I never intended to write another post on Tsuki ga Kirei. My analysis of episodes 1-4 felt pretty definitive in regards to unpacking my very positive impressions of the show overall. At the time of publication, at least. For the most part, I felt I have no more to say about it.
Instead, the show decided to up its ante with each passing episode, all the while making me realise, just how much detail I’ve missed from the episodes I thought I’ve covered quite thoroughly. Sigh…*
Oh well. Shall we venture onwards?
Understanding what an Audio-visual Medium Entails
The cast of Tsuki ga Kirei is for the most part, made up of awfully perceptive and intelligent people. Of all the anime romantic comedies and dramas I’ve encountered over the years, misunderstandings and unperceptive characters tend to form the bulk of the plot points that drive their respective stories forward. And this makes Tsuki ga Kirei’s distinction particularly striking to me, because even beyond our two main love birds, those in the supporting cast are portrayed as understanding, decent people who are capable of reading the atmosphere and react individually and accordingly. There is indeed a sense of organic substance in an animated world like this (even if we still have to deal with a few subpar CG model crowds).
(Possible over-generalisation aside) I of course, have my usual examples to back up my claims on this…there are a few definite instances in these four episodes, where I subconsciously started noticing warning flags, only for the show to either bypass or skate effortlessly around them. But you know me…I like to leave you hanging after dropping my thesis statement-like points early into a post, so I can diverge into a few tangents. So bear with me while I talk about how cute Kotarou and Akane are together, and how breathlessly perfect the background music and insert songs are, and how skillfully utilised those assets were.
Having found its groove with the subject, Tsuki ga Kirei continued its muted but deliberated exploration of mobile technology and its integration into the lives of young people. Middle school dating serves as a perfect petri dish, in which a show can acutely observe and demonstrate the various interactional subtleties of internal drama (even if Tsuki ga Kirei is still anything but drama).
In some ways, giving myself the freedom to tackle four episodes in one post kinda spoils the process, especially with how the four episodes in question resolved each other’s storylines, which in turn may have rendered some moments…outdated. I am of course talking about each episode’s advancement of the main relationship, and how the briskly phased progress ended up overshadowing the amounts of detail I may be able to put into discussing every single encounter.
Akane and Kotarou are officially a couple as of episode five. Which makes the uniqueness of this show even more apparent. To me at least. Tsuki ga Kirei’s ongoing exploration of a relationship post-confession not only continued its nuanced attention to detail, it has also found new angles to articulate the ongoing anxieties, even after the couple have accepted one another as boy/girlfriend.
Let’s start with how even the couple’s struggle with understanding what it means to be ‘dating’, was utilised to further institute the impact of technology and human relationships. In yet another extended scene that continuously cut back and forth Kotarou and Akane’s bedrooms, we see the two kids Googling dates. Of course, the draconian do’s and don’ts of age-old forum sites did little to calm Akane’s nerves, with her conceding with the remark that ‘Dating is hard’.
It is important to remember the impressionable nature of the young.
In one of the more amusing sequences, the texting conversation between the two (as usual…filled with cheesy, innocent and adorable prose) went on for an extended amount of time, with Akane looking visably relieved, that her primary mode of communication with Kotarou did not make her look too needy (what’s with this bullshit advice ‘don’t reply immediately, but don’t wait too long either’?), while Kotarou did his usual awkward sit ups and boxing matches with the lamp cord (now conveniently contextualised with a Muhammad Ali poster above his bed). At this point, while scenes like this is just the show flaunting its best assets, the sentiment around the organic realness of this scene simply cannot be overstated.
You know what…Let’s try this.
“Are you asleep?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“We didn’t get to talk again today. :(”
“But I’m just happy I get to see you at school.”
“Me too. :)”
Don’t see what I’m getting at?
Every text was a calculated play in a chess match. A wooing round. Akane is coming off the heels of reading that texting too much is bad for a relationship, and is trying to test the waters with the new ‘knowledge’, while Kotarou is trying to work up the courage to drop the lunch date request. The disconnect between the two parties receiving text messages and the sheer amount of strategising that goes into every word is such a fascinating thing to observe. It is made all the more fascinating, how all this stressing over conversational phrases ended up reading like…well, you’ve seen the cuteness that was the short exchanges above.
Not to mention that Kotarou’s LINE notification sounded off like a wolf-whistle here. Not sure if this was an on-going joke (or if it’s a joke at all), or if it also sounded in previous episodes but wasn’t noticed by me.
Even the background music got into the awkwardness. The slow swaying of the piano paired up with the clarinet and flute solos managed to instil the scene with a perfectly in-character commentary on the clumsy texting choreography.
I don’t think a single scene of anime this season got me howling in laughter as much as this one.
On Simplicity: Tsuki ga Kirei’s Usage of Insert Songs
Tsuki ga Kirei loves its insert songs. And there’s nothing ground-breaking or…provocative in the ways in which the show has used this tool so far, but once again, it excels with straightforward enthusiasm. And the climax at the end of the episode gives a so-far definitive example of the effective use of insert songs.
As understanding as ever, Daisuke offered to leave the bookstore empty for Kotarou so he can have a proper date with his lady, after been interrupted by Chinatsu (we will get back to her. I need to defend the girl).
Naturally, the conversation started with the pair sitting noticeably far from each other, with Akane trying to skirt around the Chinatsu problem. The show continues its obsession with profile shots to once again emphasise the two characters’ constant avoidance of eye contact out of sheer embarrassment.
“It’s not that I don’t want you to.” Akane’s line triggers the song ‘Yasahii Kimochi’s first phrases, as Nao Toyama’s lone vocals fades into the soundscape. The camera lends itself to Kotarou’s perspective, as Akane’s hands is placed in the centre of the frame. As he resisted the temptation to rotate his head, his gaze ascended towards Akane’s cheek. His eyes then swiftly looked away as he finally worked up the courage to hold Akane’s hand. The song now reached its chorus, with the volume elevated in glorious fashion.
Following a brief moment of shock, Akane slowly rotated her palm to meet Kotarou’s. The next shot finally closes the space between them, as it squeezes both their profiles tightly into the frame.
To wrap up the perfect moment, a medium shot confirms the eliminated space between them, with the bookshelves and staircase effectively boxing them inside their own intimate head-space. And all the while, the vocals elevates the intensely nostalgic atmosphere with extroverted pathos.
Silence returned to the non-diegetic soundscape however, when Akane received a text from Chinatsu, announcing that she has a crush on Kotarou as well.
(Side note: Funny enough, Nao Toyama voices Ryouko, Akane’s sister.)
Beyond Romance & (The Lack of) Conflict
Remember what I said about the show skating effortlessly around potential drama? Instead of focusing on Chinatsu’s text as a centre of conflict, episode six offered a sketch of adult scepticism into the kids’ world, as Akane and Kotarou went on to pursue their respective dreams on the race track, and at the Kadokawa HQ (Come on, the name change barely tried to conceal the inspiration.)
Chinatsu’s text wasn’t a declaration of war. She made it clear throughout the fifth episode that she’s developing a honest crush on Kotarou, and is already aware that Akane does too. The text was a “heads up” from a close friend (as well as a confirmation, to make certain that Akane indeed has a crush). And I think this is supremely good-willed and genuine. Chinatsu is guided by a forward drive, as she is not a person that sees squiggly, alternative paths. She likes Kotarou, and her best friend already paired up with him, so the only resolution she sees for herself is to come clean, confess and see where it takes her.
Of course, heartbreak ended up hampering Chinatsu, as she breaks down crying. And Tsuki ga Kirei’s cast of good-natured characters is once again showcased, as the friend group banded together to comfort her, having quickly figured out the side details. It was wordless. The show trusts its characters’ good nature just as much as our ability to emphasise with Chinatsu’s first experience of a failed confession (even if that trust was…misplaced on some more assholeish viewers).
I also have to briefly mention the seventh episode’s final line. Akane’s single ‘Sorry’ as she read Chinatsu’s text that she didn’t get to confess, was a subtle yet monumental cherry on top. Akane didn’t ‘win’ Kotarou. They belong with each other. This cute little romance did not come with a baggage of spite. It was pure. “Sorry” did indeed come from a place of slight winner’s guilt, but let’s not forget that Akane treasures her friendship with Chinatsu. She wouldn’t want a ‘love rivalry’ to come between them.
You don’t see many romantic ‘conflicts’ that are resolved as cleanly as this, do you? Especially with this much convoluted emotions, awkward teenage angst and introverts.
An Ode to the Relationship Thus Far
And this is where I start to feel kinda glad that I decided to tackle all four episodes in one post (In contradiction to my above statement). Episodes five to eight are made up of a snippets of time and events, gradually building a portrait of the relationship between Kotarou and Akane, as they navigated the maze of middle school dating. I have already outlined a bit of this maze in the first section, but as it stands, I see fit to utilise this final section to complete the painting I’ve outlined at the started.
Even with the relationship now taking centre stage, the show continues to leave screen time to develop the main characters’ daily life and passions, which lends itself to episode six’s main storyline.
While Kotarou travelled to Tokyo to meet with a editor at the publishing firm, Akane prepared herself for the race ahead.
Despite promising each other to do their best, both characters suffered setbacks in the form of a terrible time, and an editor who believed Kotarou’s writing skills to only be encouraging for light novel authoring. This is where the shot compositing chops of the show continued to impress, despite the unfortunate failings of the other aspects of production, which are slowly creeping in as the episode number kept climbing.
Akane hugging her legs as she sobbed into her lap at the corner of the staircase was strikingly outlined with shadows and leading lines, trapping her in a confined cinematic space.
Kotarou’s gift bag of Kadokawa light novels sat untouched, amusingly next to the trash can.
The follow-up chat in the library helped inform that the couple had made it their own space, as they comforted each other on their setbacks, and once again promised to get serious about their aspirations.
As Kotarou typed on the laptop, his room is flooded with brilliant sunlight. Dazai’s books shared the privileged seat near the laptop, while the Kadokawa gift bag remained untouched next to the trash can. Pretty telling framing.
In addition to resolving Chinatsu’s story, episode seven tastefully showed the couple solidifying their relationship, with Kotarou verbally confirming their status, and Akane taking comfort in it (this also feeds back to how she describes Kotarou to her friends in episode eight), as well as a beautiful montage of their first full date, platformed against the backdrop of a gorgeous setting.
“We really do look like we are going out,” said Akane. The show’s profound ability to hide this cheesy statement behind genuine moments like a couple selfie with straight-faced sincerity is beyond me at this point. Vocal confirmation is important to these characters.
I’ve been skirting around this subject throughout the two posts: Tsuki ga Kirei feels almost naive in its total lack of cynicism. At times, the decent nature of the entire cast, surrounded by the almost…celestial fate-like encounters and events which brought Akane and Kotarou together, endangers the show’s sense of organic honesty.
Episode eight runs face-first into this celestial theme of meant-to-be’s and wishes. And…lo and behold, it now stands as the show’s new peak. Perhaps good-willed idealism plays a far larger role in my enjoyment of the show than I previously anticipated.
Kotarou’s next date with Akane was initiated by Daisuke’s suggestion to visit Hikawa Shrine, while another adult handed him 1000 yen for his hard work. Kotarou’s birthday also passed without Akane’s knowledge. And it is the combination of all these seemingly unconnected circumstances, that this episode utilises to craft an atmosphere of intimacy that feels overwhelming at times.
The 1000 yen was used to purchase two matching wishing tablets for the couple. Akane gifted her boyfriend with a matching potato mascot as a late birthday present. All this, once again set against a beautiful setting of the shrine festival, was enveloped with excellent sound design of the peaceful ambience of the wind chimes that helped sell the environment.
And it is here where all the threads aligned. The couple shared their first kiss under a bright full moon, with both of them holding onto the same potato mascot, which they now also shared. It is said that the Japanese phrase ‘I love you’ can be more accurately translated as being ‘the moon is beautiful tonight’. It is a sentiment that was shared back in episode three. It is a sentiment that has now gone full circle.
The potato mascot is now a token of mutual sentiment, as Akane and Kotarou returned to school. The former blushed at the memory as she held onto the mascot, while being subjected to additional interrogation by her friend circle. The latter was also unable to contain his joy, as he held his treasured birthday gift in his palms.
A few miles away, two neighbouring wishing tablets waltzed to the will of the breeze, bearing the same phrase ‘I wish for us to stay together forever.’ Wishes, written without knowing what the other has wrote.
Tsuki ga Kirei is absolute in its lack of cynicism. It flaunts its naivety with such a force of confidence, that the joy of seeing our precious couple grow closer together every week is already more than enough to serve the purpose of the narrative. Organic realism be damned at this point. The show is a delightfully partnered ballet of the modern teenage romance, a full-hearted choreography of the delights and doubts of young love. The show feels so honest in its sentimental idealism, that one’s investment in it can no be dictated by just how realistically it portrays the awkwardness of the adolescence. Instead, we should add in a pinch of old-fashioned rooting for the main couple as well.