Minato Narumiya was introduced to the ancient martial art of kyūdō – Japanese archery – by his mother, who also taught him that the phrase “tsurune” refers to the snapping sound made by the bowstring at the moment of release. Listening for the sound of his own “tsurune” becomes something of a talisman to Minato, guiding him as he develops his skills as a kyūdōka. By middle school, Minato has only one rival: Shū Fujiwara, known as the Young Prince. But it is in middle school that tragedy strikes: Minato’s mother is killed in a traffic accident that also leaves him with physical and emotional wounds. No longer able to hear his “tsurune”, Minato gives up the pursuit of kyūdō; but when he graduates to Kazemai Senior High School, he not only encounters his childhood friends Seiya Takehaya and Ryōhei Yamanouchi – both of whom are also kyūdōka – he also meets Tomio Morioka, a 6-dan kyūdō sensei who has been specifically charged with re-establishing the Kazemai Kyūdō Club. Morioka-sensei quickly recruits the three boys plus two others – the moody and serious Kaito Onogi and his carefree cousin, Nanao Kisaragi, as well as three female students: Rika Seo, Noa Shiragiku, Yūna Hanazawa. But when Morioka-sensei asks Minato to give a demonstration of shooting, Minato experiences a resurgence of “target panic” – a loss of self-belief that is a by-products of the trauma stemming from the accident that killed his mother. That evening, as Minato morosely wanders the woods near his home, he comes across a Shintō shrine from which the sounds of arrows striking a target emanate. Curious, Minato investigates – and encounters Masaki Takigawa, a young Shintō priest in his early twenties who is also an expert kyūdōka. Inspired, Minato resolves to continue with his training, only later learning that Morioka-sensei has engaged Masaki to be the coach of the Kazemai Club. This sets in train a sequence of events in which Minato and the other boys must somehow find a way to make it to the team finals of the prefectural tournament – competing all the while against the formidably talented Shū Fujiwara – while Minato must also come to terms with his past and grasp the opportunity for friendship and connection with his peers…

Based on the illustrated novels by Kotoko Ayano and Chinatsu Morimoto, and produced by iconic studio Kyoto Animation, “Tsurune” originally aired on Japanese television between September 2018 and March 2019, with a follow-up feature film announced in September 2020. Animated in Kyoto’s trademark “soft palette” style that blends traditional hand-drawn techniques with muted colour tones and subtle 3D effects, “Tsurune” stands very much in the tradition of “Haikyū!” and “All Out!” as a superior sports drama that is driven less by what happens on the field of play as what is going on in the hearts and minds of its characters. But as with these former, “Tsurune” also introduces us to the sport around which the narrative revolves, teaching the audience about kyūdō’s various dynamics, intricacies, and protocols without falling into didacticism. And like “Haikyū!” and “All Out!”, “Tsurune” also manages the trick of not demonising the opposition: they are not evil, nor are they cyphers for nationalistic or jingoistic belittling; they are just the people on the other side, against whom we measure our own development and improvement. However, if “Tsurune” does disappoint, it’s in the fact that the female members of the club quickly become little more than background figures, despite moments of prominence. One missed opportunity occurs when Rika Seo, captain of the girls’ team, becomes the only club member to make the individual finals and must compete alone and without support while the boys are distracted with another matter; it might have been nice to get an inkling of her inner thoughts and feelings when she realises her isolation, as well as explore the boys’ reaction once it is made clear to them how badly they have let their teammate down. Nonetheless, “Tsurune” is an effective and occasionally moving series that delivers a satisfying story that builds to a rewarding – if somewhat conventional – conclusion.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved