Anime soap operas. It seems to be a new trend nowadays, especially for bishoujo game-to anime adaptations that dare to be different. If an anime based on an eroge or visual novel doesn’t want to be thrown into the generic pile of shows with the same story patterns, same character archetypes and same ridiculously lame male leads, it must be turned into serious business. It means featuring a lot of intrigue, drama and sometimes excessive emoness. What I have here to review is quite an excellent example of that kind of transition. Made more than a decade ago, White Album is considered one of the earlier well-loved visual novels. Today, with a fresh reimagination and a new medium, White Album is back to put those cold and harsh winters in our minds once again.
While I have not played the actual game itself, sources say that it is your typical run-of-the-mill piece, well it’s one of the first of its kind after all back in 1998. We have a guy (Touya Fujii) with his harem of girls, including two pop singers, the rising star (Yuki Morikawa) and the experienced idol (Rina Ogata). The main point of the game would be about Touya and Yuki being lovers, but slowly getting separated because of her pop idol work, and so Touya would wander around pursuing other girls (depending on the gamer’s preference of course) including Rina who is actually close friends with Yuki, so drama ensues there too. Other girls would include some childhood friends, an idol manager, a kid (no harm done), and another idol. We have more or less the same setup in the new anime as well, but when I say reimagination, it means taking the concept of the original visual novel to a whole new level.
White Album, if I try to describe in one word, is overwhelming. The way the story is presented is so complex it frustrated me many times over the course of my watching. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s happening. Secrets pile up, and characters just do and say stuff that kept me guessing. I mean, how can a romance story be this confusing? And with the timeline being 1986, an era where no cellphone exists, means that characters are almost glued to their line telephones and public pay phones. To a ridiculous extent, many scenes feature people just talking via phone and answering machines. Within all this confusion, let me describe the big picture here, as most events in White Album would revolve around the idol business. The first half of the series focused on the Christmas season, and having major concerts for Yuki and Rina, as well as their rivals in show business, all spearheaded by those two old people. The second half focused on a certain Venus festival, an event which highlights new talent and would be a big boost to an artist’s popularity if they participate in it.
What was clear initially is that Touya is quite a pimp. He “literally” hits on quite a number of girls throughout this series. Surely this would be a character to hate on the surface. To make things worse, he has this concept of “goddesses”, girls who he expects to protect and/or save him from bad situations. With this line of thinking, he interacts with many girls, expecting something from them. When I say it that way, it seems that the girls themselves are so foolish to interact and even hit on him, but of course the girls have their own issues as well. Surely, some would fall for him, some even use him for their own purposes. With so many girls around him, Touya seems so indecisive, doesn’t treasure her girlfriend Yuki, and betrays her love in a lot of ways.
So much negativity so far, but you know what? All this is what makes White Album so darn good. The complex stories just get resolved with one surprising reveal after another. Everything gets explained, and every time it does, you would go “wow”. I certainly did literally, and so I’m trying my best not to reveal any key plot points. To experience is to believe. The way characters just do and say things beyond your understanding is one of the strong points of this series. It’s very entertaining to see these characters just self-destruct with all the chaos, in a way you really care about them and want to see what happens to them next. By the end of the series, no character is left behind either, everyone’s story is properly explained. The mid-80’s setting is not a mere gimmick, it provides the necessary distance between characters that they really have to depend on phones and even written letters. Finally, in a rare first in any harem series, Touya’s “goddess” concept is vividly explained slowly throughout the anime. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a explanation to why a male lead (who wants or desires many girls) has that kind of personality. While it won’t convince you to change your mind towards him, it certainly makes the whole package of his character complete, rather than taking a typical harem male lead just as he is.
I was a fan of Leaf/Aquaplus because of To Heart, and I’m glad that after a string of disappointments in their anime adaptations, they have this certified monster of a hit for me. The presentation is totally solid, with a pace too fast to handle sometimes. Despite this, it had enough time to highlight the musical aspect, as Yuki and Rina (and even other minor characters) take the stage or somewhere else to sing their songs. The songs are a mix of the original pieces in the game as well as new ones. The animation is sometimes inconsistent but quite mature-looking, which really showed some serious business aspect. Still, the girls are very alluring here. All of them are wonderfully animated and well-voiced. This is also a seiyuu rivalry parallel to the characters themselves, as popular rising star Hirano Aya voiced Yuki, while the veteran Mizuki Nana voiced Rina. They were both great here both in voice acting and singing, and maybe this would be one of their most memorable performances for me in a while.
I was a bit disappointed with the ending being quite abrupt, and there wasn’t enough time to flesh out the Yuki vs. Rina angle more. The second half featured too much of the secondary characters after all. Still, it really kept me guessing till the end, and that’s what entertained me. Right now I’m starting my rewatch of White Album, and it certainly deserves one or many of them. It’s hard to grasp every fine detail the first time through. Really, this is a well-produced and well-executed anime that may confuse and overwhelm you, but that mere fact itself will let you enjoy it and keep you intrigued until the very end. Not just highly recommended. You must watch this.