White Album

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anime adaptations of visual novels can be fairly hit or miss, but when done right they have produced some of the best shows I have ever seen. The mix of drama and romance plays a bit part in this, as these are the two genres that I find myself gravitating towards the most when picking new anime to watch. One of the latest I started watching was White Album, a 26 episode show produced by Seven Arcs based upon a visual novel from Leaf that originally came out on PC way back in 1998. The show aired in two 13 episodes seasons throughout 2009, and to date has only been given official English distribution through Crunchyroll with no home video release available. Does White Album prove it’s a worthy adaptation up there with some of the better in the genre, or is it another mediocre title?

If you’re looking for one of those lighthearted, feel good romance shows you’re going to want to look elsewhere. White Album is much closer to Rumbling Hearts and Nana in tone, as while there is the occasional lighthearted moment the emphasis remains on drama and the complexity of human relationships. The story focuses on Touya Fuji, who is dating the up and coming idol Yuki Morikawa. As you might expect, the initial problem is that the life of an idol is very busy and there are few opportunities for the two to see each other and interact. Early on one of the other idols Rina Ogata offers to help and hires Touya as her personal manager, but this is derailed by the production staff rather quickly. Shortly after this occurs, Yuki’s manager Shinozuka decides that Touya could prove to be a hindrance to her idol career and offers to become her “replacement”, at least physically. You can probably see where this is headed storywise, and I have yet to even mention that like most visual novel main characters he also has two other school/childhood female friends who both are interested in romantic involvement.

From this point on, I was anticipating that White Album would follow the standard visual novel format, which is what each arc is focused on one of the different female characters and their particular problems and the main character helps solve them. But the show definitely took a very different path than I was anticipating, and I have to wonder if this is one of the reasons that I’ve seen such varying opinions on other websites. You see, though Touya starts off not even seeming like he would consider being unfaithful to Yuki this doesn’t last for very long. As he has grown up, he has characterized every little thing that women do in his favor as making them a “savior goddess”, while Yuki serves as his “every day goddess”. The reasons for why Touya does this and why he’s kind of emotionally unstable at times are explained towards the end and ultimately end up being a bit silly (though I won’t spoil them), but what this boils down to is that at some point during the show he ends up with all the other female leads. Sometimes it’s strongly alluded to that this is sex while sometimes it is just an onscreen kiss, but in any event infidelity becomes a major theme that White Album explores.

It’s entirely possible this might be too much for some viewers, and they might decide that the indecisiveness and amount of flip flopping from one woman to the next makes them hate this show. Yet for me it had the opposite effect, as what White Album seemed to be doing throughout its 26 episode run was two very specific things. First, it took an in depth look into the world of idols and production companies and all of the emotionally damaged people and stressful elements that come with it. Characters like Eiji Ogata the producer and brother of idol Rina initially seemed unimportant, but ended up being given a lot more depth than I was anticipating. Every person that White Album introduces the viewer to ends up being developed in some way, often with their personal demons and flaws laid bare and placed on display, which helps to put the show above the average harem anime. Secondly, the romantic troubles and complexity of some of the relationships were something that drew me further into the show. Sure, it’s a bit implausible that someone might have this many female friends all wanting to sleep with him (but this is the typical visual novel setup), but none of the scenarios were throwaways. There’s a lot of drama happening here and it’s the type that I absolutely adore watching, and despite the fairly bittersweet ending I enjoyed the soap opera type nature of White Album’s plot.

That last paragraph might make it sound like I was ready to proclaim this show as one of the top picks for the romance and drama genres, but there were some notable flaws that prevented it from standing out as a truly top notch show. In particular, there is a bit too much emphasis on the Misaki arc and her troubles with an abusive ex-boyfriend in the first season and the majority of the other character arcs are crammed into the second season. What this means is that the show throws a lot of conflicts and plot threads at the viewer without having enough time to fully resolve them. By the time I was nearing episode 26 I found myself wondering just how they were going to be able to wrap this all up, and there remains quite a few unanswered elements when the show does come to an end. I believe if Seven Arcs had been able to spread this out into one more 13 episode season the events wouldn’t have felt so rushed by the end and could have elevated White Album into the top tier of visual novel adaptations.

White Album presents viewers with an interesting cast of characters, but the least interesting is probably Touya which does hurt the show a bit. He ended up being a little bit too much of a blank slate for my liking, playing out like the stereotypical adult male that just happens to have women falling for him without really doing that much. The cast of female characters stands out a bit more, and in particular I liked that Rina and Yuki were shown as being real people and struggling with some of the challenges that came with being public figures. Another interesting element was that even characters like Mana, the high school student that Touya tutors throughout the show, ended up being connected to the story. The entertainment industry is surprisingly connected as it turns out, and as I mentioned before even the smallest character seems to play an important role at some point which helped to make the overall plot a bit more memorable.

I haven’t played the original White Album visual novel, but based on some screenshots I looked at I get the impression that they changed the art style a bit for the anime adaptation. There’s a darker, seedier look to some of the characters, particularly Shinozuka who maintains a cold demeanor for the entire series. Although I wouldn’t say that the animation is anywhere near the most impressive I’ve seen, the more subdued and realistic approach that Seven Arcs went for fits quite well and helped to enhance the drama and overall plot. It’s always a nice change of pace when anime that is trying to tell a very serious, mature story doesn’t go the moe or over exaggerated route and because of this I was able to connect with the series more. However, one thing that I did notice was the idol sequences didn’t seem nearly as flashy as I would’ve expected and I had to wonder if there just wasn’t the budget to really give them that larger than life feel. Overall, while White Album lacked the eye popping backgrounds or catchy character designs of a P.A. Works or Kyoto Animation show it didn’t come off as a super low budget piece of work either and maintained a cohesive feel for the 26 episodes.

After watching so much anime over the past few years, I have finally hit the point where I’m encountering a lot of familiar voice actors. This was the case with this show, and what was pretty neat was how a lot of the cast had been in series that were also romantic dramas or were also focused on the entertainment world. Shinozuka and Yuki are voiced by actors who were also in Nana, and Touya’s voice actor was Kai on Suki-tte Ii na yo. The performances were spot on and sold me on these characters, but I must admit that I haven’t watched that much anime where the voice acting was particularly bad. Considering the idol aspect of White Album is based around singing music plays a pretty big role, and the opening and ending themes of both seasons were catchy tunes that had a dramatic feel. The songs that Rina and Yuki sang were also catchy J-pop pieces, and I like how they were integrated overall. But what was most surprising was the quality of the background music, as there were somber piano pieces and other pieces that added considerably to the drama of a particular moment and stood out to me.

White Album strikes me as an anime that a lot of people probably aren’t going to like due to the themes of infidelity and conflicts that seem to continually spiral out of control. Yet for me, this was exactly why I liked it and some of the plot threads ended up offering more depth than I had anticipated. Although the final burst of events felt far too rushed, the ending was just a bit too bittersweet, and Touya’s still far too plain of a main character I enjoyed the time I spent with White Album and felt some of its plotlines will still remain in my memory. White Album 2, which is completely unrelated to the original, is getting an adaptation sometime in the near future from a different anime studio and I’ll be curious to see if it will be able to surpass this one.

http://www.crunchyroll.com/white-album

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