Spring 2017’s final finale is also it’s finest finale.
I’ll warn you up front – if you’re looking for an analytical series wrap-up here, full of balanced critiques, you’re not going to get it. The reason is partly just that I love Tsuki ga Kirei unreservedly, but mostly it’s because it’s hard to imagine a series more successfully accomplishing what it sets out to do than this one. I could nit-pick a few incidental things, like the consistency of the animation or closure for the side characters, but compared to what most series – even great ones – fall short on, they’re not even really worth discussing. This is mission accomplished, plain and simple.
Among the many things Tsuki ga Kirei represents is an example of what original anime can do in the right hands – that is, set out with a specific narrative goal in mind and a clear roadmap of how to accomplish it. It would be hard to find a better exemplar of “simple, yet profound” than this show – because Kishi Seiji and Kakihara Yuuko never bog things down with unnecessary complications. Tsuki ga Kirei is a masterwork of natural flow and spare elegance, worrying only about what’s important. And because what’s important here is first love and the unimaginably complex and conflicted emotions that go along with it, the series requires nothing else to be tremendously profound. Take notes if you plan on writing a romance anime, because this should be the textbook.
Kishi and Kakihara are true to form right to the end here, because they don’t milk the cliffhanger – it’s revealed literally in the opening frames of the episode that Kotarou has failed the Koumei entrance exam. In my heart of hearts I pretty much knew that was going to happen, but it still hurts (Kotarou, too). Rather than being the dramatic endgame of the finale this development is the catalyst for the rest of the ending, the starting point for all the developments that follow. And it’s a tug-of-war here – head vs. heart, logic vs. emotion, pragmatism vs. romantic idealism. Much, I might add, like life itself is.
And as Akane and Kotarou wrestle with it, so do their friends and family – and so do we, as emotionally invested viewers. Take Akane’s sister, for example, who urges her to break up with Kotarou rather than try a long-distance relationship. She comes off as rather blunt and even mean (as Akane notes) but believe me, she’s trying to be kind. She knows that distance is a death sentence for most adolescent relationships, and she knows how much pain Akane is likely to endure if she tries to beat the odds. From her perspective Ayane is trying to be a good big sister, to use her experience to shield her imouto from heartbreak. But this is the dilemma – no one can truly understand the feelings of someone in love except that person (and to an extent, the one they’re in-love with – sometimes). And once in a while in life, love does beat long odds.
Another topic sure to be discussed (too much, in my view) is Chinatsu’s last-ditch confession to Kotarou on the day she finds out she and he got into the local municipal high school. Chinatsu is like Ayane in believing Akane and Kotatou’s relationship is doomed, but she has a selfish motive too – of course she does. I wouldn’t call her actions here noble, but I do think they’re understandable. Circumstances seem to have conspired in her favor – from her perspective, damn if she’s not going to take a shot. I believe she considers herself Akane’s friend, and that she’d like to continue to be – but she’s also a fallible teenager driven by her own self-interest. And like Ayane, she has no reason to believe Kotarou and Akane can survive in a long-distance relationship.
In a sense the key moment of the episode might be when Daisuke-san (the adults in their lives have been very good to Kotarou and Akane, on the whole) encourages Kotarou to do two things – to keep writing as a means of coping, and to share his stories with the world via the internet. Writing is who Kotarou-kun is – it’s how he processes his feelings. This act of expressing himself through “13.70” is both a way to help him understand himself and to take the leap every aspiring writer must take – to be vulnerable and subject their work to the opinion of the world. In this instance it’s much more, too, though that won’t be known for a while.
What seems for all the world as if it might be the final scene between Akane and Kotarou is a brutally painful one, because it expresses the emotional distance that’s opened between them as a result of the spectre of the physical distance that’s imminent. Kotarou not having told Akane about Chinatsu’s confession isn’t really the problem, nor is Kotarou’s insistence on being the one to work to pay for train fare for their visits. Akane expresses it as not wanting to be a “burden” on Kotarou, and that’s the essence of the problem – they both know how hard this is going to be. For Akane it comes down to now wanting to be the reason why Kotarou doesn’t have a normal (whatever that means), happy high school life – what right does she have to ask that of him? If she could see his feelings as clearly as her own, she’d know – but she can’t.
And here, then, is where Tsuki ga Kirei stands at the crux of decision – what sort of ending does it want to spin and by extension, what sort of story does it want to be? It’s yet another tug-of-war – because the most believable ending and probably the one most consistent with the story is the one we almost get, the bittersweet parting. The ending where Akane-chan leaves her potato in the window when she leaves her old house (heavy symbolism), where it hurts too much for she and Kotarou-kun to even see each other one last time. The one where they communicate only via comments on the novel he’s written and posted as a love letter to her, the one where no one wants to say what happens next.
“To think that someone I loved could love me back… I thought it must have been a miracle.” What better coda for a story of first love could there be than that?
If Tsuki ga Kirei had faded to black right then, my tears would have been bitter ones – but I would have had no complaints. That would have been the naturalistic, organic ending consistent with the series as a whole. But in the end, Kishi and Kakihara told us that Tsuki ga Kirei was a fairy tale, and gave us an ending that endorses the idea that true love can conquer even against impossible odds. And you’re not going to hear me complain, because that’s what all of us want to believe is possible – and because it’s the ending I wanted for these two beautiful and fragile souls who deserved to be happy with each other.
It’s also the ending that the series told us was coming, because it’s been teased in the LINE messages that have accompanied the series on its journey via the ED sequences. And it does make one wonder what would happen if we took the harder road sometimes, if we endured the hard times we knew we’d be inflicting on ourselves because we knew if he did, the happiness we sought might be waiting for us at the end. I have no problem with an exceptional ending because Tsuki ga Kirei is an exceptional series, and because Akane and Kotarou are exceptional people. We give adolescents too little credit sometimes, I think – dismiss their wishes as driven by blind emotion. But maybe it’s at this time when we see some things most clearly, before our vision is obscured by too much “maturity” and the logic and detach that comes with it…
As I said a dozen paragraphs ago, you’ll get no balanced critique from me here – in my view, Tsuki ga Kirei is an unabashed triumph. It’s one of the best romance series in anime history, probably delivers the finest ending in romance anime, and may in fact be the best middle-school romance anime has ever seen (if there’s a better one, I can’t think of it at the moment). It’s special in every sense – heartfelt, as sure of itself and true to its vision as the agonizingly clear tone of a Shigeru Kawai concert grand. This is the first love story that anime has been waiting to tell and never has, so authentic that it literally hurts.
As far as I know Kakihara-sensei has never written an original anime before, only (often superb) adaptations, but she’s obviously a name to watch. And Kishi-sensei, much-maligned and often only as good as his source material, once again proves that he has a superb gift when he finds the right muse. feel. may not be a premiere studio and there may have been some ups and downs in the production (even in the end, the final episode was released late because it was delivered late), but Tsuki ga Kirei represents a triumph for them – proof that obstacles can be overcome when the parties involved have the right commitment and belief. That seems rather fitting, somehow.
I don’t really need a sequel after that ending, which caps this story as well as I could possibly hope for. Nevertheless it’s gratifying to look at the Stalker rankings this morning for Spring 2017 anime and see the two versions of the Tsuki ga Kirei box set holding the top two spots – evidence that there’s still an audience for smart, subtle and sincere anime about real human emotions. Evidence that if you create something beautiful and powerful, sometimes anime viewers will respond in numbers. We’ll see what happens when the volumes go on sale, but that can only serve to promote the idea that there’s still a market for shows like Tsuki ga Kirei – and to convince the people who created it that their efforts are deeply appreciated and that they’ve succeeded in creating something great.