Obviously I love Tsuki ga Kirei – that’s no secret at this point. But what strikes me again and again while watching it is, why aren’t there scads of shows like this? It’s so utterly simple, so straightforward – a naturalistic, restrained yet heartfelt take on first love. Yet Tsuki ga Kirei is a unicorn in anime, more so than ever in 2017. I suppose the most logical answer to the question is that more series like this aren’t produced because production committees (who are the arbiters of what gets made and what doesn’t to an overwhelming degree) don’t think they’ll make money. And that’s a real shame for the medium, even – or perhaps especially – if they’re right.
I’ve always been deeply partial to anime that know the power of silence, and Tsuki ga Kirei clearly does. Kishi-sensei opens the episode with a good 30-second stretch free not just of dialogue, but of music of effects – just scenes of the empty hallways of the school, slowly fading to the interior of a classroom full of students hunched over their desks, taking exams. Tsuki is full of moments like this, when Kishi lets the pictures speak for themselves – like when Akane slyly glances out of the corner of her eye at Kotarou and his two friends roughhousing, internally marvelling at what alien creatures boys are.
I envy those who aren’t shy or nervous, even in middle school – you’ll never really understand what things were like for the rest of us. Imagine a time when messaging the person you liked wasn’t even an option – it was speak to them (gasp!) in-person or on the phone, or forever hold your peace. Kotarou and Akane at least have technology, the safety zone of a keyboard and emoticons to hide behind. The easy rapport they have on LINE is a stark contrast to the school, where there’s rarely a word spoken between them. But even that tenuous connection is still a connection for their generation, a new kind of ritual courtship I suppose. A chance to be erudite and clever when your partner won’t see you stumbling over your words.
It’s notable that in pursuit of their individual passions (i.e. not each other) Akane seems to be doing considerably better than Kotarou. While she’s winning races and setting personal best times, his stories are failing to garner any recognizition in the contests he’s submitting them to. And while it isn’t expressly stated, it seems as if she’s faring better on the exams than he is, too. Kotarou is in a bit of a funk, unsure of what he wants to do in his life. He is sure he likes Akane, but not how to go about acting on that feeling. Eventually he turns to a literature club superstition – pick a book at random, and it will give you good relationship advice. He seems to have chosen well (volition!), but let’s hope it works out…
While Akane was her track meet, Kotarou has practice at the local shrine on the dreaded “tire taiko“, in preparation for the local (Kawagoe, a historic town about an hour by train north of Tokyo) shrine matsuri. I’m sure this feels very juvenile to Kotarou, at the fragile transitional age he’s at, but that he also feels connected to the Shrine (his bookseller aniki is a member of the priest’s family, it seems) is clear in the way he respects the ritual nature of it. Akane, meanwhile, is transparently the object of attention for Takumi (Hira) – though whether it’s transparent enough for her to guess that he’s trying to confess to her isn’t certain.
There’s quite a lot of quiet tension here, really. The way Tsuki ga Kirei captures pubescent awkwardness is itself a revelation, but there’s also the sense that this adorable potential romance is balanced on a knife’s edge. Takumi is a ticking time bomb, and Akane’s friend Chinatsu seems to have taken an interest in Kotarou, too. When Akane’s phone runs out of juice the anime fan in me is conditioned to expect the worst, but what happens is rather sublime. Kotarou has bought 500 Yen worth of courage at the Shrine (that’s a fortune to a 14 year-old), and Akane decides to swing by the Shrine on her way home, hoping to see Kotarou (gyah).
Not much needs to be added about what happens next, a gorgeously animated (by Araki Ryou, whose resume is a laundry list of great anime work) scene full of delicate movements and emotions. Kishi handles this just right, with light background music and Kotarou’s internal musing about the moon and confessing one’s love. Bless his courageous little heart, Kotarou musters the nerve to confess to Akane – though Kishi leaves us hanging about what happens next. When the boy confesses to the girl in Episode 3 I worry “too early!” – though again, that may be anime fan scar tissue talking. I don’t expect this to be problem-free (these are middle school kids, after all) but I do sincerely hope Akane says yes – that was such a brave and difficult thing for Kotarou to do, and Akane was so instinctively wise in giving him the chance, and it’d be a shame to see that wasted. And to be honest, I’ve already come to adore both these characters and I’m rooting like hell for them.