Ugh, I hate it when I’m right. Last week, I wrote, “I was terrified that [Minato’s fall in the elevator] was going to lead to an injury affecting his kyudo.” Well, guess what. Tsurune: The Linking Shot has carried on the leisurely tempo of its predecessor, allowing the characters and their daily dramas to set the pace. But as we approach the season’s end, Tsurune has shown a marked capacity for tension, reminding me that even the zen world of high school kyudo can be a fertile ground for suspense. “Falling Into Place” uses a swelling musical score and gorgeous art, bordering on experimental, to flex its animation muscles to the audience’s advantage.
The episode begins on the first day of the national tournament, but the narrative is in no rush to get to the meaty part. As always, Tsurune is a character drama. We follow along with nearly every Kazamai and Kirisaki athlete as he spends the morning before the national tournament, and no detail is too small to portray. You’d think that the single most emotionally charged moment of the episode would be during the tournament face-off (and we’ll get to that in a moment), but it’s equally heartstring-pulling to see Ryohei’s gentle interaction with his silently supportive hikikomori sister. This is a show about feelings, and it, fortunately, has some very good vibes to work with.
Amidst this sea of good boys (and if there’s any complaint to be made about Tsurune, it’s that everyone is just so darn likable to the point of becoming bland), there’s our lone moody teen, Eisuke Nikaido. His tortured “ugh” when he notices Minato is his next-door neighbor at the inn just cements his immaturity, especially compared to the rest of our pro-sportsmanship cast. But for all of his naysayer tendencies, what makes Eisuke unique is his survivor mentality. Like when he deftly convinced a teacher with a fishing hobby to take them to a beachside training camp, he’s a quick thinker. So when he and Seiya have a charged encounter in the hotel bathroom, Eisuke’s quick pinpointing of Seiya’s weakness is impressive but not surprising. Ironically, Eisuke accuses Seiya of assuming he knows his “weakness,” meaning his single-minded pursuit of revenge. Instead, Eisuke is the one who zeroes in on Seiya’s insecurity about Minato as accurately as he would a kyudo target.
And sure enough, it’s Minato who is on Seiya’s mind. Even before Minato’s thumb injury begins bleeding outright, we see Seiya attempt to ask Minato if something is up—because, once again, no detail is too small for Tsurune. You have to look for symbolism in every subtlety. We’ve seen that Seiya is usually unflappable. He is the kind of “cool under pressure” that can come back from two missed shots to land a perfect bullseye. But Minato gets one (1) booboo, and our man cannot function. I’m being flippant here, but this kind of genuine character relationship gives Tsurune its heart. The boys’ commitment to one another makes me committed to them.
Minato’s injury isn’t the only obstacle during the tournament. There’s also a new setting today that is entirely different than anywhere we’ve seen the team shoot: the inside of a gymnasium. This presumably ensures that every archer experiences the same conditions (no variability of the elements), but it threatens to sap the life out of kyudo. Kyoto Animation has clearly anticipated this possibility and compensated for this more clinical atmosphere with impressive animation in the form of nature metaphors. On the Kazamai side, a choppy ocean at their feet represents how their shooting rhythms ripple through the team. Last week, Fuwa’s anecdote about the archer shooting over the shoreline in Heike Monogatari left a big impression on Kazamai. From the bird’s eye shot to show Minato’s energy grounding the team through a resonating wave to the green ripple echoing the concentric circles on the target, it’s a joy to watch.
Meanwhile, on the Tsujimine side, the camera follows the arrow to emphasize the team’s unusual style. I loved the directorial decision to show their near-simultaneous shot in slow motion—followed by a widening shot that follows each arrow to its target—sped up and pointed at the viewer. But even this visual flexing pales to the bloom of watercolor gathering in Eisuke’s shooting hand. As he aims, a riot of color infuses his bow and arrow. The sharpness of his shot gives way to an undulating watercolor wash of paint. This is Kyoto Animation at its best, portraying something beyond words more powerfully than dialogue could do. Shown back to back with Eisuke’s nostalgic reflections, I see the watercolor as a representation of the various colors of each team member coming together. If I want to get really into symbolism, I’d say the watercolor medium also represents the rain that sometimes fell as they practiced so many days outdoors without a range. An absolutely beautiful moment, 10/10, no notes.
By the ending scene, I wouldn’t be surprised if this episode is the true climax of Eisuke’s arc. At first, it seems his kyudo career has been cut short with their loss at Nationals. But from his team’s perspective, it has actually been lengthened, as Fuwa gets Eisuke to begrudgingly agree to keep at it with kyudo, at least by tacit consent. Though their loss is inevitable, I was surprised by how tense I felt during the Tsujimine/Kazamai face-off. Kazamai is our main team, and there are still two episodes to go, so it’s unthinkable that they could have gone out now. And yet. The sight and sound of Tsujimine’s near-simultaneous arrow release amped up the pressure, combined with Seiya’s rare setback. Usually, I think of this show as a chill one, but this tournament scene showed that it’s capable of suspense, too.
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Lauren writes about model kits at Gunpla 101. She spends her days teaching her two small Newtypes to bring peace to the space colonies.