OP: 「Naru」by Luck Life
“The Young Man on the Shooting Range”
Tsurune makes a late yet emphatic entry into the Fall 2018 season, but does it hit the mark? To start off, a young boy falls in love with archery, as he hears the sound of a bow string being released. His child-like wonder is self-evident, and it represented a world view untainted by the taint and cynicism of older age. Next, this same boy is now a young teenager who decided to follow through on archery, adorned in the traditional hakama of a Kyudo practitioner. Confidence blazing in his eyes, he gracefully steps up to take the first shot to represent his middle school at a prefectural tournament. His innocence is still intact and he has yet to be shaken by the world. Then we cut to a bleaker future. He no longer takes up archery, despite his previous displays ardent dedication towards the sport, hence our presumption would be that something terrible must have happened.
As a massive fan of KyoAni, I anticipated something along the lines of Free! with archery as the primary focus. In terms of their slice of life seasonal shows, KyoAni seem to enjoy exploring an uncertain protagonist who has lost faith in their path prior to attending highschool. A person holding boundless potential, who has hit a stagnating point in terms of their development. Of course, both Nanase Haruka and Oumae Kumiko still took up swimming and the euphonium as pastimes during their spare time. However, critical incidents during middle school generated trauma that prevented them from participating in team-oriented activities, namely competitive swimming and orchestral practice. Hurting others was the primary reason behind why they were so hesitant to return, and overcoming their troubled past with the help of friends proved key to progressing the series. Based upon precedent, I had expected Tsurune to follow a similar line of progression, seen in both Free! and Euphonium. Only it turned out to be somewhat different, and what a difference it proved to be.
Notching the Arrow
So, what exactly is the premise behind Tsurune? If you asked me, I would answer: ‘an energetic old chap wanted to revive Kazemai’s Kyudo club and asks our characters to aid him in such an endeavour’. How so? By signing up to the club and providing their expertise as veteran archers! Though this should interest and excite our main character, who was depicted to adore the sport, he seems oddly disinterested if not outright apathetic. It takes being forcefully dragged along by a childhood friend for Minato to cave in, which begs the question. Why? We are slowly drip-fed information, potentially hinting why this would be the case: we didn’t see the outcome of the middle school tournament, a sizeable scar exists on his stomach, the death of his mother, to name a few examples. But it wasn’t until the climactic moment that our pre-imagined suppositions were shattered, allowing us to realise what is truly going on. Tommy-sensei takes a detour from the Kyudo Club’s briefing schedule, requesting Minato to step up and demonstrate his shooting form. Although Minato vehemently protested, he eventually relents and prepares to shoot an arrow. This was it, the moment we had all been waiting for.
The Moment Passes
There was such a powerful build-up to Narumiya’s shot, that I felt extremely deflated when he missed. Is that a bad thing? Most certainly not! The moment the arrow was let loose, I expected our protagonist to hit the mark, returning to his glory days then changing his mind about passing up on the club. Instead, he was given yet another painful reminder of something that he so wished to forget — his debilitating case of target panic.
In hindsight, Minato clearly he took up the bow, in the hopes that he might have overcome this problem after spending so much time away from the bow. Maybe he had unlearned his crippling confidence issue. At the very least, he evidently clung onto his unwavering love for archery and hadn’t given up hope, considering that he carried around his archery gloves at all times. Unfortunately, his hopes were utterly crushed there and then, which hurt me on such an evocative level. To see him fall victim to to his tragic circumstances once again proved to be quite heart-wrenching.
Ryohei knew nothing about Minato’s problems, so he couldn’t have been aware of the trouble he’d end up causing. However, Seiya knew full well the context behind Minato’s reluctance to touch a bow. I want to express some degree of disappointment and slight anger towards his failing as a friend in consciously letting Minato be hurt so badly, though I can empathise that he had Narumiya’s best interests at heart. Although the demonstration went catastrophically wrong, if things went well, Minato would have easily returned to archery and the target panic would have been history. I’ve been in both positions before, and it’s an incredibly difficult choice to make as a friend, whether to give someone that push which could lead to a 50/50 outcome. While the outcome might have left a lot to be desired, it was a situation that nevertheless played out beautifully, so props to KyoAni for constructing such a resonant moment.
Light in the Darkness
While I knew there had to be a reason Minato stayed away from archery, I never could have guessed target panic. It is symptomatic of society’s view on masculinity, where Minato cannot be forthright about being deeply troubled. Instead, he has to bury it deeply and pretend it left him no time for archery, a convenient pretext that has now been exposed as being falsified. I loved how my expectations were entirely subverted, and now we have a rather complicated matter on our hands. Target panic is typically not something that can be fixed in a short space of time, and usually requires relearning everything starting from the basics. Even if there are prospects of recovery, whether Minato can return to his previous level would be seriously questionable. But we’re not entirely devoid of hope.
Towards the end, after channeling his frustration by cycling off into the middle of nowhere, Minato stumbles across a shooting range located within a temple. There, he witnesses some exquisite archery, courtesy of a mysterious young man who repeatedly hits his mark. With this chance encounter under a breath-taking moonlight to close out the episode, could this man be the essential catalyst in fixing Minato’s problems?
It came as no surprise since KyoAni truly excel at this, but when each character was on the screen, you could infer a rough idea about their personality based upon facial expressions and general mannerisms. You can call it an exaggerated depiction of life that is out of touch with reality. After all, most people wouldn’t be able to parse much out of a random stranger just by looking at them. So it’s a good thing I don’t come to anime for doses of realism. As with the majority of KyoAni’s works, Tsurune has been fascinatingly vivid in its deliberated beauty, encapsulating a genuine spirit of youthfulness within its expression, which is exactly how I like it.
Usually, KyoAni shows start off slowly before ramping up into an impressive product. In my opinion, that episode was the strongest premiere that KyoAni have thrown out in almost a decade, since Haruhi Suzumiya. We already have an impressive product on our hands, and with such depth and quality right from the get go, it’s hard not to be optimistic. I want to make it clear to those who have reservations about potentially obnoxious manservice that this is extremely tame – though my wonderful experiences with Free! may have skewed my perceptions on that front. But to support my point, the girls seem to outnumber the boys in terms of club membership and we’ve been introduced to three female characters who will no doubt play a part in the story. With clinical precision, the focus is clearly on Minato and his struggles, coloured by a mix of his interactions with others alongside internal introspections, which serves to drive a thoroughly compelling narrative.
Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss about the episode. Additionally, I have decided to pick up coverage of Tsurune for the Fall 2018 season. I look forwards to documenting and discussing how Tsurune progresses and you know what, I feel extremely excited to see where this all goes. Here goes nothing! As always, thanks for reading my post and see you next week!
ED: 「オレンジ色」 (Orange Iro) by ChouCho