowers in their hair. Nothing is neatly wrapped up with a pretty little bow because the characters still hurt, quite a fucking lot. Considering everything that happened there is no feasible means of bringing about a universal bliss. The one route which attempts to do this puts a sour taste in your mouth, skirting around persisting issues in favour of a bigger, prettier picture.
Rather brutally WA2 challenges these lofty romantic notions, stamping over love’s young dream. The star-crossed lovers are looked down on for their naiveté and seeming reluctance to take responsibility. Taking no heed of winter, the grasshoppers continue to play in the sun ignoring the ants storing food for winter. When they exchange passionate vows, no violins swell for them. No trumpets blow. What silently greets their love is an atmosphere fraught with heaviness. Almost as if the world itself is cursing their decision, dark clouds hang above them. Instead of sharing a tender embrace, one fearfully asks if the other has gone mad. Within the story’s context, their happy ending is so unnatural that it requires a contract with the devil sealed in blood. A willingness to fall to hell. What should be an otherwise beautiful moment is one the reader feels dread witnessing; nothing good can come from it. For choosing ‘the other side’, everyone they know condemns them – condemning the reader too, if they happen to be supporting them. Can the grasshoppers really make it through the winter on their own?
Why is it that whenever you’re with me, no matter what, I become the worst kind of person?
Why do I cast aside everything that matters to me so readily?
WA2’s subtitle is ‘幸せの向こう側’, meaning ‘the other side of happiness’. Going back to the earlier questions I proposed, this ‘other side’ chooses all the wrong answers time and time again. The bigger picture should be thought of and restraint shown for pursuing what we want at the expense of another’s happiness produces an audible creak. Most of our selfish urges are ironed out through the socialization process, egocentric preoccupations transformed into more altruistic acts. But venturing over to this other side undoes all that hard work. Through baring a nastier side of human nature, society doesn’t hesitate to cast judgment for it translates to a happiness which is not so readily accepted.
To choose it means burning down every single bridge around you. It takes balls to opt for such a transgression and it’s one that can’t be done in a half-assed manner. It should be done thoroughly, so thoroughly that not even ashes remain. For the characters it’s a chilling way out and one they try to avoid seriously thinking of. It may be easier for them to retreat into a dream world where there are no consequences. IC’s prologue opens with Haruki speaking of snow being a double-edged sword in that it can gently pile up and obscure lies, but on melting they’ll be exposed for all to see. In a route buried in lies as thick as the snow which falls during turning points, responsibilities are desperately ignored. All they can do is giddily fling snowballs and play house for if they were to remember, everything would fall apart.
They do, and it does. Nothing gets resolved with such a cheap way out. If the characters truly want something, by god do they have to work for it. Haruki has everything to lose, every choice he makes burning a hole through his heart and his place in the world. His friends and the whole of society strangle him with the red string from either end, pulling as hard as they can. Paying no heed to how he truly feels, they shove him towards Setsuna going so far as to dish out for fancy dates. When things don’t go as planned they’re breathing down his neck demanding to know what went wrong. Their beloved golden girl is suffering! She’s too good for him! She’s trying her best! How dare he?! If he dares to leave such a goddess out in the cold like that, then he truly is the worst. What reason could he possibly have for going against them? As the reader will have long since realized in WA2, everyone is looking out for number one. The happiness that everyone is actually concerned with lies on that other side. Once the snow melts, no amount of sublimating or scrambling for excuses will mask it. When Setsuna mournfully tells Haruki about only wanting him there for her birthday, his mind snaps back to her insisting on the three of them being there that day. This is just one of many instances which expose all these little contradictions and duplicities.
From today, she has become my mortal enemy.
For she has everything that I don’t.
She has the power to do everything I can’t.
She snatched away the man I love.
How much will they sacrifice? How much can they sacrifice? Kazusa is prepared to offer up her whole world, already so small and fragile. Despite earlier self-centered comments and fishing for reactions she is willing to give up more than what one would assume given her cowardly nature and tendency to run away. At the cost of her own happiness she holds back, unlike Setsuna who won’t tear her claws out of Haruki’s back unless forced to, unlike Haruki who is so easily swayed by his desires. Kazusa exits the stage disgracefully, Haruki settles for second best, but Setsuna is willing to go down in flames and drag everyone with her. She has everything but she won’t hesitate to take away what those with nothing have left, offering apologetic smiles and glib words about the power of positivity as consolation prizes. Out of everyone she manages to mask her desire for that other side better than anyone, for no one really dares call her out on it. Ever.
What’s remarkable about the trio is how tremendously unpleasant they are. I may be lashing into Setsuna here but the other two are just as awful. You can quickly sum up WA2 with the tagline ‘shitty characters doing shitty things’ and you’d be right on the mark. They’re all especially nasty in their hypocritical, deceitful, and cowardly ways but that’s what paradoxically makes them so likable and worthy of discussion. It’s what makes them human, for aren’t we all selfish? They inject poison reaching near fatal doses into everything they do – but as I have already said, the heart knows what the heart wants. Their selfish desires are exposed for all to see yet there can be no joy in self-denial. It’s what ultimately destroyed the trio in IC and here it threatens to destroy them again – if they continue to be half-assed about it, that is. Admitting what they truly want leaves a wound that will never heal, and even after all the tears and nightmares disrupting their sleep happiness doesn’t lie in store for them. How can it?
A Haruki-shaped wedge lies between the girls and it’s too much of a hurdle for their supposed friendship to ever surmount. One believes that they can, for they were always the best of friends (no one’s feelings matter but her own). The other believes they can’t, that they never could have been friends (she tried harder than anyone, or could have had her personality allowed). One has her sights firmly fixed on the past, the other on the future. One wants to envelop herself in the artificial warmth of half a decade ago, the other resolves never to falter again when it comes to her feelings. Whose actions in this regard come across as being more disingenuous? Who’s the one making passive-aggressive snipes with everyone on her side, and who’s the one apologizing with everyone against her? Who is Haruki willing to tell sweet lies to, and who is he willing to spitefully call out on everything? Who really wants to be friends here?
And, which side does the reader stand on as the lives of Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa disintegrate?
Before sinking my teeth into WA2, I wondered why an innocuous looking romance was tearing up the porn game charts everywhere it went. I wondered why everything Maruto has written has been met with such a warm reception despite looking equally innocuous. The reason is, quite simply, due to the writing. Maruto casts magical tales with a deft hand, his (and Fumiaki’s) words transforming otherwise ordinary scenarios into something extraordinary. You’re left well and truly spellbound, compelled to keep reading. To keep discussing the intricacies lying behind a character’s throwaway comment or weighing up the parallels. The team most likely has seen people ripping them apart for discussion purposes, and CC takes an unexpected turn in how it plays with our preconceptions of them. Usually, if an author were to draw on their own work within another it would be in bad taste, their smugness bleeding through bit-colour text. I don’t think anyone will be soon to forget Ryukishi07’s stint in Umineko no Nako Koro Ni, going so far as to chastise the readers through a self-insert and devoting much of its final chapter to sticking its tongue out at everyone who’d been following it until then.
Our trio is stripped away of all their complexities leaving 2-bit archetypes you’d find in any trashy light novel. Every other scene involving ‘Haruki’ features misunderstandings on a ‘え？なんだってえ？‘ scale transforming him into a loathsome milquetoast of a protagonist. ‘Setsuna’ becomes a diminutive love interest, not having two brain cells to rub together. With the way her and ‘Haruki’ stumble into romcom hijinks they may as well be childhood friends. And then we have ‘Kazusa’, a sexually aggressive tsundere coming onto the protagonist, ignoring any lingering feelings he may have towards the real heroine. With quick hooks and scandals aplenty, you almost expect it to end with a stabbing or pregnancy to further ramp up the salacious aspect. The characters are warped into what people want, possibly expected to see. Comedy and lewdness aplenty, a maelstrom of clichés. While we may view this as a warped and simplistic parable, you will notice that this is how some people view the characters. During the anime’s airing people kept likening it to the spectacularly trashy School Days. The Internet’s Most Trusted Anime News source™ reviewed the anime and lazily called the characters 2D, describing them in such a way that you’d believe what they were really experiencing was this parody. You simply cannot reduce these characters down to two or three defining traits. To do so would be a disservice and a clear indicator that you haven’t been paying attention.
WA2 is long. So long that it’s a major issue for most who’ve tackled it. To put things in perspective, if I’m pulled in by something enough I usually finish it within a week, real life issues barring. I finished IC in two sittings but it took me over four months to conquer this beast despite all my fawning over it. I’m not sure how long it took me time-wise, exactly, but EGS has an average completion time of 45 hours. It is a major timesink so if you haven’t checked it out yet I’d strongly advise against doing so unless your schedule has a lot of wiggle room. Otherwise you’ll be like me snatching evenings here and there and that’s not how it’s meant to be read. Many complain that the s’life scenes are repetitive, tedious even. Personally I found myself enthralled the whole way through (save for some middling comic relief scenes with disposable route-specific characters) but I can be quite the hopeless romantic so more than anything, it was hoping for Haruki and Kazusa to cross paths again which drove me through this.
The art has improved considerably and for many early CGs there’s a much better use of lighting and everything looks softer. All cozy aquamarines and gentle sunlight, a welcome upgrade from IC’s blockiness. But on entering Coda the art takes a step back, fumbling between IC’s QUALITY and CC’s quality. The faces becomes more papery and less dimensional, eyelashes going from fluttery to scribbled. With the obvious gap between the early CGs and later ones it wouldn’t surprise me if the artists worked on the sub-heroines later for theirs look far better than most of the ones for the main heroines. For tachi-e characters still have distractingly pointy elfin ears, and the overly angular shoulder thing persists, being too narrow for some CGs yet fine for tachi-e. I’m fully convinced that one character is a descendent of Stretch Armstrong for her well arm reaches well below her knees. Clothes for some characters hang so awkwardly and stiffly that they may as well be made out of cardboard, but this is only a major issue where two or three characters are concerned. There’s still that weird stretching thing for clothes with them looking made out of PVC or a plastic-like material rather than cotton etc. Despite being set in the year 2010 some outfits have noticeably dated elements, such as one heroine’s fascination with Burberry. A side heroine’s friend wears a puffy ruffled affair you’d expect to see on someone while lounging around a cocktail bar in an ’80s film.
A skin of its synopsis and many would believe that melodies work in tandem with the narrative, propelling it along but that is rarely the case. Given a work of its length the soundtrack is composed of several tracks which all eventually blend into one with their cheap midi tones. Given the classical touch with Kazusa, I’m disappointed more classical pieces weren’t put to use. On the contrary, WA2 goes out of its way not to have them play despite there being a number of them to be found if one digs deep into its files. If a classical song does have the rare opportunity to play, it will be rudely interrupted by one of the bog-standard thirteen during flashbacks. Thanks Leaf! As I was finishing, I used the anime’s soundtrack in place of the stunted sounding VN tracks and I don’t regret it. They’re lavishly produced made all the more beautiful leaving their original midi counterparts sound cheap and awkward in comparison. A familiar tune continues to haunt the narrative and its characters with ‘届かない恋’. Every time its reverberating intro kicks up you’re dragged back to that magnificently bitter scene which drew IC to a close. Three years on from their explosive performance at the cultural festival, the song has become something of a legend, a regular fixture on their university radio playlist. As characters lazily hum its opening bars, maybe you’ll find yourself unexpectedly doing it too. The new songs are a mixed bag, mostly filled with middling sameish ballads you struggle to listen to even the one time. The most memorable offering is the aptly named ‘closing’. A catchy refrain leading up to a massive chorus, it’s the perfect song to draw WA2 to a close, lyrics telling of a character’s ultimate resolution and willingness to accept their sins and selfishness.
Mizushima Takahiro (Flyable Heart’s Soryuu; Code Geass’ Rolo) as Haruki gives the role of a lifetime, his anguish palpable with the reader having been with him every step of the way. His deeply congested voice quivering with grossness tore me apart each time no matter how much I currently happened to despise him. During the final stretch of one route, his voice still sounded throaty and drained in the epilogue giving the impression that his seiyuu hadn’t had a break. Yonezawa Madoka’s (K-ON!’s Yui; Daitoshokan o Hitsujikai’s Tsugumi) Setsuna was more impressive this time around, unsettling me through her same bright tones. Her more incoherent moments drawing out vowels through shrill giggles unsettled me further still. Nabatame Hitomi (Dies Irae’s Rea; Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi’s Miyuki) as Kazusa performed admirably as well, her desperation leaking through vibrating pleas. The supporting heroines are no pushovers. Nagata Yoriko’s (K-ON!‘s Jun; Hatsuyuki Sakura‘s Kubo) Koharu is sugary sweet, clear as her personality. Her ‘senpai~!’s enough to induce diabetes. Ayase Yuu’s (Dies Irae‘s Riza; Kajiri Kamui Kagura’s Momiji) Chiaki spookily nails other characters while imitating them, taking note of the same inflections and pauses. Kazusa’s infamous ‘知るか has some competition. Her singing voice is absolutely brutal though, nails on a chalkboard. Her version of ‘届かない恋’ is uncomfortably autotuned, unlistenable. Even when she’s singing along to a DVD, you hear the mechanical edge. It’s like someone sampled Setsuna’s voice for a Vocaloid and Chiaki’s lifeless, inorganic version is the result.
During one of White Album 2’s toughest scenes, a character dryly calls the pure love the characters share the most warped there is. In a sense, this is a pure love story but it’s one that leaves a bitter aftertaste rather than a satisfyingly sweet one. It takes all the dreamy conventions that come with the genre and irreversibly mangles them. Are you still supporting the star-crossed lovers as they burn bridges all around them for their own convenience? The hero who gives it all for love is rewarded by having all his moral ties severed, dragging him down to the role of antihero. The obstinate, self-denying nature of the beautiful loner leaves her very much alone, scorned rather than admired. The broken bird spurned by a past friendship doesn’t learn to get over her issues through the power of love, it instead poisoning her ability to maintain healthy relationships. The pop song telling of lovers briefly losing sight of each other warps a character’s worldview with its meaning as they submit to its lyrics time and time again. Love between characters is laughed off as a lust-fueled whim, their reasons scoffed at. And, the beautiful notion of an eternal friendship for the trio becomes corrupted through selfish inclinations. Happiness is eschewed in favour of its ‘other side’.
In that scenario ripped out of a manga you’d find anywhere, a bit of colour may be injected into its grey world through supporting characters. Especially a supporting character whose role is to cause problems, a right piece of work. She’ll make the heroine unhappy in her attempts at claiming the hero for her own, but the readers needn’t feel threatened about their OTP for she’ll disappear by the end. It’s a given. Rarely does this type of meddlesome character ‘win’. They aren’t supposed to, for all they are is a distraction. Having played their role, they’ll swiftly exit the scene once the fated pair confirm their love for each other. Maybe they’ll even be paired with a spare character. White Album 2 refuses to indulge in such trite and convenient conventions with everyone in its love triangle hurting even after a confirmed ‘winning’. There can be no ‘winners’ where selfishness is concerned, through hurting characters they care deeply about. On this ‘other side of happiness’ only losers can be found.
In many ways its themes remind me of my favourite manga, Asano Inio’s tour de force about a sad bird doing sad things, Oyasumi Punpun. They both deal with the consequences of casting the world aside for love, although to vastly different degrees (Punpun being more concerned with the corruption of childhood innocence and idealization, but that’s for another day). Bridges are burned and the wrong choices are picked time and time again, with one of White Album 2’s routes going down Punpun’s to the letter. If you allow yourself to, you’ll be very affected by what this is. There is no moralistic tale to be told. As was the case with ～introductory chapter～, ～closing chapter～ is concerned with human nature and all its loathsome selfish elements. But it’s a selfishness which translates to a different kind of happiness. Its earnestness managed to move me to the point where I still find myself reflecting on it, having secured a place in my favourites with ease. It truly is a beautiful work, and excels at what it does.
Overall score: 98%