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…’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Tuesday’s Top 5: Reasons You Should Watch Season 2 of Spiritpact

Tuesday's Top 5

Spiritpact season 2 has finished, with some very weird timing, and I can’t help but note that very few people have been talking about it. That’s not very surprising given how season 1 started and usually I don’t really like the argument that something gets better, but in Spiritpact’s case, the it gets better argument is pretty solid. In fact, season 2 is actually a pretty amazing character drama with some shounen ai moments that will make fan-girls pretty happy. So, while my review is still a week away, for now I’ll give you 5 reasons why you should go and watch this anime (though I guess technically it isn’t anime given it is Chinese and not Japanese but let’s leave that point alone for now).

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mention: Keika’s magical girl transformation sequence. Tragically it only gets shown once, but it is still pretty funny.

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Number 5: The attempted break out.

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Tanmoku Ki is apparently crazily powerful and yet we so rarely see him do anything particularly note-worthy with that power. Fortunately teenage Tanmoku was a lot more impulsive and when Shouken was locked up he took action. That said, it doesn’t exactly end happily ever after, but it is still an incredibly cool moment and at least it now makes sense why Tanmoku is so incredibly reserved about taking action.

Number 4: Keika taking his role seriously

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In season one, it was difficult to understand why Tanmoku wanted Keika around and Keika really didn’t contribute much to anything except temper tantrums and really stupid moments (the second half was better but not by much). Right from the early episodes of season 2, we see Keika taking his role as Tanmoku’s spirit-shadow very seriously even if he isn’t the most effective at keeping Tanmoku safe. It leads to some incredibly touching moments early on and also sets a far more serious tone for the season and allows Keika’s character to be re-evaluated and moved away from the frivolous portrayal we were used to.

Number 3: Shouken and Tanmoku’s Relationship

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Seeing the memories of first Tanmoku and then Shouken meant we got two different takes on their relationship and the events that defined it, but both ways gave us an incredibly sweet and tragic tale and one that was actually worth seeing twice because of how it positions us to see Tanmoku then and now and the impact that changing his perception of some of those events is going to have. Shouken’s impact on Tanmoku was enormous and seeing the two of them together was definitely smile worthy.

Number 2: Tanmoku Redefining His Relationship with the Family

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There are so many obligations and nuances that guide life in the Tanmoku family, and seeing Tanmoku Ki finally take some time to figure out who he is and what he wants, even if it took most of the season to get there, was a pretty satisfying experience. But he isn’t the only one trapped by the family and the traditions. Jiun, basically a cardboard cutout of a character in season 1, really finds her feet this season and plays a pivotal role. I’m glad she finds a path for herself by the end of the season and I look forward to seeing what happens next to this character.

Number 1: Tanmoku and Keika’s relationship

Seriously, this was brilliant. Watching these two characters move beyond a contract, from being a necessity to one another, and actually forging a real and incredibly close relationship was pure joy. Listening as Tanmoku explains why Keika in the final episode is one of those moments that can just melt your heart as it redefines the idea of selfless love. Certainly these two characters both still have a long way to go, but the journey they took us on in season two was extraordinary.

If you watched Spiritpact, what are some of your favourite moments from the series? I’d love to know so leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride Series Review: Magic Feels, Mundane Plot

The Ancient Magus’ Bride was a highly anticipated anime when it came out in the Autumn 2017 season. Now completed in Winter 2018, what are your final thoughts?

Review:

Having never read the source material for this one, I still managed to read an abundance of spoilers before going in and while watching it there were the inevitable comparisons between events in the anime and the manga. It is always an interesting experience watching an anime that comes from such a well known source and is so widely viewed as it means there are a lot of people covering it and expectations versus reality definitely play a huge role in those discussions.

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For me, I reviewed this anime with Weekend Otaku on his blog week to week as part of our 200 Word Anime collaboration. It was a lot of fun getting to discuss our favourite and least favourite parts of the episodes and because we were reviewing it together I had a chance to consider what I wanted to focus on with each episode and whether I wanted to discuss something similar to Weekend or focus on a different aspect of the show. It means that for me I was a lot more observant and critical while viewing episodes because I needed to make sure I had something to add to Weekend’s thoughts rather than just echoing them.

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Yet sitting back at the end of the season, I have to wonder what I thought of this anime overall. Despite so many of the issues I highlighted during weekly reviews, as a whole, I still think I really enjoyed watching this show.

The plot itself is pretty ordinary. Okay, only ordinary if you accept buying and selling people as ordinary and a land where dragons can live in a sanctuary and so on, but that is more setting and background for the story. The story really is Chise learning who she is and who Elias is and their relationship growing over the course of the season as they both reflect on who they have been and who they want to be. Pretty straight forward girl meets guy, realises she’s been putting herself down for too long and suddenly finds new lease on life; meanwhile, guy realises he’s a bit of a possessive jerk and promises to change. Just add in that the girl is probably going to die if she doesn’t learn to control her magic and the guy isn’t really a human or fairy but seems to be something in between.

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But while the plot is average, and the pacing goes from too slow in the early half to way too rushed in the final arc, this show excels at creating its visual aesthetic and hitting the viewer with its emotions. While sometimes these are cheap ploys to draw out an emotional response, for the most part the emotional aspects of the show play true and really do resonate with the viewer. This is built through that slow pacing early on, through those fantastic visuals, and through a sound track that while it might not be the most memorable, manages to fit almost every scene (there’s one sequence where I found the sound missed its mark but otherwise I usually found the music very fitting to what I was watching and quite affective).

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It also helps that Chise and Elias are such dynamic characters who are both growing throughout the course of the series. While neither one is going to end up on my ‘best character ever’ list, they are a pleasure to watch and their interactions are fairly magical, if you’ll excuse the pun.

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The magic in the show is also a shining highlight for the series. It is truly beautiful and there is some really interesting magical lore being explored over the course of the season. While it isn’t as explained as it could have been, there’s clearly been a lot of love and research behind the magic in this story.

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The support cast are also reasonably decent. Okay, they are fantastic, however the anime ultimately doesn’t have the time to give them all enough to do and some characters feel like they are introduced only for events that will come after this season is already over. While there’s nothing wrong with setting up future events, it kind of needed to feel like they had some purpose in this season other than waving at the audience and being acknowledge for existing.

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Still, I would recommend giving this one a try. Some people found the slow pace early on a bit of a put off and let the series go, and that is fair enough. I certainly found the pacing to be an irritation early in the series, and the anime’s penchant for cliff-hanger endings was definitely not something I appreciated. However, give it a go. See what you think.

And if you’ve already watched it, I’d love to know your thoughts, so leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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School Babysitters Series Review: They’re Cute… And?

The Winter 2018 anime season was rife with cute shows, so how does this bit of adorableness stack up?

Review:

It should have become fairly clear to anyone who reads my blog and reviews with any regularity that I am not a fan of cute kids. Sweetness and Lightning didn’t last long on my watch list and while I didn’t mind Usagi Drop, I was hardly dancing in the streets after watching it (though I guess that wasn’t the emotion they were going for anyway). So picking up an anime that seems to have cute kids as its entire premise might seem a little out of character, and believe me, no one is more surprised than me that I saw this through to the end of the season.

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For all that I will offer some criticisms of the anime as the review progresses, I actually had a lot of fun with this title during Winter. It was that small touch of adorable sweetness that I needed each week and kind of went well with How to Keep a Mummy in terms of giving me something that was cute for cute’s sake to look forward to. But still, if all I want is cute there was a myriad of show’s during Winter, so why did this one stick for me when other, quite probably better anime (Place Further Than the Universe/Laid Back Camp), fell off my watch list?

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Part of the answer comes during the first couple of episodes where certainly things are sickly sweet at times and the super close relationship between the brothers might lead you to thinking this anime is going a whole other direction. This anime actually gave me a few genuine emotional moments early on with the central characters dealing with the grief and loss of their parents despite being genuinely an upbeat show. It was that balance early on that sold me on the show and while I might later be annoyed that it didn’t commit to developing these ideas thematically, choosing instead to focus on lighter slice of life aspects or support characters I didn’t really click with, I still feel that emotional connection with the protagonists because they really nailed it early in the show. Points for not delaying character development and just putting it out there.

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They also returned to this idea at the end of the series allowing the loss of their parents and their need to grow up without so many of the things they had thought would be in their future in the final episode. There are differences as the two characters are now surrounded by others and Kotaro is now far more willing to reveal his emotions, but it felt like a nice way to bookend the series with this focus on the protagonists and their personal grief.

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Unfortunately that means there is a lot of stuff in the middle that really only can be described as fluff. Sometimes it is good fluff. It makes a point or gives the audience a cute moment. A couple of the support characters are actually kind of fun and it was enjoyable watching them have their moments.

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But…

There are those moments that miss the mark. The character you can’t stand or question the existence of. Also, one particular episode that deals heavily with gender norms and seems to present a fairly alarming willingness to simply agree that we shouldn’t challenge people when they have pre-established expectations on the roles of men and women. Maybe that’s me reading too much into the episode, but really it left a fairly sour taste in my mouth and came directly after a beach episode so that was kind of a low point at the three-quarter mark for the series.

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Though, if I had to say what my favourite part of this series was, it was definitely watching Kotaro. He is an interesting child and part of me wonders if we are supposed to be reading more into him as at times he presents some interesting behaviours. While trauma and grief might account for it, particularly as he appears less emotionally repressed later in the series, there’s certainly room for a lengthy discussion about Kotaro. And when you couple this bundle of pure cuteness with his adoring older brother they almost always create a winning formula regardless of how poor other aspects of the episode might be getting.

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Ultimately though, while I am recommending this series, there is no point going into it expecting some kind of narrative or character master-piece. It is a show that very clearly knew what tone it wanted to establish and it sticks to it time after time. Episodes generally present two mini-arcs that are loosely connected to the overall plot as the characters go about their year so very few ideas have sufficient screen time for anything resembling depth. Which makes the emotional moments the show has succeeded in even more surprising really.

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Anyway, cute kids in a day care and brotherly love. Worth trying even if it doesn’t stick with you.

Episode Reviews:


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Karandi James

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