Anime-original series are always of note these days, when the vast bulk of any season’s most-hyped shows will inevitably have been spawned from the pages of manga or light novels. And so this spring we have Tsukigakirei - or ‘The Moon is Beautiful’; a spin on a famous Japanese colloquialism for saying ‘I love you’. Essentially, as famous novelist Natsume Soseki put it - two people in love don’t need direct words to convey their feelings.
And really, it’s that sentiment that sums up what Tsukigakirei is about - being able to convey your feelings. The setting - high-school (of course…). Our two key characters - aspiring novelist Kotaro Azumi and track and field club member Akane Mizuno. Both suffer from almost-chronic levels of embarrassment and general all-round shyness, which evidently becomes an issue as the show quickly begins to suggest they might have a thing for each other. Tsukigakirei bills itself as a ‘refreshing’ story of young love - and while its fumbling, nervous approach to romance might be as old as time, the manner in which it goes about it feels suitably distinct.
We’re given a crucial scene early on, where our two young protagonists both turn up at a Western-style restaurant with their families in tow. Lo and behold, the families find out their kids both go to the same school - cue endless embarrassment for the young teens as the parents get chatting. We’ve all been through these ‘Oh My God, I want the world to just swallow me right now...’ moments in our adolescence, and Tsukigakirei’s depiction feels so earnest and well-observed that it breathes a kind of boundless, youthful vigour into a show that, on the surface level, is dealing with tropes we’ve seen countless times before.
This twitchingly nubile, observational realism even finds its way into the show’s handling of fan service. While we’re never shown anything even vaguely explicit, the show casts an almost fetishistic eye over girls’ bodies. At a sports day in episode two, a lad spouts a dim-witted shout of “Look at her butt” as Akane runs past in her gym outfit. It might be a little tasteless, yes, but there’s something in the show’s fervent desire to portray bodies as we - as teenagers ourselves - might perceive them, that adds to the overall feel of what the show is trying to achieve.
In this sense, the show almost feels like an anti-Scum's Wish - taking the same starting point of horny, frustrated teens but instead of them all giving in to their desires and sleeping with each other it takes it down a route of cautious, bottled-up ‘romance-at-a-remove’ - the kind of world where a boy spends five minutes agonising over whether to text a girl. Kotaro is consistently portrayed as this kind of lovably earnest loser - the kind of guy who’ll spend the evening shadow-boxing the dangling light switch in his bedroom instead of hitting the gym and pulling weights. When it comes to depicting how mind-numbingly average teenage life can often be, it all - let’s be honest - feels far more true to life than most anime series.
Elsewhere, there’s some humour to be had in how frequently the show references WhatsApp-style Instant Messaging service LINE. While, again, there’s a refreshing realism in the depiction of how focused our young teens are on communicating via a platform like this, it’s mentioned so many times you wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it turned out LINE had some kind of sponsorship deal with the show. Looking at it in a more artistic sense though, there’s something Makoto Shinkai-esque in the show’s portrayal of a relationship playing out primarily via an instant messaging service when the two teens can barely muster the courage to speak to each other at school.
Likewise, whether it be the light, pastel-toned colour scheme or the soft, nimble animation work itself, the aesthetic is matching the content pace for pace in its service to a more believable kind of high-school life. Indeed, production studio Feel have form for this kind of observational realism after helming up the second season of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU as well the likes of Please Tell Me Galko-chan.
It goes without saying that Tsukigakirei won’t be for everyone. For some, the pace will be torturously slow - a painful exercise in watching a couple of gormless introverts fail again and again to say ‘I love you’. Indeed, for many it’ll be ‘just another’ vanilla high-school romance series to toss in the bargain bin. But while it’s far from perfect, what the show has revealed so far is an eye for the everyday that goes above and beyond the cookie-cutter shapes of so many other similar shows. Maybe I’m just a sucker for seeing how these romances turn out, but this show’s world feels ‘real’ in a way I haven’t seen in quite some time - and for that, I’m more than willing to spend a little more time in it.
You can currently watch Tsukigakirei in streaming form on Crunchyroll.