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Ooi! Tonbo – 13 (Season Finale)

If you’d told me a couple of years ago three straight LiA posts would be golf anime (albeit two from one series) I’d have said you were crazy. And that’s coming from someone who’s been predicting a golf anime boom for a long time. Well, it’s here. Three in a year, and more to come (even if that sadly won’t include Green Green Greens). Manga has always provided the options – anime has just refused (for about half a century before 2023) to play along. There’s absolutely nothing about this sport that precludes it from making a good subject for anime. If anything I think it’s better suited than most sports, given the preeminence of the mental side of the game and relative lack of intense movement.

Ooi! Tonbo (which did indeed have its second cour confirmed for fall, as teased here last week) has been the best of the new wave of golf anime so far. Last week’s episode was a bit of a shank as compared to most, but on the whole the series has been excellent at depicting both the sports and human sides of its story. And it managed to deliver a very satisfying conclusion to the first phase of its story with this episode. It’s still not entirely clear exactly what the next arc will look like, but the Hinoshima arc appears to be finished for now at least.

Tonbo’s growth spurt was a bit jarring considering a time skip of just a few months, but given that she looked way younger than 15 before that’s probably understandable. Wataru is still making a play for “My Tonbo”, now by trying to learn golf, but it’s clearly Quixotic. The degree to which the last two episodes centered on Youko (I really did think she was falling for Igaiga) and Bunpei wasn’t my favorite choice – I never really cared much about that. But when things were focused on Tonbo and Gon-ji Ooi Tonbo raised its game considerably.

Ultimately I think Tonbo is making the right decision here. And I would think so even if she was merely leaving to go to high school, not to try and become a professional golfer. But it was never easy or clear cut, and it was never supposed to be. She’s leaving behind the place that adopted her when she was at the low ebb of her life, a place where she was very happy. Most importantly she’s leaving behind Gon-ji, her only family and the one who gave up the most to make sure she had a safe and supportive place to grow up. That was always going to be painful and the pain of that parting was depicted in a really lovely way.

As the director and Bunpei set up a “Tonbo Farewell Cup” for her last day, Gon-ji stews over his feelings about her leaving. Intellectually he knows this is the right thing for her – she shouldn’t go through life with a middle school education and close the door on a future off island. Emotionally it’s a different story. He’s worried about her and about himself missing her too much. Each of them are afraid to show the other how worried they are for fear of making the other even more scared. So Tonbo goes for genki and blithe, and Gon-ji goes for hard and unaffected.

All in all I think this comes off pretty realistically. Gon-ji is a hard man whose presence doesn’t lend itself to overt emotional vulnerability. In the end, unable to tell him flat-out, Tonbo puts her feelings in a letter – gratitude, and a plea not to forget her (as if that would ever happen). For him, it’s all about not coddling her feelings. Gon-ji reasons that if he uses kind words to make Tonbo feel like she can come home whenever things get tough, she probably will. But I loved that when push comes to shove, he caves and tells her exactly that (even if it’s not until she’s sailing away).

Now then – now what? Tonbo is indeed steaming away on the ferry – but Igaiga is at her side. Last week I was vibing that wasn’t going to happen, so I’m not sure exactly what the deal is here. Is he merely accompanying Tonbo to get her safely to the Kumamoto house (or the Udo house in Kumamoto – even that’s not clear) or is the plan for him to stay with her and watch over her golf education? It would seem odd for Igaiga to drop out of the story, and very hard for him not to if he were to remain on Hino while she was on the mainland. But whether by design or not, what the next part of the story will look like is a bit mysterious for now.

With that we wait for all, with Rising Impact to tide us over (I’m not a binge watcher). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Ooi Tonbo, but it’s proved to be a subtler and more emotionally complex series than I imagined. If you’re going to wait decades for a decent golf anime, this is a pretty damn good one to finally break the drought. It respects and understands the game, and never forgets that first and foremost it has to tell a human story we care about. The flight of young people from rural Japan is a serious dilemma that anime tackles on occasion, but rarely with the insight and even-handedness it does here. Bring on the back nine in October.

The post Ooi! Tonbo – 13 (Season Finale) appeared first on Lost in Anime.

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