First Impressions – Tsuki ga Kirei

Phew.

OP:”Imakoko (イマココ)” by Nao Touyama

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 01It’s been a pretty scary start to Spring 2017, frankly.  Nothing has exceeded expectations so far, and the stuff on the pre-season bubble list has generally ranged from disappointing to awful.  So going into Tsuki ga Kirei I was already pretty worried about this season, and this show was one of those flyers that I had especially high hopes for (though not necessarily expectations).  Unlike Kabukibu! (we’ll see) and Sakurada Reset (atrocity) Tsuki isn’t a light novel adaptation but an original, so we at least had that going in our favor.  There was a lot riding on this premiere – at least as far as my psyche was concerned.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 02“Sigh of relief” doesn’t begin to cover it.  I didn’t like Tsuki ga Kirei, I loved it – and as much as I did, I’m totally unsurprised at the generally lukewarm reaction the premiere has received, as you could hardly design an anime more ill-suited to the stylistic fashion of the moment in anime.  Fuck that – people can like what they like, in the end it really doesn’t matter apart from the fact that you’d love to see shows like this not tank commercially, so that the industry might be tempted to make more of them.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 03In the first place, let’s talk about Kishi Seiji, the director.  He’s oft-maligned, and I would argue unfairly.  Sure he’s not an auteur who can salvage mediocre material – there’s only so much he can do with like the likes of Persona or Danganronpa (no offense).  But when you give him good material, Kishi shines – as he did with Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, Kamisama Dolls and – perhaps most relevant to this series – Aura.  There’s a broad stylistic range with those shows and that reflects Kishi’s versatility as a director.  He doesn’t have to do zany and frenetic and action driven – he can do thoughtful and composed too, and Tsuki ga Kirei displays that.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 04Another point I want to make is that shows about middle schoolers are sadly underrepresented, swamped by anime’s obsession with high school.  The same behavior that seems forced or precious with high schoolers can play as totally authentic with junior high kids, because it’s age appropriate.  There are plenty of high school characters who act like middle schoolers, but it’s rare to see actual middle schoolers portrayed behaving exactly as middle schoolers behave.  This premiere got so many details right – that pit-of-the-stomach discomfort at interaction with the opposite sex, the agony of familial observation on one’s personal life, the budding intellectual curiosity.  To me this felt completely true to the setting and the characters, and that’s a pretty rare thing in anime these days.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 05The main players in Tsuki ga Kirei are two ninth-graders – a quiet and bookish boy named Azumi Kotarou (Chiba Shouya) and a shy and timid girl named Mizuno Akane (Ohara Konomi).  He’s in the Literature Club and an aspiring writer, she in the track club.  It’s fitting that one of the books discussed in the premiere is “Schoolgirl” by Dazai Osamu – a story renowned as authentic to the female perspective despite being written by a man – because Tsuki ga Kirei is clearly both interested in and sensitive to the lives of boys and girls equally.  There are no tropes or anime cliches here – both these kids are believable and relatable, and fully realized characters in a single episode.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 06The shyness of these two towards each other isn’t overplayed for comic effect, but it’s deep and formidable – especially on Akane’s part (and she’s the one who becomes aware of romantic feelings first).  Through a deliciously awkward (the families sure don’t help) chance encounter at a family restaurant to an occasional stolen glance in school to a meeting at-last in the equipment room, Akane and Kotarou are cautious and deliberate to say the least.  He has a friend in the local bookseller, who shares both high and low culture with him (for boys this age, an older friend who shows you cool stuff is a priceless resource).  She relies on her squeeze toy as a stress reliever, desperate to work up the courage to exchange LINE info with Kotarou.

Tsuki ga Kirei- 01 - 10What can I say – all this totally works for me.  The budget isn’t immense but I’m a sucker for the watercolor-pastel look Studio feel. employs here, and Iga Takurou’s soundtrack is spot-on.  I love the quiet little touches like the way Kotarou switches from soda to iced coffee at the drink bar when Akane walks over, and the unhurried manner in which the series quietly observes the lives of these two children.  Hell, I even love the way the ED animates Kotarou and Akane’s hands (and the seasons).  Anime, like all art, is personal – and to be honest you could hardly design an original anime more suited to my tastes than Tsuki ga Kirei.  Originals are always a bit of a lottery ticket in that you never know if the story has legs, but there’s such a strong sense that this one is going to be treated with dignity and restraint that it’s hard not to feel optimistic.  It’s the best new series of the season thus far, that’s for damn sure.

 

ED: “Tsuki ga Kirei (月がきれい)” by Nao Touyama

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11 comments

  1. M

    As someone who takes photographic direction seriously, those white outlines simply grate my eyes.

  2. The only technical complaint I have with this is the badly looking CGI people. Other than that, it’s definitely very well made and written, I can tell that – it’s just not the kind of thing that keeps me interested, though. Even when it comes to slow building slice of life or romance I need it to be a bit *more* eventful to keep my attention, and I just don’t have enough memories or nostalgia of my middle school years to have this elicit in me some sort of fuzzy feeling.

    Said that, I’m happy to see Seiji Kishi be this good even in something that one would imagine lies very much outside his usual fare. It shows he’s obviously far more competent and versatile that people credit him for. Personally I never had anything against him – I loved “Assassination Classroom” for example and I think he did a fine work on that. And malign as much as you want :D, I liked “Danganronpa v3” too. Admittedly, I’m a fan of the source material (the VNs, not the first anime which seemed rushed and not very interesting to me), but this anime-only conclusion to the saga was totally in tune with the feel while sporting a really interesting narrative structure thanks to it being effectively split in two parallel shows. It’s not high art but it was a fun ride, and a competently made one at that, if rather low budget.

  3. I’ve seen that “more eventful” complaint before about this episode, and while one must account for personal taste, it baffles me a bit. I mean – this is middle school for starters. There are exceptions, but come on – this is how junior high romances are. They’re awkward and halting and cautious, especially at first. Now, one might say that’s fine, but it still doesn’t make good television – and that’s certainly a legit perspective. Just because something is realistic doesn’t mean someone has to find it entertaining. But I do think it’s realistic.

    The bigger issue I have, though, is that this is just the first episode. Are we insisting that the couple be fully formed right out of the gate? What happened to development?

  4. Not at all. I fully agree that it’s realistic. It’s just not interesting to me. A live streaming of paint drying on a wall would be extremely realistic too, but yeah.

    I was reflecting about this this morning and realised that perhaps one huge bit of this for me is that this is really something I can’t relate to at all. When I was that age I had certainly my own share of confused sexual feelings and curiosity, but not much interest for romance per se; I actually had a girlfriend for a few days in middle school, and she basically dropped me out of my absolute lack of, well, eventfulness XD, while I was sort of puzzled at the whole affair and shrugged it away the day afterwards. Then went on and never had another one ’till I was studying for my PhD (I got far more socially awkward from high school onwards). On the other hand I didn’t even have much of a problem *talking* with girls in my class at the time either, to the point in fact where I distinctly remember discussing stuff that would make most anime high-schoolers explode in a puff of blushing cheeks.

    So yeah, it’s just… not me? It means little to me because I can’t ever remember being specifically like this, and what I can remember, I don’t especially miss or look at with fondness. Which IMHO deprives this kind of stuff of a lot of interest. I am left with following through the romantic antics of two middle school kids, which as far as dramatic stakes go is pretty low, so obviously doesn’t really capture my interest much.

    (but what a contrast – I had watched Love Tyrant before this, and I know that’s high school, but the MC kissed THREE girls in the space of one episode XD. Of course the fact that’s possibly the stupidest fast-firing random gag comedy this season helps)

  5. F

    I share the same sentiment about Tsuki ga Kirei. While I could respect this series and it’s authenticity, it wasn’t captivating for me at all. In the second half I was just wishing for some small talk to happen between the leads at last, since while it’s good for a SoL show to aim to be realistic, I’ve found this approach a bit dull.

    (And yes, Renai Boukun was a ton of fun, the Jitsu wa watashi wa like absurdity really won me over.)

  6. D

    I really enjoyed this. That cringing awkwardness in the restaurant was so well done and I really felt for those kids being embarrassed by their parents so much.
    Out of the new crop of shows, this is the opener I’ve liked the best of what I’ve seen so far.

  7. I don’t think it’s exactly fair to absolve blame from Kishi for Danganronpa and Persona. There’s no doubt Kishi dropped the ball on both properties significantly, failing to understand either in the slightest. Kishi has always struck me as a director that is served by the rest of the production, and luckily everything around him seems good this time around for Tsuki ga Kirei. Here’s to hoping Kishi’s usual tendencies don’t bring the rest of the show down as they very often do.

  8. I didn’t care much for the first Danganronpa anime, but IMHO the Danganronpa 3 show was pretty good for what it was. The first one probably suffered from having to be stuffed into such a short format and generally not being really a story designed for the sake of being animated.

  9. This one felt like watching Hourou Musuko without the gender plot. Which is a very good thing, mind.

  10. J

    I have to say that I really love the details that went into it, specifically the one where Azumi is about to go for Soda but opts for Ice Coffee in order to seem more “mature”. It feels a lot more believable.

  11. y

    Loved Tsuki ga Kerei! Review is spot on!

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