First Impressions –Tsuritama

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Damn it Japan – why are you trying to kill me!?
OP: “Tsurezure Monochrome (徒然モノクローム)” by FUJIFABRIC

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This was always the day that was going to give us our biggest clue about the potential of Spring 2012.  By today it was clear this would be an above-average season, with a significantly larger number of good to very good series than usual.  But what really makes the great seasons – the Spring 2007s – is having multiple classics.  NoitaminA needed to come through in a big way, in based on early returns it’s done so.  And with it, added two more must-blog series to my hopelessly overcrowded schedule, which has more worthwhile shows than I can possibly cover.

It’s funny that NoitaminA seems to have gone from its worst season ever to quite possibly its best, if things pan out.  I liked Tsuritama about as much as the masterful Sakamichi no Apollon, though the two series could hardly have been more different.  NoitaminA has made the wise decision to turn the Spring Block over to auteurs – directors who bring their own sensibility to any project.  It hasn’t always worked with Nakamura Kenji, but even his failures – his most recent effort for The Block, C, among that number – are interesting, creative and have something to say.  In Tsuritama we have something recognizably Nakamura, but quite different in feel and tone than anything he’s done before. I think what’s really fascinating here is that while this is still distinctly Nakamura – surrealistic, intellectual, visually creative – it’s his most human work by far. I think what he’s done here is taken every teenaged boy neuroses and idiosyncrasy and built a farcical anime around it.

I don’t think Nakamura-sensei is capable of doing a series that either boring or conventional visually, and Tsuritama is no exception – starting in the pre-open with an impishly humorous twist of his Ukiyo-e woodblock style from Mononoke to tell the story of the five-headed dragon menacing Enoshima, and the sky princess whose smile charmed it and saved the world.  This immediately transitions to traditional – and with Nakamura I use the term loosely – and the introduction of Haru (Irino Miyu, the go-to guy for genki blonde boys in anime) who proclaims himself an alien and walks around Enoshima with a fish in a bowl (Katou Emiri) on his head, whom he calls “Onee-san”.  Haru wanders about the town with a big smile on his face and demonstrates quite an affinity for fish at the aquarium.

I – and the story – will loop back to the fascinating Haru shortly, but my favorite moments in the premiere belong to Sanada Yuki (Ohsaka Ryota).  Funnily enough, Yuki is the second boy in NoitaminA today who transfers schools constantly, and suffers panic attacks.  Yuki’s are quite a bit more hilarious thank Kaoru’s (from Sakamichi) though – every time he’s being stared at he envisions himself slowly being swallowed up by as rising wall of water, his red hair sticks straight out and a fierce look crosses his features.  As a result poor Yuki is branded as strange everywhere he goes and makes no friends.  Yuki’s travels seem to be the result of the fact that he lives with his Grandma Kate (Hirano Fumi) an eccentric and sprightly lady whom Yuki adores, and whose work as an artist or calligrapher moves her around a lot.  Her current gig is working at Samuel Cocking Garden, a tropical plants garden on whose grounds Kate and Yuki move into a very large, sugoi old house.

There’s so much of Yuki’s first day in Enoshima that struck home with me, as did the character as a whole.  Nakamura has really nailed it with Yuki’s panic syndrome, which so many teenagers can identify with, and he’s a kid full of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies that Nakamura lovingly reveals.  I loved the way he excitedly ran from room to room in the new house, and how the camera stayed with him the entire time, showing us what he was seeing.  His near-breakdown on the train when’d deciding whether to give up his seat to a man not quite old enough not to be insulted – maybe.  I enjoyed the way he Googled everything he saw on his smartphone obsessively.  And his first day at the new school, trying so desperately to make a good first impression at last, was both nerve-wracking and hilarious – he planned out every word carefully, but stumbled right out of the gate when his voice broke, got ahead of himself and off his script, and felt the tide of panic rising before Haru arrived on the scene and distracted everyone’s attention.

Things are plenty weird here – a deep sense of randomness pervades everything that happens.  Haru finds Yuki’s house and happily announces to Kate that he’ll be living there from now on – and she agrees, contingent on a promise we don’t get to hear.  Watching this through binoculars is a boy wearing a turban (Sugita Tomokazu) who’s very suspicious of Haru, has four turbaned servants bowing to him and a white duck named Tapioca.  And then there’s the boy Yuki sees on the train and meets in class, Usami Natsuki (Uchiyama Kouki) – a boy known as “The Fishing Prince”, as Yuki finds out later when Haru squirts him with a water gun and he wakes up in a fishing shop with Haru, buying a rod and reel.  Haru, apparently, can squirt anyone and they’ll black out and wake up later, wherever Haru has dragged them.  Later Yuki is stunned to find Grandma has happily invited Haru to live with them, and Haru happily invites Yuki to join him in saving the world.

I certainly can’t explain everything that’s happening here, and that’s just fine – experiencing it was great fun.  We have some huge names in the cast here – Miyu-Miyu and Sugita reunited after Danshi Koukousei, and he and Kouki (who starred in C) having worked together in Kimi to Boku.  But it’s mostly-unknown Ohsaka who stands out in the premiere with a very funny and endearing performance – I can’t find his bio anywhere but I suspect Ohsaka-san is a young man, because he’s extremely authentic playing one here.  Tsuritama is really adept at creating an atmosphere, combining the zany premise with a gorgeous, modern, bright and highly stylized visual palette than combines lovely backgrounds with frequent bouts of surrealism.  Also helping the cause is a terrific BGM soundtrack by Kuricorder Quartet, every bit as whimsical and bright as the series itself.  It marks an interesting change for Nakamura, feeling much more upbeat and humanistic than his earlier work, but still retains his oddly halting narrative style and a flair for the bizarre.  Tsuritama is the perfect foil for Sakamichi no Apollon, and looks to be another triumph for NoitaminA, which today proudly reclaims its position at the epicenter for daring, beautifully crafted anime.

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ED: “Sora mo Toberu Hazu (空も飛べるはず)” by sayonara ponytail

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  1. S

    This series is either going to fly or fall through the floor. But either way, it's going to be insane. And I'm all in on that. 🙂

  2. A

    This series will be interesting to watch. Liked the vibrant colorful art and the music. Hope it will keep up till the end

  3. d

    Just don't give an ending like C.

    And who calls themselves an alien?

  4. I

    The school I went to for high school was one were almost all the students had been there since grade 1. So I was really nervous when I effectively transferred in. After introducing myself the teacher ask me to name my habits or likes and before I knew it I said "I like big boobs and I cannot lie." Stunned silence was proceeded by 24 people laughing their asses off. I got friends pretty quickly after that. Goes to show you life can be really funny. Like this show.

  5. Wow – that's a helluva introduction. I'll have remember that one.

    SQA, anything can happen – but this has the feel of a winner to it. I think Nakamura will finish the job this time.

  6. S

    I've watched Fractale. While I think this will be a winner, I've seen far too many series take a great idea and some awesome first few episodes then hit the wall.

    So, high hopes, but, well, my trust is by director/writing staff these days. I haven't watched C, but from what I hear, it didn't go well at the end. Though it wasn't a disaster. So, hopefully we can get a recovery here.

  7. R


  8. F

    Wow, some serious nostalgia of the Chinese animations (oh how I loved Monkey King and the Calabash brothers :P) I grew up with from the first few seconds of this.

  9. A

    This reminds me of "Niea Under 7" in a good sense XP …

  10. J

    If I could describe this episode with a single word, it would be "vibrant." The color palette, the personalities, the carefree mood it projects… Yeah. Vibrant. I guess a secondary word would be "peculiar."

  11. In a good way.

    Vibrant is a good word, indeed. More so than any Nakamura work, before.

  12. e

    What a bibibibibibibiutiful visual experience this was. Well, I'm pretty eager to see where this is going. Unlike in Apollon's case, I'm not spoilered at all about this series. It's exciting being in the dark for once XD.
    Enzo, seems this season your hands are fuller than usual. But hey, it's through hardships that what you're made of can shine through. So, shine on you blogging diamond! *waves pompoms*

  13. a

    The backgrounds were nothing short of artistic and the story just made me laugh and reminded me of my friend who described similar feelings as Yuki whenever he talked to a girl.

  14. S

    Where do I start? I ABSOLUTELY LOVE everything about Tsuritama. The bright colors, the beautiful fishes, Enoshima, the awesome OST and the animation that has Murakami's superflat elements. Not to mention it stars some of my favorite male seiyuus and genki Irino Miyu is just so fun to watch. I was expecting some form of slice-of-life/comedy but to my surprise, there are some sci-fi and surrealist angles to Tsuritama as well. Can't wait to see more. Bibibibibibibibibibibibiiiiiii…

  15. M

    I like how both Noitamina series this season deal with anxiety.

    Anyway, great start. SO COLORFUL.

  16. g

    oh man this show is so adorable, SO ADORABLE. i wasn't a big fan of the character design at first but seeing the boys in action was adorable. thanks for this post enzo!

  17. R

    This series reminded me of Wes Anderson when I read the premise and watched the trailer, and now after the first episode, it really is like Wes Anderson, with a Japanese spin. I hope it will continue like this!

  18. Snap, that's a great call – it definitely has a Wes Anderson feel, right down to the soundtrack.

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