Midway through the season, it’s becoming clear why the second season is called Tsurune: The Linking Shot. The word “linking” is most important as the boys work toward a more unified kyudo performance. Every team has its outliers, and “Unwavering Spirit” zeroes in on three of them—Ryohei, Shu, and Nikaido. Each of these three feels he is somehow separate from the other archers on his team. This episode suggests that it’s not new equipment or even extra practice that these odd men out require. In the uniquely meditative sport of kyudo, each breaks through his current mental block by forging a new bond. As the characters explore the theme of unity, the visuals and audio effectively express that message. Once again, it’s a low-stakes, light-on-action episode in which Tsurune shines, offering depth and symbolism well beyond what the dialogue expresses.
After the girls’ stellar performance last episode, in which everyone agrees that the trio was totally in sync, it’s time for the boys to find their ikiai, too. When Masa reminded them that ikai means “matched breathing” and definitely not “breath matching,” I realized that there’s probably quite a bit lost in translation here—and I do not envy the translator who had to try to interpret the subtleties of ikiai on a deadline! (I do, however, have to hand it to them for “bow bros” and “arch-ery enemies” later in the episode.) In context, ikiai seems to mean something like harmony; they’re not supposed to mimic each other but naturally move together due to rigorous practice and mutual understanding. This leads to plenty of silliness as the boys try various non-kyudo attempts at achieving this synchronicity. First, they attempt to eat udon in unison, then they line up after Masa’s quirky offer to let them feel his stomach while he practices controlled breathing. (Rika, what are you doing in line with the boys, you goof?)
Ultimately, the Kazamai lens narrows in on just one of its five members yet again. That’s been a constant theme this season as Minato, Onogi, and Nanao have each felt like they’re doing the kyudo team a disservice personally. This time the onus is on Ryohei (that means Seiya, you’re next). This affable, easygoing archer would never worry his teammates by saying so but is privately concerned that his lack of experience is bringing the team’s average down and making their attempts toward ikiai impossible. After Mr. Nakazaki gently steers him away from selling his soul and/or future firstborn for spendy new kyudo gear, Ryohei finds himself at the front door to Shu’s mansion, never expecting how much the two of them have in common. However, it turns out that Shu feels equally disconnected from his teammates as Ryohei.
Usually, we say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But these scenes with Ryohei and Shu are worth at least a dozen keyframes. The same way that the green rectangle of the kyudo range frames the athletes within, two paintings in the mansion frame Shu and tell us more about him. The first one, with the crown that appears to be on Shu’s head, is a bit on the nose. The second one, featuring five doors with various degrees of opening and shut, is ripe for interpretation. Perhaps the five doors represent the five members of a kyudo team. Perhaps the little boy running out the door is Shu, turning away from his parents, who appear in a flashback to be quite content with just their new baby, his little sister Sae. Or perhaps the running boy is Ryohei, who leaves Shu’s house in a giddy sprint, reenergized by Shu’s pep talk. Or more like “Pepsi talk,” considering the kyudo/cola analogy. This may have worked for Ryohei, but I thought it was a bit snobby to have a rich character telling a middle-class character that, sure, he may have practiced kyudo since childhood and has $300 arrows and his own range, but at least Ryohei has been drinking soda for longer than Shu has, so they’re even. If somebody said that to me, I would be so insulted!
On the other end of the wealth spectrum, there’s Nikaido, who tells his coworkers that he’s too poor to even go out for karaoke. Apparently, Fuwa has been showing up to Nikaido’s café as of late, and his archery teammate has been giving him the cold shoulder. Once again, the painting on the wall does a lot of narrative support. Next to the gray-haired Nikaido, you can see a wild gray fox with a human hand on its head. I think Fuwa here is trying to tame his bristly captain. They walk home together, and Fuwa stops at a convenience store (with a prominent ad for cola like Shu and Ryohei just discussed) to stock up on the mosquito coils that so often bookend archery sessions in the visual dialect of Tsurune (including earlier in the episode in Shu’s private range). “You always hold back on the weirdest stuff,” Fuwa chides, pointing out that their other teammates haven’t noticed, but he can see that Nikaido is going broke at the expense of the club. More than a silly breathing exercise or fancy equipment, it’s Fuwa’s willingness to grow closer that will help their team’s ikiai, provided Nikaido can let his guard down enough to trust him.
Tsurune: The Linking Shot is currently streaming on
Lauren writes about model kits at Gunpla 101. She spends her days teaching her two small Newtypes to bring peace to the space colonies.