Akane carries around a tiny mascot doll as a lucky charm. She instinctively rubs it when she gets nervous.
Kotarou is self-conscious about his writing. He gets into a boxing match with the lamp cord when he gets anxious.
It is a delicate task, trying to depict the awkwardness of the adolescence. How does one depict such a confusing part of life, when those who are currently experiencing it are too moody and self-absorbed to bother understanding it, and those who have already experienced it can no longer provide the organic, first hand accounts?
It is therefore important to acknowledge what Tsuki ga Kirei has managed to achieve so far, not because of more comparative reasons; as in how it managed to utilize slow pacing for organic realism rather than artificially extending runtime, but because of how engrossing its world and character building have already gotten in just four episodes. In other words, the show is respectful enough of its characters to provide the audience with a varying palette of their layered voices. The show’s pair of main characters feel like real, complicated creations, due to the show’s patient articulation of their organic personalities.
Akane acts and speaks differently with different people and under different circumstances, her issues with possible chronic anxiety is contrasted with an outward demeanour that remains sociable and physically active. Akane’s texts are sprinkled with emoticons and portrays a much more glittery personality that befits the disposition of her friend circle, and the carefree family environment that she was brought up in. This extra detail of external influence from family dynamics is definitely something I will be coming back to.
Kotarou’s presence in Tsuki ga Kirei is articulated through slight but significantly different means: the show relies on his inner narrations to get a more naked impression of him. This difference also indirectly feeds into his overall character: as a teenager with aspirations on becoming a writer, Kotarou’s inner voice tends to filter experiences through his interpretation of his favourite authors’ quotes; Osamu Dazai is constantly mentioned. Kotarou aspires to be a storyteller, so the show handing him the bulk of inner monologues felt fitting, as it provided us with insight into his worldview, and in a narrative manner that felt organic to his character.
So far, I tried to slowly layer in surface examples of how Tsuki ga Kirei narratively informs us of its main characters’ nuances. On their own, Akane and Kotarou both feel like well-thought out characters with believable presence in the show’s world. They are not straightforward in any sense of the word, yet we can already start to map out clear outlines of who they are as people.
Which brings us to the world that shapes them.
The Environment & The Self
As far as the pacing of Tsuki ga Kirei goes, there seems to be a distinct see-saw pattern in the structuring of the four episodes and their thematic intents.
Episodes one and three acted as caricatures that are more inward looking, focusing more on the two main characters’ relationship and the surrounding atmospheric detailing, and less so on the scripted events, while episodes two and four focused on thrusting them into a more massive playground, intending to explore their reactive personalities when faced with events and real world circumstances.
The first episode was patient in sharing the spotlight amongst both of its main characters, documenting their self-initiated routines and habits, and sketching in their surrounding relational environments. Episode three was even more retrospective in its ode to teenage flirting. In contrast, Episode two spent the majority of its runtime focusing on the authentic portrayal of a sports carnival, where its main characters felt more like background cogs that reacted to the operating condition of the machine they are interconnected with. Meanwhile, episode four severed the connection between Akane and Kotarou almost completely, and left them dangling as passive leaves that…flowed in whichever direction they were led by the winds of chance and external influence.
I think this alternating tone between episodes is quite fascinating, when you consider how the show goes about adding layers to its world.
Taking the ‘tick-tock’ approach of the episodes’ structures into account, Tsuki ga Kirei doesn’t let any of its screen-time be wasted. The incidental footage of the virtual camera zooming in and out of the intimate spaces of Akane and Kotarou, as they clamoured around the classroom allocation lists for their names, where they noticed each other for the first time, before both of them were overwhelmed by their respective friend circles. This quickly establishes their place in their social groups: passive reactors to the settled dynamic.
From here, contrasts start to fully articulate themselves, despite how our two protagonists seem like two very similar people in their introverted personalities.
Both Akane and Kotarou are driven by their passions: Akane with sprinting and fitness, and Kotarou with writing. The context given to these passions are not spelt out for us viewers, but it is hinted that Akane utilizes sprinting as a stress reliever, and is very much in sync with her mental and physical focus when engaging in this sport, in contrast to her more withdrawn and absent-minded self when she’s not on the track.
Kotarou is more self-conscious in his hobby, actively refusing to let his friends read his stories, but he is ambitious enough to seek recognition for his efforts, evident in his close relationship with the bookstore manager, and his repeated submissions to magazine writing competitions. The first episode’s opening montage of his routine in obtaining the library keys and flipping over the librarian’s handwritten note is framed in a manner that suggests that this has become a daily ritual for him. The first episode’s shot of Kotarou opening the door lock and episode three’s mirroring shot of him locking it after school further consolidates the notion that he is a total bookworm: always the first to arrive, and the last to leave.
It is true, that Kotarou’s relationship with his hobby is explored more thoroughly than Akane’s so far, but let’s remember that this is not the show’s only tool for adding nuance to its characters.
Akane’s personality is more so explored through her external relationships with others. As mentioned before, Tsuki ga Kirei places particular emphasis on how her surroundings shaped the person she is, and a big part of that is her family.
Tsuki ga Kirei handles group dialogue in a manner that I don’t seem to find common in anime of similar genre and subject matters. Instead of constant shot reverse shots of characters speaking in long sentences one after another (with a few occasional interruptions added in for dramatic effect), this show keeps the camera in a medium shot for large segments, overlayering conversations and character dialogue with such density, that sequences like Akane’s family conversations at the restaurant and at home felt almost documentary-like (It is perhaps because of this, that I found watching this show with English subtitles extra difficult). Every character is kept in frame, and every character is maintaining an animated and responsive awareness to multiple streams of thought, such as Akane responding to her parents’ query about her choice of food and drink, while simultaneously commenting on her older sister always being on LINE. This sequence, plus the cutaway shots of her parents’ presence in episode two’s sports carnival, paints a precise picture of Akane’s light-hearted family environment, anchored by a father who’s rather quirky in his sense of humour.
Other incidental details, such as Akane ‘getting back’ at her sister for probing her relationship status, by spamming screenshots on her phone, are so well done in their mundane innocence, that it only added to the authenticity of the show’s overall tone.
The Boy, The Girl & The Moon
As a fellow introvert myself, I believe I have the first-hand experience that qualifies me to testify, that it will most likely be a chilling, boring few hours, if a shy introvert has to spend an afternoon with another awkward introvert. They just…wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves.
It is this maddeningly confusing time of any young person’s lives, that Tsuki ga Kirei depicts so wonderfully. The middle/high school period of a growing child’s life is filled with moments of face-melting awkwardness. And it is no doubt that a poster child of this feeling would be the classic ‘talking to the opposite sex’…compounded by the fact that you happen have a crush on this boy/girl you are trying to talk to.
And this is where interactive chemistry starts to play a role between Akane and Kotarou. The short version? They are absolutely adorable together.
If anything, I think anime (or…at least its reflection of domestic culture, if I’m sounding too ignorant) is in the middle of a renaissance in truly exploring the paradigm shifting nature of mobile and social media. Matoko Shinkai’s generation-defining hit film Your Name (read more about my thoughts about it here) unseated Spirited Away at the international box office, bringing with it an ode to long-distance relationships, Yuri!!! on Ice tapped into the nature of going viral, and now an understated romantic drama has somehow crafted a genuinely organic and believable relationship that is initiated and explored through texting.
And we have circled back to my point how we define ‘together’ in this relational context. Akane and Kotarou’s relationship seemed almost…predetermined, at least when it comes to the show’s portrayal of their constant accidental meetups. It is also here where we explore truly the best aspect of Tsuki ga Kirei.
The show is excellent in its framing of small…windows of character, and this quality is magnified when our main leads were in the frame together, physically or not. The first episode’s portrayal of their first close-range interaction is quite indicative of the awkward personalities of them both: flustered and too embarrassed to bring up their classmate relationship to their respective families, who are sitting at tables way too close for comfort.
And when both of them are within a metre of each other at the drink bar? As if by subconscious instinct, Kotarou switched stations at the last second, opting to pour himself black coffee instead of soft drinks, before rushing away from Akane, who was nevertheless too enclosed in her own shell to notice anyway. (What is it with this notion that drinking black coffee makes you adult?)
We already mentioned Akane’s adorable idea with pranking her sibling, and we’ve established that Kotarou is a closeted bookworm, so I see fit to spend the remainder of the post to unpack the actual advancement towards…what I assume to be a couple relationship by the end of episode four (squeal!*).
Episode two felt like a scattered documentation of Kotarou slowly developing a crush for Akane, dusted among the bulk of a mostly side-story episode. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t carry thematic weight. Kotarou’s puppy love drove him to voluntarily help find Akane’s mascot doll for her, instinctively knowing that it is a thing that she treasures. Kotarou returning the mascot was the turning point of their relationship. Akane is noticeably more open to him, being able to confess to him what she considers to be her fatal flaws as a person (to which Kotarou responds in his usual awkward and adorably worded way). The dialogue in the second episode’s final stretch is sparingly used, to highlight what I see is the show’s trump card: a layered exploration of flirting and relationships through social media.
Which brings me all the way back to my point about Akane’s differing personalities when she’s talking and when she’s texting. This aspect of teenage angst in terms of human interaction is a direct nostalgic value which I appreciate personally, as a person who’s has gone through the most disruptive period of puberty no so long ago: my texting personality and openness is…grossly different to my real life self.
Oh and about Kotarou sitting up in excitement when Akane responds to his messages, punching the lamp cord in anticipation, and struggling to send a text asking about Akane’s relationship status? Pure salad dressing. And it’s brilliant. This is teenage awkwardness at its most raw: it’s like its own performative language; a messy ballet that no one learns, but knows anyway when they reach a certain age.
What makes episode three’s climax brilliant storytelling reads almost like an analytical draft of a long-lost Naoko Yamada production. A shy camera that feels just as nervous and eye contact-avoiding as the characters it is trying to document. The unbearable feeling of sitting next to your crush, wanting to tell her how you feel…delivered without a single line of wasted dialogue, instead letting the character expressions leak through their tinges of posture changes and movements.
Also, I can’t be the only one who slow clapped at this Kotarou monologue right? Not only does it further link back to his love of books, I see this as a valuable inclusion of perspective through culture…the Japanese linguistic similarities between the moon and the concept of love, and of course the subtle world-building values of Kotarou’s earlier monologue about the literature club’s superstition.
“Who was it that translated ‘I love you’ as ‘isn’t the moon beautiful tonight?'”
Extending from the immediate main subject of our main characters, the fourth episode’s change of environments provided a platform, in which the show expands upon this theme of the life of youths and smartphones, and the ensuing conflicts between students and the authoritative teachers (again…a direct steal from my own school camp days). The divide between how the students utilize creative hacks to smuggle their phones into camp can almost exist…as sage-like knowledge, passed down generations of students. It is culture, to stay past lights out, giggling with your roommates, surrounding virtual campfires made of smartphone flashlights and screens.
It is intensely nostalgic.
I guess I can end it here.
If the overly sentimental me can take over for a tad: I think Tsuki ga Kirei may well be a valuable period piece for the 21 century. Our brand of flirting through emoticons and texting, building dialogue amongst friends and our antagonistic relationships with authority during school camps serves as individualistic personalities of our generation.
And I’d hate to see these details forgotten when I dig up a copy of ‘A History of Early 21st Century’s Youth‘ at age 65.
So…any funny stories from high school camps the readers would like to share?