There’s perhaps nothing as cliched and predictable as an anime high school romance series. Whether played straight or as a comedy, it’s hard to think of any romance series as genuinely innovating. And yet, both Tsuki ga Kirei and Just Because managed to breathe new life in the genre. How?
Just look at the opening minute of Just Because, introducing its characters through a montage of small scenes of everyday life. There’s an amount of detail and care in there you rarely see even in the best slice of life anime series. Tsuki ga Kirei did something similar in its opening episode, following its protagonists through their first school day and accidental encounter at a family restaurant. Both series use their first episode to slowly build up their protagonists, through their everyday life, while laying the foundations for the romance(s) that will drive the rest of the story. It’s a slow accumulation of small details rather than the broad strokes of most romance anime, with no faithful encounters or sudden ephipanies, just a getting to notice a particular person in that way you didn’t before, or a slow re-awaking of an old love.
Both series are set in a time of transition: in Tsuki Ga Kirei the protagonists are starting their third school year in middle school, while in Just Because it’s the last semester of high school. The everyday routine of school life well established, but with the knowledge that it will soon be over and your friends and classmates will each go their own way, lending a bit of uncertainty and perhaps desperation to any new relationship. It’s a time of last chances, when perhaps you can finally gather the courage to turn a long standing crush into a relationship.
In both series there are complications, romantic rivals, but in neither does it take the familiar form of a love triangle. In Tsuki ga Kirei the best friend of the female protagonist falls for the male protagonist as well, but never has a chance and the scene in which she realises it is heart breaking. Again, it’s a realistic take on a standard romcom situation, which is also present in Jjust Because, where there’s a whole tangle of crushes and one sided loves buried under the surface.
Some people will find these series to be too slow, with too little progress in the romance, but for me this is an advantage, not a handicap. Because the series take their time to develop the romance naturally, there’s no need for the usual contrived misunderstandings or subplots. Instead you get an almost voyeuristic look into a budding relationship, where each small step forwards is reason to cheer. And even when there isn’t much progress, just spending time with these people is interesting.
This is the fifth post in this year’s twelve days of anime challenge. Tomorrow: how Phosphophyllite from Hoseki no Kuni is a lot like Akko from Little Witch Academia, only much worse.