Tsukigakirei Episode 4
by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Alright, let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Even in a show whose photography and reliance on CG have already been iffy, this episode was pretty much a visual disaster. Detailing Akane and Kotarou taking a class trip, this episode was heavy on the big crowd scenes where the show's CG background characters become most apparent. Infuriatingly apparent.
I've come to accept CG as something of an unfortunate but accepted evil in anime. CG objects in traditionally animated shows pretty much never look natural, but at least for mechanical objects, it doesn't seem like their use is going away anytime soon. I basically just have to accept that shows are going to have some visually incongruous and just-plain-ugly CG objects hanging around, and that anime producers have apparently decided this is an acceptable blemish on the final product.
CG crowds, on the other hand, I have to demerit. Anime CG has just not gotten anywhere close to the point where CG crowds look like anything more human than clay golems, much less like characters with actual personalities. They are always abrasive and pretty much always kill my suspension of disbelief. Not only are they ugly, but they're also a loud reminder that a show's world is an artificial place, composed of distinct artificial variables. Attempting to create visual harmony within the frame is one of the principle challenges of anime production, and CG crowds almost always make that harder.
Unfortunately, the demands of anime TV scheduling and studio priorities in general mean that whenever a show needs a lively crowd scene, they're generally choosing from one of several bad options. Some shows solve this in creative ways, like how Mawaru Penguindrum or the Monogatari franchise make their faceless pedestrians or lack of pedestrians a meaningful narrative point. Others choose to simply avoid crowd scenes wherever possible, a reasonable response to a difficult situation. Others use CG characters, but only at a distance, to at least mitigate the damage.
Tsukigakirei's main visual problem might not be that it uses CG characters, but that it doesn't feel ashamed of them. It places them front and center, disrupting major scenes with low-detail, assembly line character models. When you couple that with the show's often iffy photography (the process of compressing all the disparate elements of a visual composition like backgrounds and characters into a unified image), you end up with a huge number of shots that actively fight against audience investment. Pleasant character designs and pretty backgrounds are wasted when your characters look like they're walking past a billboard within a crowd of Nintendo Miis. I don't expect Tsukigakirei's CG character models to get any better, but I do hope the show stops assuming they're good enough to put front and center.
Alright, visual rant over. Fortunately, outside of really doubling down on the show's visual issues, this was actually a pretty great episode. Moving the cast into class trip mode let the show nicely demonstrate how much Akane and Kotarou's friends add to their characters. The two of them get understandably tongue-tied together, but watching Akane's friends lightly torture her about wanting to get away for a date was a great, instantly relatable moment.
I also liked how this episode kept the show's focus on technology as a fact of modern kids' lives in a very natural way. I've rarely seen shows emphasize the quiet war between teachers and students over smartphones, and I enjoyed the specificity of details like Kotarou sneaking beneath the covers to text with Akane. That conflict with the teachers allowed this episode's missed connections climax to feel very natural, forcing each of our leads to reassess how much they're willing to invest in this relationship.
The big almost-date was definitely this episode's highlight. Like in many of this show's best scenes, Tsukigakirei wasn't afraid to let things remain silent for long, almost uncomfortable periods of time, confident that the internal drama of Akane and Kotarou's feelings would still come across clearly. Their final meeting was a perfect union of this show's slow in-scene pacing and snappy overarching narrative momentum. The two hemmed and hawed and avoided making eye contact, but Akane finally admitted she'd like to try dating Kotarou. I'm proud of these kids.
Overall, this was a theoretically strong episode marred by the show's unfortunate aesthetic failings. Fortunately, I'd guess episodes that lean on CG this heavily won't be the norm - after all, this episode was depicting a busy trip to a tourist destination. The show's many strengths are still readily apparent, so if Tsukigakirei can take more care to tiptoe around its weaknesses, things should be just fine.
Tsukigakirei is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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