White Album 2 – 13 (Fin)

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Kazusa and Haruki go to his apartment and make love. The next morning, Kazusa leaves early with his jacket buttons. Setsuna arrives to find a guilty, dejected Haruki, but insists they see Kazusa off. On the N’ex Haruki tells her everything, but to his shock she’s not mad, knowing full well Kazusa and Haruki’s feelings for one another. Setsuna says she only asked him out so the three of them could remain together longer. At the airport, Haruki is about to leave when Kazusa finds them both. Kazusa and Haruki embrace tearfully before she leaves for Vienna. Haruki tells Setsuna she should go, but she stays with him as the snow falls.

We haven’t been on the N’ex enough times to know if conversations of the type Haruki and Setsuna had on it are a common occurrence, but if they are, the conductors must have some stories to tell. Still, the talk Haruki and Setsuna had was something that had to happen, and part of why the second White Album came to a very strong close is that things that had to happen happened, leaving nothing left on the table. Kazusa and Haruki have their (tastefully edited) passionate night together, but it’s only the one, and who knows if there’ll ever be another. After coming between them for so long, Setsuna brings the two together one last time at that airport and lets them have a proper goodbye, even if it’s painful for her to watch. But wait, not...everything is off the table, is it? With Kazusa gone fir the time being, all that remains is Haruki and Setsuna.

While she told Haruki that she liked Kazusa more than him, she didn’t mean it (and Haruki could tell she didn’t). The trio who had so much silly fun together may be no more, but the two of them remain. If you’ll indulge us, we’re reminded of Monogatari’s Kaiki’s talk about there being “no peerless person”, and that “nothing (or no one) is irreplaceable.” In Vienna, Kazusa will repair her bond with her mother and fulfill her musical dreams. Would we have liked to see Haruki jump on a plane after her? Sure, but he may be just as “useless” there as Kazusa would be remaining in Tokyo. People can move on, and because of that, there may still be hope for Setsuna (she’s there, after all). But Haruki and Kazusa were awfully in love with each other here. They may find themselves apart for now, but we see no reason why that arrangement should be permanent.

The three of them may never be as happy as they were on that stage at the school fair, but the future may yet hold happier times for at least two of them.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)
Final Cumulative Rating (26 episodes): 7.462
MyAnimeList Score
 (as of 12/30/13): 8.10

Stray Observations:

  • Carefully edited as they are, the dialogue-free love scene that starts the episode was really well done, mixing cuts of the cold, open, snowy city with the increasingly hot, steamy, intimate apartment.
  • The jacket button thing in the morning was a nice touch, but some pillow talk would’ve been nice.
  • Setsuna calls on Haruki’s phone, but not to be denied their night together, he and Kazusa ultimately ignore it. Still, dude shoulda turned that shit off.
  • We also appreciated that all peripheral characters are given the episode off; this is all about the three leads, as it should be.
  • The episode also ends by finally showing the trio perform an arrangement of the OP “A Love That Cannot Be,” which we thought was the best of a great batch of songs to come out of the show.
  • While it may not have topped our rankings,we still enjoyed this series a great deal. The musical milieu and love triangle worked, we were sympathetic to all three leads, the romance was honest and believable, and there was no simple fix in the end. It was way better than we were expecting and, along with Golden Time, makes us very optimistic about the future of romantic anime.
  • On that note, if the story of Haruki, Kazusa, and Setsuna is ever picked up (White Album 2-A?) we’ll be watching.
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White Album 2 – 12

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Touma tells Setsuna she’s moving to Vienna. While on the school rooftop, Setsuna tells Io how she “jumped in the middle” between Haruki and Touma, even though she knew about Touma’s feelings for him. On graduation day, Setsuna tells Haruki Touma left her a note. He goes looking for her, without success. Later that night Touma finally calls him, and he finds her right outside his building, where they embrace, call each other by their first names and kiss.

Setsuna admits fault for snatching Haruki from  Touma Kazusa, but it wasn’t really much of a surprise that she knew Kazusa liked him, and was even there when Kazusa kissed the sleeping Haruki after the concert. But in that moment, Setsuna, having fallen for Haruki, couldn’t be blamed for taking the course of action that would lead to her happiness. It was as much an act of desperation as it was pragmatism. Her happiness at his saying yes overpowered her sense of loyalty to Kazusa.

Of course, Setsuna also happens to believe Haruki only accepted her confession because he was thinking of her feelings before his own. But as we look at how things eventually turned out, we can’t discount the possibility Haruki and Kazusa may never have gotten anywhere were it not for Setsuna. It took Kazusa losing Haruki to Setsuna—and Haruki nearly losing Kazusa to Vienna—for the two of them to fully grasp how deeply they felt for one another.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 11

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Flashbacks chronicle November ’07 to February ’08. Touma teaches Haruki the guitar and later secretly plays along on the piano; Haruki gives her an English grammer book which she treasures; she kisses an asleep Haruki after their concert; learns she learns her mother flew to Japan to watch her, and after the recital and invites her to live in Vienna with her. Back in the present, Haruki responds to Touma’s confessions by embracing and kissing her, but goes too far, upsetting her, and she runs off.

Touma has loved Haruki practically since they met and he started caring for her, unbeknownst to Haruki, but he’s not fully to blame for his ignorance. This is because time and again Touma has put the interests of others ahead of her own and acted contrary to her best interests, and stubbornly stuck with decisions she shouldn’t have. Earlier in the series Setsuna adopted a specific persona around her classmates that wasn’t the real her. Touma also adopted a persona around Haruki and Setsuna; that of someone cool, sarcastic, and aloof who likes hanging out with them. In reality, hanging out with them has given her nothing but pain, and as the couple she gave her blessing to grow closer, she decides to bow out of the triangle altogether.

Once again, it’s what’s best for the others, but not her. Being just friends with Haruki isn’t enough, and it never was, and yet she’s never been able to express it in a way he could comprehend. This episode showed us that other Touma that she hadn’t shown to Haruki until that snowy night in February when he picks her up from the airport. Even then, she’s put off by his overaggressive kissing (we assume it’s her first kiss with an awake boy), which only serves as a reminder that this is what he done many times with Setsuna. Touma knows what she wants, she just doesn’t know how to get it. If Touma really is the one he loves, Haruki has some work to do that will make prepping for the concert seem like, well, child’s play. Time to grow up and stop playing around.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

 

White Album 2 – 10

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Learning Touma is going to move to Europe with her mother, Haruki meets with her at Narita airport, to her surprise, skipping out on Setsuna’s party. Haruki and Touma take the N’ex back to Tokyo, and Haruki chastises her for trying to disappear. Touma rebuts by stating how painful it is to see him with Setsuna, confirming her feelings for him; Haruki pleads ignorance. Flashback to when Touma first met Haruki and gradually developed feelings for him.

Both Haruki and Setsuna are using this party as a test. Setsuna wants to know if she and Haruki are meant to be together, and Haruki wants to know the same, but he can’t until he meets with Touma one last time. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he learns that while he may be an idiot when it comes to picking up on Touma’s feelings for him, he’s an idiot Touma happens to love, a reality he previously thought had only reside in his head. The reason for this is not that Touma hasn’t expressed her feelings for him, it’s that she does it in a totally different and far more cryptic way than the more upfront, direct Setsuna, who Haruki was more able to respond to.

Even though Touma knew Haruki longer, Setsuna beat her to it with that direct approach, which Touma simply isn’t capable of emulating. But just because one person is more successful in winning the heart of another doesn’t mean they’re the one that person is supposed to be with. The Touma-focused flashback almost reads like a testimonial for why she and not Setsuna could/should be with Haruki, if only she had been clearer. At this point we don’t envy Haruki’s predicament, but given the choice between the relative “ease” of a life with Setsuna and the more involved challenge of Touma, we’d have to pick the latter.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

White Album 2 – 09

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January: Touma practices for her recital, skipping school and ignoring Haruki’s calls, as Haruki and Setsuna grow closer together. The day of the recital arrives, and Touma sees Haruki and Setsuna together. Afterwards, she doesn’t place and does receive any recommendations, but is glad Setsuna was moved. Haruki asks her to join them for Setsuna’s birthday on February 14th. He later changes his mind and wants to be alone with Setsuna, but she wants everyone there. Still, she invites only Touma and Haruki. On her birthday, she receives a bouquet from Touma. Haruki goes to Touma’s house to find that she’s flown the coop.

After what must have been an extremely fun hot spring trip, Haruki is spending his final semester of school like you’d expect: waiting for graduation while spending as much of his time with Setsuna. It’s getting pretty serious, and he’s even forward enough to suggest to Setsuna that they spend her birthday—also Valentine’s Day, conveniently—alone, knowing full well what that could entail. But guilt gnaws at both of them, and despite Touma’s blessing, she’s not doing a great job of hiding her contempt for the present situation. On the contrary, her efforts to assure Haruki she doesn’t feel a thing only makes him more suspicious. Setsuna waves off Haruki’s suggestion they take things to the next level, but that’s just a cover for giving Touma one last chance to speak now or forever hold her peace.

Setsuna loves Haruki, but she can’t ignore that Touma may love him too, and she was technically first in his life. She’s not being altogether fair to herself, but she loves Touma too, and doesn’t want to hurt her. When Haruki changes course for Touma’s after remembering their embrace and her face on the train platform, it’s more evidence that while he has Setsuna, and should by all rights thank his god what a lucky bastard he is, within him a glimmer of doubt remains. But it won’t be assuaged easily, as Touma is out of reach at the worst possible time for him. Maybe he’s not so lucky after all. Maybe a luckier man would only have one woman to choose from, and wouldn’t have to worry about whether he made the right choice or hurting the one he rejected.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 08

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December arrives. Setsuna and Haruki start dating with Touma’s blessing.Touma lets Setsuna start calling her Kazusa. They also help her study for exams, which she ends up passing, assuring her graduation. To celebrate, the three go on a trip to a hot spring inn in the mountains, a tradition Setsuna hopes they’ll do every year, no matter what happens. Kazusa tells the others she’s delaying college to give piano a serious go, starting with a recital after new years, which Haruki and Setsuna promise to attend.

With Haruki and Setsuna dating, Kazusa seemingly fine with it while also passing her classes, things seem to be going swimmingly since their school fair concert. The three continue to spend time together, including Christmas at a very swanky mountain inn, culminating in the three sharing a hot spring together, without doubt the most intimate contact they’ve had yet. But this show has always been about what people aren’t saying, or in Touma’s case what she “jokes” about. Then there’s Haruki the narrator, speaking from the future, who knows how this all ends, and knows that concert was the apex of the trio’s happiness.

We still find it sad that he’s looking back at the Christmas adventure with a degree of regret and/or anguish, because by all rights, they really do seem to enjoy themselves, whether in the car together (which Kazusa drives with increasing efficacy), to getting stranded on a snowy road, to even being comfortable being naked together in a hot spring (major kudos to this show for not taking the cliched anime route here), everything seems to be fine between them. But it’s not just Touma’s jokes, Haruki’s voiceovers, or the cautious whispers of their outer circle of friends, but also the fact we’ve got five more episodes that tell us that the trio’s troubles aren’t over.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 07

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The day of the school fair concert arrives. Haruki, Setsuna and Touma perform “White Album” perfectly and Haruki gets through the “Sound of Destiny” guitar solo without embarrassing himself. After the third song, Haruki finds Touma in the practice room and watches her play piano until he falls asleep. When he wakes up past six in the morning, Setsuna is there instead. She confesses her love and makes the first move, kissing him.

Everything’s literally been building up to this, from the first episode’s cold open. We have to admit, it’s a fairly exciting episode. After all the informal practices, the light music club is finally on the big stage, with fancy lights and come-hither outfits, and a huge crowd of their peers watching. Not surprisingly, they do quite well for themselves. Formally speaking, we liked how the episode simply gave the first two songs room to breathe, though interestingly, their performance of the third and most significant song is totally skipped. Now the dream is over, as is the truce between Setsuna and Touma in the battle for Haruki.

Setsuna knows Touma likes him, but Touma is unable to say or do anything about it, while Setsuna, ultimately, is. Things aren’t helped by Haruki referring to Touma as the “person” he always wanted to be “friends” with, while Setsuna is the “girl” who came down to “be with” him. All Touma can do is retreat when he falls asleep from exhaustion, allowing Setsuna to swoop in and make the move she’d clearly been waiting to make; she couldn’t wait anymore. Touma is “bothered” by Haruki’s presence and doesn’t want to talk about her future, but Setsuna is already planning hers out, and at no point does it not include Haruki.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 06

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Haruki dotes on a bedridden Touma, who insists on moving her futon to the studio so she can watch him practice his solo. Both of them miss their rehearsal at school, and Setsuna is simply unable to sing without them. Touma tells Haruki about how she almost quit the piano after her mother left for Paris without her, saying there was no reason to bring her. The next day Haruki very publicly steals Setsuna away and they take the train to Touma’s. Haruki and Touma show a third song that they wrote the music and lyrics to, which she’ll sing as their final piece at the fair. They only have 24 hours left to practice.

This Haruki guy is one smooth operator. Swooping in as the white knight on his horse whenever his damsels are in trouble; be it Touma’s fever or Setsuna’s anxiety. Rejecting Haruki’s calls to cancel the show if she isn’t better, Touma is committed to seeing it through to the very end, as promised. But as she lies on her side watching Haruki practice, the concert isn’t all that’s on her mind. It’s Haruki himself, and the fear he and Setsuna are going out. Meanwhile, throughout Haruki’s extended stay at Touma’s, Setsuna herself is just as fearful there’s something going on with the other two. Whenever either of them are alone with Haruki they’re on cloud nine, and to be truthful, so are we; it’s far less stressful when he’s warmly interacting with Setsuna or Touma one-on-one.

But this lovely “truce” (or “purgatory”) can only last so long. Specifically, it will only last until the light music club has their concert, plays their songs, and takes a bow. Once the lights go out on that stage, their shared goal will be fulfilled, leaving only their own individual goals. We know at this point that both Setsuna and Touma’s like Haruki, so their goals are obviously in conflict. Haruki’s goals beyond the concert remain murky, though the third song (which happens to be the OP), sheds a little light: he joined the music club so he could write that third song; it’s his “dream.” But as he doesn’t explain why it’s his dream (only that it is) and we’re left to ponder the significance—and the true subject—of his lyrics. (Setsuna’s momentary lip-bite suggests it’s not her). He’s wisely held back on breaking anyone’s heart for the sake of club cohesion, but surely he’s smart enough to know he can’t keep that up forever. A reckoning is coming. We can’t wait.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

White Album 2 – 05

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Things are tense between Setsuna and Haruki on the way home, but Haruki calls her later that night, and apologizes for not telling her he stayed at Touma’s to practice. She tells him how her friends stopped talking to her back in middle school due to misunderstandings, and is afraid of losing friends again. Haruki promises he’ll never leave her; before hanging up she makes him call her by her first name. The next day, during a test, the teacher confiscates Touma’s music book. She loses her temper, grabs it, and runs out of the classroom. Haruki and Setsuna join her in skipping class and practicing. Later, at home, after completing the last song for the fair, Touma collapses from exhaustion.

In a friendship, sometimes withholding information is as bad as lying. Setsuna’s been there before; it involved a boy, and her friends abandoned her one by one. So she has every reason to suspect history is repeating itself when she finds Haruki’s toothbrush in Touma’s bathroom. But as Haruki tries to efficiently get to the vital points of things, he doesn’t let the discomfort he felt with Setsuna on their walk home linger to the point where a rift between them would widen. He apologizes, she tells him why she acted the way she did, he understands, and he promises her he won’t leave her like her other friends did. It’s a long phone call, but we like how it unfolds and progresses, especially when she abruptly ends it after finally getting a “Setsuna” out of Haruki.

So everybody’s happy, right? Well, not quite. Touma is putting so much into the music, it’s unlikely she’ll graduate along with her club-mates without their help. She doesn’t even bother filling in the blanks on a test that will affect her grade, and worse, she shows up a teacher, not letting him take her music book with Kitahara’s name on it. But she’s also working so hard, she may not have any more gas for the actual performance; staying up for days on end is no healthy way to live. And at the end of the day, Haruki is developing feelings for two girls, and vice-versa. Just because Haruki and Setsuna are on amiable terms now doesn’t mean another misunderstanding or two isn’t lurking on the horizon.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

White Album 2 – 04

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Touma sets to work whipping Haruki into shape, making him practice 10 hours a day at her house until he can play “White Album” without any mistakes. When Setsuna and Takeya join them for a full band practice, they’re delighted by Haruki’s progress. They agree that the second song they’ll play will be an Ogata Rina number, which requires quite a bit of technical guitar playing, but Touma promises Haruki that he’ll can do it, even with just a week to practice. After showering at Touma’s house, Setsuna notices Haruki’s travel kit by the sink, proof he’s been spending the night there.

White Album continues on a safe, steady path, neither embarrassing itself nor knocking any socks off with its earnest, un-ironic storytelling. The more Haruki hangs out with Touma, the closer they seem to come together. With practically the entire school save Haruki not really knowing the true Touma, it’s not surprising that even Touma isn’t quite on the ball about her confidence; in fact, she doesn’t believe she has any talent at all, at least not compared to her famous mom. Like Haruki, she works incredibly hard to maintain her skill level, but when he masters that song, its as if she’d suddenly started to believe anything is possible, which wasn’t the case before.

Of course, Touma’s new-found closeness with Haruki presents a problem: Setsuna likes him too, and looks pained and betrayed when she sees his toothbrush in Touma’s bathroom. Even if in reality nothing’s going on, her mind is sure to race at the possibilities. The scene when Setsuna is flirting with Touma at lunch while his friends look on awkwardly is mirrored when she and Takaya watch Touma laughing at/with Haruki, showing how close they’ve gotten in so short a time. We can see why Touma chose not to bring in Setsuna until Haruki was good enough, but in doing so she may have inadvertently opened a rift in the new band – likely the first of many to come.


Rating: 6 (Good)

White Album 2 – 03

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Haruki’s efforts to convince Touma to join the light music club are ineffective, so Setsuna asks Touma to join her for coffee, then invites both her and Haruki to her house for a meal and to discuss the matter. After eating, Haruki and Touma start bickering, and the evening comes to an abrupt end when Setsuna’s dad forces her to send them home so they can have a family meeting. Before she goes, Touma says she’ll join the club if Setsuna convinces her parents to allow her to sing at the school fair; she does.

Touma Kazusa says no again and again, but we know from the first episode’s cold open (and the OP) that she was going to join the band. It was only a matter of how and when, and we thought this episode was reasonably successful in making those two aspects interesting, if not enthralling. First, the how: Haruki works his butt off to no avail; it isn’t until Setsuna enters the fray that progress is made. Setsuna looks a bit of an airhead next to the tall, prim, composed Touma, but she manages to outmaneuver her in conversation; the moments when Touma doesn’t have an instant response are pretty fun.

Setsuna andTouma aren’t really as different as they look, sound, and interact with family. Both have to deal with reputations thrust upon them with little or no control over them, and both show the world a person different from their true selves. Setsuna trusts Haruki’s insistance that Touma really is a sweet girl, and Touma proves it by making a deal with Setsuna at the perfect time. In the end, Touma has removed her cracked shell and is even smiling. If we wanted to be literal, back at the cafe, she was putting a shitload of sugar in her coffee, so one could conclude she was very sweet on the inside.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

White Album 2 – 02

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Haruki throws caution to the wind and asks Ogiso to join the light music club. The next day she respectfully declines, but when he visits her at her secret part-time job, he asks again, and she tells him to meet her in an hour. At karaoke, where she sings by herself every week, she agrees to join the club. The next day she meets the third member, Iizuka Takeya, but thinks he’s the pianist. Haruki and Takeya search for the pianist to no avail, until Haruki happens to bump into Touma Kazusa after school. When he hears the piano, he climbs out to the window of the locked music room, and is about to fall when the window opens and Touma herself grabs his hand.

This was an episode full of discoveries. Haruki learns of Setsuna’s secret rooftop singing, part-time job, and karaoke nights, and learns that the girl who sat next to him is the elite pianist who played along to his guitar. He may only be seeking their services to augment his decimated light music club, but the ramifications of seeking out and courting them both with reach beyond club affairs to matters of the heart. We know this because of the helpful, somewhat spoilery prologue. But as is usually the case with these kinds of romances, it’s not about whether or not Haruki enters this triangle; it’s about how that happens: the journey.

He’s inadvertently made a lot of progress with Ogiso already; the more he learns about her, the more she warms up to him. Touma, meanwhile, is a much tougher book to read (when the episode deigns to show us her face) and nut to crack. She seems put out saving Haruki from falling. Someone who values their privacy so much would be hard-pressed to join a music club with “inferior talents” and ultimately fall into a love triangle. Still, Haruki’s only ever been nice to his desk neighbor, and she did play along to his guitar for some reason. Recruiting her will be tricky, but not impossible.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

White Album 2 – 01

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When not helping his friends out with the Houjou School festvial, the smart, diligent but preachy Kitahara Haruki practices the guitar in one of the school’s three music rooms. In the room next door – reserved for elite musicians – a mystery pianist often accompanies his playing. He meets the beautiful, popular Ogiso Setsuna when he assures her on behalf of the festival committee that she need not enter the Miss Houjou contest for a third year if she doesn’t want to. On the last day he plays his guitar, he hears the piano as well as singing from the school roof. He runs up to find that it’s Ogiso.

This is a sequel to a series that aired back in Winter 2009, before RABUJOI came to be. It lasted two seasons and 26 episodes, and we stuck with it as the protagonist juggled his kindhearted, rising idol soul mate (voiced by Hirano Aya) with a fair number of other ladies, including her manager. We liked how it took place in a time before cell phones and the constant connection characters take for granted in most contemporary anime, though it often over-relied on those technological limitations to hike up the drama.

This new series takes place ten years later, and that idol’s signature song just happens to be the first CD the new protagonist Haruki bought and learned for guitar. There are cell phones in this series, but there are still boundaries between the characters. There are literal walls, in the case of Haruki and the as-yet un-introduced pianist in the adjacent music room; and there are the emotional walls Ogiso (not voiced by Aya) has put up to hide her true self. Haruki is an intelligent, perceptive, rational, honest guy, but once he’s inevitably embroiled in a love triangle, we suspect those qualities may not help him, and may even hurt him.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)