Tsurune Series Review

Tsurune Episode 8 Minato

Overcoming challenges together; Tsurune takes on the emotional scars of its cast and shines.

There’s something just a little bit special about this latest sports anime from Kyoto Animation. The studio is known for being good at handling solid emotionally driven stories with the likes of Clannad on its line up and its also dipped its toes into boys doing sports before with the fan-service laden Free. That perhaps set the bar very high for Tsurune in some viewers’ minds and I do recall seeing a lot of first impressions that went along the lines of ‘as expected from Kyo-Ani’ or ‘nothing special compared to…’.

Tsurune Episode 2 Minato and Who

However, that seemed a little harsh given is something is done well it is done well even if another anime made by the same studio perhaps surpassed it or the studio has done something comparable before. While I’m not going to make the case that Tsurune is some sort of hidden master piece, I will put forward strongly that Tsurune is well worth the watch for those who like getting invested in emotionally driven stories with the back-drop of a sports tournament to keep the plot on track and to ensure that we have an ongoing sense of direction.

Tsurune Episode 1

Tsurune is beautiful. There’s no denying that fact and while I’m certain we could screen cap some less favourable moments, almost every scene is beautifully composed and the use of colour, light and movement are purposeful and interesting. The choice for the majority of Masaki’s scenes early on to be bathed in blue tones (a colour scheme we return to at the end) was very well done and played nicely into a narrative twist in the early episodes. The portrayal of wind and movement as the arrows flew was gorgeous and was taken to its extreme during the final where each shot set a flurry of sparkling leaves flying (okay, they may have taken some liberties with reality but it looks great). And each of the characters, yes the heavily male dominated cast, look fantastic.

The music and sound design also deserve a special mention as these are truly used to enhance each and every scene. While it might seem to some too calculated or artificial, I found it absolutely complemented the visuals and the narrative and particularly during competitions I found myself waiting for the sound of the arrow being released, the wind, and then the impact as the arrow either hit or missed its target. It was very affective and adding greatly to the overall enjoyment while watching.

On the surface we have a basic story of a character who used to be good at archery who quit after developing target panic (essentially couldn’t hold his draw and released the arrow too soon throwing off his aim). His friend who followed him to high school wants him to get back into the sport as does a childhood friend who has reunited with them. After some resistance, Minato does decide to get back into archery and works to overcome his target panic.

Tsurune Episode 8 - Minato

That story alone could have worked beautifully and yet while that is the frame for the story, Tsurune explores so much more. With five boys coming together (the group of three friends and another two characters), there are plenty of personal conflicts and emotions to deal with as they try to form a team and overcome their own short comings. Where Tsurune surprised me was how well in dealt with Seiya’s story as I had thought he was more of a support character but ultimately he had an incredible arc. The coach, Masaki, also had plenty of solid development and was portrayed as a real character rather than a token adult figure. Even the characters at the rival school began to be expanded upon toward the end and while their arcs seem cut off in the middle it created the feeling that this story and these characters were more real.

Tsurune Episode 11 Masaki

However, at only thirteen episodes and with so many characters not everyone can have their story told. Nanao, despite having some excellent supporting moments, is still largely a mystery as was Ryouhei, despite his childhood friend status. The three girls who were also in the club had a couple of excellent scenes but were largely ignored by the narrative getting to stand on the sides of scenes and really just got used by the plot when needed rather than being fleshed out in their own right. These are small complaints and without more episodes it would be difficult to address these issues, but given the excellent progress so many other characters made it just feels like a shame that others were almost benched.

Tsurune Episode 7

From a plot point of view this is about as standard as it comes as the team overcomes personal conflicts, struggles to qualify and then slowly comes together toward the end of the series. That doesn’t make it less satisfying to watch but if you are after something unpredictable or something that throws in a few unexpected twists and turns Tsurune probably won’t do it for you.

Tsurune focuses instead on maintaining its pace and tone. The focus remains on the characters and their growth. The competitions are the setting which allows that growth to happen and provides complications and set backs, but the story never forgets what its core is.

Tsurune Episode 2

While this isn’t the single most spectacular anime I’ve ever seen, it was an absolute delight to watch each week bringing a bit of calm bliss as I watched the next episode. I grew to care deeply for these characters and loved seeing them rise up and overcoming challenges. All and all, I would recommend giving it a go. While it may not work for you, and if slow pace isn’t your thing it probably won’t, there are certainly worse anime you could try than Tsurune.

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Karandi James

The Final Draw of The Match But Not The End

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 13 Review

If I was to have one complaint about this final episode of Tsurune, other than the fact that my weekly bliss and chill session has finished, it would be that this final episode seemed so incredibly dense with character moments. For something with such a languid pace and calm nature, there was so much to walk away from in this final episode and yet nothing felt rushed or forced but it makes processing the episode complicated.

Tsurune Episode 13 Minato and Shu draw the final arrow.

It isn’t just Minato or Shu who have their moment, we have the twins finally getting some development outside of being twerps as one of them begins to buckle under pressure and we with have a continuation of the Seiya and Shu conversation from earlier in the season where we see clearly the impact of Seiya’s growth. There’s the general team dynamic including how each of the boys deals with the pressure of the finals, and there’s the support from the girls. Tommy Sensei reflects on his role as their teacher and in making Minato shoot during the briefing to Masaki paralleling Masaki’s earlier worries that he’d made a mistake with Seiya. And lastly the anime comes back to Minato and Masaki and also returns us to the first scene where Minato first fell in love with archery and we see the Masaki was there during that scene as well connecting all the threads of this story beautifully.

That’s a lot going on in one episode. And to handle each of those characters and moments without feeling rushed or forced, and to give each moment the consideration it deserves, is a narrative feat well worth applauding even if the tone and subject matter isn’t to your taste. Everything in this anime has come together superbly in this final episode even though it felt like they’d reached that point last week when the team got their act together. For an anime that isn’t really about sensationalism in sports but rather quiet contemplation, they managed to up the ante with this final competition without compromising on tone, and again that was an impressive feat to behold.

Tsurune Episode 13 The Girls

Yet despite the sense that things have all come together what I don’t get a sense of is that these character journeys are at their end. For each of these boys their journey is ongoing but it doesn’t matter if we see that or not (though for the record I’d love a second season). What it means is that over thirteen episodes all of these characters became real to me and they feel like they have a life before and after this story and that again is something of an achievement.

Tsurune Episode 13 Minato lines up his shot.

I’ll do a full series review of this but if you didn’t give it a shot this Autumn season I’d strongly recommend it.

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Is It Time For the Team To Get It Together?

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 12 Review

Tsurune as a sports anime has remained a bit of an oddity. Sure the boys do spend a lot of time drawing their bows and practising but realistically whether they win or lose in this tournament has been made utterly irrelevant by their character journeys and their own desire for self-improvement. Seo, as the only female character getting any kind of time with archery, says herself after getting knocked out that she’s satisfied that the result reflects her current level of ability and leaves it at that.

Last week the episode left us with the bomb-shell that Masaki had been in a car accident and after a tense week of waiting and hand wringing to find out if he was okay, the start of this episode leaves us with a big, we don’t know. It’s a realistic answer but it means that stomach squirmy feeling that we’ve had all week while waiting to find out what has happened continues and it colours every sequence of the tournament until the end when they finally tip their hand (note to every other anime ever, this is how you use an emotional cliff-hanger).

Tsurune Episode 12 - Seiya is best boy

That makes the reasonably mundane events of this episode all take on a certain urgency and whether it is Minato’s initial plunge into self-blame immediately cut off by Seiya (who after his own brief bout of self-pity a few episodes ago has come back even stronger as best boy). But it is the girls, whose names I don’t even remember because they’ve had so little to do in this series and so little development, that actually really step up to the plate when the boys are all staring at their phones and panicking. It is a fantastic scene and one that was definitely needed. It also really makes me wish the female characters got to be more than emotional support or commentators more often in this series even though I know the focus is the male team.

Tsurune Episode 12
You rock even though I cannot remember what your name is.

Kaito then tries to rally them and reminds them to use what Masaki has taught them in the tournament. This gets them motivated but they still struggle through the early rounds. Ultimately it is an insight by Minato that turns it all around but as usual his poor communication skills almost blow the team apart (fortunately he holds his ground and makes himself heard).

Tsurune Episode 12 - Kaito

The final round of shooting this episode is a sight to behold and it is one of those moments in anime where you can cry an cheer simultaneously with the episode ending out on the team and audience finally finding out what is up with Masaki before the episode ends. With one episode left to go, I’m just kind of hoping this gets a follow up series though all things considered I don’t know that it will. I do know that I’ve loved following this anime this season and I love this team.

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You Have One Shot: Seize The Moment

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 11 Review

Did you know, adulting is hard. I think most of us who are trying it already know that, but it is something seldom explored in anime in a realistic way and even less often explored in a high school based sports drama. Adult characters occasionally offer guidance or criticism or are simply faceless beings, but seldom get explored as characters. Tsurune has defied this trend all along, but episode 11 takes it another step as we get closer to Masaki.

Tsurune Episode 11 Minato and Seiya

While I won’t say that it is a flawless episode, there’s a heavy reliance on coincidence to keep events rolling, the fact that in the preparation for a tournament rather than seeing the boys practising and falling out or some other contrived drama the story instead chooses to focus on the coach and the weight he’s been carrying, is a pretty solid choice. It feels quite refreshing compared to so many other sport anime that would have the characters doing last minute cramming and perhaps some sort of block to overcome right before the tournament. Here the boys are ready to go with their usual training regime and they even ask their coach to trust in them. It is lovely to see.

Tsurune Episode 11

However, we are going through a few contrivances. Minato overhearing Tommy-Sensei discussing Masaki’s motivations at the dojo in the first place is pretty coincidental. I love how anytime a character overhears a conversation it is always some incredibly emotionally important topic and never a discussion about what the characters are eating for dinner. They follow this up with Minato visiting his former coach at the same time that Masaki visits her because she knew his grandfather. That’s definitely pushing coincidence.

Tsurune Episode 11 Masaki

Despite that, it is hard to dislike how the episode plays out as everything happens as it needs to and the same beautiful attention to colour and detail fills every scene. From the opening shots where we see Masaki trying to shoot (and can we see more of this please), to the sunset when Seiya and Minato are talking, the episode is gorgeous and does everything it needs to do.

Tsurune Episode 11 Seiya

Admittedly, the climax kind of made me want to roll my eyes because it does seem like contrived drama for the sake of it, but I trust Tsurune enough that I’ll hope it deals with this next emotional blow with the same deft handling it has taken on all of its other trials.

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Tsurune – Kazemai Koko Kyudo-Bu – (Anime) Original Soundtrack
Tsurune - Kazemai Koko Kyudo-Bu - (Anime) Original Soundtrack

Emotions Run High This Week And Are Handled Beautifully

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 10 Review

It isn’t just Seiya who is having to deal with his emotions this week. We see the ripple of Seiya’s absence as well as his words to Masaki go through all the members of the team and each one has to deal with it as well as their own issues. Of course Tsurune is up to the challenge of dealing with this much drama and doing it with style. While this might be the most emotionally charged episode yet, it still feels genuine and that is reinforced through so many small moments that are instantly relatable to viewers.

Tsurune Episode 10 Masaki and Tomi-Sensei

As someone in my 30’s, Masaki’s moment was probably the one that hit home the most. He regrets what he said to Seiya, he remembers how it felt to have a similar question asked of him, but he doesn’t know how to fix the situation. He feels let down because somehow when you are a kid you kind of feel like adults have it together and have the answer and then you become an adult and realise just how much you just pretend to have it together because it is expected you will. This moment between Masaki and Tomi-Sensei when they sit and drink together after the students have left is a quiet moment but all the more powerful because of how true it rang.

Tsurune Episode 10 Onogi and Minato

And that moment wasn’t the only one. This episode has Onogi talking to Minato about Seiya and while he frames his concern as self interest (he’s worried about the impact on the team in the upcoming competition), it is clear that Onogi is looking out for his team-mates. The conversation between Minato and Onogi is fantastic because Minato becomes clearly aware that he’s dropped the ball with Seiya and then spends the rest of the episode thinking of how to fix things.

Tsurune Episode 10 Seiya

And even then, it isn’t some grand gesture that ultimately works. A return to childish form of writing a message on the chocolate box gets Seiya out of the house, though heavily prompted by the dog (and does Kuma get an award for most valuable player this week). Still, it is Minato’s absolute honesty, using Seiya’s own words, and just being there for him that eventually gets things back on track.

I loved the ending when Masaki apologises to Seiya and Seiya tells Masaki again that he hates him, only the tone of the scene is so different from just one episode ago where the same words were said. It is amazing how different the two scenes feel even though Seiya’s dialogue is identical and that shows just how much impact the events of this episode have had on Seiya.

Tsurune Episode 10 Shu

Of course, I do need to mention the shrine visit where the two teams encounter one another. While the twins and Onogi seem determined to have some kind of rivalry going for whatever reason, the rest of the team members seem content just to get on with things. There’s some interesting dynamics between individual characters and Shu remains and enigmatic but interesting part of both Seiya’s and Minato’s pasts.

Very much looking forward to more of this.

Shots Fired: Seiya’s Being Jealous And Lashing Out

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 9 Review

Tsurune continues to be consistently good at building up the individual drama for characters. This week the anime turns its attention firmly to Seiya, Minato’s childhood friend. Last week Shu taunted Seiya a little bit and apparently his words have shaken up the usually calm and stoic character as his shots are now all over the place.

Tsurune Episode 9 Seiya

However, there’s more than archery on Seiya’s mind as he deals with Minato’s sudden resurgence of personality and energy. This episode is one long and slow breakdown of Seiya’s character and the walls he’s built around himself and by the time we get the confrontation between Seiya and Masaki, beautifully understated as usual, it is clear that Seiya is either mourning the distance that has opened up between Minato and himself, or he’s upset that he wasn’t the one who was able to help Minato get back into archery in the end. Both are pretty understandable and given Seiya is only a teenager, his inability to deal with this kind of emotion makes perfect sense.

Tsurune Episode 9 Seiya at the range

When you throw in that the episode weaves in some of Minato’s story showing him getting a medical check up in the present and a little bit of the accident, what you end up with is a fairly affective episode, provided you don’t mind feeling like ending on a little bit of a downer because we kind of leave things at an extreme low point.

Tsurune Episode 9 Team

Another nicely done episode and one that was pretty to watch as we’ve come to expect. The Okonomiyaki cooking scene was great fun and the inclusion of the girls here was good, though as normal they get a few lines and then end up on the periphery. Still, even though the focus is Seiya the rest of the team are not neglected and we continue to move steadily toward the next hurdle for the boys.

Reaching The Target With The Help From Friends

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 8 Review

I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of the animation they use in this for when Minato fires a beautiful shot. Admittedly, we haven’t seen much of it due to his target panic, but this episode really did convey perfectly just how beautiful his shots can be. I was right with the spectators sitting in awe after watching that arrow fly through the air, the feathers spinning, before it struck in the centre of the target. 

Tsurune Episode 8 - Minato

To say that Tsurune maintains its status as an incredibly beautiful anime is an understatement even if most of the time it isn’t rubbing your face in it. It’s the small details that keep this one pretty even as we see some fairly mundane sequences of characters sitting and talking.

Tsurune Episode 8 Masaki

Though, it would be a mistake to believe that prettiness is all this anime has going for it. In eight episodes Tsurune has managed to really make me care about these characters, and this week even Nanao, who has been by far the one I’ve known least about or cared least for, managed to make me pay attention to him as he played his role within the team. The fact that Nanao is aware he’s playing a role makes him an even more interesting character and I have to wonder why he is so fixated on Onogi and what happens when Onogi doesn’t need him anymore to help balance himself. Of course, the same questions can be, and should be, aimed at Seiya in regards to Minato.

Tsurune Episode 8 Nanao

Despite this episode focusing largely on the team shoot at the tournament, which the boys first did fairly poorly in and then, through some team bonding and self-reflection improved for the second half, really the story here is about the characters.  We get excellent moments for Ryouhei, between Onogi and Nanao, Nanao and Minato, Minato and Onogi, and finally Seiya and Shu. Each one slightly revealing and each on interesting on their own.

Tsurune Episode 8 Shu

The boys did qualify for the next round but it was nearly beside the point by the time that was revealed. The progress they individually made and made as a team made everything worth it and honestly I don’t think I’d have minded if they just had to start again next time. Still, looking forward to what they do next because I’m really enjoying getting swept away by these characters.

Why Strong Competition Caused The Need For Contemplation

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 7 Review

Tsurune took a turn this week with the team heading to their first competition. This shook up some of the characters, forced others to face things they’d sooner forget, and the pressure most definitely pushed other characters over the edge. While this is certainly good for ongoing character development, it most definitely damaged the calm feeling the anime has portrayed up until now. That isn’t to say it suddenly dove into full competitive sports anime mode, because it definitely retained its languid story feeling, but it definitely constructed tension and awkward moments for the characters and the audience to endure.

Tsurune Episode 7

And that’s really a solid move. While it isn’t the feeling Tsurune has been giving us up until now, what it does is force the audience to realise just how much they’ve come to love these characters in six short episodes, and to love the dynamic they’ve built in their dojo. Leaving it and facing the other schools, being exposed to the mocking of the twins, the pressure of competition and unpleasant memories was hard on the team and the audience.

Tsurune Episode 7 The Twins

The twins are an interesting addition to the cast of the show as they’ve really been the only source of real contention between characters outside of Onogi. It is hard to really dislike them, but so far they’ve acted pretty bratty and have generally been deliberately unpleasant. It was fun to note that the person most riled up by their antagonism was Onogi and realistically Onogi’s character is going through some growth right at the moment so the tension is just pushing that along. Or pushing him to self-destruct. I guess we’ll see which.

Tsurune Episode 7 Shu

However, the highlight meeting of the episode was Shu and Minato. In typical Tsurune fashion, and in a way that pointed out that no matter how different this episode felt it is very much the same show we’ve watched all along, this meeting was ultimately a very low key affair. Few words were exchanged and the meaning of a lot of the meeting is yet to be fully realised by the audience, but there’s certainly plenty to consider. 

Tsurune Episode 7

I’m really looking forward to next week when the team event is on. As much as there were some uncomfortable moments watching this week, it was a feeling I enjoyed because it just spoke of how much I’ve come to care for these characters.

The Best Revenge: Go Forth And Succeed Your Own Way

Tsurune Episode Reviews

Tsurune Episode 6 Review

Welcome to the world of Tsurune where even the coach with the potentially angsty backstory is calm, collected, and feels that being a better and more understanding teacher than his grandfather was is a way of getting revenge. It mightn’t be the most exciting thing to watch, but these are characters I can get behind and their emotions are real. 

Tsurune Episode 6 Masaki

Minato and Seiya having an actual conversation… not one strained with tears, shouting, or dramatic stances, but simply a sit down in the park with the dog and an actual conversation where they asked the questions they needed to and contemplated answers. Not everything is answered by the way. These characters are too complex for a simple conversation to solve all their problems. But they are acknowledging the challenges and the uncertainty and again, they are doing it in a calm manner where they try not to let their personal dramas inconvenience others or get in their way but they are acknowledging that the personal drama exists.

It is a balance so very rarely found in stories and while I’m not huge on comparing things, I’m finding the boys in Tsurune almost as nuanced as the girls over in Bloom Into You, only without the romance aspect. And the romance really isn’t needed here as we have friendship, ambition, regret and a whole host of other emotions and ideas to explore.

Tsurune Episode 6 Opposition

On that note, we spend a bit of time this episode at the school that Seiya and Minato probably should have gone to with the characters who are most definitely going to shake up the calm of this anime. This week we meet Shuu, a former friend and fellow competitor, as well as two twins who were fun enough this week being a little bit blunter than most characters in this anime but I’m hoping they aren’t going to end up being nasty because that could definitely damage the calm of the show.

Tsurune Episode 6

Tsurune is in no hurry to get where it is going but we are steadily making progress both with the characters and the plot. While I’d love the female characters to get more of a look in and while I’d love Nanao and Ryouhei to get fleshed out a bit, I’m very much loving this show.