With as often as I sort of mock the fact that there is a lot of anime focused on adolescent romance, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few that catch my eye. If done well, they can actually be some of my favorite anime to watch. The premise may be simple and straightforward, but with some anime, it’s more about the journey than the destination. Tsukigakirei is a special journey among those anime. It isn’t simply a story about love; it’s a story about the magical innocence of your first love. Spoilers ahead.
I’m sure everyone reading this remembers your first big crush; there’s a really good chance that even reading that sentence immediately made you picture somebody in your mind. Regardless of whether anything ever happened between you and that first crush, there are inevitable feelings and moments that will be forever tied to them. Maybe they were your first kiss; maybe you barely spoke to them. In any case, there’s a very high chance that when you think of them, a small pang of nostalgic longing usually reverberates in your chest, even if it’s just the feeling of wanting to go back to that time in your life. Tsukigakirei takes this feeling and puts it on screen for the audience. It shows one of the many “what if” scenarios that can happen with your first love, and plays it all out according to the laws that govern middle schoolers.
The scenario played out here is simply “what if our feelings are mutual?” Both protagonist Azumi, Kotarou and his crush Mizuno, Akane are incredibly awkward middle school kids who run in different circles. But their paths cross enough times that they begin to develop feelings for one another, which eventually culminate in a confession. That confession leads to one of those “we’re boyfriend and girlfriend but let’s keep it a secret and pretend nothing is different in public” couples. A huge part of their relationship simply takes place over text messages. It comes with the kind of cringe that can only be felt deep in your soul as you acknowledge that, yep, that’s exactly how I remember it (minus the text messages because I’m old, apparently).
Slowly, as their relationship becomes public knowledge, the inevitable outside interference begins to occur. Because they belong to two different social circles (one the overachieving athletic, the other an underachieving artistic-type), some of their individual friends start to express disapproval; part of middle school and high school is about protecting your reputation, after all. Dating a person who isn’t the obvious fit can be damaging to that reputation. Even among family, the idea of growing too close too quickly is discouraged, and rightfully so. Finding your soulmate at a young age like that is highly unlikely since you aren’t even sure about who you are as a person by that point.
This pressure leads to a lot of fun little growth moments for both of them. The man has to learn to stand up for himself and defend his worthiness for her affection; she, in turn, has to learn to lean on him as someone dependable and trustworthy. Moments of distrust and jealousy are a hallmark of an immature relationship, but luckily this anime doesn’t lean too heavily into the “misunderstandings through silence” trope. Instead, there is a relatively healthy amount of openness between the two of them that helps pave the road for long term stability.
Eventually, Akane learns that her family is moving because her father’s job is being relocated (apparently something that happens often). Being in a young relationship is hard, and uncertainty makes it harder. They do attempt to do what they can to remain close, with Kotarou going so far as to apply to a high school in her new area (again, met with backlash by his mother for investing too much in a statistically doomed relationship). Unfortunately, Kotarou fails at his attempt, and he must settle for a local high school with easier entrance requirements.
The other final scenario that this anime explores at the very last is “what if these two were meant to be?” The anime ends with her family moving away, but it does shine a small glimmer of hope on a relationship that can best be described as “shaky” by this point. Kotarou’s determination wins out, and he puts his best effort into a final gesture of love for her; it’s a gesture that she accepts.
What follows during the final credits is a fun (but unfortunately very brief) time warp. Much of their relationship during the series developed over text messages, and that tool is used to show their growth once again. We see them as they communicate back and forth throughout high school and college, eventually leading to a marriage and beyond. As the last credits finally disappear, we’re treated to a picture of the two of them, fully grown and holding their newborn child in the middle of their entire family. It’s quick, but it’s closure.
This anime stood out as unique to me because of how quiet and subdued it is, especially for a romance anime. There wasn’t a lot of grand gestures or yelling involved. It was just two awkward teenagers quietly figuring out their love together. It was a bit of a turn off at first because it felt devoid of any excitement to propel the story along, but by the end of it I had a real appreciation for what I had just seen, so much so that I was a little bitter that they crammed so much into the time warp in the credits rather than adding additional seasons or episodes to show us some of that stuff. But in the end, the quiet exit and resolution to their relationship fit exactly into what they had been showing us all along, and I’m not sure another ending would have been fitting. I hope to watch this one again with new eyes to see the subtleties that I missed when I was watching it for the first time.