New Anime

First Impressions – Ooi! Tonbo

Oh yes, I liked that very much.  Many if not most seasons have a show or two which really surprises on the upside, but it’s always a relief when you get that first one.  Even if there’s no guarantee the appeal will hold.  None of the big possums have premiered yet, but Ooi! Tonbo was certainly the best of the small fry so far.  A thoroughly engaging and entertaining premiere that appealed to both the anime and sports fan in me (and I’m pretty damn intense about both of them).

Ooi! Tonbo has 42 volumes of manga but, predictably, it’s anonymous in English.  No licenses, no scanlations, and no streamer for the anime as far as I can see.  As such it’s going to be almost totally ignored  in English, which is the case with about 90% of sports series.  It’s actually serialized in Japan’s weekly Golf Digest (as far as I know the only manga ever to have that honor) rather than a manga magazine.  That’s likely an indication that it takes the golf side of the equation pretty seriously – no Birdie Wing silliness here, presumably.  For a golf fan who’s been predicting that the decades-long golf anime drought would one day soon end with a flood, that’s a big feather in its cap.

The series is set on a particularly remote island in the Tokara chain, a far-flung archipelago of a dozen or so islands off the coast of Kagoshima.  A man named Igurashi Kazuyoshi (Touchi Hiroki) arrives on the island to interview for a job at the development center.  There to greet him is Tonbo Ooi (Hayashi Rika), a young girl with a surfeit of enthusiasm and an octopus.  Eventually the grandma who runs the local minshuku (and looks after the orphaned Tonbo, along with the old fisherman who adopted her) arrives to drive him to town, and is rather shocked at the amount of luggage he’s hauling (including a set of golf clubs).

Eventually they arrive at the minshuku in the car of the development center director (and museum curator, and observatory director) (Yamauchi Kenji), where Igarashi – who everyone now calls “Igaiga” thanks to Tonbo – is beating the futons with a three-iron.  Igaiga notices a golf theme on the island – a practice green in an odd place, a practice net at the development center – and it soon becomes clear that he has a connection with the game in his past.  The “wounds” he tells Tonbo were the reason he came to the island are clearly connected to golf in some way.

We’ve certainly seen this “big city guy in the sticks” theme plenty in animanga, but when executed well it can be a very winning formula – and so far it is here.  This really is the sticks, too.  Only one vending machine (the average Japanese mountain summit has more than that), a store that’s only open three hours a day (and that’s if the owner feels like it).  And most poignantly, a school system where Tonbo is the only middle-schooler (there are 15 elementary students), and no high school.  Which means all the children will leave the island after junior high, many never moving back (or skip high school altogether).  That’s a big reason why rural communities all over Japan are slowly going extinct.

There’s one big quirk about this island, though.  It has a golf course, and it’s a beauty – a two or three-hole seaside links layout perfect for the terrain and weather conditions – and a populace who seem pretty crazy about the sport.  I don’t know how realistic that is but it’s a fun conceit.  And none of the residents is crazier about the game than Tonbo, who pretty much lives and breathes it in every free moment.  She only has one club, a three-iron, but that dampens her enthusiasm not at all.  She invites Igaiga to tromp through the jungle to the course and once he gets over his astonishment, they proceed to play a hole.

Here’s the thing – three-irons really are one of the toughest clubs to hit well.  And the annals of golf legend are rife with tales of feral youngsters who learned how to hit every shot using one club and became geniuses as a result.  There’s an element of truth to that – all the tricks you have to learn to hit every shot (including putts, presumably) with the same club – especially a long-iron – could give you incredible hand action and imagination (which would serve you well when presented with the chance to use a whole set of clubs).  As witness the incredible shot Tonbo executes to escape the Scottish-style high-faced bunker, opening the club face dramatically and widening her stance impossibly far (all good technique).  And she’s had to learn how to expertly play the wind, too.

As former (?) golf pro, Igaiga is obviously fascinated by this genki girl who’s seemingly a natural.  And I’m fascinated with the whole premise.  There’s a lot here that really works for me – the golf aspect, the focus on life in a remote island, Igaiga’s troubled past and his adjustment to this very big change of venue.  This premiere totally clicked for me – it was great fun and flowed naturally from wire to wire.  I’m going to assume Ooi! Tonbo will be a one-cour manga commercial unless I hear differently, but hey, I’ll take that if the rest is as good as this first episode was.

The post First Impressions – Ooi! Tonbo appeared first on Lost in Anime.

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