Review for Tsurune Season 1 - Collector's Edition
I wish I wasn’t a cynic, but sometimes my instinct is to see the mercenary, business side of things ahead of the creative; with the thought that studios and producers are in it to make money ahead of being original, where formulae outweigh imagination. I hate that cynical side of me even more when it comes to the output of Studio Kyoto Animation. MVM are bringing us their Tsurune this year, and normally at this point I’d be looking forward to their engaging characterisation, deft storytelling, and sublime animation. But then I read the blurb. 2018’s Tsurune is about an after-school club, which first brings to mind K-On!, nonsensical cuteness with schoolgirls after the bell rings.
Reading further, it becomes apparent that this is a sports anime with a predominantly male cast. The thought comes that KyoAni’s Free franchise has come to a conclusion. The cute guys doing cute things in a swimming pool has run its natural course through three series and several movies; a big success for KyoAni that they might be reluctant to give up on. Tsurune is about archery; cute guys doing cute things with bows and arrows, and it’s already had one movie spin-off, and earlier this year, a second series (the latter already licensed by MVM). The cynic in me is working overtime. But when it comes down to it, it’s all in the execution, and Kyoto Animation rarely disappoint in this regard.
Minato Narumiya fell in love with archery the first time he heard the sound a bow makes when an arrow is released, ‘tsurune’. All through middle school, he was part of the archery club, and someone to keep an eye on in competitions. And then he missed a shot... and kept on missing them. So called ‘target panic’ set in, a psychological weakness that some archers never recover from.
So when Minato started at Kazemai High School, he had no intention of joining the school’s archery club, despite how much his childhood friends Ryohei Yamanouchi, and Seiya Takehaya wanted him too, and no matter how much the club’s advisor, teacher Tomio Morioka wanted to revive the school’s fortunes in archery tournaments. But when he discovered an archery dojo at a nearby shrine, and met the enigmatic Masaki Takigawa, he began to see a way out of his block. Now Minato, along with Seiya and Ryohei, as well as the effervescent Nanao Kisaragi, and the abrasive Kaito Onogi, have to come together and forge an archery team.
14 episodes of Season 1 of Tsurune are presented across two Blu-ray discs from MVM.
1. The Boy at the Kyudo Range
2. Snapping Point
3. The Moment They Met
4. Off Target
5. A Returning Arrow
6. Why We Shoot
7. Reunited, Reformed
8. Take Aim
9. Unshown Hand
10. Inseparable Hearts
11. The Pain of an Offset Arrow
12. Five Arrows
14. For Better or Worse
Tsurune gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. It’s a fine transfer with no apparent issues. The image is clear and sharp, the detail levels are good, and colours are rich and consistent. I saw no visible compression or the like; all of which is just what you need when you’re watching a Kyoto Animation production, with distinctive and memorable character designs, beautifully observed character animation, and a realistic world design that is enhanced with some ethereal visual effects work. This is a show that is driven by the Zen of archery, and the animation really makes it work.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with player locked subtitles and signs. The audio is clear, and there are no issues with dropouts or the like. The dialogue is clear too, the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and the arrow flying action is properly immersive given a bit of Prologic. The show gets some catchy theme tunes, while the incidental music supports the story well.
The discs present their content with static menus, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
The extras on disc 2 comprise the textless credits and 5 Japanese Promos running to (4:39) in total. I haven’t seen the physical extras that come with the Collector’s Edition to comment.
I have to satisfy that cynical side of me first. Free was K-On with boys and swimming, and Tsurune is Free with bows and arrows. It’s hard not to notice creators working to a successful template. Thankfully, the template remains successful; Tsurune is a very enjoyable and engaging show, up to Kyoto Animation’s usual high standards when it comes to animation, storytelling, and characterisation. So what if it’s designed to appeal to a specific audience demographic. As long as the design works, it’s all good, and not every show has to be a work of breathtaking originality out of the box each and every time.
Still, for me Tsurune does improve on Free in one respect. While the show was all about the sport of swimming and the rivalry of competition, you could see the heritage in the character writing that came from K-On! The show had male characters whose feminine aspects were exaggerated for the target audience. All muscles and physique to look at, but who tended to interact more like demonstrative teenage girls rather than stoic teenage males. Tsurune has toned that aspect of the character writing down. These characters are still more communicative and empathetic than the average teen male, but they do act more like boys rather than girls, and I don’t get the jarring disconnect watching this show that I did with Free.
There are still correlations when it comes to the characters. The protagonist is ambivalent about competition archery as the show begins, although this time it’s because he’s in a slump so bad that he gave up the sport. There is a loud mouthed obnoxious type in the team who is bound to cause friction at first, before the team begins to gel and the characters bond. There will be the enthusiastic rookie who has less experience than the others and there will be an outward playboy dilettante who secretly takes the sport as seriously as everyone else. And of course there is the trusted childhood friend. There has to be a rival team of course, where you will find the other trusted childhood friend, now turned archery rival, along with another four interesting characters on that particular team.
To add to his ‘target panic’, Minato also has a tragic past colouring his approach to life, a past that he shares in some way with his friend Seiya. There are plenty of issues that the characters have to work through. But as you might expect from a show of this genre and style, the story keeps the drama light and gentle, while taking pleasure in the humour of the character interactions. Throw in a quirky teacher, and a Yoda-like coach and you have quite the dynamic of characters, as the team comes together, initially reluctantly, and takes their first steps in competition. Naturally there is an early match against their rivals from a nearby school (a school that Minato and Seiya were going to attend with their friend Syu before Minato got his target panic and quit the sport). They’re trounced quite naturally, making their second meeting the satisfying rematch that you get in sports stories, which leads to the climax of the season. Episode 14 is one of those lighter OVA style stories that steps away from the main storyline and is more about fun.
If there is a weakness in the story, it’s that this particular after-school club is open to students regardless of gender, and there are three girls who practice archery as well. But they feel more like an afterthought, background to the story of the five boys and their team. They kind of stay separate and do their own thing, and there’s very little interaction between them and the boys. It feels like a missed opportunity. But I have to say that the story is still told very well, the characters are interesting, and the animation is sublime. The story has the right blend of drama and comedy, and it’s very easy to invest in the show. The formulaic nature of the show is obvious, but even still, I enjoyed Tsurune a lot more than the show whose template it follows, Free.
Tsurune Collector’s Edition is available directly from Anime on Line, from Anime Limited, and from mainstream retailers. At the time of writing, MVM have now solicited the standard edition release of Tsurune, if the physical extras aren’t what you seek.