Love Triangles in Drama and Romance: The Manipulative Girl

Love triangles are an integral part of the romance and drama genre. Any anime or manga would inevitably involve the choice of more than one contending love interest for the protagonist(s). A smooth tactic to add tension and added interest for the purposes of plot development, it ideally exists to induce conflicted feelings in the audience which are inevitably divided into camps and ships according to their preferences. Some love triangles which are not well done fail to move the viewer at all, and we as the audience could scarcely care less about who the protagonist ends up choosing. However, there are a few that manage to tear the audience apart, which are arguably a product of good characterisation and character development, and which serve not merely as a means to an end.

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White Album 2: I don’t know what to feel anymore (Part II)

Now that I have completed my spoiler-free review, its on to the juicy parts and what I really feel about what has transpired throughout in the series. Our three main characters’ actions and the decisions they make warrant particular scrutiny, and more often than not, they make me (us) wonder, would I have done the same thing as him/her if I were in the same position? I believe there are plenty of arguments that support or detract from what the characters ultimately chose to do, and herein lies the crux of the series and how controversial it can potentially be.

*contains spoilers from this point on*

The Conclusion

There probably isn’t any other way to go about doing this other than evaluating the resolution or conclusion to this series. Haruki realises that he is in love with Touma, and it is painful especially the way they both realise their love for each other too late, and how they just are dying to cling to each other for one more desperate moment, before they are separated by Touma flying off to a country thousands of miles away with no certain promise of their meeting again. In their moments of desperation they throw away all their inhibitions and embrace each other, like they are each other’s oxygen, at the airport. They kiss each other like there is no tomorrow (pretty justified here though) in front of a crying Setsuna, the ‘loser’ of the love triangle. I remember my first thoughts at this undoubtedly cruel and jarring scene – how could they do this to Setsuna, who loves the both of them, to showcase their love for each other so selfishly, like a literal slap to her face, when they know Setsuna is so in love with Haruki? How could they bear to hurt her, when they also care for her? 

Sigh.

But wait a minute. Is Setsuna the real pitiable one here, or is it really the starcrossed lovers torn apart, a situation that has developed and only arose undoubtedly due to Setsuna’s selfishness in the first place? After all, Touma is the one who left, and Setsuna is the one left behind. She is in the best place to console Haruki, who clearly also cares for her to an extent (just not as much as Touma). And it is clear she would continue doing so despite knowing that Haruki’s heart belongs to another, and Haruki in all his weakness and emotional vulnerability from loving and losing Touma, leaves Setsuna the best chance she has had so far, really, to enter Haruki’s heart once and for all, to be the the one who heals him.

But what of Haruki’s feelings towards Touma? You may ask. Surely you can’t expect their feelings to be so weak that Touma’s position in Haruki’s heart would be so easily usurped by Setsuna, merely because of Touma’s physical absence, especially given that heartbreaking display of love in those final moments. However, this is Setsuna we are talking about. Setsuna, who has demonstrated tremendous amounts of patience and unconditional love despite knowing of Haruki and Touma’s true feelings. She would no doubt continue to stay by Haruki’s side, and since Haruki never drew those lines so clearly in the first place there is arguably lesser doubt that he may do so now, especially when Setsuna is the only lifeline he holds now in this disastrous state of affairs with the trio torn apart, and because of his feelings of guilt toward her.

So whose fault is it?

It is now apposite to consider the question of who is most blameworthy for causing this unhappy ending, which is probably the worst ending within realistic confines without pulling the oft-used cliched plot development of somebody suddenly dying in a car crash or coming down with a bout of amnesia, commonly used in certain dramas.

We may all first point to Setsuna, since her actions had pretty much resulted in this mess. She had actually realised that Touma and Haruki were developing feelings for each other, so she forced herself between the two by confessing to Haruki immediately after the school festival, knowing that Haruki would accept her in his confusion and having yet to have time to sort out his own feelings. By not flaring up at Haruki and/or Touma for Haruki’s behaviour of skipping out on her birthday party just to see Touma and eventually the exposure of the truth of Haruki’s emotional (and perhaps physical) infidelity towards her, she puts herself in a position where Haruki can’t leave her because of the guilt he feels. Her kindness and confession to Haruki that ‘it was all her fault’ on that last train ride to the airport was a very smart move. We may very well be looking at one of the most manipulative female mains in pursuit of romance, ever.

See what I mean?

However, isn’t Setsuna admittedly the most real character in this anime? What is wrong with self-preservation and wanting to secure one’s own happiness even at the expense of others? If we are the ones in her position, standing at the periphery looking in at two people and always being the ‘outsider’, what is to stop us from taking active steps to ensure that we still ‘win’? We know real people who are so hopelessly in love can never be noble and selfless enough to truly walk away. Setsuna is the manifestation of our deepest and darkest desires to turn the situation in our favour whenever we can, and whenever the information asymmetry especially to our advantage, clearly the case here with Setsuna, who realised where everybody stood in terms of relationships first.

Moreover, aren’t Haruki and Touma equally at fault here? If Touma had done the confession right at that time she had with Haruki, she would have gotten Haruki then and there. The secret kiss she gave him then meant that she had already realised the truth and depth of her feelings – yet why did she not take action, especially when she was already, there, first? To be honest, watching that scene and realising at the end that things would have changed if she just had the courage to do that, makes me endlessly frustrated. Yet, this is also in character for Touma, the cold, lonely tsundere who comes to terms with her own feelings a little later than the average girl (i.e. Setsuna). If only she broke through her character and had the courage there and then … but we would have White Album 2 anymore.

As for Haruki, a particularly easy criticism to level at his behaviour would be his denseness in the entire situation – how could he have not known who he truly loved? However, this is easier said than done. We must recall that the relationship between the three of them was very tight; we saw how three different individuals from different walks of life and carrying different emotional baggage come together, align their goals with each other, be honest about their pasts and create tons of memories together. It really couldn’t have been easy for Haruki. He did also sense that Touma had feelings of more than friendship towards him, but those were fleeting guesses which never got much confirmation from Touma because she is also extremely good at hiding her feelings. It is no wonder he continued to stumble forward, blindly in the hope that he would grow to love Setsuna and within the comfortable bubble that Setsuna had already constructed for him.

Maybe this was just one hell of a mess from the start.

But since Haruki is actually the one choosing the girl, it becomes easier to push more blame to him. After all, he was really, terribly bad at managing his feelings – skipping Setsuna’s birthday just to see Touma, even though he knows he owes Setsuna a lot, kissing Touma right in front of Setsuna. I frown at disapproval at all these actions, but I admit that it was just incredibly bad timing overall. Put the guy in a different anime, and he’ll probably be a whole lot more likable.

Who do I support?

After all that, its a wonder when I say I actually support Touma x Haruki. However, I find myself continually defending and supporting Setsuna, who definitely does not deserve hate, but maybe pity. Perhaps this is also substantiated by the understanding that more often than not in real life, the girl who takes on Setsuna’s approach will probably be the one who ‘wins’ in the end. I say this from experiences of people I know; the conclusion may very well be very different or even the opposite for some. For me, Setsuna is too real a character for me to discard as an ‘antagonist’ – she is not at fault, and neither are Touma and Haruki for that matter.

I realise my rant has become somewhat logical and objective, but I hope you guys see where I am coming from. Please feel free to share any thoughts you have, especially if you have seen WA2!

White Album 2: a realistic tale on mistakes in love and friendship (Part I)

I realise I have been on an anime blogpost roll recently; sorry to all the shoujo manga which I have yet to blog about >< However, this is probably the first romance related non-shoujo anime which I am writing about. I embark on the discussion with trepidation because in discussing this anime, what my opinions are may be coloured by some of my personal values with regards to relationships as well. No worries, this is going to be a largely non-spoiler filled post. This will constitute Part I of a two-part series dedicated to this series, comprising of an objective review of White Album 2. 

White Album 2 is a story focusing mostly on drama, music and romance, and occurs ten years after the events in White Album. However, this is an independent story from White Album, and there is no need to watch the first season as the characters are completely different. The only reference to its predecessor lies only in the some of the music used.

Story:

The plot is set in the fall of our characters’ last year in high school, with graduation only half a year away, a unique time different from most school life anime. Haruki Kitahara is the last member of the light music club which was recently dissolved due to a falling out with their lead singer. While he is practicing guitar by the window in the music room, he is joined by the tinkling sound of a piano, and then a voice. Together, they form a band to perform for the school festival, aiming to try something different and make fond memories of their last year in high school.

Of course, Kitahara does not know the identity of the students behind the piano and voice, at first. He however, slowly finds out who the girls are (Setsuna Ogiso with the voice and Touma Kazusa on the piano) and embarks on the process of convincing them to join his cause. The story can be split into two arcs; the first mainly all about getting to know the three characters, enabling them to bond with each other and work together to perform at the school festival and make lasting memories with each other; the second part details the events after the school festival, leading to changes in their relationship and eventually the buildup in tension and resolution of the love triangle.

Despite looking like a rather simplistic plot, this 13 episode series was paced well in a way that still presented interesting twists to the viewer. This comes in the form of dramatic revelations about the characters’ relationship as they develop. With two girls and a guy involved in an activity that creates memories, we all know that there is going to be a love triangle set up and indeed, that is the very core of this series. However, the story does a great job at creating inseparable bonds between all three characters as they perform for the school festival, such that it creates a pretty good illusion of a powerful bond of friendship and camaraderie between the three. The real drama and heartbreak however, happens after, as the characters come to terms with their romantic feelings. This triangle is made complicated by the fact that the two girls actually also treasure the friendship they have with each other. With much symbolism planted throughout especially with special camera zoom-ins to mementos (like photographs), the series evokes a sense of despair and sadness that is easier to ignore in the first half, but becomes more pronounced in the second half.

The love triangle is also a particularly well developed one in the sense that it is near impossible to predict how the story would go and how Kitahara’s feelings would grow. The burning question of who Kitahara would choose is never apparent, and is really only resolved well … when it is resolved.

Characters:

Being a character-centric story, it is almost impossible to discuss the story without having regard to the characters which take centerpiece in this entire feels train.

Our protagonist, Kitahara, is actually a boy very brilliant in academics. In fact, he is set up to be somebody almost … perfect – not socially awkward, able to influence others to set out what he has to do, excellent grades, not bad looking. There isn’t much to criticise about him at this point except for the way he handled certain things when he was figuring out his feelings, which I will elaborate on in Part 2.

Setsuna Ogiso is a cheerful and popular girl who is an idol of their academy. However, she is none like she seems on the surface – she actually hides plenty of her anxieties in the area of friendship. She also secretly loves to sing, and her passion only found a source of release with the opportunity that Haruki presents to her. I find her attitude towards friendships and pursuit of her love pretty relatable. I also empathise with her, as with the events that spiral out of control, she endures and tries hard, putting in effort; though not blindly – I suspect what she does may not be very far from what anybody in her situation would have done.

Similarly, Touma Kazusa is a cold and beautiful girl who also has to deal with demons from her past, and also an ‘attitude’ problem that may present itself to be irritating at the start, but understandable once we learn of the events that have led up to the rebellious Touma she is today. She’s the kind of girl in trouble but who puts up such a tough front to hide her vulnerabilities seething beneath the surface of her cool demeanour, that one would be drawn to care about and can’t leave alone. And indeed, her mask slips away over the course of the series as we learn more about her.

Music:

Since music constitutes the core of the stories, it is no wonder that the soundtracks are particularly fitting to the tone of the series, even if sometimes they are merely instrumental rearrangements of the theme songs which the characters sometimes perform. The insert songs contain that hidden touch of melancholy and are always apt to the mood, especially the one in the last episode which is largely responsible for all the feels that encapsulate the series and the finale in particular. I can’t really describe how haunting and beautiful Setsuna Ogiso’s (credits to her seiyuu Madoka Yonezawa) voice is.

Conclusion:

I admit I am wrong about how much I actually have to say about this series. I am at near a 1000 words at this point. Yet, I have barely skimmed the surface of the iceberg of the depth of human emotion and realism that this anime represents in depicting teenagers being in love and trying to struggle between the real conundrum of friendship and romantic love. There is plenty to analyse about the characters and I will be doing that in Part II of what I have to say about this series, which will comprise mainly of a personal rant and analysis about the irony of this series and why it deserves particular attention.

As for now, there seems to be news floating around that this isn’t nearly quite the end of the White Album 2 story and there may be plans to animate the rest of the arcs in the visual novels. However there is no concrete news as of now so I am not keeping my hopes up.

For those who have watched the series, stay tuned for Part II! For those who haven’t and yet are curious and don’t mind being spoiled, Part II may throw some light on whether you want to embark on this series or not. Having said that, White Album 2 is well worth anybody’s attention if you are looking for a deeper, more realistic take on romance. Do check it out if you haven’t!

*All images belong to their respective owners and do not belong to me.*