Creating Otherworldly Spaces (Visual Storytelling in Tsurune, Part 1)

Minato Narumiya’s initial introduction is as a wide-eyed child at a kyuudou (the Japanese martial art of archery) event. He asks his mother about the sound that a bowstring makes when an arrow is released. After she answers, the series focuses on his back, turned towards the kyuudou tournament. It then cuts immediately to the broader back of an older Narumiya, rising to take his position in a kyuudou event. He solemnly goes through a series of motions before drawing his bow. Cut to the title screen. The visual transition seems clear. Narumiya, inspired by watching kyuudou with his mother when he was much younger, grew up to become a formidable archer himself.

Yet it was at this very event where Narumiya first failed. After he draws back that bowstring, he misses the target. Since that day, he has continued to suffer from target panic. When we meet him at the start of Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou Kyuudoubu he hasn’t left kyuudou entirely, but is instead torn between leaving entirely due to his target anxiety, and inevitably being drawn back to the art of kyuudou. This opening visual sequence sets up Narumiya’s plight perfectly, slightly subverting expectations while also making his emotional connection clear and strong.

Narumiya rarely shares his thoughts aloud. One of the few things we hear him thinking in the first episode is, “I’m not any better” after he fails a demonstration — admittedly, he was pressured into doing it — in front of prospective club members. We usually only hear what he says to others. The rest of his thoughts are flashbacks and memories. Tsurune‘s visuals fill the gap, providing nuanced insight into Narumiya’s emotions.

After failing the demonstration, Narumiya rides his bicycle home, crying as he’s flooded by memories. The sun sets. We see him riding away from the city. Once it’s dark outside, he pauses at a corner with the city behind him and the stairs to a shrine in front of him. That’s when he hears the tsurune sound.

Torii gates represent a crossing over from the mundane and everyday to the spiritual and divine. They’re used frequently in anime, not only because of their ubiquitous presence at shinto shrines, but because of this idea of crossing a boundary — Dennou Coil is an excellent example of this, with how torii gates mark key boundary points from the digital world to the mundane. Here, Narumiya is crossing a boundary, seemingly into an otherworldly, liminal space.

When we see Narumiya walking up the steps to the shrine, through the gates, he’s presented at a dutch angle, communicating that he is very uncomfortable. He grips his side, where we know he has a large scar — he clutches at his side frequently when anxious or distressed — indicative of a psychological wound that has yet to heal.

He hears the sound again and walks around the shrine itself to kyuudou dojo. Here’s where the lighting takes center stage. Most of the shrine is in cool blues and blacks. As Narumiya passes the sign leading to the dojo, we see his shadow cross the threshold, again indicative that he is crossing a boundary. The dojo has distinct red-tiled roofs that make it stand out and there’s an eerily bright source of moonlight that seems to only illuminate the field.

Light also plays a large part in how Masaki Takagawa is introduced, first in shadows and then we watch the light pan over Narumiya’s face and Takagawa’s body. Not only does this tell us that Narumiya may be able to find some of his answers here in this space after crossing the threshold, it also demonstrates how Narumiya really feels about kyuudou: it lights up his life.

Yet, not all is solved for Narumiya. It’s only the beginning. He is immediately placed on the opposite side of a fence as Takagawa, indicating their respective states of mind. Even when Takagawa invites Narumiya into the dojo to treat an injury, Narumiya is depicted as separated from Takagawa, not-so-coincidentally by archery supplies.

In this first meeting, the only thing that crosses the boundary between them is Takagawa’s bow. When Narumiya loudly refuses Takagawa’s request to shoot, scaring away his owl, the bow becomes an imposition.

Finally, when Narumiya runs away, he runs down and has to cross back through the torii gates, into the city, back to everyday life and, by extension, his anxiety. Tsurune firmly establishes this shrine, and Takagawa himself, as otherworldly. It’s a place that exists outside of some of his psychological problems, although they encroach occasionally, leading to frames that continue to separate Narumiya from Takagawa.

Tsurune‘s visual treatment of the shrine, Takagawa, and the way Narumiya uses it as a way to connect with kyuudou despite being too ashamed to join his school club leads to a possible misunderstanding on our parts as viewers to go along with Narumiya’s in-universe misunderstanding that Takagawa is a ghost who will disappear once he shoots 10,000 arrows.

When Narumiya runs and hugs Takagawa, stopping Takagawa from shooting his final few arrows, he crosses the final boundary. In turn, Takagawa allows Narumiya to shoot his final arrow for him, saying that it marks the end of one thing, but the beginning of another. There’s an acceptance that follows Narumiya’s disappointment — even in this space, that seems wholly separate from the club, his psychological problems, and his past, he still can’t hit the target. Both Takagawa and Narumiya suffer from target panic, and shooting the arrow becomes the final hurdle in Narumiya swallowing his guilt and shame enough to join the school club.

This doesn’t mean that Narumiya’s anxiety is fixed, far from it, but firing that 10,000th arrow and missing breaks the separation between this otherworldly space he had created for himself, and facing his problems in reality. Tsurune‘s visuals add necessary layers of nuance to Narumiya’s narrative.

5 comments

  1. This was such a great post. The visuals have been fantastic in Tsurune and I’ve loved how thoughtful the have seemed, but this post really highlights one of the real strengths of the show and how it manages to draw the viewer into each scene. Thanks for sharing.

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