Episodes 1-3 – Tsurune: The Linking Shot

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©2023 Kotoko Ayano, Kyoto Animation/Tsurune 2 Committee

Hey, no stressing out in the Tsurune: The Linking Shot review! Instead, it’s time to slooooow down, take a deep breath, and listen to the ASMR that is the bow-and-arrow twang of each archer’s distinct tsurune sound. After a five-year break, we’re back with Free!‘s chiller younger brother, a sports anime all about the zen and patient art of traditional Japanese archery: kyudo. Some things have stayed the same, like the director (Takuya Yamamura, the pupil of Free! director Eisaku Kawanami) and the anime’s excellent sound direction. But there are changes, too. There’s a new music direction by Masaru Yokoyama, who you might recognize from Fruits Basket 2019. And a new larger-than-life antagonist is voiced by the inimitable Jun Fukuyama, who is quickly shaking up the status quo with his “bad boy of kyudo” act. So far, the story has come second to the show’s understated vibes. But are these new characters about to introduce an unsettling Vibe Shift in the world of Tsurune? Let’s discuss this.

The first three episodes of the season have taken a meandering approach, reintroducing the audience to Tsurune‘s delicate and understated flavor of slice-of-life storytelling. This is especially true of the first episode’s opening salvo, in which a series of school vignettes are tied together only by the distinctive tsurune of Minato’s arrow finding its target. It’s all right if you only partially remember all the details of the first season because Tsurune 2 (Tworune? Nah, that will never stick) is more than happy to hold your hand through its reintroduction. Beginning in the second episode, the recognizable sports anime trope of the Loud Spectator Explaining What’s Going On rematerializes in Mr. Nakazaki, the archery supplies store owner we met last season. He sits conveniently next to Shu Fujiwara’s little sister Sae, who is watching her first kyudo match. I once said that Tsurune is a show that “tends to whisper what other shows might shout.” The introduction of Shu’s sister is a prime example of this. There’s an aura of mystery about the sibling’s relationship that is hinted at through their very different appearances and the fact that Sae has never seen a match before, despite being the little sister of a high school kyudo legend. Fortunately, her viewpoint as a novice is all the invitation Mr. Nakazaki needs to re-explain the rules of kyudo. I don’t blame the show for having the pair discuss how unique the sound of each tsurune is—I imagine it took a lot of effort to record all of those bow and arrow twangs, and they sound even sharper this season. When the show is named after a specific sound, you want to ensure your sound design is top-notch.

If I had to describe the show up until now in one word, it’d be “atmospheric.” From an audiovisual perspective, Tsurune continues to celebrate movement and sound. The colors and backdrops are painterly. The fluid motion of the characters conveys tension as they draw their bows and take aim, then relaxation as they release and sit down again. Typical of Kyoto Animation, their movements are as character-providing as their sounds. The music sets the emotional tone for each scene, so we know how the characters feel even before the dialogue hits. That said, I don’t think the story is doing anything new in the realm of sports anime. These first three episodes focus on the team competing in a regional tournament that isn’t particularly high stakes since Kazamai High School already qualified for Nationals in the first season. They’re still qualified for that no matter what; this tournament is just a practice session for them and, from a narrative perspective, a way for the show to reintroduce the cast we already know and introduce a new antagonist team for the first time. It’s a clean narrative, if not a unique one; season one stuck to Volume 1 of the light novel Tsurune is based on, and season two begins right with Volume 2, which makes for smooth storytelling.

That may be why it feels like a tonal shift when the show introduces a character ready to crash the show’s chill vibe and bring some real antagonism to the story. Nikaido (the aforementioned Jun Fukuyama villain) is far more confrontational than anyone we’ve seen in the show; even Kirisaki’s red-headed twins were more mischievous than cruel last season, while Shu and Minato’s rivalry is based more on shared angst than any hard feelings. But Nikaido and his team, Tsujimine High, have an eclectic style of kyudo that disrupts the tournament with moves that are barely on this side of rules-following. They’re intentionally edgy, but it is so cool to watch how differently they move, especially in Kyoto Animation‘s capable hands. They’re the bad boys of kyudo and are not afraid to show it. At one point, Nikaido even says he’s only there to take them down. Wait, what happened to my ASMR kyudo show? It’ll be interesting to see whether the show doubles down on Nikaido’s ire or defangs him over time.

The feeling that something is wrong, that the Vibe Has Irreparably Shifted continues through the third episode when Minato feels deep in his gut that something is off, but he doesn’t know what. In the cliffhanger, when Masa gives Minato what seems like a very harsh sentence for the crime of not knowing what went wrong—he tells Minato he’s not allowed to practice archery at all, presumably until he comes up with a better answer than “I don’t know.” Masa has always been harsh but fair, so he will probably explain his reasoning next episode. That said, there’s an air of unpredictability here. This second season seems ready to up the ante. Sure my feathers are ruffled, but I’d much prefer that to be bored.

Rating:

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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