Just Because! – 04

I’ve got some nice variety in my Fall watchlist. Food Wars is chugging along, with Souma scoring a big win thanks to his friends; MMO Junkie our elite NEET seems to be where she wants; and in ShoBitch we’ve had a steady, happy couple since the first episode, with all the comedy coming out of their mutual inexperience with being in a relationship.

That leaves Just Because!, the Fall show I’m watching in which people seem to suffer the most without much in the way of payoff. Just take Natsume’s interactions with Souma, trying to be a good friend by helping him get closer to Morikawa, despite the fact she still harbors feelings for him.

An experienced anime watcher it’s clear Natsume is in pain, but Souma’s your typical oblivious guy, and combined with Natsume’s silence on the matter and apparent interest in helping him with Morikawa, there’s really no way for him to question her smiles, even if she’s forcing them.

As a photog, Komiya knows all about smiles…and other expressions, like the one on Izumi’s face as he’s looking at Natsume in a candid photo Komiya took of them. Even after failing her last mission with Izumi (she brought a cat instead of a dog), she says she’ll delete the embarrassing shot if Izumi tells her something he likes about Natsume.

When she says “her awkwardness”, Komiya laughs, because it’s such an earnest, unflattering answer. It is itself an awkward answer, coming from someone just as awkward as Natsume (and, like her, unable to get his feelings to reach the one he likes).

Komiya then proposes another deal with Izumi: she’ll support him in trying to go out with the (former) president, and in exchange he’ll let her submit that photo she took of him, which she believes will win her a award and keep the photo club alive.

Of the five, Komiya is the hardest to read; she comes right out and says “I like you” to Izumi, throwing him off, before finishing with “…as a person”, inviting his ire. She’s clearly there to provide a yang counterbalance to Izumi’s yin main love interest and present multiple possible routes for the various characters.

When New Years comes around and it’s time for a shrine visit, Souma and Morikawa’s friends conspire to flake out on the visit, leaving the two alone. The two have a nice time, though Souma is often at a loss for words due to his stress over the task at hand.

That stress would seem to have been justified, for no sooner does he finally get the words “I like you” out and ask if Morikawa will go out with him, Morikawa…gravely declines. 

Ouch…that’s gotta be a fastball to the gut of Souma; all that preparation and anticipation, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t whether he could confess, but whether Morikawa would say yes, and she does not. Another sign Just Because! isn’t interested in doing things the easy way or taking the pressure off its characters.

After several instances of having someone—either Natsume’s plucky older sister or Yoriko—be a third wheel, Izumi and Natsume finally find themselves alone, and they continue to circle one another warily, putting on antagonistic airs to conceal the fact both of them have basically the same problem: their first choice likes someone else.

The fact that Souma was rejected is irrelevant here. Whether he wanted her to or not, Izumi is inspired enough by Komiya’s encouragement to at least broach the subject blocking any possible move in Natsume’s direction: her crush on Souma. She brings up exams again and again, which he calls nothing but an excuse.

That angers Natsume, who says the worst thing she can to Izumi in that moment: that it doesn’t involve him. That he doesn’t matter at all in this. Izumi sets the record straight: he’s always “cared about her”, so she can’t say it doesn’t involve him.

This may well be news to Natsume, and she’s definitely affected by the look on Izumi’s face as he passes her by to head home. Elsewhere, Souma also retreats following Morikawa’s rejection. Lots of emotions to sort through and pieces to pick up for everyone involved.

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Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.

Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

Well, first of all, NJS has a solid OP. Great vocals, orchestration, and visuals. Really gets you pumped for the episode!

While exploring a dungeon deep into the night, Hayashi’s fellow guild member Lilac notices she’s always online, and guesses that she’s 21 and a university student, like her. That leads to the guildmaster Kanbe having to pay out for losing the bet on Hayashi’s real age.

Moriko feels bad for lying about her age, but is also relieved it won’t come up anymore. Meanwhile, Lily is pretty upfront about being older than Hayashi, and calls him “serious and kindhearted.” Moriko wants to tell Lily more, and wants to learn more about her, so they make a promise to do just that.

Fate strikes both Moriko and Lily’s player once again when he elbows Moriko (out to get cold medicine) while rounding a corner on his way to work (ironically, because he stayed up playing a netoge with Moriko!)

While out cold, Moriko meets an angel (perhaps her online friend from the previous MMO she played) and also enters a Brazil-style distopia in which endless columns of identitcal salarymen enter the Tower of Bebel only to jump into an abyss. Grim!

Moriko awakens in hospital, with a handsome young man with blond hair  sitting beside her bed. He’s Sakurai Yuuta, and he wants to make amends for accidentaly elbowing her. He leaves her his contact info and assures her she can text or call anytime, for any reason.

Moriko returns to FdM, where his comrades are ready and willing to hear what’s eating Hayashi. When he tells them, Lilac and Himeralda think it sounds like the intro to a romance manga and, thinking Hayashi’s player is a guy, urge him to ask her out…he may even get lucky!

Guildmaster Kanbe is more down-to-earth; nothing need be done except for what must: she should send a text thanking him at the very least and telling him she’s all good; as it would do no good to make him worry. Moriko agrees, and jumps offline to text Sakurai. She’s shocked to get an immediate reply asking if she’d let him take her out to eat as an apology.

Morioka likes this guy, but thinks he’s too good and too “blinding” for her, and a look in the mirror doesn’t help her confidence (though character design-wise, she’s hardly unattractive). Ironically, then it’s another encounter with Lily (i.e. Sakurai) that convinces her to send him a proper reply—which she sends at two in the morning!—though we’ll have to wait and see the contents of said reply.

Lily makes Morioka’s chest feel warm, reminding her that no matter how perfect someone may seem, everyone has problems and doubts, and she need not fear how someone who has already been so kind to her will regard her. The only way to know for sure is to move forward. Even eyebrow-plucking isn’t mandatory!

Tsurezure Children – 07

Jun’s sister Hotaru becomes Yuki’s next victim of teasing when she swipes her brother’s phone and impersonates him. Yuki instantly knows it’s her, and dispenses swift justice in a string of texts suggesting not only have she and Jun slept together, but she’s pregnant. Don’t touch your older sibling’s stuff!

Takeru and Ayaka are enjoying a walk home together, but Ayaka would like to hear the words “I love you” come out of Takeru’s mouth, and by the time she finally gets him to understand (he’s quite dense), the words sound forced…even though they’re not.

Few couples have hit a rough patch as bad as Takase and Kanda after he accidentally called her shitty. Takase wants to make things right, but Kanda won’t talk to her. Enter Shinichi, who after staring intently at Takase while the two are taking a piss (don’t do that either, by the way!) gives him advice…or Takase thinks it’s advice; Shinichi is really just rambling about himself. In any case, here’s hoping Takase doesn’t make things worse!

Finally we check in on perhaps the most hopeless couple, mostly because Takano believes the slight pain in her chest and her wandering thoughts are the result of a fever and not love, and Sugawara still doesn’t have the slightest confidence in clearly expressing his feelings for her, since she’ll only twist them into something innocuous and non-romantic. Not sure how these two will be able to break through their issues.

Tsurezure Children – 05

Ahh, conversations through texting. So fraught with danger. You’d think communication would be a cinch in these heady days of high technology! NOPE. Take Takase and Saki. They both like each other and want to confess, but Saki is too scared to do it in person, so after a string of texts goes very well, she sends that text.

Unfortunately, Takase was about to do the same thing at the same time, but bailed at the last second, instead asking if she’d meet up with him later. But he just had to include a comment about how confessing via text is shitty. And so both Saki and Takase end the evening not as a happy couple…but wishing they were dead.

MOVING ON! Kaga Yuki’s childhood friend Nanase Kaoru joins the astronomy club, and she laments how Yuki’s clearly only there because he has a crush on Sasahara. But when Sasahara steps out for a bit, Kaoru pounces.

She tries in vain to lead an entirely Yuki along to the realization that she likes him, but ultimately has to resort to kissing him, lest their be any doubt. A kiss that Sasahara walks in on, no less! Still, by episode’s end, Yuki is willing to knock on Kaoru’s door for a family errand. They’ll be fine.

LASTLY, we have Kamine Ayaka and Gouda Takeru. Ayaka is worried that since they started going out, things aren’t going so swell with Takeru, making her wonder if he’s not into it. As if to confirm her fears, Takeru is very standoffish after school and even starts talking as if he’s trying to gently but firmly dump her.

But it’s all good; it’s fine…he’s not trying to dump her, he’s saying their awkward tension is what can’t go on…not their relationship. To that end, he wonders if it’s okay if they hold hands. And Ayaka’s instincts were right on at least one front: he avoided her because he was sweaty…which makes her so happy she gloms onto him with glee. Daawww…

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 10

Akane’s text about moving is such a shock to Kotarou, he actually calls her on the phone (!) in what is known as a “phone call” for all of you born after the iPhone. Both seem terribly down about the idea of being apart, but also agree that they’ll make it work somehow.

That, despite the dubious success of long-distance relationships throughout history they can’t and shouldn’t think about, lest they get way too depressed. Kotarou also considers applying for the same school in Chiba she’ll be transferring to, which would obviously allow them to see each other regularly.

The festival that follows their talk will be the last one Akane attends as a resident of Kawagoe, so it too has a pall of sadness over it, even though the presence of Kotarou in full fox regalia performing the Hayashi dance on the mobile stage in the streets combines that sadness with a sense of awe and venerability.

But since Akane attends the festival with the track team, she inevitably ends up alone with Hira again, and at the worst possible time – when Akane is about to meet Kotarou on his break. Worse still, Kotarou happens to see the two together. Hira confesses to Akane, who promptly turns him down, but when she sees Kotarou, he can’t hide his annoyance and, yes, his anger; he can deny it all he wants!

While one could say he’s been over-possessive here (especially since Hira has no chance against him), let’s not forget how young and inexperienced in the relationship arts this kid is. He’s never been in a true “fight” with Akane until now; with “fight” meaning a failure to properly communicate at the proper time and place.

Both are miserable and still unable to talk to one another the next day, but by the time that day is at an end and Akane and Kotarou are done cram school, Akane notices a book on Koumei high schools was requested at the municipal-office-thingy-place, and Akane uses her mad running skillz to track down Kotarou.

He’s not coy; he was the one who requested the book. He’s seriously applying to her school, and was going to tell her once he told his parents (who still don’t know and at least one of whom, his mother, will be hard to convince).

Their silly row at the festival quickly fades away as a rush of happiness comes over Akane, after hearing Kotarou tell her whatever shape his future takes, he wants them to be together in it. That’s what Akane wants too, and after rushing into Kotarou’s arms, crying tears not of frustration, but joy, she quickly dries her raw eyes and leans in to kiss him.

Their road ahead will have more bumps, but I’m pretty dang confident in the staying power of this couple’s love…and confident the show isn’t about to break their—and our—hearts in the home stretch. They’re going to be just fine. I take comfort in that.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 09

Now that Kotarou and Akane have (mostly) overcome the largest impediment to their relationship with each other—their timidity—we see them hanging out alone together a lot more often and more comfortably, even discussing the ideal situation for the future: attending the same high school.

But no sooner do they swap first names and share a kiss does another obstacle come along; this one isn’t either of their faults, but an external factor.

Whenever a dad in an anime has to make an announcement, it’s probably because he’s being transferred and will be moving the whole family with him. That would be fine…if Akane didn’t have a boyfriend and had no interest in being uprooted. Alas, her dad’s gotta go where the bacon is.

It isn’t a sure thing, so Akane keeps it a secret as long as she can. She has her final junior high track meet approaching, after all, and has to keep her head in the game. Incidentally, that also means keeping Kotarou away when he asks if he can watch her run; it would be to embarrassing to her.

But Kotarou attends anyway, keeping a secret of his own, for the best of reasons: wanting to cheer his girlfriend on without distracting him. I honestly thought Akane would look up at the stands and catch a glimpse of Kotaoru there, but she doesn’t, and instead sets a personal best which she’s quick to snap with her camera and send to Kotarou, not knowing he saw her be awesome.

While Kotarou gets the slip on Akane, Chinatsu sees him, and because she’s still not quite over him, she doesn’t let Akane know she saw him. Hira asks Akane if she’ll still pursue track at high school, and she lets slip to Hira that she might be moving to Chiba.

Chinatsu, like Hira, is still stinging from her recent romantic defeat, but Hira seems to instill her with a glimmer of hope; after all, neither of them have actually taken a proper shot at getting the object of their affection to look their way; they’ve only dealt with the other member of the couple; with Kotarou being firm with Hira and Akane making her feelings for Kotarou plain to Chinatsu.

Whether Hira or Chinatsu give up may ultimately become moot if Akane moves, and when Kotarou confesses he watched Akane, Akane tells him about the possibility, and he’s suitably devastated. That being said, Kotarou has an awesome, progressive dad who wants his son to put happiness above fulfilling some kind of obligation; to “take it easy” and live his life doing what he loves.

With that in mind, if Kotarou decides to take a creative pivot towards light novels, he may find himself living in Tokyo before long, and Tokyo is not far at all from Ichikawa, where Akane and her family might move. If not, and the two end up being broken apart do to something as silly as a parent’s transfer, well, that’ll suck!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 07

It ain’t just the game of thrones—in the game of love, you win or you die…romantically speaking. It’s take no prisoners; shit or get off the pot; even moreso when you’re young and just figuring this stuff out.

With the Dome City amusement park as the setting for this outstanding episode, Akane, Kotarou, Chinatsu and Hira all learn harsh lessons about the game they’re all playing, the risks and rewards of being passive or active, and how being on the winning side can be fleeting. It’s a side that must be defended.

I honestly can’t stop snickering at Kotarou’s face while on the roller coaster. That is the face of someone very unhappy he didn’t decline Chinatsu’s suggestion they sit together. He might as well be shouting over the roar of the coaster ‘I’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE!’

Because he’s next to Chinatsu, Akane is next to Hira, and because she doesn’t handle coasters so hot, it’s Hira, not Chinatsu, who serves as her support during and after the ride. It doesn’t help Kotarou that the majority of the rest of the group is shipping Akane and Hira (except Roman, who we learn has had his suspicions about Kotarou and Akane before Kotarou confirms it).

Kotarou and Akane simply start out the trip all wrong, due to their general passivity in a scenario that requires activity. Akane ends up with Hira a lot of the time, but did nothing to prevent it; Kotarou ends up with a super-aggressive Chinatsu, who understands she’s got to hustle to have any chance over Akane…and may even be moving so fast and forcefully because she already knows she has no chance.

In either case, after Kotarou sees Akane with Hira, Akane sees Kotarou with Chinatsu, and after some time passes, Kotarou sees Akane with Hira AGAIN, Kotarou has finally had it; he’s groaned his last ineffectual groan. Time for some muthafuckin’ ACTION!

He calls out to Akane, then tells Hira he’s in a relationship with her, which she backs up. He then takes her by the hand and they walk off, just in time for Chinatsu to spot them together. As her tears start to fall on the souvenir photo of her and Kotarou on the coaster, I can’t help but feel for her. She got off to a good start, but ends up running out of steam.

After a great series of reactions from the group after Roman confirms Kotarou and Akane are going out (which NO one else saw coming), the happy new couple finally has their precious time alone. What had felt like such a delicate bond strengthens with each activity they do together.

I appreciate how they mirrored my own glee over the whole situation with lots of beaming and giddy laughter, neither of them able to contain their elation at being able to hang out together.

After eating together for the first time, going on various rides and to a haunted house, the two close in closer and closer for a couple selfie, and their bubbly contentment only intensifies when they see how much like a couple they look in the photo.

Meanwhile, Chinatsu returns to the group, her eyes raw from crying, and her girl-friends get the bad news that Kotarou chose Akane over her. Chinatsu might’ve stolen Akane for the coaster and gotten temporarily “lost” with him, Akane ends up stealing him back, though mostly thanks to Kotarou taking action.

No matter; it’s the action Akane wanted to be taken. She’ll be the proactive one next time. As the fireworks explode across the night sky, Kotarou takes her hands in his and leans in for a kiss, and Akane leans in right back.

A nosy little shrimp interrupts them (where are your damn parents, kid?), but they get so goshdarned close to kissing, I’m going to go ahead and call it a kiss, even if it isn’t officially their first kiss. Neither of them bailed out; it was a matter of being surprised by an outside stimulus. Close enough, I say!

Chinatsu…she was never that close, because Kotarou simply isn’t interested in her the way he is in Akane, just as Akane isn’t into Hira that way. At the end of the night, Akane and Kotarou are exactly where they should be, where they want to be.

hen Chinatsu texts Akane that she couldn’t confess, Akane says “Sorry” to herself. I’ve no doubt she feels bad about Chinatsu getting hurt. Chinatsu was the one who chose to keep going even though she knew Akane was with Kotarou, but Akane could have been more forceful in discouraging her.

But at the end of the day, when made to choose between her happiness and Chinatsu’s, there is no choice. It’s shitty not being the one chosen, but that’s life. Akane and Kotarou won the game today. They deserved to savor their victory. Here’s hoping the wins keep coming. They must be vigilant.

P.S. Attention, Show: You have extinguished your allotment of near-kisses. Next kiss better not be interrupted. You have been warned!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 06

Uh-oh…the dreaded Pinky Promise, long the bane of many a budding middle school relationship. Tsuki ga Kire’s couple makes theirs after Kotarou gets a call from a publisher in the city and Akane prepares for her big meet, and the two are determined to achieve their dreams.

No matter how much Kotarou’s mom worries about his future, or how much Akane’s family gawks at her upon figuring out she’s dating someone, they like having each other around, supporting each other both in person and on LINE.

Both are drawing strength and ever-so-gradually becoming bolder, braver people, as demonstrated when Akane texted Kotarou that she wanted to discuss something with him (namely, the Chinatsu situation). But they’re in such high spirits after the pinky promise, Akane leaves it for another day…The worst possible day she could leave it for, the day of the big track meet.

She manages to get out to Chinatsu that she’s already in a relationship with Kotarou, which is good, but the timing couldn’t be worse in terms of the emotional toll it takes on her. Chinatsu, for her part, already knew—they’re friends, after all—but when the time comes to race, Akane is so weighted down by complex, conflicting emotions, she ends up with a terrible time and is eliminated, while Chinatsu has a personal best and advances. Ouch.

Akane isn’t the only one to take an L, mind you: when Kotarou sneaks out to make the long trip to the publisher, he’s full of cautious optimism, determined to fulfill his promise to Akane and to himself, eager to take the first step towards joining the ranks of his beloved highbrow authors…only to be crushed like a bug under a different weight than the one that slowed Akane: literary reality.

The publisher minces no words: Kotarou is not cut out for the kind of literature he attempted and submitted, but he may just have a knack for “light novel type stuff”, which Kotarou is clearly not into.

So after pumping each other up so much and pounding the pavement with confidence and gusto, secure in knowing the other is trying their best right beside them, Akane and Kotarou end up having the worst day. And I’ll tell you, I felt every ounce of their combined…er…worstitude; I really did.

I felt Akane’s exasperation over her best friend’s crush on Kotarou, which just so happens to be mercilessly translated into a literal footrace with her friend-and-now-rival. I felt Kotarou’s crushing disappointment that his odyssey to the city was all for naught.

And I definitely felt the both of them not feeling the slightest bit better once they return to their homes. Akane’s parents are warm enough and tell her there’ll be other races, while her sister tells her it’s going to be very hard to remain friends with someone still actively after her boyfriend.

Kotarou’s mom lets him have it as soon as he comes in the door, telling him no good will come of the thing he’s most passionate about doing (though is dad is more sympathetic). Dayum.

Sometimes family helps you recharge and heal from the stress and wounds of the world out there, but sometimes they contribute to it. Which is why I was so glad that after so much mutual moping about, in the middle of the night, by the light of her phone, Akane finally gets a message on a screen still mockingly displaying the optimism they expressed before the day began.

Just three simple words: I miss you. Akane only needs two: Me too. The two meet up in the library the next morning, cheered a little by their mere presence, and cheered more by their shared determination not to give up on track or writing, to work even harder so awful days like yesterday won’t become a common occurrence. They reaffirm their still-active pinky promise, to which they wisely did not assign a deadline.

And yet their struggles are far from over. When Akane meets with Chinatsu on a beautiful tree-wreathed path bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun, there’s a friendly, conciliatory mood to the proceedings: Akane apologizes for not telling Chinatsu sooner; Chinatsu apologizes for falling for Kotarou.

That mood is upturned by one last, frankly cheeky request by Chinatsu: that she be allowed to confess to Kotarou, for “closure.” And herein lies the danger about which Akane’s big sister warned her: neither confrontation with Chinatsu over Kotarou resulted in closure. Chinatsu, fresh of her big track win, is feeling more confident than ever, while Akane has never felt less, despite the fact she has the guy.

But it doesn’t matter if Kotarou immediately says no. Putting Akane in such a position at all is a clown move by Chinatsu, straight up, as is pretending it’s not a big deal. It’s also a possible prelude to war, a war for Kotarou’s heart. And when friends go to war, they tend not to stay friends.