I’d say Tsuki ga Kirei was putting me through the wringer but honestly, I don’t think that begins to cover it.
Tsuki ga Kirei is already a remarkable series in many ways, but in one respect especially it’s in rarely-charted territory. Here we are in the fifth episode, and it’s already tackling problems in the relationship itself. And with middle schoolers, to boot. That’s just not done – or certainly not done very often. You get the odd show like 12-sai that looks at relationships among pre-high schoolers but honestly, to me the romance is more a gimmick in series like that than the subject of any serious exploration. Here, we’ve moved past “Go” and collected our $200, and the real work has begun.
How often do we wish more shows would do that? I sure as hell do – a lot – and there are good reasons for that. The problems of a romantic relationship are a wellspring of seemingly limitless narrative potential, but anime (to a much greater extent than manga) is obsessed with the strutting and courtship dance. Why? Well, part of it the security blanket of relying on tried-and-true formula, and in that sense this pattern has become a self-fulfilling one – the more “romance” anime do it the harder it is for others to avoid the trap. But I think the biggest issue is simply that shows like Tsuki ga Kirei are a hell of a lot harder to write. If you want to pull off a series that’s focused on what happens after the confession and not before, you have to both be better and work harder.
There’s a bit of irony in the fact that Tsuki ga Kirei has become a near-unicorn in this respect as an original series, because there are a decent number of manga that do focus on the romance itself – not most of them, especially where junior-high kids are concerned, but a fair number – that never get adapted. But in the end what matters isn’t the source but the show itself, and Tsuki ga Kirei is pulling this off in splendid fashion. The main reason it’s doing so is that it’s resolutely organic in style – things flow, they happen naturally, and the experience of watching it is almost like eavesdropping.
If one expected a magical transformation after Akane more or less accepted Kotarou’s confession last week, they didn’t get it. The “dating” switch has been flipped, but these are still kids with no experience at being a couple and relatively shy and introverted personalities. Their lives are still mainly their lives, and there’s little chance for them to be alone. He works at his Taiko and his novel, she at her track club – and their exams are coming up. That’s a critical thing in a country where getting into a good high school is more vital than getting into a good college, and exam scores are paramount. And Kotarou – who’s clearly a very bright boy – is largely unmotivated to study, possibly endangering his own future. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this as an important factor.
Akane and Kotarou have chosen to keep their relationship a secret – which in my experience many middle school couples did – largely because they’re simply too embarrassed at the idea anyone would know they were dating someone. That complicates things considerably for both of them, and each of them turns to the internet (“Master of Love” suggests meeting at the library) for advice. Then they turn to more experienced mentor figures – Akane to her sister, and Kotarou to his bookstore (and Shrine) friend. Apparently an only child, Kotarou is exceptionally lucky to have someone to come to for advice and support – and in this case, for a convenient place to meet Akane in private.
The secrecy also lays a trap for these two, in that both Chinatsu and Hira are clearly interested in Kotarou and Akane. Hira has no idea Akane is seeing someone of course, but Chinatsu certainly knows – she helped make it happen. It makes me very happy that every time a trap seemingly lurks in Tsuki ga Kirei’s path, luring it into cliche and formula, it deftly avoids it. Chinatsu’s interest in Kotarou especially offers some drama, certainly – but life is drama, not least when you’re 14 and in love. I don’t sense malice from Chinatsu, even when she decides to attend Kotarou’s cram school (fat lot of good it’s doing him) – and I think that’s confirmed by her decision to let Akane know her feelings. But Chinatsu still presents a real obstacle for these two, and potentially Hira too.
The thing is, though, there’s no sign that either Kotarou or Akane feel anything reciprocal for Chinatsu or Hira. I don’t think we’re headed for a four-way love drama, here – more likely that Chinatsu and Hira are here to be slalom gates for the main couple, and to tell the story of unrequited first love. That doesn’t mean things won’t be rocky for Kotarou and Akane, because they will – they already are. They’re not very good at this, frankly, but most kids their age aren’t. That’s why their story is so natural, and why they’re the most winning and frankly loveable romantic pairing I’ve seen in anime for a good long while.
Incidentally, I hope you’re sticking around for the omakes after the ED sequence, because they’re providing a ton of good comic material…