Episodes 1-3

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Tsukigakirei ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Tsukigakirei ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Tsukigakirei ?

Well, I sure hope you like romance stories about insecure teenagers, because that's what we've got here. Over its first three episodes, Tsukigakirei has crafted an intimate world centered on two charming kids: Akane Mizuno and Kotarou Azumi. Their trials, feelings, and everyday experiences are what we're here for. So far, Tsukigakirei is ably bringing those experiences to life.

Stories about adolescent emotions are frankly a dime a dozen in anime. To really stand out, youthful character dramas need to bring something special to the table - not necessarily something new, but something that elevates routine narrative into emotional truth. For Tsukigakirei, excellence arises from a mix of great technical craft, unusual pacing, and painfully well-observed tiny moments.

First off, Tsukigakirei is a sharp technical production in virtually all respects. Its character designs match the characters themselves: seemingly mundane, but realized precisely enough to possess great, distinctive personality. The animation can be somewhat jerky, but it's largely consistent, working hard to instill the cast with a sense of everyday character acting. The direction is unusually thoughtful for the sometimes clumsy Seiji Kishi, and the backgrounds and color work are consistently pretty as well. The show's only real visual black mark is its over-reliance on CG background characters, who present a jarring clash every time they appear.

Moving on to pacing, Tsukigakirei clearly understands how to let important moments breathe. The big dramatic highlight of the first episode hinges on a solid minute where Akane and Kotarou fumble around each other at a family restaurant - almost nothing is said, but the dramatic importance of the moment is made clear through their awkward movements and the length of the scene itself. Many romantic dramas use slow pacing to pad themselves and prolong drama, but that's not the case here. The overall narrative progression of this series is fairly quick (confession by the third episode!), but the emphasis is consistently placed on realizing entire human exchanges, with all the awkward pauses and shy glances that follow.

Both the pacing and strong visual execution play into Tsukigakirei's crowning strength: its ability to fully realize the awkward, tiny moments that define insecurity and youthful romance. Moments like Kotarou stressing over sending a text and then boxing his lamp cord in victory aren't just silly embellishments - they make his feelings far more real than a simple “I'm nervous” or “she responded!” ever could. The third episode's climax lets an entire awkward mini-date just play out in real time, as Akane and Kotarou attempt to negotiate fears and desires vividly expressed through the sequence's lovely, understated animation. Tsukigakirei's keen observation of our quiet emotional tells instills its story with warmth and weight, demonstrating an endearing fascination with our often weirdly expressed humanity.

It also helps that Akane and Kotarou are very likable characters. Both of Tsukigakirei's leads feel familiar without being derivative - Akane's chronic anxiety is nicely counterbalanced by her sociable demeanor, while Kotarou's self-serious poeticisms are undercut by details like his goofy wolf LINE avatar. Both of our leads are “normal” but complicated, and their feelings toward each other exist within a larger mix of social obligations and conflicting desires. For all that Tsukigakirei emphasizes their tiny gestures, it also understands that glancing awkwardly at your crush is just one of a million priorities in each of their lives.

So far, I have very few complaints with Tsukigakirei. In fact, the CG background characters are basically my only issue. Tsukigakirei may not possess the most insightful writing or the absolute best direction, but it's offering a strong articulation of basically everything it's trying to do. A charming, intimate, and solidly realized character drama is a fine thing to be.

Overall: A-

Tsukigakirei is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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