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Ooi! Tonbo – 09

In a way, you know, it’s almost too easy with Ooi! Tonbo. I’m such a sucker for what it does that as long as it does it relatively well, I’m hooked. And it does so indeed, and more. I’m a fan of the execution of both halves of its story, the sport and the character arcs. That golf has never really had an anime like this is pretty surprising (I was certainly saying as much for years before the blossoming golf anime boom started). Ooi Tonbo is not going to be a major commercial success but it is providing a model for future golf series to follow, and seeding the ground for further growth to follow.

As to the matter of Tonbo going to Akureki Island (seemingly another fictional locale in a real chain), the main hurdle there was always going to be Gon-ji’s approval. I never really thought he’d say no – he’s a realist. Not only does he know that he’s in his own third act, he knows how limited Tonbo’s opportunities on Hino Island will be (in many ways). This may be a (relatively) short trip to another island in the Tokara chain, but it represents a first step in a much bigger journey. Igaiga and Gon certainly know that – even Tonbo senses it.

Has the series shown its hand on the matter of whether what Igaiga is doing is right? It’s tempting to say it has. Certainly Igaiga is doing it for the right reasons. But I’m not so sure, and I think the rest of the episode hints that Ooi Tonbo won’t shy away from the shades of  grey here. But whatever you think of Tonbo staying on the island and bypassing a golf career (and an education), she certainly shouldn’t be afraid to venture off it and see more of the world. She loves golf whether she intends to compete at it or not, and Hinoshima is only showing her a microscopic fraction of what the game can offer.

In order to persuade Tonbo to take these first hesitant steps, Igaiga comes clean with her about his own demons. And he certainly owes her that. There are no huge surprises here, but the fact that he got caught up in a cheating scandal was not something I necessarily saw coming. As a sportsman, that’s about as low as you can go. It’s certainly also the fault of the kouhai who made the request in the first place, but Igaiga can only blame himself for hesitating over that putt (and maybe missing it on purpose). And even more for hesitating over returning the money.

The point here is that indeed, Igaiga does blame himself – he doesn’t try and shirk the responsibility. I suspect Tonbo would have stood by him either way – she’s a child and he’s an adult she’s grown to love. But it’s obviously important that Igaiga own this. The issue is, he has other responsibilities here too – namely making things right with his son, and to an extent he’s using Tonbo as a proxy because he has no baggage with her. Nevertheless this is still a form of  atonement for him. Islands like Hinoshima with their shrinking populations are often places where social outcasts go to escape the glare of society and what it makes them feel, so in that sense Ooi Tonbo! is quite realistic.

As for Akurekishima, it is indeed even smaller and more remote than Hino. And despite the “Evil” on their jumpsuits, the dock workers display the usual island consideration – they offer to drive the pair to Kuta-san’s (kuta is Japanese slang for “dusty”) house, which they’d never have a prayer of finding any other way.  It turns out to be a ramshackle bungalow in the middle of the tropical forest. And Kuta (the venerable Houki Katsuhisa) is more or less as expected – something close to the bearded hermit he appears to be. He made his name as a golf photographer, took an interest in course design and in checking out of society, and the rest is history.

Kuta-san has some history with Tonbo too – he met her when she came to Hino, just before he left. He tells the pair that while humans can’t control how they die, they can control how they live. Like the next shot in golf, what life they live is a choice. And this was his choice – to sell his possessions and leave society behind. His words can be read as a counterpoint to Igaiga’s vision of Tonbo’s future, there’s zero question about that, though whether she sees it that was is less certain. Kuta designed the course on Hino, took off when even that place became too mainstream, and designed a single hole on Akureki.

As a golf fan, this is kind of fantasy material. Kuta’s creation is a kind of designer’s dream brought to life – the ultimate trap hole, and I don’t mean bunkers (though they’re part of the trap to be sure). It’s Kuta’s Platonic ideal hole, no question – a 140-yard monster that defies easy mastery, a Gordian Knot more than a golf hole. A bit of a golf Rorschach Test too – and it’ll be fascinating to see how Igaiga and Tonbo try and unravel it.

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