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Tsurune: The Linking Shot
Episode 12

by Lauren Orsini,

How would you rate episode 12 of
Tsurune: The Linking Shot ?
Community score: 4.6

©2023 Kotoko Ayano, Kyoto Animation/Tsurune 2 Committee

You know it's gonna get real when they name the episode after the season. “The Linking Shot” may have been the penultimate episode of Tsurune: The Linking Shot, but it felt in many ways like a finale. Eschewing both its opening and ending themes, this extra-long installment was our most potent dose of kyudo ASMR yet. This episode took a big risk by minimizing its soundtrack in order to put sound effects in the spotlight—a bet that paid off in heightened tension. Kyoto Animation didn't have to go this hard for a “cute boys doing sports” show, but they've given us a quietly devastating zen garden of an episode where every detail is imbued with meaning.

This episode stretches extra long, but I would still construe it as minimalist. At key moments, it restricts visuals, sound, and dialogue more than usual, meaning even the smallest details that remain are significant. For example, the close-up first scene shows a tearful young Minato cuddling fabric. In the next cut, we see the fabric isn't a blanket, but his late mother's clothes. Scenes that take place in the present are even more sparsely visualized. The most dramatic segment of the episode is the face-off between Kazamai and Kirisaki. There is no soundtrack to speak of. The backdrop fades into a dark void, and only a simple glow effect illuminates each archer, his bow, and the target. In lieu of the music, we are compelled to focus on the sound of each tsurune, the triumphant thwack of the arrow as it finds the target, or the demoralizing thunk as it hits the wall. A drawn arrow is a common metaphor for tension; made literal here a dozen times over, it makes for an especially nail-biting scene. Later, after the two teams shift into sudden death (who would have thought that “Push and Pull” was foreshadowing?) the audience's collective sigh of relief made me also release a breath I didn't know I was holding. The absence of music increases my immersion, as if I were there watching the match.

The scenes without a soundtrack made me pay more attention to the background music in the scenes that do have it, offering increased pathos for those scenes. Tsurune's gentle piano music ranges from a gentle andante to a bright allegro tempo, resonating through scenes that emphasize the characters' humanity. One of the scenes with the most pathos is a flashback of Saionji-sensei speaking with a younger Shu about his relationship to Minato. Presumably, Minato missed practice that day because of his mom's funeral preparations. As his teacher slowly quizzes him on his relationship with Minato, it dawns on Saionji and the audience that Shu's social skills are tragic. It's no wonder Minato thought Shu didn't like him for so long!

This contrast between the two ochi continues in scenes in which each boy reflects on his respective parent. It's not an exaggeration to say the two most important characters this episode are Minato's mom and Shu's dad, each of whom appear in the show only very rarely. Minato's memories of his mom are a deep callback to season one, when he was far from OK after the trauma of the accident that killed her and injured him. In this episode, quick cuts visualize how far he has come through the healing process. In one such sequence, we see Minato drawing his bow at six moments in time—the first clip right after his mom's passing, and the last at the national tournament happening in the present. Then there's Shu's dad coming in clutch at a critical moment. Shu's dad's approval gave him a boost right when he needed it, while Minato was already doomed by a strongly-foreshadowed handicap to his thumb.

Overall, I wish Tsurune hadn't spent so much time hand-wringing over Minato's thumb injury in order to explain away his loss (though it was funny to see the team doting on him at breakfast). Nobody's perfect and I don't like the narrative that he can only lose if there's a plot reason. The ebb and flow of the sudden death round, the swelling piano backdrop, the swirling leaf motif and the simple but powerful ripples that visualize around each archer to convey his tempo and mood are what make the episode's climax compelling. Later, when Eisuke Nikaido asks Minato why he missed the final shot (you can't just ASK somebody WHY THEY LOST, Eisuke!) Minato takes his loss in stride. “It was like my bow and I were one,” he says brightly. Even in loss, he's grown so much from the traumatized kid with target panic last season. It's this show of contrasts and this return to the Shu vs. Minato dynamic that makes this episode feels so much like a finale.

Other great moments: Ryohei's shut-in sister pumping her fist and cheering her brother on from afar, Nanao teaching Touma the space-case from Tsujimine how to be popular with the ladies, Eisuke realizing he's frustrated he can't compete in this compelling final match and that he really does want to continue with kyudo, Nanao casually dropping a towel on Kaito's face to hide his tears—and then Kaito just keeps the towel there for the whole scene, the overhead shot of the finale revealing an entire spectrum of rainbow ripples across both teams while each shot rings out clear as a bell, Shu's sister Sae becoming increasingly invested until we can believe that one day, she'll be the one on the kyudo range. I can only imagine that the next episode is going to be fluffy bonus content. Because the artistry of the episode's sound effects, its high stakes, and its thorough conclusion make it a satisfying ending on its own.


Tsurune: The Linking Shot is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

Lauren writes about model kits at Gunpla 101. She spends her days teaching her two small Newtypes to bring peace to the space colonies.

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