Hey all, and welcome back to Why It Works! So far, this has been a season defined by big action hits - with both Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia returning this spring, it’s been a good season for punching and slicing. But if you’ve stuck with me this far, you know I’m a fan of the quiet stuff, and the anime-original Tsukigakirei has really been scratching that itch for me. Tsukigakirei is a romance, but it’s a romance of wide empty spaces and stalled conversations. Its drama exists in the space between connections, and its world reflects that focus.
Tsukigakirei centers on Akane and Kotaro, two middle schoolers who kinda maybe like each other. The two of them are each timid in their own ways - Kotaro is a classic “no one understands me except my stuffy literature” kind of guy, and thus has trouble socializing with anyone outside of his close friends. Akane doesn’t have trouble communicating, but suffers from general anxiety, and thus always carries a little stress plushy. Somehow, the two of them end up bumping into each other, Kotaro eventually asks Akane out, and Akane eventually says yes. In between those moments, the two exist in isolated spaces, a world whose vast frames dwarf them at almost all times.
Kotaro in particular is regularly framed as lost within his surroundings. Having first truly connected with Akane in the second episode, he spends the third preoccupied by both his feelings for her and concern for her track meet. The camera frames him as a speck in his environment, either made miniscule by the looming walls of his school or falling out of the frame entirely. Even the shrine where he helps after school seems far too big for him, a cluttered expanse of buildings and ornaments that make him just one tiny part of the frame.
This diminishing framing of Kotaro is critical to Tsukigakirei’s emotional effect. Neither Kotaro nor Akane are particularly good at expressing their anxieties verbally - when it comes time to talk, both of them hem and haw and maneuver around their feelings. But by framing both Kotaro and Akane as lost in the frame, their feelings of insecurity and insignificance become clear in a visual sense. The camera tells us something that their characters never could, demonstrating the importance and power of visual storytelling.
This careful presentation of space carries over to the relationship between our leads. Their relationship is framed as a physical navigation of space that echoes their underlying feelings, moving them closer or further apart as their emotions ebb and flow. Near the conclusion to the fourth episode, the two of them are each isolated by circumstance, but each feel differently about it. Kotaro rushes to find Akane, and the camera closes in on him, letting his urgency and sense of purpose come through clearly. Akane feels abandoned by Kotaro, and the camera pulls back, framing her as alone in a crowd. By the end, the two are united, but there’s still a sense of distance - even as Akane agrees to start dating, the two are separated visually, alone together.
The fifth episode is a twenty-minute struggle to bridge that gap. In the first few minutes, our conflict is made clear in both visual and narrative terms: the two of them want to spend time together, but can’t find time alone at school. Early shots separate them using the windows of their classroom, and at the episode’s midpoint, a plan to meet in the library is disrupted by both an actual third party and the labyrinthian architecture of the library itself.
At the episode’s conclusion, the two are finally united in the bookstore of Kotaro’s friend. Orange afternoon light sets a tone of warmth and tranquility, while the bookshelves themselves slant inwards, emphasizing the closeness of our two leads. After long episodes of staring at each other across great distances, the two are finally connected. Defensive body language eventually gives way to an actual, physical connection, their mutual anxiety clear in claustrophobic shots. The scene is awkward and anxious and charming from start to finish, lending a strange profundity to the act of holding your crush's hand. I appreciate a show that respects how hard it can be just to get close to the person you love.