I was hyped for this anime ever ever since the PV came out, mostly because of my experience as a former recurve archer. Archery was a big part of my life before the archery range near my home closed, so seeing an anime that featured archery made me go over the moon. Before you say “No, this is different!”, I’m aware that kyudo is different from recurve or compound archery in many ways. So for this article, I’ll use kyudo since it is the proper name. Also, since I haven’t read Tsurune’s light novel, my review is only about the anime.
Despite Tsurune‘s overall hype for archers and light novel readers, the anime had an unfortunate start. Its first episode aired two weeks after the start of the season, which is usually not a good move for any anime series. Not only that, I was worried that because Tsurune was a “sports” anime produced by Kyoto Animation, it would receive the same stereotype as most sports anime and feature yaoi, something I don’t usually watch. Nevertheless, the show was a pleasant surprise for me. I was immediately hooked after the first few episodes when I saw the characters interacting in a much more “bromance-like” way.
Over the course of the anime, it becomes increasingly evident that Tsurune delves into the boys’ growth not only as a team, but as individuals as well. Just to give a few examples, Minato learns to pick himself up and return to what he always loved doing, and Seiya learns that he doesn’t have to take care of Minato all the time. These are situations people have been through in life and are relatable for the general audience. Even for Masaki as a coach, he is still learning how to navigate through life, and he has clearly learnt a lot from his coaching stint at Kazemai. As a team, they went from squabbling with each other to working well together. Tsurune showed the raw reality of what teams go through when they are trying to do their best, even if the dynamics and processes are more nuanced. Certain episodes however felt slightly rushed, and some of the struggles seemed to be easily resolved, such as Seiya’s struggle of letting go. Otherwise, the show’s pacing was good, especially with the Kazemai’s team dynamics and the interactions that provide sustenance and comic relief to the plot.
The last episode gave me a very satisfying ending. It showed everything coming full circle, as if it were a Yin-Yang pairing coming into perfect harmony. From Minato recovering from his hayake throughout the series to reuniting with his kyudo teacher; these specific scenes were set up to bring proper closure to the anime. Even the scene of Shu “seeing” Seiya as an equal by walking beside him just as they did in middle school helped tie up loose ends. What surprised me was when the ending credits displayed Masaki shooting the final ten thousandth shot in the shrine dojo he first met Minato in, showing that he was finally at peace with himself. It was interesting to see how everyone was fated to meet one way or another, whether or not they knew their decisions would lead them there. The best revelation was when the closing credits showed a high school Masaki standing beside a young Minato during the competition that sparked the latter’s love for kyudo. Fate truly works in wondrous ways we might never expect. Few anime have managed to give me this level of satisfaction, and I daresay Tsurune has done it.
Aside from the plot execution, I’m incredibly grateful for the authentic representation of kyudo. I talked to someone who both practices kyudo and watches Tsurune, and they agreed that for most part, Tsurune is generally presented accurately. However, the kyudo practitioner pointed out the kyudo in Tsurune is a watered-down version compared to the one in practice. There are many details the anime missed out on, such as the importance of the finger grip on the bow, but the practitioner admitted it is still a good start for people who are interested in kyudo. Regardless, Tsurune puts a great deal of emphasis on how kyudo is conducted. The anime not only displays the actual archery equipment used, but it also throws in nuggets of information about kyudo. It is true that people can only shout “kaichuu!” if someone hits all their shots, and kyudo competitions require their participants to shoot in a certain format like in the anime.
Art-wise, though it is not as impressive as Winter 2018’s Violet Evergarden, the art style was generally suitable for the context and the anime itself. However, some parts had obvious differences in art style. Take for example the art style of Masaki Takigawa in the earlier episodes, which was a little raw but decent. Yet during one of the later episodes, there’s this shot of him that is wonderfully drawn and smooth. This shot also reminded me of the art style used in Free!, so it could very well be one of the Free! animators hopping onto the Tsurune bandwagon for that episode. What Kyoto Animation did very well was animating their opening and ending sequences. The opening sequence highlights that while the five boys come from all different walks of life, they are all connected by kyudo and a single mentor who shows them the way. Meanwhile, the ending sequence alludes to Minato’s own past without giving too much away, but gives the audience a hint that there is something deeper. Kyoto Animation’s careful depiction of background scenery remains top-notch, extending from the lush greenery of the kyudo dojo to the tournament scenes. And who can forget the gorgeous animation behind the stylistic eyes that portray so much emotion like in Violet Evergarden?
The opening song, Naru by Luck Life, blew me away with its positive energy, and even today I listen to it when I need a song to cheer me up. It captures the anime’s emphasis: Although life may throw you into the dumps, you can pick yourself up because there’s still hope no matter how dark it seems. This perfectly reflects Minato’s journey as he rediscovers his love for kyudo, and the art as well as animation for the opening song seamlessly matches the underlying meaning of the song. The ending song, Orange Iro by ChouCho, ends on a gentle and reflective note each time to help wrap up every episode. Naru is one song I strongly recommend to the general audience whenever they need a positive boost to their day.
In my opinion, Tsurune is an underrated anime. Admittedly, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea with its slight technicalities, but I still recommend people to watch it because of how everything weaves perfectly together into a beautiful piece of work. It truly shines through as an anime showcasing teamwork, grit, dignity, and relatable struggles people go through not only as teenagers, but as adults too. To end off, here’s a saying that best sums up the anime:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go as a team.”