The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You
How would you rate episode 1 of
TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You ?
What is this?
Nasa meets a "generally cute" girl named Tsukasa on the day of his high school entrance exams, and immediately falls in love with her. Nasa confesses his feelings, but her response is that she will only go out with him if they get married. Years later, on Nasa's 18th birthday, she suddenly appears to get married. Thus begins Nasa's newlywed lifestyle.
How was the first episode?
Ah, it's a classic tale: boy meets girl. Girl saves boy from getting hit by truck. Boy declares love for girl because she resembles Princess Kaguya. Girl proposes then disappears. Boy becomes singularly obsessed with girl and completely derails his future. Girl reappears. Boy and girl get married as child bride and groom.
Wait, that isn't a classic story at all. In fact, it's quite odd!
The main thing about this first episode of TONIKAWA is just how much time we spend in protagonist Nasa's head. Almost everything that happens is narrated by him, other than his conversations with Tsukasa. It all happens through the filter of his experience as he works hard to improve himself and overcome the punny name his parents inflicted on him, then abandons everything for the sake of meeting this mysterious girl again because she stood in front of the moon and made him think he was in a modern-day sequel to The Tale of the Bamboo-Cutter's Wife.
I have a sneaking suspicion this all happened because he suffered a traumatic head injury when he got hit by a truck that is affecting his ability to make decisions, or maybe post-traumatic stress disorder. From the sounds of it, he had a pretty lengthy recovery period – did anyone think to put this boy in counseling?
Because the episode is so aggressively from his perspective, I have no idea what to think of Tsukasa. Any normal girl would be thrown off by his immediate declaration of love, not propose marriage, so obviously she isn't “normal”. But is the comparison to Princess Kaguya something real, or something Nasa built up in his head? She's just so ethereal and mysterious, and I can't help but wonder how much of that is his own perception. Just how reliable of a narrator is Nasa, anyway?
Meanwhile, the art style seems a bit at odds with Tsukasa's supposed ethereality. It's appealing enough, but it's more cute than anything else, which makes it hard to see how she's so beautiful as to distract Nasa from noticing a truck barreling down his way.
Despite the inherent goofiness of its premise, I am a bit intrigued. The questions I asked in this review? They aren't rhetorical. I'm genuinely curious. So, I'll give it a few episodes. If it turns out to be a waste of my time, I'll soothe myself by watching Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya instead.
Based on the advertising blurb for this series, I was not expecting much out of it; perhaps a sweet little romance with a touch of humor, which mostly isn't my thing. However, I was quite surprised by how entertaining the first episode was. I don't know if the series can keep this up, but for now at least, it is a lot of fun.
Although the blurb explains how the first episode plays out in general, it leaves out one key detail: that protagonist Nasa is almost yet another victim of Truck-kun. (Did being saved by Tsukasa negate his chance for an isekai story, perhaps?) He's still badly injured by the incident but Tsukasa wasn't, which strongly implies that she may be inhuman. The allusions made to Princess Kaguya and the Bamboo Keeper's story also suggest that she may be from elsewhere, as does the prominent moon motif and the series' subtitle.
In fact, the ties within the naming conventions here deserves some specific comment. Although Tsukasa can be spelled a variety of ways in Japanese, the spelling on the marriage certificate looks like it uses the kanji for “moon.” Further, the song that the subtitle undoubtedly comes from – “Fly Me to the Moon” – is one whose Frank Sinatra's rendition was heavily associated with NASA's Apollo moon missions, including being played while Apollo 10 circled the moon and shortly before Apollo 11 landed on it. Given how the protagonists' name is pronounced, none of this is coincidence. (And for the record, I have seen students with much more unfortunate names than his, so he's not that bad off.) But does any of this hint at the mysteries behind Tsukasa's identity? At one point when he's briefly thinking more clearly, Nasa wonders if he's being scammed, and this all seems a little too good to be true. I have to wonder if Tsukasa doesn't need some bond like this to figuratively or spiritually bind her to this world.
All that aside, the key revelation here is that the series is truly funny. I laughed a few times during the first episode, as the comedic timing and use of comical expressions are in line with the better comedies of the past couple of decades. The artistic effort is relatively simple, but I could see this series sustaining itself on humor value alone. Put that together with the underlying mystery and more overt romance aspects and this series could be a success.
It's interesting to me that TONIKAWA opens with the exact same reasoning my mother, who grew up with the name “Sunnie” when the only people with that name were boys named “Sonny,” used when naming my sisters and I. It's a little bit of grounding in what is otherwise a very light and fluffy episode, although whether that speaks to where things are headed remains up in the air. But between that and the way that protagonist Nasa frames his marriage to Tsukasa as the unwritten sequel to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, there may be some more substance to this rom-com than there at first seems to be.
That's actually my favorite part of the episode – that Nasa sees his meeting and marriage as part of the classic tale. He rightly points out that Princess Kaguya isn't given much of a choice or any real options beyond returning to the moon, and that neither the Emperor nor her adoptive father do all that much to stop it. Therefore when Tsukasa tells Nasa that they can be together if they get married before walking off into the snowy night's moonlit scenery, it can be read as Princess Kaguya finding a way to stay on Earth that relies only on herself and one other person; exercising the agency she's largely robbed of in the original tale. It's certainly too early to say that this is what's going on with any certainty, but it's a neat way to look at what's going on, and possibly to make some of the other elements less of an issue.
And there are things here that are definitely setting off my Inner Cynic Alarm. What must Tsukasa's family life be like if her only response to a boy asking her out is “only if we get married?” How did she get parental approval for her marriage to an eighteen-year-old when she's only sixteen? And who let that guy take underage marriage registrations without even reading all the paperwork? Also the fact that Tsukasa has twice just walked off into the light of the full moon is a little suspicious – Nasa wasn't in any position to follow her the first time (what with that whole bleeding out thing), but what's stopping him the second? Does he find nothing about this situation odd?
How well the story can blend the questions with the comedy may determine how well it works. The humor largely is funny (always a plus), particularly the entire debacle with the truck and Nasa's meeting and pursuit of Tsukasa and the way he turned his name into his reason for his self-esteem. But newlywed teenage hijinks can only carry things so far, so moving beyond “tee hee hee, we're married and sleeping in the same room” into the mysteries of Tsukasa feels like it will be an important measure of the projected story in the second episode. For the time being, however, this is a pretty solid premiere with humor, great snow animation, and plenty of unanswered questions to be solved – one of which is, of course, “Was that Cure Whip on top of Nasa's preschool?”
I am an absolute mark for romantic comedy anime. The blushier, crushier, and sillier the better, as far as I'm concerned. So I should be an easy target for TONIKAWA, a romcom that dares to skip all this meandering will-the-won't-they of typical high school romances and chapter-skips to the main couple getting married and living together. That's a dynamic woefully unexplored in this genre, and is ripe with comedic potential as our leads learn the ins-and-outs of domestic partnership and sharing their lives.
So why don't I like TONIKAWA, like, at all?
The main issue is the romance half of the show's Romantic Comedy. The actual setup for these two kids (and they ARE kids. Protagonist Nasa is 18 and Tsukasa is 16 when they marry) getting together is so odd and inhuman that I kept waiting for the reveal that our heroine is an actual alien. Nasa sees a pretty girl, gets run over by a truck, clambers after her to confess his spontaneous love, and then three years and one coma later she arrives at his doorstep with a marriage certificate in hand. It's so absurd you'd think it was a parody of romance anime, but some comedic blood-spurts notwithstanding the whole thing is presented with total sincerity. We're being asked to root for, or at least want to follow, Nasa as he gets married to an underage girl he barely knows, and across the remaining half of the episode we learn nothing about Tsukasa except that she's very, very pretty and knows a lot of trivia about NASA space aeronautics. There's nothing human or charming about either of these characters, and it really feels like an alien's attempt at writing a love story.
But even ignoring that, the whole marriage angle feels totally ancillary. These are still two characters who barely know each other, who blush at the thought of holding hands, so aside from some extra paperwork there's no difference between them and any given pairing in Tsuredure Children. Without an established relationship to build off of, the fact that they're married only serves to make this couple less relatable and engaging, and constantly begs the question of when the other shoe will drop and we'll find out Tsukasa is a vampire or a murderer. I'm not familiar with original creator Kenjirō Hata's other work, but I've heard at least some praise for Hayate the Combat Butler, and so I'm left wondering if I'm just missing a joke here or something. As-is, I'm certainly not invested in finding out either way.
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