First Look: Tsukigakirei

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Alternative title(s): As the Moon, so Beautiful.
Animal original by feel.
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

A bookish misanthrope and an anxious athlete go to school together and, um… awkwardly fumble around each other, I guess?

Aqua’s verdict: Twice Shy, Once Smitten

Well cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you, Seiji Kishi teams up with the studio that brought you such classics as Kiss x Sis and Yosuga no Sora, and the result is actually something halfway enjoyable? That’s odd, because I couldn’t for the live of me tell you what this show is actually supposed to be about. Rarely have I seen a show as ostensibly about nothing, as utterly devoid of any kind of premise or hook as Tsukigakirei. It’s as straightforward a romance as romances can be, focusing solely on the two main characters and their personal fumbles without any time travel or body swapping or whatever else anime likes to come up nowadays to make people still care about a teenage boy and a teenage girl falling in love. Turns out all you really need is two loveable characters and a strong helping of realism.

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One of Tsukigakirei’s biggest charm points is how thoroughly grounded in everyday life it is – the kids interact with each other as normal human beings, talk about books, artists and brands that exit in the real world and blunder through boring aspects of their school and family lives no other anime would care to touch upon. The awkward encounter in the restaurant has to be one of the most painfully hilarious, and adorable scenes I’ve seen in a long while, a flawless example of characterising even the smallest parts in the play thought actions, not words. And this coming from the guy who managed to make Persona 4 a gormless slog to sit through? The world is just full of surprises.

So yeah, Tsukigakirei’s most shocking achievement of all may in fact be that Kishi, a director who at this point should probably be paying studios to allow him to work for them, actually knows how to frame a scene as long as you keep him away from the video games. Bar the terrifying, computer-animated crowds frequently plunging transition shots straight into the uncanny valley, this is a gorgeous-looking show – even if its visual style has been lifted wholesale from Wandering Son. Then again, who better to imitate than the very best? Tsukigakirei is a bold new step for Kishi, a move away from the half-assed adaptations and obnoxious comedies into something ambitious in its complete lack of ambition – which may, ironically, be exactly what this industry needs. I mean, what does it say about anime when the two most exciting shows this season’s offered us so far are this and a documentary about countryside tourism?

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Random observations

  • Happy End are often credited with being the first band to play rock in Japanese, gaining them the nickname of “Japanese Beatles”. Frontman Haruomi Hosono would later co-found Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and do production work for both Seiko Matsuda (the Ur-idol) and Jun Togawa (the Ur-anti-idol).
  • Osamu Dazai is a Japanese writer of the early twentieth century, known for his bleak, existentialist, autobiographical work and self-destructive lifestyle. His magnum opus, No Longer Human, is the second best-selling book in Japan of all time. Japan then honoured him by turning him into a womaniser whose constant suicide attempts are played entirely for laughs in Bungou Stray Dogs.
  • “Tsuki ga Kirei” or “The Moon is Beautiful” is – as you may know if you’ve ever read (or seen) A Silent Voice – an indirect way of saying “I Love You” in Japanese. It was coined by famous novelist Soseki Natsume, who believed that people in love would have no need for direct words to convey their feelings.
  • LINE is basically Japanese WhatsApp, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past five or so years.

Artemis’ verdict: Unaffectedly Charming

For an episode in which nothing in particular actually happened, this felt like an unexpectedly fresh start to a potentially pretty good series. School-centered slice-of-life shows certainly aren’t an oddity, and there’s nothing in this one that brings anything new to the table in terms of basic content, but what is perhaps slightly more unusual is the way it felt so incredibly down-to-earth. Even in a show set in present-day Japan, with nothing in the way of supernatural or fantastical subject matter, we’d normally see some sort of exaggeration or embellishment in regards to the characters and their lives. Here, I had absolutely no problem imagining every single scene taking place in the real world. These are just teenagers being their sometimes awkward teenage selves, all doing their best to figure out how to navigate their way through everyday life.

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That may not sound incredibly exciting, but I was largely kept from boredom by the fact that the perspective kept switching around rather than staying focused on only one or two of the cast members. I also very much appreciated seeing the characters interacting with their respective families – parents included – and in ways that felt just as ordinary and natural as in their school setting. Add to this the almost complete lack of inner monologue (or indeed the stripping away of unnecessary dialogue in general) and some rather lovely artwork, and I found Tsukigakirei to be surprisingly, refreshingly appealing.

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