The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Jeez this show is adorable. Heck, even its art design is adorable. From the uneven line density, soft edges, and pleasant shading of its character designs to the beautiful pastel colors of its backgrounds, Tsukigakirei visually reminds me of something like Wandering Son. Only the show's unfortunate CG background characters mar what is an otherwise beautiful production.
Tsukigakirei's visual strengths echo its overall dramatic concerns. There's a keen emphasis on body language, physical space, and character physicality in general here, echoing the fact that its protagonists Akane and Kotarou are each hyper-aware of their own physical presence. At the beginning of their third year in middle school, each of them find themselves oddly infatuated with the other, leading to many awkward glances and tortured negotiation of common spaces. One of this premiere's highlight sequences involves a good minute of the two of them attempting to negotiate a restaurant drink bar without making eye contact or (gasp!) actually having to talk to each other.
If you're not interested in a cute, slow-paced, adolescent romance, there is likely little for you here - but if any of that sounds like your jam, Tsukigakirei's first episode is a lovely time from start to finish. The show establishes its characters naturally across a variety of scenes of them engaging with both classmates and family members, immediately offering a fuller perspective of adolescent life than many similar shows. Kotarou is presented as a somewhat bitter bookish type, but the show takes care to neither validate or undermine his feelings of social resentment. Akane is shy in her own way, but possesses a greater maturity regarding social interactions, and is presented as fundamentally competent in spite of constantly negotiating a variety of insecurities. The scenes where the two of them “collide” are a buffet of character acting and nervous energy, perfectly evoking the sense of awful consequence that seems to hinder any movement towards young romance.
From its generally strong art design to its natural dialogue and terrific character acting, Tsukigakirei looks to be a high quality romance all around. This episode's articulation of how body language and physical positioning reflect our feelings was so well-done that I'm mostly just worried if the show will be able to keep it up. If not for the consistently intrusive CG characters, I wouldn't really have anything to complain about. Consider me thoroughly charmed.
Funimation's Tsuki ga Kirei dub seems like a solid job all around, at least as of the first episode. Akane's english voice actress is a very near match for her Japanese voice, echoing the same earnest and perpetually anxious tone. Kotarou sounds a bit less timid than in the original, which makes his bitter commentary feel a little more mean than simply insecure, but he's still a fine interpretation of the character. Just as importantly, the background conversations of both Kotarou and Akane's friends feel very natural, setting an appropriate tone of hustle and bustle within the school scenes. The highlight of the dub may actually have been our leads' families - not only did Akane's sister sound the most natural of anyone, but the adapted script made the premiere's diner scene feel even more charmingly awkward than in Japanese. Hearing Kotarou's mom hush his dad with “don't embarrass him in front of his little friend. Kotarou has eyes, he knows she's pretty” was a perfect capstone to one of the series' most endearing scenes. Overall, it's a fine dub that I'd be comfortable recommending to anyone who generally prefers them.
I feel like I need to stress right away that Tsukigakirei isn't a bad show. I can see this healing type of romance being the perfect treat for plenty of people out there. It's also a glossy, attractive production that's totally easy on the eyes outside of a few distressing CGI character models zombie-walking through the background. It's a perfectly pretty little trifle, and there's no reason it should really summon any rage from anybody.
Now that that's out of the way, this episode was absolutely my kryptonite from start to finish. As the ninth straight minute of our featureless main couple staring at each other with their mouths half-open slugged on by, I started just grousing and making jokes on Twitter to try and keep my brain from cringing into a void at the sakura petals falling in every outdoor shot and stray dust twinkling in every sunbeam when the "action" moved indoors. Someone in my mentions jokingly suggested that this show seemed like the anti-Scum's Wish. That's uncanny to me, because I did jokingly describe this exact kind of romance in my first review of Scum's Wish, not knowing that the posterchild for these twee snoozefests was headed my way literally one week after Scum's Wish ended.
I feel bad getting so peeved about it, because Tsukigakirei is truly inoffensive on every level. I feel obligated to give it a decent-leaning-positive score for that reason; you might as well give a production with slight yet sincere ambitions like this a try, right? At the same time, that's also what offended me so much about it in the first place; it's a pretty face with zero personality. Sure, I could recommend it to others, but with no intrigue on the horizon beyond "well it looks nice," what am I really recommending? You could stare at anything equally pretty for the same amount of time, so I could just as easily recommend cloudgazing for twenty minutes, and I guess I do if it's a nice day out? I have to assume that some surprises will eventually pop up in later episodes. It can't continue to have no unique or interesting story elements for its entire run, can it?
Since it isn't based on anything, I'm not entirely sure where this project came from. Seiji Kishi is the epitome of a workmanlike director, which shows in this episode's completely innocuous storyboarding. Yuuko Kakihara has been unusually busy lately, but her charming forays into original adaptive work (I love what she's been doing with Digimon Tri) are dwarfed by predominantly faithful adaptive work (I can't really blame or praise her for something like Orange), so it's hard to pin down her voice or ambitions as a writer. Then there's Studio feel, which leapt to attention with their similarly impressive production management of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU's second season. Maybe they wanted to plant their flag more firmly with an original creation after getting so much notice for that project? Anyway, wake me up when this show starts revealing something worth grabbing onto.
If there's one thing that Tsuki ga Kirei absolutely nails, it's that terrible awkwardness that is unique to middle and high school. Things can still be awkward after graduation, but nothing quite compares to the special kind of cringing that can happen when you're there. When Akane realizes that she's in a different class than all of her friends, you can feel the panic that starts in the pit of her stomach, and as she tries to find the least crowded entrance into the classroom (after having psyched herself up with her worry toy in the bathroom), you know exactly what's happening even though no actual explanation is given. But even more impressive is when Akane's family goes out to the same restaurant as one of her new classmates, Kotarou, and their parents embarrass them both by (gasp) talking to each other. It's enough to make you want to sink through the floor in remembered (and sympathetic) humiliation.
This empathy with the emotional tumult of ninth grade could very well turn out to be the show's strength and weakness. It's wonderful to see a story take those emotions seriously rather trying to paint a rosy picture of the purported “best years” of your life, but on the other hand, they really aren't feelings I'm all that keen to relive. Probably your own experience of middle and high school will determine how closely you want to follow this show's emotional honesty, and I suspect we'll be in for a rollercoaster ride of it, albeit an understated one.
That's where this show also succeeds – unlike Sagrada Reset, the slow pace here works to highlight the characters' uncertainties and awkwardness, and each glance Akane and Kotarou dart at each other seems to say a lot. The use of the social media app LINE is clearly going to play a major role in their getting to know each other more comfortably (i.e. not face to face), and it will be interesting to see how the characters handle online versus real life interactions. On the down side, there are so many mentions of the app that it feels like an ad for it – use LINE, kids, and never have to feel weird in front of that kind of cute person in class again!
If you like your romances slow and more realistic, Tsuki ga Kirei is looking like a good bet. It's understated visuals help to enhance the more grounded nature of the story, although I'm really not a fan of clumsy CG walking, running, and background characters. This has the potential to be lovely and possibly quietly heartbreaking – or heartwarming. In either case, it's worth checking out.
I can appreciate a show and the story it's trying to tell even when that show isn't for me. Tsukigakirei is one of those shows. Its romance plot starring two painfully shy teenagers struggling to so much as greet one another could be relatable to anyone wrapped up in their own stalled romance or at the same general level of romantic inexperience. Man, I'm 30 years old though and sitting through two people who can't make eye contact in the same restaurant is hard. I can understand not being able to pull the trigger on asking someone out, but these two kids can't even bring themselves to speak to one another. It's all a little much. I barely made it through the molasses-slow pacing of Kimi no Todoke's first season and that show had humor to punch it up a bit.
This isn't to suggest that Tsukigakirei's first episode is bad. It has segments where it drags itself along, namely the restaurant scene, but it succeeds in capturing that quintessential teenage awkwardness. Kotaro is a boy after my own heart. Fixated on dramatic prose of the late Osamu Dazai, he quotes “How excruciatingly arduous and unbearable it is to live,” at being subjected to dinner with his parents. Then, while being watched by Akane, he decides against filling his glass with soda and gets an iced coffee, obviously in the hopes of appearing more sophisticated.
Akane meanwhile, seems less concerned by appearances except in regards to her eating habits. The attraction between the two is probably the weakest part of the episdoe. They seem to notice one another and instantaneously decide there's a spark there. How or why is unimportant so I can only assume they're both cute enough to catch one another's eye despite their generic character designs.
Director Seiji Kishi is better known for more comedy-heavy series like Assassination Classroom and My Bride is a Mermaid. The show's scriptwriter Yuuko Kakihara, though, is no stranger to these types of works, having previously penned the drama about teen suicide Orange and also worked on episodes of Kids on the Slope and the new Digimon Adventure films. The show has good drivers behind the wheel, it's just a matter of whether being 15 sounds like a wistful joy ride or trauma-inducing wreck.
Director Seiji Kishi is much more known for leading boisterous and/or action-oriented projects like Angel Beats!, Assassination Classroom, Danganronpa, and Yuki Yuna is a Hero, so I was quite curious to see how he would handle what looked like a vastly more understated project. And indeed, that's exactly what this is, at least based on the first episode: a simple, very low-key tale about two young people on the leading edge of falling in love. There are no bells and whistles here, no overblown deeds, and really any comedy present is more incidental than a focal point. This is straight young romance, and damned if it isn't a surprisingly enticing start to one.
Or perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, as Kishi proved with Yuki Yuna that he is quite adept at portraying and handling the day-to-day interactions of middle school students in a very natural-sounding way. And I think that's a major part of why the first episode works: nothing feels forced or artificial about either the dialog or the character behaviors, whether at the middle school age level or older. Akane and Kotarou both act like how somewhat shy 15-year-olds might actually act, and their parents conversing with each other in the restaurant once they find out that they have children who are classmates – without regard for how much they embarrass their offspring! – is just the kind of thing that I think parents everywhere do. (And I also must add that it's nice seeing both leads having intact, present families.) But the writing doesn't stop at defining the leads only by their shyness. It also carefully shows a contrast between Akane's immaturity and her possible awakening to more adult feelings and acknowledges that Kotarou certainly isn't oblivious to the appeal of girls in bikinis on a magazine cover, especially when one model looks a bit like Akane, though he also takes an interest in a more literary approach to learning about the opposite sex.
The artistic production has peculiar kind of look to it, where characters are often outlined in lighter colors, which always reminds me of Engaged to the Unidentified. The realistic character designs contribute to the “this is what ordinary life looks like” feel and a subtly-used musical score perfectly maintains the tone throughout. The prominent presence of LINE as a messaging medium is also interesting, as this has been around for a while now as a fairly popular social media app in Asia (I had to get it a couple of years ago myself to converse with Asian guild mates in an app-based game) but this is the first anime where I can recall it being prominently-featured. The book Kotarou finds in the bookstore, Schoolgirl, is also an actual book by famed Japanese author Dazai Osamu. It's also worth noting here that the title of the series, which directly translates as “The Moon is Beautiful,” is a play on words, as adding a “desu ne” to the end of it turns it into a famous Japanese idiom for expressing love.
The pacing of the first episode is very patient and deliberate, to the point that it may be too slow for some tastes. Unlike Sagrada Reset, however, it didn't bore me in the slightest. I am uncertain how the story is going to be kept interesting for a whole season, but I see too much potential here and trust the director well enough to continue following it.
Tsukigakirei feels like it could be the opposite of Sagrada Reset: it doesn't have any lofty intellectual debates for its teenage characters to talk through, but it does have a good grasp of how those characters might actually act. Judging by the first episode, this looks to be a mild-mannered series with the modest ambition of developing a romantic relationship between its main characters. There are a couple of literary references here and there, but the emotions are definitely priority number one at the moment.
It's a good thing, then, that those emotions feel pretty genuine. This episode captures a very particular kind of teenage awkwardness as Akane and Kotarou fret over how to approach one another. The encounter between their families at a restaurant is especially believable; there's something very believable about the two kids wanting to crawl under a rock as their parents exchange pleasantries. When you're thirteen or fourteen, everything your parents do in front of the person you like is automatically embarrassing. Some early attention is also paid to developing Akane and Kotarou as characters; they each have their own friends and hobbies, so it's not as if they're completely blank slates.
Depending on what you look for in a romance series, the pacing in this episode may be a good or bad thing. It's definitely not in any hurry to get this relationship moving, and the main characters barely manage to have a coherent conversation by the time the end credits roll. That's fine if you're looking for a relaxing bit of escapism, but not so much if you're looking for gripping personal drama. The stakes also feel relatively low at the moment, with only the slightest hint of romantic rivalry on the horizon. This seems to be a story about two shy, pleasant individuals getting to know one another, so it may be a while before anyone gets their feelings hurt.
The visuals in Tsukigakirei are kind of a mixed bag. The environments are pretty convincing inside and outside the school, but the characters don't always look like they fit with the backgrounds. People walk around with weird white highlights on their hair and shoulders, and there are some clunky CG character models to be found in the crowded wide shots. That hurts the relaxing mood a little, but not enough to be a deal-breaker. If this story continues along its current path, it'll be a nice, low-key addition to the season.
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