The episode of White Album 2 I had been dreading for weeks has finally arrived.
In a different show an extended flashback like the one that stretched from halfway through last week’s episode all the way to the last few minutes of episode eleven would have been a huge momentum killer. Instead it served as yet another example of White Album 2 pulling back the curtains to reveal what we had long suspected was happening but never knew for sure. In doing this they also manage to add depth and realism to the characters involved. We initially saw this technique during the concert episode when the flashbacks showed that both Setsuna and Touma were full aware of each other’s feelings long before either really made a move. They expand on this technique to much greater effect here.
We pretty much already knew that Touma was an immensely talented but also troubled person but this flashback sheds significant light on the circumstances leading to that. Touma was already struggling with her parental abandonment issues and along comes Haruki who, if nothing else, has a talent for meddling. It seems like Touma has spent a good portion of her life struggling with the curse of high expectations as her mother’s talent meant that she was going to be in the spotlight from the start. As a result Touma is plagued with the worry that she simply isn’t good enough and does her best to either hide from the expectations or to downplay them as much as possible. From this perspective the last thing she needed was the smartest kid in the class to start doting on her, thus adding another layer of uncertainty and worry to an already uncertain and worry-filled life.
The lack of clarity provided by Haruki certainly wasn’t helping Touma at all. In one moment he’d be waxing poetic about the piano player next door who’s helping him practice while paying no heed to Touma (since he doesn’t know that the two are one in the same yet) and the next he’s giving her a special gift throwing Touma back into the confusion of trying to figure out what exactly this guy feels.
Haruki has demonstrated himself to be a tad dense at times. Not Ichika from Infinite Stratos type dense mind you, but just often ignorant to the way other people think. He has a certain way of thinking about things that is intensely logical and often focused on his studies and while he’s a genuinely good person that might not always shine through. The gift he gave Touma is an example of this as on the surface it looks like a pretty terrible gift. “Here you go, I heard you’re terrible at English so here’s some work for you to do.” seems like a bad message to send. But later on we see the card that accompanied it and realize the thought and love that went into the gift. Haruki might not be the most insightful one but one can’t doubt his generosity or his good nature.
In Touma’s case, the gift giving episode also shone some light on her character. It was extremely touching to see her reaction upon thinking she had lost the book Haruki gave her. I’ve been there and it hurts so much more to lose something that someone has given you than something you bought yourself, especially when the someone that gave it to you is someone you care about as much as Touma cares about Haruki. Her repairing of the of the stuffed dog afterwards was extremely moving and showed us how this girl doing her best to be cold and aloof has sentimental side to her.
That’s not to say these characters aren’t without their flaws, and it’s those flaws that have made this entire exercise so painful and tragic. In Touma’s case it’s her terribly avoidant nature that causes her to doubt herself despite the air of confidence she puts on around others. She initially refuses to believe that Haruki could have any feelings for her and tries to hide her feelings for him as best she can to avoid the inevitable (in her mind) rejection. This struggle manifests itself in a particularly pathetic manner when she attempts to steal kisses from him while he sleeps both after the concert and again after the hot springs trip.
Boundless and I actually had an extended discussion on whether the kiss in the second music room following the concert meant that Touma actually got the first kiss. I maintain that the concept of a first kiss is entirely an emotional phenomenon since a simple kiss on the lips doesn’t cause the physical changes that something like a first sexual encounter does. Therefore the first kiss occurs whenever the person emotionally experiences their first kiss “moment”. Since Haruki was entirely unaware of Touma kissing him while he slept (I think?) that would mean that it doesn’t count as a first kiss since it had no emotional effect on him. This kiss with Setsuna is something he was fully aware of and therefore I consider it to be his true first kiss. I might be biased though and Boundless is free to rebut in the comments if he so chooses.
Anyway, Haruki isn’t immune from this self-doubt either and his refusal to come right out and say how he feels about Touma is a primary source of this mess. Despite all that I can’t see Haruki as a bad person, but rather a foolish high school boy who isn’t good at reading people and is afraid of taking risks sometimes. This combination of his unwillingness to come clean from his side instead choosing to needle Touma in an attempt to get a confession out of her and Touma’s unwillingness to bite and say how she felt leaves us in the mess we are in now.
And what a mess it is at this point. Touma, in her continued refusal to face her problems head on has decided to leave the continent at the worst possible time and is unable to enter into a relationship with Haruki even if she seemed inclined to. Haruki, unfortunately, chose the worst possible time to be direct with Touma rather than dancing around the issue turning what he thought was a sign of affection into a symbol of everything he had that Touma didn’t. The feeling of inadequacy flowing through Touma boiled over and Haruki is left alone on the sidewalk wondering if he may have in one fell swoop lost both girls he cares about.
And that’s where we’re left with only two episodes left to go. There’s no way Haruki can go back to Setsuna after what he’s done. It’s gotten to the point where just seeing Setsuna in the flashbacks is painful because I know it’s only a matter of time before her heart gets ripped out on screen (metaphorically speaking of course). At the same time, the flashback has put Touma’s tragedy into such stark focus that I can’t help but feel for her as well. Seeing her so smitten by Haruki but entirely unable to reach out and take what could so easily be hers was an incredibly stirring moment and as she drove off after leaving the love of her life and her best friend behind I couldn’t keep myself from crying with her a little bit. Haruki himself, despite all the hate he’s gotten online, is still a sympathetic character in my mind. Seeing him caught between these two girls and he’s just too young and inexperienced to work his way out of what is an almost impossible situation. It’s all so tragic yet I can’t tear myself away.