Season aired: Fall 2018
Number of episodes: 13
Genres: Sports and Drama
Thoughts: Tsurune had a bit of a late start for the Fall season, airing its first episode on Crunchyroll long after all the other anime have aired their first episodes. However, because it is produced by Kyoto Animation, the hype wasn’t completely gone. Yet being another sports anime after the popular Free! series did bite into the popularity of the show, and I began watching it with some hesitation. For even though this is based on an award winning novel, at the same time, I cannot help but draw similarities to the multitude of sports anime already out there for people to enjoy.
Tsurune is a sports anime focused on a kyudo team in Kazemai High School. Contrary to popular belief, “archery” isn’t as over encompassing as other sports are such as swimming or volleyball. There are usually different sets of rules, and more importantly different sets of traditions when it comes to competitions in this particular sport. Kyudo is something very inherent to the heart of Japan, which I personally find to be interesting. However, because of the careful exploration and explanation of how rules work and how the competition proceeds, the pacing can be slow at times and would without a doubt bore certain audience members who are watching for the adrenaline of a competition versus the actual history and tradition behind a particular sport.
Like any sports anime, there is particular emphasis on characters and character development. In regards to that area, I actually find myself conflicted on how I feel about the characters in this anime. For one, some of the characters are about as stereotypical as you can find. You have Mr. Hot Head who’s a jerk with a heart of gold, a flirty popular boy, the passionate, cute one, the unconfident protagonist who is trying to find his way, and the glasses character who is the brains and voice of reason. There’s a handsome rival with a mysterious past that entwines with the protagonist, and there are mean spirited rivals who are here to bully and do nothing else. And in a way, I never really see them step out of the buckets that have become so commonplace in sports anime. And let’s not forget the three female token characters as a small nod that yes, there are female archers who participate in kyudo as well.
At the same time, however, there are glimpses of ingenuity and careful thought process to the crafting of these characters. Seiya, Mr. Glasses and Voice of Reason, is a perfect example. He might be undeniably the smartest character in the team, but particular emphasis was placed onto him to give him a unique angle that other sports anime sometimes ignores (not including Haikyuu. But at the same time, there is a reason why Haikyuu is considered a masterpiece by many). Despite his calm demeanor and ability to analyze on the fly, Seiya actually despises himself and holds a lot of uncontrolled emotions that is hidden well behind that pair of calming glasses. It’s a fresh breath of air to see the stable character explored to be quite unstable.
Another good example is the coach of the team, adoringly called Masa-san. Handsome and supposedly perfect in leading this ragtag team of misfits, Masa-san as well holds a lot of depth in his motivation to coaching these kids. It is revealed to be something quite selfish and human, rather than something typically strong and inspiring.
Yet possibly my favorite part of the anime is the careful placements on how the main characters shoot. In kyudo, there is an order to who gets to shoot first to who gets to shoot last. It was perfect in my mind that Kaito, Mr. Hot Head, is the one to lead his team. His brash ways make him confident, his back is straight, and he is quick to defend anyone who disparages his teammates. It ripples confidence and security to the rest of his teammates who watch him start the entire competition. Second comes Ryohei, Mr. Passionate. Reassured by the protection radiating from Kaito, it allows Ryohei to confidently shoot with his passion in mind rather than fear and uncertainty, allowing for better hits. In the middle is Seiya. Calm, patient, and logical, he balances the team like the middle is often represented to balance objects, stories, and even time itself. Second to last is Nanao, Mr. Popular, who despite his ditzy and shallow look has always been supporting his team from the shadows in subtle and barely noticeable ways just as second to last tends to be a forgotten placement in people’s minds. And finally, last to shoot yet usually the most powerful is the protagonist who actually depends on all the people before him in order to properly tap into his gifts and utilize them in a competition.
Never in my mind did I think it possible for even stereotypical buckets to feed into something so meaningful and well placed. It’s these moments that makes me fall head over heels in love with the journey, but just as powerful as these moments are, they are also washed away when we are once again confronted with the multitude of shallow moments such as Nanao flirting around with his fangirls, Kaito lashing out, and a pair of twin bullies who can’t be written more stereotypically annoying and antagonistic. It’s a case of quantity versus quality, and while powerful, scenes and revelations such as those simply aren’t enough in numbers to the amount of times I rolled my eyes at the cliché.
Another downside is that these powerful moments are almost completely nonexistent from the beginning. There’s the typical bonding between misfits that takes place, but nothing allowed me to really connect to the characters until the story begins to delve deeper into the psyche and motivations of these characters. For perhaps a much longer anime series with multiple seasons or more than one cour, that is forgivable as by the time you reach near the end, you have largely forgotten about the less than lackluster beginning. However, as Tsurune is only thirteen episodes long, it is not something that has faded into the back of my mind by the time I am finally on board with the whole kyudo team.
At this point, it’s hard to write about any Kyoto Animation anime that doesn’t praise the animation and soundtrack. So it should come to no surprise that the animation is beautiful, the character designs are aesthetically pleasing, and the backdrops with the soundtrack is a perfect mix. Even more beautifully mixed in is the sound of actual arrows ringing against the bow as the story progresses, an extra step I am incredibly pleased they took. However, as it is Kyoto Animation, I no longer expect it to be any less than that.
Perhaps that is also why I am harder on the story and characters when it comes to critiquing Tsurune. Aside from an overall very saturated genre in anime (sports), I am no longer as wowed by the beautiful animation Kyoto Animation creates because I have seen it so often, so it is harder for me to be distracted from the stories and characters being told.
That being said, however, I do think Tsurune is a heartwarming story. It’s just not as “perfect” as I was expecting from an award winning novel. I think if there were a lot less cliché moments, I would be giving a much higher score on the characters and the overall story.
I am planning to rate all my anime based on the anime rating system that Japanese anime critics use. I will have 5 categories, each with the top score of 10, and then a final multiplier of 2.
Voice acting: 6.5
FINAL SCORE: 78