Well, there’s to be no suspense here for my part – as far as I’m concerned Tsuki ga Kirei is really, really great. I loved the second episode at least as much as the first, which I thought was easily the best non-sequel premiere of the season. Truly, anime should be thick with series like this one – the medium is perfectly suited to them. But they’re as rare as hen’s teeth, which is both a reminder of how far astray anime has gotten thematically and of how lucky we are to have a series like this come along once in a blue moon.
If I was to try and sum up Tsuki ga Kirei in one word (as I’m wont to do), it would definitely be “naturalistic”. There’s an unhurried, organic flow to the storytelling. It’s insistent, but gently – it pulls you along like the current in a gently flowing stream. That naturalism is perfectly matched with the visuals and music, which are likewise a soft pat on the shoulder rather than a slap to the face. It’s lifelike in every sense – there’s nothing artificial about it, and it really feels as if we’re looking in on someone’s life.
In this relaxed, restrained way we’re learning more about Kotarou and Akane, and the world around them. In adolescent relationships school events can be something of a crucible, taking on a great significance both in an anxious teen psyche and a nascent romance. The sports festival should be a natural for Akane, a star on the track club. Less so certainly for Kotarou, not athletically gifted or especially interested in changing that. But it’s harder for boys to skate past that than girls, which is why the events in the second half of the episode take on a rather interesting shading.
Both Akane and Kotarou are part of the 200-meter event. She wins hers easily, drawing the praise of her fellow track club member Hira Takumi (Tamaro Atsushi). He’s clearly destined to be a threat at the very least – he has both common ground with Akane and an interest, and the rumors are already simmering. Kotarou is determined to make an impression when it’s his turn, but Hira wins the boys event easily – and Kotarou falls, injuring his hand. He’s treated by Nishio Chinatsu (Murakawa Rie) who likewise seems destined to play a significant role in the romantic Shogi match at the heart of this series.
Tsuki ga Kirei makes it clear that there potentially tangled threads here, but it doesn’t manufacture drama for its own sake – for now at least, Akane and Kotarou are haltingly focused on each other. It seems the sports festival is destined to pass without the lead pair doing more than observing each other from afar, but fate intervenes when Akane loses her potato squeezie while preparing the boxes for the scavenger hunt (and in her distraction, fails to finish). Kotarou quietly sets about finding it for her, which he eventually does – presenting it to her after she too has messed up, in the final event, the relay (she drops the baton – a metaphor cruelly crossing over into the literal world).
I could begin in so many places in talking about all the ways the was this all plays out impresses me. Tsuki ga Kirei is wonderful with the small things – its a very observational series. For example, the way Kotarou is irritated when Nishio bandages his hand sloppily, revealing his fastidious nature (unusual for a middle-school boy). The way he stops in mid-sentence when his voice breaks when he presents Akane’s totem back to her. The way his reverence for his literary hero, Dazai, is slowly evolving beyond schoolboy worship as his practical experience tells him that Dazai was wrong about a lot. “Be laughed at, and become strong” is not an appealing option for a middle-schooler – and his proof that we can indeed be influenced by others comes when Akane’s courage in running despite her dislike of an audience encourages him to finally show off one of his stories (to his bookseller friend).
Really, what Tsuki ga Kirei does so beautifully is to capture the experience of being a middle-schooler – one that often feels terribly dramatic, but isn’t generally filled with that much actual drama. Ancillary elements like the families are not overlooked, and it’s clear (especially with these hugely clever little omakes) that other facets of pubescent romance are going to be explored through other pairings. The main focus, though, is on Kotarou and Akane – their anxieties, their exhilarations, their first steps down the path of becoming a couple. It all comes together as a compelling and entertaining whole, and if it can maintain this standard of storytelling Tsuki ga Kirei is on course to be one of 2017’s best series.