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The Spring 2024 Anime Preview Guide

How would you rate episode 1 of
Tonbo! ?
Community score: 3.2

What is this?


Igarashi was disqualified as a pro golfer after a certain "incident" and thus moved to Kagoshima Prefecture's Tokara Islands to step out of the limelight. On these islands known as "Japan's last unexplored wilderness," he encounters a naive girl named Tonbo!.

Tonbo! is based on the Oi! Tonbo manga series of the same name written by Ken Kawasaki and illustrated by Yū Furusawa. The anime series is streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday nights.

How was the first episode?

Richard Eisenbeis

Tell me if you've heard this one before. A talented man with a troubled past moves to an isolated, rural community on one of Japan's numerous small islands. There he meets a young girl who expands his world in numerous, unforeseen ways. That's the basic plot of Tonbo!—as well as the outstanding 2014 anime Barakamon. The difference between them seems to be the focus on the “talent” aspect—in this case, golfing talent.

Generally, there are two ways to do sports anime: either you go real or insanely over the top. Tonbo! chooses the former. It asks the question, “What if a golfing genius learned golf on her own—but with only one club and on an incredibly difficult course?” We get, well, Tonbo! herself. She knows nothing about proper technique but has learned how to play the course through raw talent alone.

To this situation, we add Igarashi, a former pro-golfer who seems to be running away from his past. Why exactly is set up as the show's driving mystery—the reason to make you come back for more? And it does its job well enough.

I find golf to be one of the most boring sports imaginable. However, while the anime is aimed at hardcore golfers (the original manga is published in a golfing magazine, after all), I was still able to follow along well enough to understand why Tonbo! herself is such a diamond in the rough.

Do I think this series will be some kind of breakout hit? No, but I was entertained enough to come back for another episode next week. (And that darned kanji misreading joke got me more than I'd care to admit.)

Rebecca Silverman

One thing about small island communities is that they'll always surprise you. I say that having grown up in one, and yes, we had a golf course like they do in Tonbo!. Ours was built on an old farm, and I admit I spent more time picking blueberries on it than anything else. But that doesn't take away from the fact that Tonbo!'s first episode does an excellent job of establishing its setting. Seen mainly through the perspective of Igarashi, a man fleeing something emotionally difficult on the mainland, we get a good sense of how the island appears to an outsider: insular yet friendly and determined to do things their way. By the time the episode ends, Igarashi has accepted that everyone has renamed him Igaiga and that this is his life now.

What floors him the most is the island's casual golf culture. The way that he deliberately writes off all of the hints about golf existing on the island is well done; we see him talking himself out of believing his own eyes. That frankly does a better job of establishing his presumptive past golf-related trauma than any amount of flashbacks; he wants to move on, but he can't bring himself to. Fortunately for him, Tonbo! is so unabashedly enthusiastic about everything that she's likely to help him figure things out, like a manic pixie dream girl's little sister.

Although she's meant to be the show's central figure and main draw, I can't help but feel that this episode does more to establish her as a non-character than a person. She's a free-range child with inexhaustible energy, the only kid her age on the island (there's no high school), and good at everything, from catching squid to golfing with a single club. Everyone on the island loves her, and she just sort of Pollyannas her way through each day. Of course, this absolutely could come back to Igaiga's perspective being the dominant one – nothing is what he expects, and that makes Tonbo! just as much of a surprise as the golf course. He's completely off-balance, and she's not helping. (Although I'm not sure why he thought she was a boy. Her presentation is very gender-neutral.)

I don't love how this show looks, although it isn't ugly per se, but the plot deserves another episode to get going. The characters feel like stereotypes right now, but there's potential for them to become more as we get out of Igaiga's head, and the setting feels right. Don't go into this expecting Birdie Wing, but I think it might fit the bill if you're looking for a low-key sports series this spring.

Nicholas Dupree

I don't like golf. I think it's by far the lamest sport with any professional legitimacy. If we were to do away with it altogether in favor of competitive frisbee or professional hide-and-seek leagues, the world would be a better place. I do, however, like stories about wayward folks finding new lives and friendships, like the eternally wonderful Barakamon. So I was willing to give this show a chance, even though it was unlikely to make the world's dullest sport interesting.

Unfortunately, this episode doesn't deliver much. It's not awful or anything, but it's neither as charming nor intriguing as it means to be. The formula it's going for, with a gruff former golfer inadvertently discovering a golf prodigy in an isolated island town, is a classic one ripped straight out of any number of sports media. You can easily imagine how Igaiga will slowly start mentoring Tonbo!, refining her talent and rediscovering his love for the game. The problem is that neither of our leads is all that engaging or interesting. Igaiga is an altogether reasonable man who adapts to his new surroundings with some hesitation but rarely suffers any comedic culture shock. Tonbo is cute and chipper, but not much else. In this episode, we don't even learn about whatever incident made Igaiga retire and move out to the island, so there's just not much to grasp.

The visuals don't help either. This seems like a pretty low-priority project for studio OLM, with inconsistent, flat character art and a good amount of reused footage in this episode alone. The supposedly astounding island golf course doesn't feel too impressive when the surrounding trees look like filtered jpegs. While not horrendous, it has all the hallmarks of a long-running show with modest resources and modest-er vision, piecing things together with functional but unimpressive art. That approach can probably work here, considering golf isn't the most kinetic sport to animate, and the story probably won't need a bunch of sweeping, dramatic moments. Yet it's still not much to look at, and that does suck a lot of the charm out of it.

The upshot is that nothing here is bad or doomed from the outset. This could be a slow starter that gets more engaging as we develop the characters or let the cast gel cohesively. If you're looking for a family-friendly sports show, this fits the bill just fine, even if it doesn't excel at anything.

James Beckett

I have never been particularly interested in golf, but Birdie Wing permanently altered my brain chemistry, so when I read the plot description of Tonbo! on Amazon Prime and saw that it began with the phrase, "A dramatic tale of golf and humans…" I was eager to see what was in store. Given that the show is about a lonely, middle-aged man making friends with a wild-child middle schooler on an isolated Japanese island, I didn't go into the series expecting the insane golfing shenanigans of Birdie Wing, either. I am a man of culture, after all, and I'm now old and wise enough to appreciate the appeal of a golfing anime set in a version of reality that isn't completely deranged.

That said, I'm sorry to say that Tonbo! bounced off of me as hard as a sliced ball hitting the hard-pan (and feel free to blame Google if I whiffed it on that golf joke). For one, the use of the word "drama" in the series' summary feels like borderline false advertising because "drama" implies "conflict," "interesting characters," and "some kind of narrative hook to get viewers invested." Tonbo! doesn't have any of those things. Now, there's nothing wrong with a golf cartoon settling into a more slice-(heheh)-of-life mode, but then the issue becomes that Tonbo! is neither cute nor charming enough to function as a low-impact mental vacation.

For one, our two main characters do not work for me. As the fish-out-of-water who is starting his new life on Hinoshima Island, Kazuyoshi Igarashi is way too much of a cipher to make for a good perspective character. There's obviously some reason he's decided to relocate to the middle of the boonies after walking away from what I have to assume is a lifetime of playing pro golf or something. Still, the guy has all the personality of a pair of beige golf khakis. Conversely, Tonbo herself is a little much, for my liking. She's one of those precocious orphan characters who probably plays a lot better on the page when you don't have to hear her constantly shouting every one of her lines. Also, I won't lie; I watched the English dub of this episode first, and that did not help endear me to any of the characters, as it's one of the most bizarre and wooden-sounding dubs I've heard since my days of scrounging for random DVDs at my local library in the early 2000s. I made sure to go back and check out some of the scenes in Japanese, though, and it didn't change my feelings about the cast at all.

Beyond the stale characters, though, there's the even bigger problem of Tonbo! looking like about three people animated it on a budget of loose change and broken dreams. It isn't hideous-looking, and the art seems faithful to the source material. Still, the end product is so stiff and lifeless that I felt like I may as well have just been looking at the manga anyway, except with more color and an annoying soundtrack that I didn't ask for. To the show's credit, it does provide at least one visual setpiece in the introduction of the island's golf course that looks…okay, I guess, but the vast majority of this premiere is just people talking to/shouting at each other, and it's about as compelling to look at as…actually, no, I'm not going to make the easy joke. I'd rather go watch actual, real golf at a very dull sports bar. Sorry, Tonbo!, but when James Beckett says he'd rather tune into ESPN, something has gone terribly wrong.

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