A Melody Spun by the Snow, part 1: Analysis
When one visits the beginning of a story after having extensively familiarized oneself with what happens later on (in the case of this series, with several possible futures), it is basically inevitable that one will spot the seeds of later story and character developments. White Album 2 makes very skillful use of foreshadowing, which means that small remarks and actions that might not register as much to a first-time reader can set off alarm bells for one with a larger viewing scope. If the wording here sounds dire, it comes in part from personal familiarity with forthcoming events, including the Infidelity Route—arguably one of the harshest possible branches in the entirety of the story—in particular. That said, we endeavor not to let that awareness rule the entire reading of this volume, as the seeds are still only seeds, and these are still teenagers, which means some level of “irrational” or “unreasonable” behavior or emotion is all but expected. The volume sets up the bonds between the three main characters step-by-step, from each of their three perspectives, and that thorough, well-rounded insight into what makes each of them tick is very valuable.
One thing the novel does is take two characters who, on the surface, could hardly be more different from one another—Kazusa, the lone wolf, and Setsuna, the idol with a picture-perfect family—and draw broad but clear parallels between them. Each of them is shut off from those around her in some way; each of them has trauma as a result of sudden abandonment; each of them unexpectedly rediscovers an old part of herself through her association with Haruki. Though their respective ways of maneuvering through these issues and developments differ, a sort of balance is struck by the end of the volume, setting things up well for the story’s continuation.
Even if one sets Haruki’s arcs with each of the girls together, there are parallels: he starts by barging in while the girl in question is exercising her respective musical ability; he expresses a wish to “show her off” to the rest of the school, to make everyone see how brilliant and talented she really is; and, upon discovering that he has indirectly caused her to suffer, he readily goes to extremes to make up for it. His dedication to the both of them, and to the cause of the Light Music Club that they collectively make up, is earnest and apparent, and unwavering. That being the case, it is hardly surprising that each of them develops her own sort of attachment to him in turn.
Setsuna’s idol-like status in Houjou High School, born of her victory in the Miss Houjou High contest her first year, puts her in an extremely stressful, tenuous position, aware at all times that the façade might break if she lets herself slip. As she confides in Haruki during their first karaoke date, she began working her secret job at a local grocery store in order to afford fancy new clothes for spending time with her friends, while said job cuts into her time for hanging out in the first place. The karaoke, too, is a secret—no one at school would imagine their princess wearing herself out singing alone because she can’t stand having to share the mic with anyone else.
But Haruki learns all of this at once, from her own mouth, because she trusts him. Trust is a key word for Setsuna, especially when it comes to Haruki. He demonstrated already that he could be trusted when he didn’t spread word of Setsuna’s relatively mundane job around after recognizing her, and she already likes him enough to take the risk of trusting him with the full picture of her, the true Setsuna Ogiso. With that step, that trust, she learns to enjoy herself again, in a way that she never could on her own, casts aside her worries about keeping up her old façade, and makes up her mind to sing before a large audience for the first time. A genuine fondness begins to develop, beyond appreciation: in Session 11, as Haruki assures her that everything will work out, reminding her of how committed they all are to showing the school how well she can sing, she thinks to herself, “I can do whatever I have to, if it will make him smile at me.”
As it turns out, there is another, more painful layer beneath her secrets, which Haruki doesn’t learn until six days before their performance at the festival: her sudden abandonment by the girls she thought were her best friends in middle school, and the true reason she has so adamantly avoided getting any closer to any given person than necessary. The trauma of this experience has left her with a deep, almost visceral fear of being locked out of a group. And to make matters worse, Setsuna has fallen for Haruki, which is why her inadvertent discovery of Haruki and Kazusa’s late-night rehearsals causes such a horrendous shock to her system. It leaves her paralyzed with the fear that, sooner or later, Haruki will drop her. But when Haruki promises never to leave her, never to shut her out, never to let her feel that pain again, to stay with her until she gets sick of him and leaves on her own, she decides, once more, to trust him. Even when his phone is dead in Session 19 and she freezes up at the rehearsal for the show, she repeats that word to herself: Trust. Trust. “She trusted him. She could trust him.”
This last scene does tie in with a darker component of Setsuna’s attachment to Haruki, which manifests itself from time to time as a fixation on the relationship between him and Kazusa, occasionally verging on jealousy—a sense of rivalry between herself and Kazusa. She needles Haruki into admitting that Kazusa is beautiful in Session 18, at the same time admitting that she’s worried that things might have been happening between the two of them while they’ve been alone; this comes immediately after an expression of concern for Kazusa’s apparent exhaustion, with a lament that she will continue spending time alone with Haruki, making it difficult to say that Kazusa’s health is her priority in that instant.
Haruki falling out of contact while taking care of Kazusa gives rise to two problem moments in this regard: first, a sudden vision Setsuna has of “Kazusa, lying prone, and of him at her side, taking care of her,” while she panics onstage at the rehearsal; and second, her thought spiral as she heads in to get dressed for her class’s exhibit at the festival: “If Touma-san hadn’t caught that cold, how would I be feeling right now? […] Would she be having fun, getting everything ready? Would she be laughing about how embarrassing it was, wearing this outfit? What mood would she have been in, waiting for him to stop by as a customer?” The latter leads to what seems the most pointed instance of this issue, when Haruki, having realized the magnitude of his error in letting his phone die, bursts in on Setsuna while she’s changing to make his apology. It is a simple few words: “Because the first thing he had said, even before speaking of Kazusa’s condition, had been an apology to her” (emphasis mine). Those few words make it a comparison, and comparisons feed rivalries.
Similarly, at various points she prods at Kazusa with her suggestions that Kazusa might have romantic feelings for Haruki, as though she were trying to force a confession. Setsuna has a tendency to apply pressure, whether she entirely means to or not (Kazusa characterizes it as a “habit of making assumptions”), seen also in her insistence that she and Haruki begin calling each other by their first names. While this is a very concrete way from a story standpoint to show that two characters have grown closer, especially following Haruki’s willingly standing out in the cold for two hours to talk to her, Haruki’s narrations in that scene show that he is feeling a bit overwhelmed. Her physically putting her own mittens onto his hands is another move that significantly ramps up the level of intimacy between them.
The name point in particular stands out when one knows what a big deal names and terminology (honorifics, second- and third-person pronouns, and so on) are for Setsuna further along in the story of White Album 2. While Haruki may only have this nebulous feeling of “pressure” when faced with it, Takeya picks right up on it when he catches Haruki calling her “Setsuna” for the first time, pointing out that it’s not the same nuance as his own “Setsuna-chan,” and that she wouldn’t “just suddenly decide to start calling [him] ‘Haruki-kun’ for fun,” either. He can tell that something is in motion.
In fact, Takeya’s remarks upon Haruki’s situation are the source of many of the more eerily prescient moments that first-time reader may not catch. Contributing in part to this is the fact that Takeya does not get his own point-of-view chapters, so anything he says to Haruki is filtered through Haruki’s “ears”—his narrative voice—and therefore his commentary. Takeya’s riffing in Session 3, after Haruki’s first karaoke night with Setsuna, jokingly accusing Haruki of “stealing [his] technique” and “[getting] the jump on [him],” followed by his joke about the student surpassing the teacher or a proud father giving away his daughter as a bride, sets a humorous tone that is easily brushed off; his admonishment of Haruki for trying to “start out with two at once” (that is, to date both Setsuna and Kazusa when he’s never dated anyone before) during their phone call later on is also pushed aside. The sticky moment is near the end of that phone call, when Haruki states that he needs “Ogiso’s singing and Touma’s piano playing alike” for the concert: Takeya responds, “You realize what you just said was that you wanted to have both at once?” In Japanese, he uses the word 二股 (futamata), which most directly translates to “two-timing” but can also refer to sitting on the fence, or trying to have something both ways. Haruki takes this as yet another deliberate misinterpretation of his wording; but to a reader who knows exactly what happens when he does try to “have both at once” later on, there is something almost chilling about Takeya’s question, like a warning. And later on, just as he notices the name change with Setsuna, he catches Haruki off guard by casually revealing that he could tell when Haruki was coming to school with Kazusa by how he deliberately walked three steps behind her. For all of Haruki’s insistence that Takeya has the wrong picture of the situation, it seems as though Takeya might in fact be the more observant of the two when it comes to certain things.
Haruki does have a certain distance when it comes to dealing with girls, established early on by his having been fully immune to Tomo Yanagihara when she brought the original Light Music Club down in flames. At times, that distance might be more subjectively called “cluelessness,” particularly when he doesn’t realize how his words sound: when he “confesses” about having lied to Setsuna in Session 4, she plainly believes he is about to confess to romantic feelings for her, then seems a bit put out that it didn’t occur to him, which he interprets as being angry that he lied; then, when he lets Kazusa know that he packed enough to potentially stay the night at her place again because “You never know what might happen,” the innuendo is completely lost on him until she blows up. It should be stated again, though, that “cluelessness” is subjective: at this early stage, he cannot necessarily be blamed for not picking through everything he says in advance, especially as he is dealing with two girls he has only just begun to get to know. He does also display a certain level of awareness at various points throughout the story when he notes that, to an outsider, a given interaction (often with Setsuna) might seem romantically charged; but he also fully believes that neither of said girls would ever develop a romantic interest in someone like him, which is part of his inner refutation against Takeya’s warning over the phone in Session 9. Considering the apparent aura and caliber of the girls in question, this is understandable.
With Kazusa, it is particularly so. Her barbed remarks, shouting, huffing, drop-kicking, and occasional violent piano-playing would be enough to convince just about anyone that she hated them, and what’s more, this thorny outer shell conceals an inner disconnect from her own emotions, a refusal—or perhaps an inability—to be any more emotionally honest or straightforward with herself than she is with other people. If Setsuna’s trouble point in a potential romantic development is anxious attachment, Kazusa’s trouble point is outright refusal of any attempt to get near her. When she does finally allow herself to get truly vulnerable with Haruki in Session 19, when she acknowledges to herself that she is afraid of waking up alone, insists upon moving her futon down into the studio while he practices, and ultimately tells him about her past, the feelings of abandonment her mother’s sudden departure left her to grapple with, it is through the haze and weakness of a severe fever. And when she asks Haruki whether he’s going to start dating Setsuna after the show, it is hard to tell where the question is coming from, because unlike Setsuna, Kazusa has said nothing to indicate that she was pondering that angle between them.
Nevertheless, she shows clear, promising signs of cracking through her shell in the course of the story, even if some of the barbs remain. Through her association with Haruki, Kazusa finds a motivation, an ability and readiness to exert a concerted effort towards an end, that she had all but lost sight of in her apathy toward the world at large. Haruki makes note of it when he sees her scrawling furiously in her notebook in class, while she herself expresses surprise—and satisfaction—upon finishing her composition, asking herself aloud, “How long has it been since I worked this hard on anything…?” In fact, the setting of Haruki’s lyrics to music is just one example—though the most emphatic, concrete example in the volume—of the way Kazusa shows her concern, and budding affection, for him: through actions taken to make things work out for him. To put it in terms of the five love languages—words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, quality time, and acts of service—Kazusa expresses herself best through the last of these. She may be “allergic,” as Haruki puts it, to speaking in an honest way about how she feels, but her actions serve as clear enough demonstrations on their own that she is far from indifferent to Haruki.
The “sessions” she plays with him, lasting for months before he even has any idea of who his “neighbor” is, are a recurring sort of “act of service,” as she guides his playing with her own, shifting her tempo or waiting as necessary for him to catch up. Her marching in that one summer afternoon to teach him how to play the guitar, though it was couched in her customary irritated griping and scolding, was unquestionably a service done for him—one she went uncharacteristically far out of her way to perform, and a precursor to their late-night rehearsals together as the festival draws near. The chronically-aloof Kazusa Touma finds it in herself to care about the success of the Light Music Club, about “[making Haruki’s] wish come true,” even if her feverish efforts to that end cross the line into reckless disregard for her own health. She is prepared to whip things into shape, almost literally, to drive Haruki until he perfects that guitar solo for “Sound of Destiny,” to pull together a third song with only twenty-four hours to spare, for him.
A somewhat subtler example takes place at the beginning of that twenty-four hour rehearsal, when Setsuna begins to react poorly to the third song having been kept a secret from her. Kazusa, knowing of Setsuna’s complex around being left out of the loop, very deftly steps in and states that the secret was kept deliberately in order to surprise Setsuna, that it was Haruki’s idea, that “with the lyricist absolutely demanding that [she] keep it a secret, [she] had no choice.” She recognizes the risk of Setsuna spiraling into doubt as a result of Haruki’s actions again, and prevents it, thereby ensuring things run smoothly—once again, so that Haruki’s wish can be realized.
This scene, the way that Kazusa bolsters Setsuna’s state of mind with her words, is also an important show of her growing love for Setsuna as her friend. The two of them have spent a good deal of time together by this point, Kazusa helping Setsuna to polish her vocals as Haruki worked on his own, and in spite of Setsuna’s teasing and hinting regarding Kazusa’s own feelings for Haruki, it is clear that Kazusa has come to care for her as well. In Session 15, Kazusa picks up on the fact that all is not well with Setsuna, noticing not only that her singing is lacking its usual vibrancy, but even that she is less talkative than usual as they take their tea break. Her unintentional secrecy around her one-on-one rehearsals with Haruki had hurt Setsuna, and although she is taken aback by Setsuna’s outburst, she feels guilty “whatever the circumstances might have been.” Even though Kazusa doesn’t say much, she doesn’t put up her accustomed thorny front, either; there is an emotional straightforwardness in this scene that is quite touching.
And, in spite of the bugbears that have been mentioned on each side, there are boons that both girls have gained from this relationship between the three of them. There is the experience, the thrill, the joy, of working toward something together—the image of “racing toward a shared goal” is used numerous times—which could never be found alone, and the understanding that it is a unique joy that requires others to share in it. And, along with that, there is a certain playfulness that begins to show in both Setsuna and Kazusa, which can only be achieved when one grows comfortable enough in one’s surroundings. Setsuna’s impish teasing of Haruki with her “Mister Student” patter, as a way of getting back at him for making her ride the train in her waitress outfit, is very charming, and Kazusa later manages to taunt both Setsuna and Haruki by suggesting they force Setsuna to return to school in that same outfit. The intensive twenty-four hours they have just spent together have left all three of them in high spirits. Being able to work together is a big deal—but being able to laugh together is perhaps even bigger. Shared laughter is a sign not only of trust, but of compatibility, of chemistry, whether in friendship or in romance, which is part of what makes it so important that this big moment (or series of moments) has been shared between the three of them. That balance, for now, is maintained.
Returning to the brief prologue after finishing the story, it seems evident that the wording was chosen in such a way as to keep the “speaker” ambiguous until the end of the Introductory Chapter. Falling in love for the first time, making a dear friend, finding a group to belong with spending irreplaceable time together, wondering where it all went wrong—it foreshadows the strife that later occurs, while avoiding tipping the balance in favor of one girl or the other outright, thereby supporting the structure of the volume it prefaces. Still, even with that future strife in mind, even with that awareness, the note (so to speak) upon which the volume ends is nonetheless promising in its image of the three friends, on the cusp of the culmination of their diligent efforts and trials, both personal and interpersonal.