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Ooi! Tonbo – 07

There are no easy answers when it comes to what Igaiga is doing and Tonbo (though it’s tempting to look for them). What matters is that Ooi! Tonbo isn’t pretending there are. It’s too much to say it’s symbolic of the entire collapse of rural Japanese society – I can’t assume the mangaka is going for that. Nevertheless by its very nature Tonbo’s problem is that problem, basically. And if there were clear-cut solutions to it, Japan as a country would look very different today than it actually does.

Lest we forget there is a golf component to this as well. And Tsubura and Tonbo certainly make a fascinating study in contrasts. Tonbo is completely instinctual, a gifted naif whose golf exemplifies that necessity is the mother of invention. Tsubura is a chibi scientist on the golf course, taking an analytical approach to every situation and trusting everything her coach taught her unquestioningly. There are no clear-cut right or wrongs here either – there are great golfers who lean more towards one of those poles or the other. But Tsubura could take something from Tonbo’s approach to the sport and, if she cared about improving, Tonbo could take something from hers.

Golf is, as Igaiga says, a game of choices. The more options you have, the more stress you feel. Everything Tsubura (or effectively her coach) does is about simplifying the game. Remove potential options and focus on approaching every shot the same way. Three-quarter swing on every full shot. Aim for “my pin”, not the real one. Avoid potential danger at all costs. They’re good strategies, but I’d argue they suck some of the fun out of the game, especially for a kid like her. Especially playing a casual match on a three-hole golf course against a girl who only uses two clubs.

Two things I know. Tonbo is more fun to watch play, and she has more fun playing. Does that make her way the right way? No, and if Tonbo ever did decide to compete she’d have to adopt a more systematic approach to at least a degree. But make no mistake – her ability to open and close the club face and adjust her stance and posture to achieve results would be extraordinarily valuable if she became a pro. Tonbo has “great hands”, in golfing vernacular.  She’s a “feel” player, and there and many feel players who achieve great success. No golf fan could watch Tonbo execute that almost vertical bunker shot and not think of Phil Mickelson, the exemplar of this style of golf in the modern era.

To an extent at least, what Igaiga is doing here is working. Tonbo is still smiling her way through her round, but this is really the first time we’ve seen her express any interest in beating an opponent. True, that desire caused her to attempt a preposterous second shot on the par-5 third (and final) hole and duff it spectacularly. But she cared enough to try it, maybe in  spite of herself. Tsubura, meanwhile, is parsing all the details as usual, factoring in where she can make an acceptable mistake and the impact of pressure. This prompts her to lay up despite being in range to go for it in two, and to do so onto the first fairway not just for a better angle, but so that she could hit her approach first and put pressure on Tonbo.

“My coach said that if a shot makes my heart race, I shouldn’t try it”. I think it’s pretty sad to hear that from a little girl, to be honest. But Tsubura does beat Tonbo, which no one else ever has. After they climb to the island’s highest peak (it’s hilarious that Igaiga just attaches himself to them as if it’s a given) she tells her about her dream of seeing the world through golf. She asks Tonbo about her dreams, and you can see that Tonbo is kind of stumped by this. She’s living her dream, in effect – she has everything she thinks she needs. Tsubura doesn’t see it that way, and things get a little tense.

In a sense this could hardly have gone more according to plan for Igaiga – he may as well have scripted it for Tsubura to say that stuff. But the reality of it does hit him – “Am I being cruel for doing this to her?” It’s a fair question. Tonbo is happy, and in effect Igaiga is trying to convince her she shouldn’t be – that sure sounds cruel. But as usual, it’s not so straightforward. If Tonbo does as she says, she’ll never know if she’s missing out on something that would make her even happier. She’ll be ill-equipped for any sort of future on the outside, and won’t even have a high school education. Not to mention depriving herself of a chance to be a great golfer, and the world of the chance to see her play. Cruel? As ever, there are no easy answers.

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