Studio feel.’s latest foray into the teenage romantic drama genre with TsukigaKirei (As The Moon, So Beautiful.) strikes a pretty, but frustratingly boring premiere. The slower change of pace might have been its selling point if much of the debut didn’t feel like an ad for messaging service LINE.
Cherry blossom petals blow in the wind as another school year starts for this anime’s third-year junior high students. Track club member Akane Mizuno (Konomi Ohara) wrangles with social anxiety, and budding writer Kotarou Azumi (Shouya Chiba) has a keen eye for spotting the developing social hierarchy in the new class he shares with Akane.
Akane and Kotarou make for an insufferably bashful duo
Apart, the two students probably represent an authentic selection of millions of 14-year-olds around the world. Together, they’re an insufferably bashful duo that can barely string a sentence together in conversation.
If nothing else, TsukigaKirei does an excellent job of building up its leads’ personality. Ohara’s debut in a lead role sounds halting and breathy, but appropriate for a teen who’s nervous enough to tote around a pink, Pikmin-like stress plushie.
When Akane runs into Kotarou at a restaurant outing with their families, the two try to dodge each other’s gaze at the self-serve drink bar. You start to wonder whether its really possible for two kids to be so awkward together, even though they’re much more social within their own circle of friends.
Their parents’ meddling once they realize the school connection their children share doesn’t help the situation, but Akane’s plea to Kotarou not to talk about their meeting with her classmates because “it’s embarrassing” comes across as unnecessary. As a viewer, I enjoy watching characters engage with each other much more than I like seeing them exchange a cold shoulder.
TsukigaKirei is also a very quiet show. It eschews a constant soundtrack, almost exclusively in favour of ambient sounds. Thankfully, watching the backgrounds and character designs under Yukari Yasuda’s art direction is enough to fill the soundless voids, because the small talk or inner-monologues between the anime’s two leads is sparse, and far from gripping.
The two finally start really talking after Akane’s nerves prevent her from asking for his LINE address to add to a group chat in preparation for a school festival, causing Kotarou to get scolded by a teacher. Maybe this is a modern reflection of what it takes to get some people to converse with each other, but it just isn’t very interesting to watch.
Kotarou’s dog avatar on LINE is the cutest part of this debut
In its final minutes, TsukigaKirei signals that Kotarou and Akane are at least a little interested in each other. “Looking forward to working with you,” he sends from a dog avatar on LINE. When she responds in kind, Kotarou enters into a celebratory boxing match with his bedroom light fixture’s draw string, but his small joy feels hard to appreciate.
Small touches during transitioning scenes (like Kotarou mailing a manuscript, or Akane focussing on her sprints training) provide some indication that these two kids are passionate about things that could make their development fun to watch. I’m just not at all sure that the passion between them will be as enticing to watch as a love story.
TsukigaKirei is streaming on Crunchyroll every Thursday.