Hands up if you remember the 1980s? Go on, don't be shy, nobody else is watching. If your hand is currently aloft in the air, then you'll recall that in some quite fundamental ways that particular decade was a very different world than the one we inhabit now, particularly in terms of communicating with other people.
It's this particular facet of the 80s that romantic drama White Album employs heavily, introducing us to a world without mobile phones (aside from one particularly hefty, and literal, car phone used by one character), text messaging, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. Thus, being away from your home means being out of contact with all and sundry, in turn meaning a return to your house to find that your answer phone is speaking to you silently via its solitary red, flashing light.
Of course, there's more to this series than simply missed calls and answering machines, and White Album's primary story is one of the mid-1980s Japanese pop idol industry at its peak coupled with more everyday family and relationship dilemmas by the shed load. At the heart of this vortex of turmoil is Touya Fujii, a college student (albeit a not particularly studious one) who seems content to drift through life rather aimlessly, pausing only to stoke the fires of the fractious relationship with his father. Incredibly, despite this lackadaisical attitude, he still manages to find himself dating Yuki Morikawa, an up and coming idol on the first steps of the ladder to fame who finds herself a place as the newest star of a prominent production company.
If I were Touya in this situation, I can only imagine how thrilled I'd be to have a real-life idol as a girlfriend, yet somehow Touya's indifference to all and sundry even extends to this area of his life, and thus much of the soap opera derived from White Album's first half comes from his naively or stupidly following other girls around and accepting their advances regardless of his relationship status with Yuki. It's here that the series perhaps begins to show its original roots as an adult visual novel, giving us the kind of wishy-washy and generally loathsome male protagonist so commonly required of such offerings, but not really adjusting his attitude or behaviour to suit the anime format and thus making him something of a "man whore" for want of a better word.
This quickly becomes the biggest stumbling block of White Album, with hatred of Touya threatening to spill over into a dislike of the series as a whole - Certainly, if you can't swallow the thought of watching a series which features a lead character you can't stand, then this series is best avoided. However, if you manage to overlook or simply accept Touya's attitude and stop shouting obscenities at him through your monitor for a while, White Album actually becomes a pretty enjoyable prospect to watch if you like a bit of good, old-fashioned soap opera - The 1980s setting actually adds quite a lot to the feel and plot of the series (one early episode in particular captures the days before mobile phones perfectly and quite beautifully), while some of the other characters have plenty to offer this series from the outspoken young Mana through to the quite frankly magnificent idol diva Rina Ogata.
It's these characters which really help to carry White Album beyond mediocrity into something slightly more compelling, with this first half of the series hinting towards some hidden depths to be mined by future episodes, and of course leaving us with a big, fat cliff-hanger to draw you into the second batch of thirteen episodes currently airing both in Japan and on Crunchyroll. Throw in the constant twists, turns and shifts in relationships as Touya runs amuck, and you have yourself what could best be described as the anime equivalent of Eastenders. If that tagline sounds like the kind of thing you'd love to watch, then it's certainly worth taking some time out to give it a shot.
At the time of writing, White Album is being broadcast weekly in streaming format from Crunchyroll.
Japanese audio, English subtitles - Available in low quality, high quality, H.264, 480P and 720P streaming resolutions.
If you can make it beyond a loathsome lead character, White Album provides some classic, if not that classy, soap opera as entertainment.