Review – White Album 2 (Anime)

For a musician, being in sync with the other performers can make or break the experience. You can practice to the point of perfection, but without an ensemble that can synchronize on all fronts, it will always be just a musical performance.

White Album 2 follows Kitahara Haruki, a high school senior on the verge of watching the school’s Light Music Association go out with a pathetic whimper. But before time runs out, he comes across Ogiso Setsuna and Touma Kazusa, two girls capable of turning the situation on a dime and leading Haruki to the most unforgettable experience of his life.

Rather than a direct sequel to White Album, WA2 simply takes place a few years afterwards, with numerous references back to the first series but none of the main characters. So, watching White Album first is completely optional.

Story and Characters

The main characters of White Album 2 are Haruki, a diligent class representative and terrible guitarist; Setsuna, the school idol and a skilled singer; and Kazusa, an unmotivated student and experienced pianist. While none of them are overwhelmingly interesting on their own, the dynamics between them are one of the best parts of the show, as they come together as a group despite their many differences.

The first half of the show follows the approach to their performance, a rocky road littered with many problems. One of the neatest details of this half is the focus on actually practicing the music – Haruki commonly makes mistakes and plays sloppily before the show, sharply contrasting his inexperience against Kazusa and Setsuna’s near-professionalism. The three form a close bond that begins to setup the events of the rest of the show.

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While the first half of the anime is very enjoyable, the truly story shines in the second half – once the festival performance has been completed, the story shifts from following the characters as they work as a group to prepare, to watching how they handle the results and prepare for the future. Rather than relying on overblown melodrama to show how the characters react to a rather heavy topic, their emotions are natural and understandable for the situation, even if it’s clear that they’re not heading for a happy ending. While the conclusion is far from a smooth tie-up of the story, it’s thematically appropriate without relying on extreme results.

Since this anime is only based on the first part of the White Album 2 visual novel – the Introductory Chapter – it’s understandable that the story leaves things on an awkward and sour note. However, unless the show gets a follow-up season at some point, this issue won’t be rectified within the anime itself.

Throughout, the story portrays many things well. The group’s initial focus on music is straightforward and enjoyable, although slightly hindered by some typical corny drama. However, as the plot progresses, it begins to take hold and becomes an engaging story that barrels towards a fitting yet incomplete conclusion.

Art and Animation

Visually, White Album 2 is well beyond the standard. The animation is excellent, with characters consistently moving smoothly and without losing detail. The character designs are also improved from the visual novel’s counterparts, losing many of the sharp edges in the faces for more anime-friendly appearances that still look noticeably different from what you’d see in other shows.

The background art is fairly normal, always serving its purpose without necessarily standing out. There are some exceptions to this though, such as various shots of the sky during the sunset. These make great use of a wide palette of colors and simultaneously looks realistically colored yet unquestionably anime-styled.

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What really pulls the visuals together and sets this show apart is the use of lighting effects. One of the most frequent examples of this is the characters’ realistic lighting gradient, particularly with hair and how shadows fall across their faces. Instead of simply having the typical three-tone coloring for hair and what-not, the gradient adds depth to the colors in a way that really helps to improve the look of the anime.

Beyond that, there is also cool use of things such as lens flare – effects that you might see in a live-action film, but rarely in any form of animation. There are also several points where the lighting is clearly aimed at the characters and the background is left out of focus, bringing emphasis to what’s happening in the foreground without other details becoming distracting.

Between good animation and several realistic touches, White Album 2 has terrific visuals that never cease to work for the story or maintain its high benchmark.

Sound

A big chunk of this anime is devoted to music, particularly as the main characters prepare for the school festival. While listening to musicians repeatedly practice a song is not the best way to experience music, it’s portrayed well enough without becoming tedious – it’s made clear that practice is the key to success, not luck. The group’s songs are also very nice to listen to, especially the impromptu performance of White Album in the first episode, which is one of the most powerful moments of the show.

The soundtrack is a lovely collection of songs, most with simple arrangements and a heavy focus on the piano. Besides the piano pieces that are actually performed by Kazusa in the show, the others all work perfectly to support the situations at hand, whether a quiet moment between two characters or a more dramatic ordeal.

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The voice-acting is satisfying all around. Of particular note is Ogiso Setsuna’s voice actress, Yomezawa Madoka. While she does a good job of voicing Setsuna in regular day-to-day situations, she truly shines when singing for the group. Kazusa’s VA, Nabatame Hitomi, is also admirable in her role – while initially coming off as a rather straightforward and dry character, she is able to portray the more complex emotions that come with the story without sounding awkward or forced.

With great voice-acting and music, the anime is always a treat to listen to. Besides the band performances, the soundtrack provides great accompaniment to the story while the voice actors provide compelling performances through the entirety of the show.

Enjoyment

White Album 2 is one of the most enjoyable anime I’ve seen in the past year. Between a set of realistic protagonists, a focus on music, and an engaging story, it’s an easy watch. The show always offers more in each episode, pushing the story forward while having nice slice-of-life moments and believable drama.

The music is a big part of why I enjoyed the show – as a musician, I understand the effort it takes to succeed, so seeing that accurately portrayed in an anime is a nice change of pace from the normal luck and in-born talent based successes. A story that hinges on music is always a welcome feature as well. Along with this, the visuals made the show well worth keeping your eyes on, as it was always delightful to simply sit back and watch.

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While it does suffer from some hiccups in the first half, White Album 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable experience with a memorable cast and story that are complemented by excellent aesthetics. It’s well worth a watch.

+ Good music, both for the band and soundtrack
+ Great animation, art, and lighting effects
+ Improves upon the VN’s character designs
+ Well-executed and realistic drama in the 2nd half
+ Portrays a fairly heavy topic effectively

± Corny drama in the 1st half
± A “non-ending”

− No yuri ending*

Overall – 8/10
Recommendation – For a great drama/slice-of-life with an ample touch of music and nice visuals, this is certainly your best option.


*I’ve received a few questions on what I meant by this (and whether or not I was being serious), but explaining it without spoilers is quite difficult. I’ll talk about it briefly here, and with relatively minor spoilers.

As I mentioned before, the ending to the show is appropriate, yet still a bit inconclusive. The main reason for this is that the second half of the anime shifts towards more serious relationships between the characters, not simply friendship. Haruki and Setsuna begin dating, but Haruki still feels like the third wheel of the group. Setsuna and Kazusa commonly show affection for each other, repeatedly saying that they love each other, and Setsuna even says that she wishes Kazusa was a guy (while still dating Haruki).

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Then, as the story progresses, the complex relationships and emotions among the members begin to cause bigger issues, resulting in the ending. So my thinking with the “a yuri ending would be better” isn’t simply a desire for a happier ending. It actually would have been a logical conclusion to the story, and it would have further punished the root of the problem.

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