Every season, despite my best efforts, there is a great anime that slips beneath my radar. Last season, that anime was White Album 2 -- an excellently told romantic drama that isn't afraid to stab you right in the emotions and then twist the knife just to be sure.
[*Note: Despite being "White Album 2", this is not a sequel as a much as it is a second anime set in the same world. While characters and events of White Album are mentioned, they have no impact on the story.]
Good -- A Solid, Serious Love Story
In these days where the amount of rom-coms vastly outnumber serious romantic dramas, White Album 2 is a bit of a rarity. It is the tale of three seniors in a high-end college prep school: Haruki, an excellent student learning to play the guitar, Kazusa the "bad-girl" (and secret musical savant of the class), and Setsuna, the school idol. The three form a band and, as the story progresses, form a deep friendship that eventually turns into a love triangle.
It is a great example of a group of people struggling to keep both the friendships they have and yet get the romance they want as well. Moreover, it is not simply two girls fighting over the boy they want; it is a true love triangle where the friendship between the two girls is on the same level of importance as the romance each desires with Haruki.
In other words, it's one of those shows that will put your emotions through the wringer several times before it is done.
Good -- Human, Though Not Always Likable
Haruki, Kazusa, and Setsuna are all well-rounded characters. They have their own goals, backstories, and motivations. Moreover, they develop as the story goes on. But what makes them human are the dumb and/or downright terrible things they do/inadvertently do to one another. No one is evil: They always have the best of intentions, but sometimes letting feelings rule over logic is the surest recipe for disaster.
Good -- Selective Directing
For the most part, the story of White Album 2 is told from Haruki's point of view. Occasionally we see Setsuna or Kazusa's actions without Haruki present, but these scenes tend to be short and/or serve to set the stage for Haruki's next entrance. While watching, it is something you probably won't notice nor think about -- until secrets start being revealed as the anime nears its end. While feeling like you are getting the complete story as you watch, the selective viewpoint serves to blind both Haruki and you to all that is happening behind the scenes -- especially in the case of Setsuna.
Good -- A Villain in Her Own Love Story
Without a doubt, Setsuna is the deepest character in White Album 2. On one hand, she is beautiful and talented. On the other hand, she is emotionally scarred by rejection from her friends years before -- making her now keep everyone at a distance. Yet, her backstory is just the tip of her development. As the series goes on, we see her gain friends and even enter into her first romantic relationship. But what's most interesting is how she views herself in this whole situation.
[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.]
We are all the heroes in the stories we call our lives. But in the final few episodes, we see this is not the case for Setsuna. Rather than seeing herself as the innocent girl trying to win the heart of the boy she loves, she instead sees herself as the villain.
To her, Haruki and Kazusa are meant to be, and she is the interloper denying both of them happiness for the sake of her own. Thus, when everything begins to fall apart at the end -- and Haruki and Kazusa wrong her horribly and repeatedly -- she accepts it as natural: She is the bad guy getting her just desserts. This makes her both a tragic and captivating character.
Good -- The Ending
[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.]
What surprised me most about White Album 2 was the ending. No one, not a single character, gets a happy ending. Moreover, the love triangle is resolved by being completely destroyed.
Despite her feelings for Haruki, Kazusa leaves Japan to tour Italy indefinitely with her mother. Haruki realises that he's not romantically interested in Setsuna, and the horrible betrayals Kazusa and Setsuna committed against each other ensures that their friendship is far beyond repair. It ends just as the prologue promised: that the last time they were truly happy was at the midway point of the series -- and that's heartbreaking in its own right.
White Album 2 is one of those works that showcases one of life's simple truths: Love is messy. Three good people with all the best of intentions heading in can easily find themselves tangled in a mess of emotions where there is no right answer; someone, potentially everyone, is going to get hurt. If you need a serious romantic drama in your life, there are few better emotional rollercoasters in recent anime than White Album 2. Just don't expect to come out of it feeling happy and fulfilled.
White Album 2 aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free with English subtitles at Crunchyroll.