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? 


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!