Tsurune: The Taut String of Fate by Keana Águila Labra

Image source: Lost in Anime

Sports are sometimes miscategorized under a single umbrella: chaotic clamor with dramatic actions and decisions meant to outwit the opposing team. However, there is a myriad of sports that rely instead on silence, control, and concentration. Archers, especially, hone these traits to perfection in order to secure victory. Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou Kyuudoubu, or Kazemai High School’s Archery Club, is an anime produced by Kyoto Animation and adapted from the light novel series by Kotoko Ayano. There is much to be revealed and developed between the protagonist and his friends; his purpose and intentions have yet to be defined. There are moments of beautifully animated movements with magical colors and backgrounds; but outside of these scenes, the quality teeters between mediocre and lacklustre. However, these unanswered questions and the reveal of an additional character may prove to make this series one that is worth watching.

The main character, Narumiya Minato, is a new student at Kazemai High. He is reunited with his childhood friends, Takehaya Seiya: bespectacled and dark-haired, and Yamanouchi Ryohei: fun, loud, blond, and naive. The episode opens with a flashback which left me a bit apprehensive. We are shown a young Minato. It then focuses over an elderly man with a bow and arrow: the filter, a darkish, purple hue, similar to one commonly used on social media. The definition of the title, ‘Tsurune’, is explained by what is assumably the Minato’s mother, and she describes it as the sound made by a bowstring when the arrow is released. It fast forwards to a prefectural tournament for Kirisaki Middle School. We see Minato again, pulling his arrow back, until it fades into a splatter of color to the opening (OP). The song is upbeat. By no means is the OP song the highest criterium upon which we judge our anime, but a good song is a good song. With the OP, we are introduced to his teammates, given a glimpse of an intense rival, and left wondering: to whom does the helping hand at the end of the OP belong?

Image source: www.newgrounds.com

We return to present-day Minato, attacked by Seiya, with his dog named Kuma. Minato says good morning, believing Seiya was Seiya’s father, showing perhaps more of his character. However,  the character designs are standard. Without the little distinguishing features, the characters would have succumbed to the dreaded ‘same-face syndrome.’ He lifts his shirt to dry his face, to reveal a scar and the expectation of a future flashback to explain wherein and how he received it. 

We follow the students to the Kazemai High campus, where the students have flower boutonnières on their uniforms. I found it to be a cute inclusion to their otherwise bland outfit. Ryohei introduces Seiya and Minato to his homeroom teacher, Morioka Tomio a.k.a. Tommy-sensei. He calls upon the three to assist him in completing a ‘mission.’ As Tommy-sensei confesses his desire to resurrect the archery club, he leads the three to an open room with swirling gusts and leaves. Minato gazes on, tearing up but, he shakes himself out of his reverie to declare that he does not plan to join a club. He uses the death of his mother, and his heightened responsibility of taking on domestic chores, as an excuse not to join, which is feeble when compared to the intense reaction he had simply being in the archery room. The scene with Minato on the left-most side of the screen with his head slightly tilted down was an excellent use of negative space, adding the visual portrayal of the weight he carries from his past trauma.

Image source: Twitter user @pen_dag

We follow Minato home, and he is alone. He mutters a brief line about his father being away on a business trip, and we hear a voiceover of what is presumably a flashback. The camera shifts to a green bag with dragonflies, and the scene cuts back to Minato and Ryohei at school. The cut itself is almost jarring.

Ryohei asks Minato with pleading eyes to return to the club room. He hesitates before agreeing, and we meet two more veteran archers, or students who also played the sport in middle school: Kisaragi Nanao and Onogi Kaito, more affectionately referred to as Kacchan. Both are cousins; Nanao being the cute, feminine boy popular with all the girls, and Kacchan the intimidating, ‘bad boy’. 

Tommy-sensei makes it a point to mention archery being a co-ed sport with no gender segregation. There are two separate groups of female students: one side fawning over Merna and the other seemingly serious about the sport. Three girls are specifically named: Seo Riku, Shiragiku Noa, and Hanazawa Yuna, but they do not make any significant appearance after this point.

Kacchan notices Takehaya, who mentions he must recognize him from the entrance ceremony. Ryohei bursts in with Minato, and they both sit in for the club briefing. Tommy-sensei explains the three important tools of an archer: the bow, arrows, and the yugake, or glove. This same glove is highlighted in the OP, and one can assume its significance to Minato will only later be explained. Tommy-sensei calls Minato to show the group a demo on how to shoot an arrow at the target using his “shooting arm”; he prompts the crowd to clap and coax him to shoot.

Image source: www.revolvy.com

Kacchan gathers his arrow as he teaches the new club members and us, the viewers as well, how to properly measure an arrow. With smooth, careful movement, Minato unveils his special treasure, his yugake, and mutters directions to himself. He hints at a “last time”, reassuring that it won’t happen again. Unfortunately, it appears that he hasn’t changed since the last time, and he misses the target. Further crippled by doubt, he misses the target again. We are then taken from the scoreboard to the locker. Kacchan confronts Minato in the locker room, emphasizing the importance of pride as an archer. Though, I interpreted this exchange as a projection of Kacchan’s values on his part.

The “ultimate reveal” of his greatest hindrance was a disappointment: Minato has target panic. I may have pre-existing expectations of a romanticized trauma: I was expecting his inhibitions to stem from the hurt from losing his mother and an injured ego. 

Image source: www.crunchyroll.com

Minato rides his bike across a bridge: the blur of the bokeh lights contrasts with Minato leaving him as the focus. He spots a shrine along his bike ride, and the colors dramatically change. The colors are softer: the pink of the cherry blossoms meld nicely with the greens and blues. He stumbles upon a ponytail archer, and both his and the archer’s face illuminate simultaneously. Minato says to himself, “What a beautiful draw.” Petals float around Minato, and it is as though time stopped. He is startled by a bird, and with a fluid motion, the mysterious archer makes a sound similar to a kiai to summon his bird. The episode ends with the archer, curious, asking, “Who are you?” It transitions to the ending (ED), and its song is somber: the three main characters frolic and play as children. It is no wonder why these archetypes are present in a variety of anime; their personalities are meant to balance the other out.

While the quality shows that there is a matter of budgeting within the animation studio, it does not detract from the charming background and colors, which parallel the dispositions of the protagonist and his friends. The viewers have much to discover, and this first episode lays a solid foundation of preparing the audience for what’s to come and to keep them hooked to return for the next episode.

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