Review: White Album 2

[Synopsis]: With the school festival only a few weeks away and his light music club disbanded the amateur guitarist Kitahara Haruki (Mizushima, Takahiro) seems to be out of luck until one day, while playing in the music room, a melodious voice coming from the roof of the school harmonizes with his instrument. Along with the enigmatic piano playing coming from the next music room over, the resulting song inspires Haruki to recruit Ogiso Setsuna (Yonezawa, Madoka) and Touma Kazusa (Nabatame, Hitomi) in order play at the upcoming festival as a newly reformed light music club.

[Characters]:

As the show is a romantic drama I would normally say that the characters were the centerpiece of the show and that their characterization is what made the show what it is however I actually found that the story as well as the show’s music elements made up a good deal of the show’s strength as well and so while the characters were compelling they were not the sole strength of the show. The cast itself is fairly small – I might even argue too small in that, outside of the main trio of characters, the side characters seem to only appear at the show’s convenience and are both low in number and lack any development throughout. That being said, they are not a negative influence on the show and the individual strength of the main characters more than makes up for the lackluster background cast.

The protagonist, Kitahara Haruki, is an intellectual and one of the top students in his class as well as the former class president. He is kind in how he interacts with others and can be a bit intrusive in his attempts to get to know people however his intentions are good. While he is a good student he is only a mediocre guitar player having only picked up the instrument recently and his improvement with the instrument is a decent part of the first half of the show as the school festival approaches. His good qualities aside, his incompetence in the area of romance is in part responsible for some of the drama that arises in the show and is a generalization of some of the character flaws that he possesses that make him compelling as a romantic lead character. He thankfully avoids the stereotype of the thickheaded protagonist however he has shortcomings in this area none the less.

The first of the two heroines of the show is Setsuna Ogiso who is, on the surface, a kind and cheerful person and having won the Miss Houhou content two years in a row she is treated as somewhat of a school idol. Ogiso herself is a bit more complex and her desire for close friends is perhaps one of the biggest driving forces within the plot as it complicates the relationship of the main trio in unique ways. She is the first of the two female members to join the light music club after Haruki discovers her on the roof of the school.

The second heroine is Touma Kazusa, a musical genius and the source of the piano playing from music room 2. She either skips or sleeps through the majority of her classes as her interests lie elsewhere however Haruki causes her to be more involved in her school life and interact with him and Ogiso. Like Ogiso she is kind however this trait is not immediately observable behind her tough appearance and her persistence and ruthlessness serves as the driving factor behind Haruki’s improvement with the guitar as the school festival approaches.

In order to avoid character spoilers I am required to be vague in this category however I will say that the compelling nature of White Album’s characters lies in their complications and missteps. The characters are very deliberately flawed in different ways and occasionally must choose between what is selfishly best for themselves and what is best for the person that they harbor affection for. The disparities in their actions and incomplete perceptions give form to their shortcomings as people and their character defects. Normally one might get angry at the thickheadedness of a character like Haruki or the flakiness of the heroines as, through the dramatic irony of the show, we can assess their own crude actions in a way they themselves cannot however White Album does a great job of providing the context for these missteps and decisions which I felt made them far more complex than aggravating in any way. The characters are free to be selfish – they are free to mess up and make mistakes and this freedom of character makes them feel alive within the plot and is probably the strongest attribute of the show.

[Art/Animation]:

While the city and school setting of White Album does not allow for much inventiveness in the art department it is executed at a perfectly acceptable level and there are no real quality drops throughout the course of the show. The character designs are fairly reserved which helped compliment the realistic nature of the show and grounded the characters in a more serious way than if they were more elaborate or flamboyant – their simplicity worked well within their dramatic setting. The animation was fluid and natural in its depiction. There wasn’t anything in this category that wow’d me in unexpected ways however the art does a fantastic job of executing the characters, emotion, and story and this way does it exactly what it needs to while avoiding any and all pitfalls.

[Story]:

One of the most surprising things about White Album 2 was the structure and progression of its story and plot. Typically I am far more invested in the characters in a romantic drama than the story itself which usually serves as more of a framework and point of reference for the character interactions however White Album I felt utilized its story to it’s full potential alongside a cast of good characters.

I think the structure of the story contributes a good deal to it’s success as the first half of the show, which focuses on the upcoming school festival and Haruki’s guitar playing, is drastically different than the latter half. The first part of the show introduces us to the main characters and lays the groundwork for future drama and plot developments and is far more laid back than what follows. Things truly begin to unfold after the festival is over and the relationships of the three main characters become the central focus as we gain new insights and a retrospective appreciation for what has transpired thus far.

This approach worked well for the show and the flashback elements of the show worked well to give us a sort of contextual reveal that complicated the latter half of the show magnificently – This allowed me to appreciate the show in simple ways for what it was initially and then forced me to partially reevaluate what I had seen before delving into the far more dramatic section of the show. One final thing I will commend the show for was its avoidance of melodrama despite how serious its tone became – the drama felt legitimate and real instead of feeling trivial by real world standards and again the character flaws and complications complimented this aspect of the show tremendously. You never truly feel that any one character is in the right and from time to time they each act somewhat inappropriately which causes the viewer to reassess their opinion of them in an ever more complicated relationship.

[Music]:

While the actual presence of music somewhat falls off in the second half of the show after the school festival is over it is still a large part of the show. The music the characters play in the show is good and the main recurring theme of ‘White Album’ was catchy enough to avoid getting old in my opinion. There is definitely emotional and sentimental work being done within the music of White Album and many of the pieces played as well as their lyrics offer additional commentary on the characters and their situations.

The soundtrack was additionally good however I found that it had a slightly problematic habit of using only a few go-to songs during certain dramatic moments that caused them to grow a little tired before the end of the show. The songs themselves are powerful as emotional background however their repeated and predictable usage grew a little old at times. None the less, the music works hand in hand with the drama on screen to bring forth a genuine feeling of emotion and its presence is nothing if not beneficial.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

White Album surprised me in a variety of ways and I ended up liking it more than I thought I would after the slightly less involved first half of the show (that is by no means bad). It wasn’t afraid to explore the relationships of the characters even after the vocalization of the character’s feelings which some shows tend to act more coyly around. The serious tone and melancholic attitude of the show pushed it into a more appreciable place for me as a viewer and I was most happy with how it developed the characters in reasonable ways while avoiding melodrama.

Rating: 7

I gave White Album a 7 because of the numerous strengths of its characters and story and I don’t think it could be called anything less than ‘good’. What stops it from rising any higher I don’t feel is any fault of the show but more simply personal preferences and the unfortunate shortness of the show itself – The story felt comfortable in its 13-episode run and ended in a conclusive manner however because of how it ended as well as the lengthy nature of its source material I feel that the story could only benefit from additional content and development. Any great fan of the romantic drama genre I’m sure would fall in love with this show and perhaps grant it a higher score than 7 however I would consider this grade high praise.

[Recommendations]:

White Album 2 was most certainly worth the watch and its concise format makes it easily digestible in an afternoon or two. The show excelled quite predicatively in the areas of its romance and drama and so I would most primarily recommend the show for these reasons above all else. While the characters don’t quite exhibit complexity in the more classical sense of the word they do ultimately come off as being so and so any viewers interested in this character trait would do fine to pick up the show. Lastly, while the show has a decent amount of slice of life style episodes at the beginning, it is almost entirely devoid of comedy and so I would caution anyone who picks up these kinda of shows anticipating the infrequent gag or comedic bit as White Album takes itself fairly seriously throughout and doesn’t really have any comedic traits about it.

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