I love the fact that Tsuritama is so markedly different from anything that Nakamura Kenji has done before, yet still retains the essence of who he is as a director. Nakamura-san is a strange one – an undeniable genius of anime as a visual form, he’s never shied away from expressing ugliness as much as beauty – perhaps even more so – and that applies to his visual style as well as the content of his work. I’ve always felt that there was an almost perverse quality to his shows, a deliberate attempt to keep the audience at arms’ length. He can undeniably make an emotional impact with the best of them – as he was able to do so often in Mononoke – but the impact has usually been to unsettle and disturb.
With Tsuritama, we’re seeing Nakamura-sensei work the other end of the emotional spectrum – and it’s a refreshing change as far as I’m concerned. The revelation is that he can indeed do so, and do so brilliantly. Fittingly, the color palette is much brighter and warmer to match, yet still infused with the weird imagery and superflat elements he’s known for. Though it’s still very difficult to say what’s going on here, plot-wise, the series is emotionally connecting with me based on the strength of the characters and the honesty of their emotional reactions. To some extent I see Nakamura doing a variation of what Takahashi-sensei is doing in Jormungand – using absurd events to reflect on elemental human emotions.
We certainly did learn some new things this week. Coco lives in what looks like either a giant jellyfish or a spaceship – or a spaceship that looks like a giant jellyfish. The “alien” angle (no pun intended) here might just be taking us in a “The Invader Comes From the Bottom of the Sea!” direction here, and Haru and Coco’s mission may be to prevent a catastrophe brewing in Earth’s oceans, ~degeso. As for Akira and Tapioca, they had by far their most screen time this week – and every scene they’re in was a treat. Tapioca is a great sight gag and Nakamura shamelessly vamps him for all he’s worth – cuddling with the girls, eating curry, singing along with Enoshima dancers. It seems very likely that the two of them are part of some sort of M.I.B. organization known as “Duck”, which uses the “Duck” food stall as a front. They refer to Haru and Coco as “JF1” and “JF2” – and I’m willing to bet my Nyanko-sensei plushie that “JF” means “Jellyfish”. Could Coco be a Kuragehime? Duck HQ also seems to be busily investigating something called “The Bermuda Syndrome”.
While the events this week surrounding Yuki, Haru and Natsuki were certainly surreal, I found them oddly effecting – powerfully so, in fact. It becomes clear now why Keito OK’d Haru’s decision to live with them – she knew her time was running short and she didn’t want Yuki to be alone. The dialogue between she and Haru in the garden was quite unlike anything in a Nakamura anime before – unabashedly sentimental and emotionally honest. In effect she was telling Haru she was going to die, and in his childlike innocence he was trying to figure out human feelings and how they applied here. I’m not sure if Keito suspects Haru isn’t normal (for that matter, I’m not sure she isn’t something other than a normal human herself) but I do think she knows Haru understands what a promise is. Yuki for his part is of course distraught over what’s happening, especially that Keito refuses to be honest with him about her condition – but he’s also angry as much as anything that he knows in his heart what’s really going on.
I’m not a fisherman (a few long-ago casts for perch in Lake Michigan with my Dad aside) so I cant really attest to the existential side of the art, the Zen quality of it that so many claim exists. But it seems to me that it isn’t really about the fishing for Yuki, it’s just the act of being with other people – something he’s had very little of in his life. It was as Natsuki said (and it was a big step for him to come to Yuki’s house at all), it was a perfect time to cast – to clear his mind of all the weighty matters of mortality and loneliness and focus on something honest and straightforward. When he went out into the rain and screamed “Enoshima Bowl!” into the night, he was venting all his adolescent rage and frustration, clearing his soul as well as his head.
I think we’re already seeing that this series is about letting others past the emotional roadblocks we hide behind – fitting, as it seems to represent that creatively for Nakamura. Yuki’s anti-social tendencies are obvious, and while Haru is certainly alien in his viewpoint he’s clearly getting a lesson on the light and dark of human feelings, and fighting Coco’s desire to pull him away from Yuki. Natsuki hides his pain at his mother’s death behind his rage at his father (Saitou Shirou) and is as emotionally blocked as Yuki, in his way. Even Akira seems to show signs that he grasps the nature of the situation – his “Tapioca, I don’t like such stifling relationships” at the sight of Haru hugging Yuki might just have summed up the essence of Tsuritama as much as anything – with every relationship where we allow ourselves to care for another person, we open ourselves up to pain. All flowers die, no matter how beautiful they are – but while they live, their beauty can enrich our lives. In the end I think Akira will be the last holdout, but I don’t think he’ll ultimately be able to resist being drawn into the lives of the others – no more than I can as a viewer.