Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Tsurune: Kazemai Kōkō Kyūdō-bu
Episodes 1-13 streaming
If you weighed Kyoto Animation's recent output purely in terms of their base genres, you might assume they'd settled on a reliable competitive club drama formula. Along with comedies like Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and their heart-on-sleeve melodramas, the last several years have seen them turn both Sound! Euphonium and Free! into sprawling franchises, encompassing a variety of sequels and feature films. And now Tsurune arrives with its five boys and their hunky coach, seemingly slotting right into this production pattern.
Of course, a read like that demands assumptions like “all club dramas are fundamentally the same” - in truth, each of these properties have already carved out their own identity. Free! began its journey as a comedy, and its stories are painted with broad and vibrant splashes of unrepentant melodrama. Sound! Euphonium balances the interests of its two directors, seasoning sharp-edged character stories with occasional dashes of humor. And Tsurune, standing as director Takuya Yamamura's first full production, is something else entirely. Sports drama though it may ostensibly be, Tsurune is most emphatically a tone piece, and a pretty brilliant one at that.
In terms of its overt narrative, Tsurune's beats are likely familiar. The show first introduces us to Minato Narumiya, a boy who loved archery until he became afflicted with “target panic,” and found himself unable to focus or fully draw back his bow. Minato gives up on archery in middle school, and we pick up his story in high school, where his friend Seiya is attempting to reignite his passion. Soon we're introduced to the exuberant Ryohei, sly Nanao, and gruff Kaito… but it's not until Minato comes across a mysterious stranger firing arrows on a hilltop shrine that he finds his love of archery restored, and vows to overcome his affliction.
The focus in Tsurune is far more on the emotional development of these boys and their coach Masaki than it is on archery's competitive element. Though they train hard, most episodes focus themselves on the interpersonal conflicts of this larger group, as well as the baggage they carry to the field. Over time, we learn that Minato's fear of missing the target is tied to his mother's death, through arcs that reflect compassionately on him, Seiya, and their other friends. And even the adult Masaki undergoes a fair amount of growth, with the show emphasizing that maturing and coming to know yourself is a process that doesn't just end at adulthood.
Though not every member of Minato's team is equally humanized, I felt the show did a terrific job of bringing Minato, Seiya, and Masaki's feelings to life. Part of this comes down to the show's sharply written script, but the greater part of it is conveyed through Tsurune's evocative visual storytelling. Tsurune is certainly beautiful, as most modern Kyoto Animation shows are, but it doesn't seek beauty for its own sake. The show instead perpetually echoes the thoughts and emotional turns of its characters, with every episode's skies, buildings, angles, and colors echoing the lived experience of its stars.
Tsurune's unique approach to visual storytelling makes it possible to grasp the feelings of its characters in an immediate, tangible sense, even when their actual words are vague. In fact, its visual style actually enables its characters to be intentionally unclear in their outright expression, with characters like Seiya or Kaito often concealing feelings that are instead conveyed through the world around them. This understated approach to emotional expression is further bolstered by Tsurune's plentiful character acting and precise expression work; though this show can't match the obscene visual splendor of something like Violet Evergarden, it employs its resources intelligently to great emotional effect. When Seiya is feeling uncomfortable among his friends, overbearing reds and oranges echo his discomfort; when Minato stumbles across a life-changing experience, the gorgeous colors bring the magic of that moment home.
Beyond echoing the immediate experiences of its various characters, Tsurune's aesthetic also seems determined to tonally convey the appeal of archery itself. The show's title refers to the fleeting snap of wind caused by a perfect shot, an airy and freeing concept echoed by the show's airy, freeing compositions. Tsurune is full of large color blocks and vast, open spaces, its scenes proceeding like a stately walk through a brisk, sunlit meadow. The show's tonal cohesiveness echoes the appeal of something like a slice of life show, but in a different direction - while slice of lifes generally pursue the sense of a cozy, enclosed space, Tsurune aims to conjure the bracing freedom of standing on the archery range, and feels more like a breath of fresh, cold air.
That might seem like lofty praise, but my point is more that Tsurune aims for and succeeds at something very few shows even attempt, offering a uniquely appealing experience in the process. The show certainly has its weaknesses, though. As I mentioned, it felt like only half the team was characterized to a particularly meaningful extent, with Ryohei and Kaito in particular sticking pretty close to standard archetypes. The overarching plot beats are similarly familiar, and though I felt both Minato and Masaki's familial drama was handled very well, the show's overt archery plot can at times feel like a bit of an afterthought. Additionally, while Tsurune's overall aesthetic is cohesive and appealing, it's definitely not quite as fluidly animated as you may expect from Kyoto Animation - there are highlights, but they are highlights, exceptions rather than the rule.
All in all, Tsurune offers a rich and uniquely appealing experience that dabbles in sports drama, character drama, and slice of life all at once. Its emotionally resonant visuals and somber musical score all work hard to bring its characters' feelings to life, making the triumphs and tragedies of youth into a genuinely felt experience. If you're looking for a sports show more subdued and contemplative than thrilling and exuberant, I'd highly recommend giving this beautiful production a try.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : B
+ Thoughtful character story that merges the appeal of several genres, beautiful production echoes and elevates the feelings of its characters
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