Amidst all the back-nine crime, wedge witchcraft, and yuri yearnings, it can be easy to forget that even Birdie Wing‘s universe contains plenty of normal golfers who just want to enjoy a nice round on the links now and then. Many sports anime throw a spotlight on impossible athletic feats, so many of them also run up against the plight of the people who live their lives only in the realm of the possible. How do you square that disconnect without needlessly tethering the story’s momentum to the anchor of realism, or without accelerating the stakes too far past the point of spectacle? There’s no easy solution to that. this week, Birdie Wing answers with a quieter episode that gives club president Jinguuji an opportunity to stretch beyond her side character status and wrap her fingers around a morsel of surprisingly grounded pathos. It might not be what Birdie Wing is (in)famous for, but it’s not unwelcome either.
Jinguuji may as well be a tabby cat in the presence of lions. She’s a passionate and hard worker, but she just can’t measure up to the raw abilities and/or privilege that players like Eve and Aoi possess. I have a lot of fondness for her archetype, because I think characters like her tend to be more relatable than protagonists with their streak of successes, however earned they may be. It’s a numbers game: for every winner, there’s a much larger quantity of losers. Relatability isn’t the be-all and end-all of art either, but I’m especially sympathetic to stories that explore the nobility of failure, and Jinguuji is about as noble a loser as one can get. She got dealt a crap hand (and a crap elbow), and even in the best of circumstances, her effort would’ve only granted her a chance to play second fiddle at a tournament designed to coronate Aoi alone. Worse, she knows all this and accepts the heartbreaking truth.
Coach Amuro, in turn, grants her the small consolation of being able to bully Eve over a long weekend. It’s good-natured and purposeful bullying, of course, but I have to imagine there’s some deserved catharsis in it for Jinguuji as well. And Birdie Wingin its typical Birdie Wing fashion, elevates the training into the enjoyably absurd. It’s just inherently funny to watch Jinguuji pick up Eve’s ball and yeet it into a bunker. These sudden and flagrant violations of golf norms, like when Jinguuji later snatches Eve’s ball out of midair, are the series’ bread and butter. Jinguuji never breaks character either, which is all the more impressive with hindsight. Her professional dreams have been crushed, yet she still manages to troll and teach Eve while wearing her seemingly unfazed countenance. While she may think her golfing talent came up tragically short, her golf instruction aptitude is clearly formidable.
Pacing-wise, it makes sense to insert some training (complete with a goofy montage) here right before the tournament, but by nature, training episodes don’t tend to be highlights. It’s effective writing, then, to fortify this episode with a character study of Jinguuji. A little bit of grounded golf melodrama is actually refreshing, and it helps reestablish a narrative baseline that Birdie Wing can tee off of in the coming episodes. While it lacks the moment-to-moment guffaws of the show’s wilder dates with Golf Ragnarok, the confidence of Birdie Wing‘s voice comes through as loud and as clear as ever. Jinguuji’s weed metaphor is overwrought and mawkish, but that’s on par with the rest of the show’s emotional extremes. There’s no winking at the camera or smarmy self-aware dialogue. It embraces every inch of her tragedy, because Birdie Wing‘s characters, golf is more important than oxygen. Golf is their élan vital.
On the Eve and Aoi front, while the show continues to wantonly kick the date of their tee-off further down the line, there’s plenty of cute material here to satisfy. Aoi frolicking with the family dog, for example, contrasts nicely with her grandfather and Shinjo gravely discussing the importance of the upcoming tournament. The girls may only have eyes for each other, but these outside machinations from powerful figures keep the momentum chugging along. Ichina’s also a wonderful addition to the cast. She doles out the Gundam References in Lily’s absence, she provides Eve with sage tactical advice like “just smash it in,” and she gets obliterated by a sand tsunami when we need a laugh. All of that is equally important.
And here’s where I reiterate that there’s no way Birdie Wing can wrap up every plot thread in two weeks. This episode alone drops way too many developments both in the foreground and background. Consider, for instance, how the camera lingers on that photo of Aoi’s mom when she was young, and how much she looks like Eve at that age. Coach Amuro hints he may have intentionally let Jinguuji hurt herself in order to make room for a superior player to guarantee Aoi her doubles victory. Jinguuji herself introduces a bunch of new names and faces that Eve and Aoi will have to trample together in the tournament. There’s too much ground to cover, even for Birdie Wing‘s brand of breakneck ridiculousness.
Apparently, Birdie Wing‘s timeslot only goes up to 13 episodesbut before I apologize for jinxing it, I want to say that split-courses anime happen all the time. And even if these wings end up brutishly clipped, the anime’s soaring spirit and remarkable consistency would still earn it my top marks for this season, year, and beyond. This might have been the most “normal” episode yet, but Birdie Wing‘s unwavering faith in the power of golf melodrama keeps me compelled all the same.
Cumulative score: -13
Birdie Wing -Golf Girls’ Story- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is a world-renowned golf expert and commentator, but if you just want to read his thoughts on anime and good eyebrows, then there’s always Twitter. Otherwise, catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.