Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Looking Up at the Half-Moon
Sub.DVD - Complete Collection
Yuichi is tired of being stuck in the hospital, waiting out the time until he's allowed to be discharged. But when his nurse Akiko tells him about the girl in the east wing, his life soon gains a new source of fun, frustration, and bittersweet adolescent longing. Though Rika is brittle and combative, Yuichi is quickly smitten with her, and Rika's own feelings are clear to see. Together, Yuichi and Rika will make the most of their time, trying to enjoy life as the winds of circumstance threaten to tear them apart.
I wish I had something positive to say about this show. I'd even accept “it fails, but at least it tries” - but I honestly don't think Looking Up At The Half-Moon even really tries. It's lazy and tired and clumsily manipulative, lacking the personality or execution to begin to justify its various core failings. It's just a bad show.
The story is a boilerplate rendition of the classic “doomed girl makes boy sad” genre template. Yuichi is stuck in the hospital for a few months as he recovers from acute hepatitis, and keeps sneaking out due to his relentless boredom. His violent nurse Akiko eventually tells him that there's a girl in the east wing who he should become friends with, and over time, Yuichi grows close to the temperamental but secretly sensitive Rika. The two of them share a few adventures and emotional moments, but Rika's fragile heart means she's always on the brink of disaster, and the meddling of Rika's bizarrely mean-spirited doctor Natsume doesn't help matters, either. Eventually, Rika will have to accept a high-risk surgery to save herself, and so every day until then is precious and fraught with emotional baggage.
So we've got the girl with the likely death sentence, we've got the stubborn boy determined to love her, and we've got the hospital setup. From there, the story runs through a series of the classic episodic adventures you get in these sorts of dramas - there's an episode about Rika wanting to climb a mountain before her surgery (which ends with a dramatic cliffhanger as Yuichi collapses at the top, one of many dramatically convenient cliffhangers), there's an episode about Rika getting to spend a day at school (this time Rika's the one who collapses at the end), there's an episode where they have a misunderstanding that leads to a fight, etc. All of these little stories resolve themselves in predictable fashion, sticking about as close to the cliffnotes version of sad drama vignettes as they can. Nothing about this story will surprise you (I recall at one point seeing the show introduce a new character and thinking 'ah, she'll be the one that's used as a momentary romantic rival'), so it's up to the show's characters and aesthetic execution to really build investment here.
Unfortunately, none of those elements are up to the task. The characters are actually one of Looking Up At The Half-Moon's greatest weaknesses - none of them are particularly distinctive, and worse than that, their actions are regularly inconsistent and frequently just straight-up unbelievable. Yuichi never rises above “generic protagonist” status, and often seems to be pushed around more by the contrivances of the drama than any understandable, underlying motivation. The relationship shared by him and Rika is supposed to be assumed by the end of the very first episode (that episode ends with a love confession as Yuichi collapses, which he of course can't remember the next episode), but there isn't nearly enough time spent developing a rapport between these two for their relationship to be believable. Later, during their fight, Yuichi snaps at Rika for her reliance on her doctor, and even tosses her book over the hospital roof - something totally out of character up until then. An episode is then spent desperately trying to retrieve the book, but in that adventure's aftermath, all his resentment towards Rika's doctor is forgiven, and suddenly they're pals again. Things happen in this story because the story demands drama, not because the characters are acting like believable human beings.
Rika's doctor gets the worst of this. Doctor Natsume is set up as a parallel of Yuichi's story, with his own sad doomed love interest in his past, and because of this, he constantly attempts to interfere in Rika and Yuichi's romance. That might work as an understandable character conflict, but Natsume's actions are just totally absurd throughout the series. At one point, he plants a dirty magazine on Yuichi in order to tear them apart - which actually works, because in this show, any possible dramatic misunderstanding will be embraced. At another point, he gets drunk, drags Yuichi to the roof to rant at him about how he doesn't understand how lucky he is, and then punches Yuichi and kicks him on the ground, leaving him bruised and alone as he goes off to weep by himself. “Yes,” I thought to myself watching this scene, “these are definitely the actions of an adult doctor dealing with the concept of loss.”
The “drama for the sake of drama” plotting hits its peak when Yuichi gets briefly “tempted” by another woman, in a scene that doesn't make any sense for his character and mainly involves him staring blankly as the show constructs unbelievable dramatic tension around him. Though I also shouldn't forget the last episode, which opens in post-surgery suspense with Natsume telling Yuichi “it was the worst possible outcome” before proceeding to spend ten minutes building artificial tension as everyone flatly, absurdly refuses to tell Yuichi what actually happened. It seems almost unnecessary to go into how a story like this embraces an ugly underlying “woman as prize” narrative, since the show simply does not understand storytelling or human beings in general.
The show's aesthetics aren't much better. This may be due to the DVD quality, but the overall show has a washed-out look to it, with faded backgrounds failing to add a sense of vibrancy to underline the show's “embrace the time you have” message. The character designs are generic and not terribly expressive (though there are some funny expressions throughout), and the animation is extremely limited. Characters look frequently jerky in their movements, and the direction does very little to add personality or purposeful framing to the storytelling. I recall a total of three lively jump-cut sequences across the production, adding up to a total of roughly ten seconds of inspired direction in a six episode series.
The music is actually even worse than the visual production - though the show's visual aesthetics are sterile, the music is almost obtrusively bland. The soft-rock opening song is the highlight in a soundtrack best described as “elevator music,” full of simplistic synth melodies, a repeated harmonica refrain, and occasional mid-tempo guitar twang. A show that strives for dramatic emotional peaks should not have a soundtrack that seems appropriate for a sleepy mid-level chain restaurant.
Shows that swing for the emotional fences really have to earn those moments. Melodrama can work, but it requires a far more deft hand than this - more investment in the characters, more acuity of scene-setting, more careful dramatic buildup to make tragedy seem inevitable, not just there because a show wants to make you cry and so it turns on the Sads. But nothing here makes its emotions land - you don't care about the characters (like you might in a show like Clannad), the storytelling doesn't propel things in a unique way (like how, say, Angel Beats! mixes up its sadness with comedy), and the aesthetics don't give you anything to latch onto when the story is dragging (like with Your Lie in April). Watch any of those shows if you're looking for a show that's determined to make you cry. Skip this one unless you've run out of half-decent shows in the genre - there is absolutely nothing here.
Looking Up At The Half-Moon comes in a simple plastic case, and features no extras either in the case or on the discs. What you see is what you get.
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : C-
Art : C-
Music : D+
+ Visual aesthetics aren't entirely egregious.
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