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Ooi! Tonbo – 05

The evolution of Ooi! Tonbo and LiA sort off puts me in mind of Ginga e Kickoff!! (though that one had an extra exclamation point). Each is a really good sports series about youth sports, and each was roundly ignored by pretty much every English-language outlet except this one. Times in anime have certainly changed since 2012 – while to watch GeK one had to wait for fansubs that were often quite late, Ooi Tonbo! is streamed (even if it is Amazon Prime). Still, I see a bit of a community – small but committed – forming around it here.

This show isn’t as good as Ginga e Kickoff!! but that’s an extremely high bar. It’s working both as a sports series and a character drama, as good sports anime usually do. And it’s started to ask some tough questions in the past couple of episodes. At the heart of this is the dilemma of rural Japan – the desire to keep the community alive in conflict with the desire to give one’s kids the best opportunities to succeed in life. Places like Hinoshima (technically a fictional locale, but no different from countless real ones in this respect) simply can’t do that, either in terms of education or jobs (or potential mates, for that matter). The conflict is dramatized for effect here, but only in scale and simplicity, not substance.

I don’t see this is a simple black-and-white affair, for example with Igaiga being in the wrong and Tonbo in the right. There are two sides to this, nuance galore. Setting aside the question of golf itself (only for a moment), one can only admire Tonbo for her loyalty to her adopted ancestral home. One can also believe that she’s taking it to an unhealthy extreme. She’s so turned against the larger world that she refuses even to leave the island temporarily – such as for a school trip or, as Igaiga suggests, to play on a real (18-hole) golf course. Her family from that world rejected her – not just her grandfather but this entire world embraced her. Tonbo’s feelings are perfectly understandable, but that doesn’t definitionally make them healthy.

That’s why when Igaiga asks Gon-ji whether he wants Tonbo to reject high school (or golf) and stay on the island, the old man says “I don’t know” – and means it. It’s not an easy question to answer. And then we do after all have golf. And here Igaiga is certainly right that what Tonbo is playing isn’t really golf. Pressure is not just the crucible by which great golfers are formed – it’s the element that makes the game really fun. There are no consequences to anything Tonbo does. As she says, she can just hit another ball any time. No pressure. But that’s not a sport, that’s just a lark.

The flipside? In a word (well, two) “so what?”. Nothing wrong with a lark – most people (much less kids) need more larking around in their lives. Now, does Tonbo happening to be a genius change the equation on that score? Again, a very complicated question. Igaiga loves watching Tonbo work her instinctual magic on the course. But as someone who loves golf, he wants to see all that she can become – and to share the joy of Tonbo with the golfing world. And as someone who’s coming to love Tonbo as a mentor figure (and her as a proxy for his son, sad to say) he wants to see her seize the opportunity her gift presents her.

Igaiga’s initial attempts to make Tonbo understand the nature of pressure on the course are pretty disastrous – and could have been even more so if he hadn’t at least managed to hit the water vertically instead of belly (or back) flopping. He’s the fish out of water here, the outsider. Igaiga doesn’t know about blackflies (buffalo gnats) or gnarly inedibly giant eels. He’s playing on Tonbo’s turf, and his attempts to manipulate her are invariably smashed against the walls of her youthful certainty of purpose and joie de vivre. If he can’t get her to play an away game in the outside world, he’s going to have to bring the outside world to her.

And that’s what seems to be happening as we see Igaiga board a ferry for the mainland. He’s not abandoning Tonbo or Hinoshima, that much is obvious (though her believing he is might be part of his plan). If he’s going on his own it must means he’s bringing something (or someone) back with him who he believes will alter Tonbo’s way of thinking. This is developing into something of a battle of both wits and wills between Igaiga and Tonbo, and the fact that they’re not enemies but friends who care deeply about each other just makes that battle that much more fascinating.

The post Ooi! Tonbo – 05 appeared first on Lost in Anime.

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