Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.

Oreimo – Abuse as Comedy

Abuse is apparently okay between siblings, at least according to Oreimo. This anime follows the usual teen antics and awkward relationships anime tends to focus upon, but a sister-brother complex and rampant verbal and physical abuse mars what is a basic story.

First, I’ll start with the good. Oreimo, which is short for Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai or My sister can’t be this cute, has some great awkward nerdiness to several of its scenes. As the story goes, Kirino hides her obsession with little-sister themed anime to avoid being labeled as an otaku. She reveals this secret to her brother Kyousuke who encourages her to find friends who share the hobby. The theme quickly takes a backseat to the brother-sister complex the two share, which is unfortunate. The story would be much better if it focused on the need for acceptance and the societal and family pressures to be what you are not.

But the good first. I enjoyed the arc that involved Kyousuke and his sister’s friend Ruri, a fellow awkward otaku who is also a responsible sister. That is, I enjoyed the arc until it was abruptly dropped. The interplay between the two and how Ruri hid behind her cosplay persona had potential that was lost in favor of the brother-sister complex.

The brother-sister complex and its resulting abuse sits at the center of the story. If you are a long-time reader of JP, you shouldn’t be surprised that I dug into the complex in another article. But I’ll give you the cliff notes here: the brother-sister complex is a romantic relationship between brothers and sisters, whether blood relatives or not, that often handles the taboo of the relationship. In anime, that taboo is often a source for comedy–the usual “oops I fell on you and grabbed your breast” bit.  Kyousuke and Kirino generally behave more like siblings than lovers, but they do have scenes that flirt a bit too close to the complex. They have a relationship that feels a little strained for strained-sake at times. Kirino puts on a tsundere facade that, while meant to feel forced, falls into caricature too quickly.

Don’t misunderstand. Kyousuke and Kirino have great bother-sister moments (without falling into the complex) because of the forced facade, but their parents never bother to intervene with this problem. The only time they do is when Kirino’s secret comes close to being revealed to her father. Kirino full-on slaps and physically abuses her brother in front of their parents, who don’t say a word. Now, in my family if anyone did that, my parents would end it on the first. Yet, this is played up as comedy or a quirk of her character. It makes violence seem okay because its a sister doing it to a brother. Abuse, however, is abuse. No one stops and says it’s wrong for her to do that, but if roles were reversed–her brother hitting her–someone in the story would have. Abuse is too often seen as male on female, but it can and often is reversed. Only men are expected to deal with it or otherwise be shamed for being beat up by a woman. Kyousuke just deals with Kirino’s abuse with only a few comments. The parents’ silence is particularly troubling. Other than a few scenes, they may as well been absent as they often are in these types of stories.

What’s more, Kirino’s facade is verbally abusive. Siblings often name-call, but she devolves into verbal abuse that goes beyond mere sibling quarrels. The nice sibling moments they have don’t fully counter the scenes of abuse.

Oreima disappointed me with the dropped arc between Kyousuke and Ruri and the normalization of sibling abuse. In the end, I found the story par for the course. As I study anime, I find few transcend the tropes and formulas that dominate the medium. Of course, there are many reasons to this, audience demands being just a part of them. Oreima isn’t one of these transcendent stories. It isn’t the worst trope follower, but neither does it explore the more interesting themes it touches. I find this common to many anime stories. They touch on interesting themes, but never fully pursue them. Sometimes they try to do too much instead of focusing on one idea. Multiple ideas work fine if pursued through a character, such as in literary works, but I’ve seen only a few that have taken this approach. Of course, manga’s stories seek to provide entertainment for trips between work and home or between classes. They aren’t always meant to be deep works, which is fine. I just wish we would get stories that were meatier in content and light on the tropes and formulas that pervades anime and manga and light novels.

Do Reviews Really Matter?

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t post anime reviews all that often. It’s not that I’m not watching anime. In fact, I’ve watch more recently than in recent months thanks to the Crunchyroll app on the Nintendo Wii-U. In part, I haven’t been writing reviews of these stories because I haven’t felt the drive. I’ve had various editorials to write. However, I’ve also been wondering about the worth of reviews. I don’t know about you, but I tend to read reviews after I watch something. I’m often curious if anyone else felt the same about a story or the messages as I did. Not to mention most anime fans go to the big sites like My Anime List for reviews instead of small blogs like mine. My traffic stats are conclusive–editorials just do better.

Of course, the problems with reviews aren’t limited to anime. If you look at Amazon, you will see how reviews become noise. Sure, I will glance through them before buying something, but I’ve seen how most reviews skew toward this-product-is-the-best-thing-ever to 1-star reviews because of shipping problems–which has nothing to do with the product quality itself. There are standout reviews that look into the pros and cons of the product, but I’m finding these are scarce for most of the products I buy–books mainly. Reviews are also bought or, as in the case of many self-published books, subject to Good Samaritan reviewing. Good Samaritan reviewing is when a fellow author or family member or friend gives you a glowing review without actually reading your book. Now, you might think this is good. After all, reviews tend to sell books. But the ethics of this is, well, a problem. It’s lying.

Reviews are subjective. Shipping issues for an otherwise great product can be a deal breaker for one person and a non-concern for another. When reviewing something like anime, taste plays more of a factor. Reading a review from a random writer, like myself, doesn’t really help you all that much. You don’t know how much my tastes align with yours. Now, for some of you who have been with me since JP started, you’ve gotten to know my tastes, and this will lend more weight to your decision to watch an anime or not after reading one of my reviews. But this takes time. Unless you follow a certain reviewer on MAL, one who reviews regularly, the review isn’t all that useful. The point of reviews is to find something that you would want to consume, but if the reviewer’s tastes clash with yours more often than not, then you had best follow another reviewer. It’s akin to a friend recommending a movie. The friend knows you well enough to offer something to your tastes. Unfortunately, here all I do is talk at you without getting to know you like a friend would. Yes, I know. I could take to Twitter and fix that….but I loathe Twitter. With a passion. There is just no room for nuance or a proper conversation with all the noise and limitations. Not to mention I’m just not a conversationalist like that.

Okay, back on topic. Most of the time I know if I will enjoy an anime after two episodes. There’s been few times I’ve read a review and tried the anime–you know, like you are supposed to do–only to dislike the story. That’s that thing about reviews. They are subject to a person’s filter, which may not align with your own. And that filter may also change based on how the reviewer is feeling. They may be going through a rough time and find harem comedies appealing escapism when the reviewer may normally eschew them.

Sometimes, I will purposefully seek out anime I dislike. I do the same with books for that matter. But again, reviews don’t play a part of my selection. I just scroll through Crunchyroll’s most popular anime and pick one I know I will dislike. Why? Because I want to be aware of what other people like or see why something is popular. Much of the time it is because it is sexualized fluff, but that’s a topic I’ve covered many times. As an anime and otaku culture researcher, I have to watch and study things I dislike in order to understand anime and otaku culture better.

Now, I’m not saying reviews are completely worthless. But they also aren’t critically helpful. My voice is just one of thousands of anime watchers who speak into the void. Free blog networks teem with anime bloggers reviewing episodes and stories. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to express your thoughts. JP began as one of those review sites. My very first post was a review of Eureka Seven. That was about 7 years ago. JP didn’t really take off until I started writing editorials about history and Japanese culture. However, I’ve noticed posts about current season anime do better than mining old anime as I tend to do. After all, many of you have already seen older anime that I am only now watching such as Izetta. But then I don’t watch a lot of new stuff. My American movie tastes are back in the 1930s-1970s.

So basically I’m saying I’m not convinced as to the value of reviews. Most of the time I’ll enjoy movies that are poorly reviewed by critics more than well-reviewed films. I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, however. I have a high tolerance and a guilty affection for bad films. But also unless you follow someone for a long time, you don’t get a lot of value from reviews. Only someone who knows you can offer a film you may enjoy that you may not pay attention to otherwise. And there’s the rub. You can seek out reviews that align with your tastes, but that isn’t the same as a friend’s suggestion about something different. Starred reviews are terribly subjective. I don’t like to rate anything 1 or 5 stars just because I don’t like using the low or high end of scales. It’s a resistance within me. Few things are 5 star good or 1 star bad, yet there are other people who avoid the middle of the scale. In fact, many people seem to avoid the middle on Amazon.

So what do you think about this? Are reviews helpful? What skews or problems have you seen in review systems?

Izetta the Last Witch

Set in an alternative world, Izetta pits magic against World War II technology. The story follows Izetta and the Archduchess of a small country Eylstadt as they struggle against the empire of Germania. The anime focuses on Izetta and her relationship with the Archduchess, Finé. It’s basically a light yuri with action and political intrigue. They have a close relationship with mutual dedication, which causes them pain as the conflict wears on.

Izetta the Last Witch focuses on the problem of escalating violence. Finé uses Izetta to defend the small duchy, and her power as a witch overmatches most technology Germania has. Izetta can throw tanks and use medieval weapons to stop bullets and shells. But she is limited to areas with ley lines, veins of magic that she taps to power her spells. Finé’s decision to use Izetta as the ultimate shield starts an arms development race which ends with Germania building a nuclear bomb that uses crystallized magic as its fuel. The nations resisting Germania have their own concerns about Izetta’s powers, driving them to research their own counters to her magic and escalating the bloodiness of the war.

The story captures the way technology snowballs during the course of World War I and World War II. Even after war finishes, the level of escalation remains. Just look at our world. At the end of World War II, nuclear weapons were the apex of escalation. During the Cold War, this continued with hydrogen bombs of ever increasing destructive abilities. In the past, defensive measures developed to combat better weapons. Leather armor became chain mail which became plate armor up until guns rendered plate armor obsolete. After a certain point, offense became the only defense. The only deterrent to nuclear weapons was more nuclear weapons.

Izetta the Last Witch captures this trend. Finé’s duchy had fortresses and defensive lines throughout its lands, but Germania’s superior weapons overwhelmed those defenses. The duchy was unable to build any defense that could counter the weapons. Izetta entered the fray as an offensive-defense strategy. Fortresses and old methods of defense became worthless much as bomb shelters were rendered useless with nuclear weapons. Izetta becomes a symbol of modern war and its almost magical ability to destroy. However, Izetta has a conscience.

The story also features the idea of loyalty to one’s country. Finé is surrounded by people who are willing to give their lives to defend her and the country. Their loyalty even appears blind at times. Even Izetta is willing to die to protect Finé, which cuts Finé to the core. She feels as if she is using Izetta, despite the fact Izetta is serving Finé by choice. Arnold Berkmann, a Germanian officer, provides a counter view to this loyalty. He seeks merely to live and has no true loyalty to his country. The story paints him as despicable for his selfishness, but I found him an interesting and even sympathetic character. He simply doesn’t want to die and doesn’t value his country more than his life. His is a viewpoint that criticizes the virtue of dying for one’s country.

However, Berkmann’s self preservation hints at an interesting fact about war: if no one was willing to die for the idea of country, war wouldn’t happen.  War only happens because people are willing to fight and die on behest of a ruling body or person  (such as Finé’s countrymen) or an idea of country (such as Germania’s idea of empire). However, if people would value their individual lives more than these two aspects, war would be harder to pursue. Berkmann doesn’t begin with this idea, but events in his part of the story breaks his dedication to Germania’s empire and king. He realizes his country wasn’t worth his life and decides to do whatever is necessary to survive, fortunately for Izetta and Finé.

The anime touches on the idea that self-sacrifice becomes fruitless if the country loses the war. Many characters give their lives in the battles and espionage, but their deaths do little to change the ultimate course of the conflict. Only those in power, such as Finé and Izetta, have the power to shift the conflict. The soldier that dies defending his home, only to have his home obliterated anyway, died fruitlessly.  Of course, all of these themes, questions, and commentary are held in the subtext of the story. Characters don’t fall into philosophical musings. Instead, the anime ponders these ideas through its visuals–dead defenders failing to defend their homes–and indirect commentary by characters like Berkmann.

Izetta and Finé’s relationship brings sweet moments to a rather serious story, and the relationship keeps the social commentary from being too overbearing. The commentary happens around the pair, often without their knowledge. As for the anime itself, the animation is solid and the armaments are mostly accurate. It’s an interesting alternative story about World War II. Unfortunately, the anime falls into the usual, tired fanservice comedy. Normally, I just overlook it. After all, nearly all anime anymore has these tired scenes (can’t writers think of anything different then accidental nudity as “humor”?), but these scenes felt out of place and jarring with the greater events. They only serve to sexualize Izetta and downplay her strength as a witch-warrior. This happens often in anime whenever you have a female character. These women are sexualized to make them more palatable for segments of the male audience. It is tired and has no place at all in a story like this. Anime has a problem with rampant fanservice and camera pans over a female’s chest or bottom. It undermines the storytelling and the characters. But that’s an issue for the medium in general and less with Izetta: The Last Witch. The story does what anime does–it doesn’t break new ground–but it has enough interesting subtext and observations about war that it is worth a watch.

Orange

Orange is one of those stories with many layers. The only way to discuss them is to spoil the story so, well, you’ve been warned. The story follows a group of friends who receive letters from themselves 10 years in the future. The letters explains the various regrets they have surrounding a boy named Kakeru. Kakeru, it turns out, commits suicide. The letters outline the various events that each writer thinks caused, or at least pushed, him to kill himself. They outline various actions that could, perhaps, stop him. At the center of the strategy is Naho, the main protagonist. She has a crush on Kakeru, as he does with her. However, this being a high-school anime, she’s pretty dense, and Kakeru keeps to himself in order to keep from hurting those he likes. The letters urge Naho and her friends to break his walls, and to push Naho and Kakeru together.

Regret acts as the centerpiece for the story. Small regrets sometimes blossom to large–Kakeru’s suicide. But the story shows how every decision–and in the case of Naho, indecision–adds up in ways that can’t be predicted. Regret comes from hurtful outcomes and missed opportunities. However, as the anime shows, missed opportunities can often be beneficial. Orange makes a fuss over Naho’s inaction. She’s hesitant and fades into the background whenever she can. Yet, her letters demand she take the lead when it comes to Kakeru, forcing her to push beyond her usual behavior. Her regrets come from her inaction. I’ve had mild regrets over missed opportunities before I considered what I gained. For example, I didn’t go to prom or date in high school. I was a nose-to-the-grindstone workaholic. Now, many would think I’d have regrets surrounding such decisions. I’ve pondered how things may have turned out otherwise, but I gained most of my computer skills, interest in art, interest in writing, self-awareness, and self-acceptance during this period. I may have gained such by being more social, but I doubt it. My point: regret comes from misplaced expectations and misplaced understanding.

Every decision has cost and benefits Orange touches on this too. Kakeru’s suicide ends with Naho and her friend Suwa marrying and having a family. While they have regrets, they also have happiness and share a closeness forged by Kakeru’ death. All of the friends are also bonded by their shared memory of Kakeru. Suwa is the most interesting character of the bunch. Some criticism leveled at the story deals with how Naho, Kakeru, and Suwa have more personality than the other friends. who fall into the usual anime stereotypes. But when you have only 13 episodes, some cuts have to be made.

Suwa has the most regret and conflict in the story. He has feelings for Naho and knows from the letters that he marries her. He even has a photo of his future family. However, this happens only if Kakeru dies. He decides to push aside his feelings for Naho in order to save Kakeru’s life. In a few scenes, Suwa wrestles with this and wonders if there is a way to save Kakeru without encouraging Naho’s relationship with him. However, his letter suggests it isn’t possible (as does the letters of his other friends Chino, Hagita, and Murasaka). He hides his pain and feelings behind a smile and takes on an elder brother-like role. As anyone who has tried this knows, it’s difficult to set aside such feelings and encourage your interest to have a relationship with another. Some reviewers have criticized Suwa’s character as unrealistic, but they miss the subtle signs of his pain in various scenes. It’s not easy for him, but he doesn’t want to risk Kakeru’s life.

Suwa is an interesting portrayal of masculinity. He’s the standard athlete and desired by the high-school ladies. But he’s sensitive and thoughtful. Of course, Orange is a shojo story. Kakeru, for that matter, is thoughtful. Neither are impulsive as shonen would have them to be. Shojo focuses on feelings and relationships, whereas shonen focuses on action with relationships and feelings mostly sidelined. Suwa is who I wish more shonen protagonists would be–there’s no impulsive behavior or yelling from him. He also doesn’t believe action is the best solution. In several scenes, he steps back and lets Naho fumble her way through. He appears only when she needs support instead of leading the charge. Now, some of this is because she’s the main character, and shojo likes nice, supporting male side characters. But after I’ve watched a series of shonen, his character strikes me as refreshing and seriously needed in male-oriented stories. Suwa is masculine as masculine should be–sensitive, thoughtful, and not impulsive. He’s not selfish, and he’s strong enough to restrain himself. Restraint takes strength most shonen characters, as powerful as they are, lack.

But back to Orange. Kakeru walls himself away from others in order to protect them from himself. It’s a common idea in female-oriented stories. She is the only one who can break through his fortress and enter into his heart. However, he isn’t necessarily distant. He acts as a normal moody teen up until he wants to die. His suicide attempt is prompted by finding his mother’s phone. She too killed herself after he sent her a message telling her to stop bothering him. He finds a draft response where she apologizes to him and explains why she didn’t want him to join sports clubs and other aspects of Japanese school life. How often do we hear how people didn’t see a suicide coming? Calls for help are only clear in retrospect–which Orange points out with the letters. No one saw the signs until after Kakeru dies, filling the friends with regret about how they failed to pay attention to him.

Regret hangs over all of us when a friend or loved one dies. Our minds are keyed to notice the negative, including memories. We think of all the times we wronged or neglected our parents, friends, spouses, and other dear ones. Orange has this running through it too. We take life for granted and assume people will always be there. We assume we have time. Yet, as the Bible states (and all the major religions of the world) life is but a vapor, here and gone without warning. Unlike Orange, we don’t have letters from our future selves to help us. And so we will have regrets. We will make mistakes. We will take people for granted. We will fail to see signs of pain, and some of us will miss signs of suicide. However, regret isn’t negative. It is a natural part of feeling love and compassion.

One last theme we have to touch: uncertainty. As the friends of Orange follow the letters and change the outcomes of various events, they start seeing futures the letters didn’t foresee. This uncertainty troubles them. They worry they could still make mistakes that would end in Kakeru’s suicide. However, together they push on regardless. Uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life. No one can predict the outcomes of our actions and our inaction. But what if we could know those outcomes? Naho worries about choosing wrong and recreating the outcomes in her letters, causing her to hesitate. She worries about creating new, negative outcomes too. It’s better to not always foresee the outcomes of our decisions. Otherwise, we’d likely not make them in the first place.

As for the anime, it isn’t without problems. It goes out of its way to explain how the letters travel through time to an alternative universe. Some reviews I’ve skimmed spoke about how the story’s backpedaling of feelings annoyed them–I found it realistic. Backpedaling is what people do when feelings are difficult. However, Orange is worth a watch if you are interested in the themes I’ve discussed. It is a character driven story that offers lessons shonen stories need to take to heart.

Tsuki ga Kirei – As the Moon, so Beautiful

As the moon, so beautiful follows the romantic relationship between Kotaro Azumi and Akane Mizuno, two junior high classmates. You won’t see world shattering events, or much in the way of melodrama. The plot centers squarely on everyday life, teenage conflicts with parents, stress of school and extracurriculars, and two young souls trying to find their way around romance. The story struck me as realistic and grounded. For once, the male protogonist isn’t a hothead or total dunce. He makes mistakes and often simply doesn’t know what to do. Likewise Akane isn’t overly sweet or combative. She, too, misreads Kotaro and makes mistakes.

I only found myself mentally calling Kotaro an idiot once throughout the 12 episodes, which is quite a feat for an anime such as this. Most of the time, male protogonists frustrate me with their foolish and superficially dense behavior. You don’t see such here. The fumbles Kotaro and Akane make are realistic and, even better, they realize they screw up and work to fix it. The story is filled with awkward, endearing moments of silence between them as they just don’t know what to say. But at the same time, the silence is never cold. It reverberates with the developing feelings they have for each other. They simply lack the vocabulary. Their feelings lack an overt sexuality too. They simply like each other for who they are. While some may view the innocence as unrealistic, I found it refreshing. Sexuality is overemphasized. Love can exist without sex. While sex may reinforce such feelings, we often confuse its hormonal drive as love.

I mentioned how As the moon, so beautiful feels realistic. In one scene, both use the Internet to research dating ideas. This realism extends toward a key element that Kotaro and Akane use to develop their relationship: a messenging app called LINE. Throughout the story, they use the app to keep in touch. They even comment in a scene how its easier to talk over the app than in person. This details captures modern dating culture well. Many people are more comfortable texting and sending online messages than talking in person, particularly at the start of a relationship. It can help people who are naturally quiet and, perhaps, a little shy–as with Akane and Kotaro. It also allows people to stay in touch when schedules refuse to cooperate, which is another detail the anime shows. In fact, LINE becomes essential to the Akane’s and Kotaro’s relationship as their schedules force them apart. Through LINE, they support each other’s efforts and cheer each other on. Akane with track and field. Kotaro with writing.

As the moon, so beautiful builds on the idea that people don’t need words to show their feelings. Akane and Kotaro act in little ways that cements their bond–little gifts, gestures, and even glances across the classroom. There is a great scene where Akane is running in an important event, but says she doesn’t want Kotaro to watch–even though she actually does. Kotaro picks up on this and goes to the event without her knowing (he messages his support over LINE) and then leaves before she could see him. Later Akane finds out he had done this, and it makes her happy. He had both supported her wishes of him not watching (which she says would fluster her) and her quiet desire for him to be there. Small actions like this shows an attentiveness to unspoken desires, which shows love. Granted, it’s easy to miss such things and expecting a partner to always realize what is unsaid can cause problems.

As the moon, so beautiful struck me as unabashedly Japanese.  Kotaro pursues traditional dance at a temple and takes part in traditional festivals. The festivals and temples play key roles in the course of the story–providing important moments such as Kotaro’s confession to Akane on temple grounds. In many school-related anime, Japanese culture is downplayed for the safer, and more accessible, secular school scene. Sure, there are Japanese elements even within this, but they are the typical mainstay of anime: culture festivals, kimono, and the like. As the moon jumps into the elements usually ignored or glossed over, but it doesn’t seek to make them exotic or anything. Like LINE, the cultural elements and festivals are just a part of everyday life.

The normalcy of the story and the delicate handling of romance–the awkward silences, the online messages, the clashing schedules–sets As the moon apart from most other romantic anime I’ve seen. Too often, such stories use comedy and superficial cluelessness to create a blunt, stereotype-laced stories. As the moon uses many of the same tropes, such as love triangles, but it handles them with subtlety and care. The English version of the title has a poetic feel, and the story throughout holds the same feeling as the title. It has a crisp beauty to it and avoids feeling saccharine. The soft animation matches its realistic, understated focus.

Some viewers may grow frustrated with its quiet, realistic pace. For many episodes, apparently little happens. That is, unless you pay attention to the subtext. Behind the slow pace, much is going on: commentary about the role of the Internet in relationships, the effects of others’ opinions on relationships, and how love affects friendships. But all of the messages are subdued and remain a part of the environment the romance develops within. There isn’t any fighting or action scenes. There isn’t any fan-service or sexual comedy. The awkwardness and the silent scenes may prompt some viewers to yell at the screen. But for those who like character-focused stories, stories of two people awkwardly learning about each other, stories based on realism, check this one out.