Dark days define this White Album.
Love her or hate her, Hirano Aya is undoubtedly one of the most talented seiyuu to hit the industry. From the haughty mannerisms of Suzumiya Haruhi to feigning an off-key karaoke performance as Izumi Konata, she is often at the forefront of any series casting her with a main role. When I decided to start watching White Album, I did so knowing that Hirano would be voicing the primary love interest in a serious drama — a role that differs from what most fans have come to expect from her. By the time I finished the series I had a greater appreciation for Hirano’s ability to deliver a wonderful performance without hogging the spotlight, a feat that is especially surprising considering her explosive status as both a celebrated voice actress and pop idol.
The mid-80s. Fujii Touya and his girlfriend, Morikawa Yuki are practically inseparable in their highschool years, but their relationship has been very timid; though their feelings run deep, they have never been able to express in words or through physical intimacy how they truly feel for one another. While Touya took it upon himself to continue his education at a university, Yuki was scouted as a pop idol, and the two find themselves at odds with conflicting schedules and poor timing. In an age where there is no internet and cellphones are just emerging for the extremely privileged, the most accessible form of communication the two have are regular telephone lines, a communication that they value immensely. But they soon find themselves drifting apart as Yuki’s popularity soars and Touya is relentlessly bombarded by temptations at every corner. Will the couple’s faith in one another keep them together, or will their increasingly different lifestyles drive them apart for good?
In a tone similar to that of 5 Centimeters Per Second, White Album really pushes the lack of communication and its effects on the cast. Honestly, while I was watching this it made me question how I would ever go back to not having the world at my fingertips through a cell phone and internet connection. Even when Touya and Yuki manage to get ahold of each other to plan outings together, the pop idol lifestyle calls or Touya is forced into working longer hours than usual — and they can’t easily update each other on their status. You will see the bitter determination that the two have to see each other, taking buses and bullet trains all across Japan and spending the entire day backtracking just to share a few brief moments with each other. It’s heartlessly tragic and bitterly ironic.
It doesn’t help that there are forces other than chance that seek to pull the two apart; Yuki’s manager is constantly on the lookout for her career over her personal life, and Touya suddenly (in the vein of most adult visual novel adaptations) finds himself amid constant temptation in the form of nearly every named female in the series … for various reasons. It seems to reach School Days level of absurdity at times, but the tone is much more serious and mature.
Pulling back to Hirano Aya, she does a phenomenal job as Yuki. Here, we get to see her play a quiet, meek person that is constantly overshadowed by her best friend and senpai, Ogata Rina, the biggest star at the agency. While Hirano is a celebrated pop idol in real life, I could sense that she held back ever so slightly in the song inserts to let Rina truly shine. Not to take anything away from Mizuki Nana, the seiyuu for Rina, but it left me awestruck how Hirano managed to take a lead role without forcing the series to revolve around her performance. Ogata Rina is no slouch as a character, though. I appreciated her role as a loyal, compassionate mentor to Yuki, especially since the relationship between Rina and Touya becomes a point of conflict from the very first episode.
When Rina and Yuki share a stage, however, it’s something unreal. The musical inserts for this series are top-notch and worthy of purchase, though I can’t say the same of the BGM (which feels like it was a minimally remastered version of the visual novel’s tracks). It’s a shame, since the inserts are few and far between; cheesy BGM often spoils emotionally-charged moments in the series. And there are a lot of these moments. Love polygons abound.
As a character, I found Touya to be a pretty generic visual novel protagonist. It’s to be expected, since they typically start with blank slates that are rewritten by the player as they proceed through the game, but his common appearance and demeanor work well with the tone of the series. Yuki is the pivotal character in the relationship, so the emphasis on Touya’s colloquial personality only draws out a more powerful disconnect between the two. After all, what could a regular guy like him offer a rising pop idol with thousands of fans all across Japan?
The series spans two seasons, with not much in the way of cliffhangers that connect the two. It’s an episodic, business-as-usual title that, like many visual novel adaptations, has an agenda of presenting the potential romances and resolving them just as quickly. But it’s not to say that White Album just ends — it actually has a pretty satisfying climax and ending that ties up most loose ends and leaves a few choice pieces to the imagination. It’s the way an drama ending should be handled.
Whether or not you enjoy this series will probably bank on your opinion of Touya. While the lore is rich and the main plot is compelling, we see the series through Touya’s eyes, generic as they are. He isn’t given a very strong inner voice, so you’re forced to interpret his intentions through his actions without actually knowing what he’s thinking at any given time. I find White Album very difficult to recommend, but it definitely has its merits, though they may take a bit of reflecting upon to realize.
Character Ranking – White Album
- Ogata Rina
- Morikawa Yuki
- Mizuki Mana
- Sawakura Misaki
- Kawashima Haruka
- Matsuyama Menou