It occurs to me in watching Tsuritama that if the four main characters were girls, this series would likely be hugely popular. It’s superb on so many levels and quite unique, and deserving of far more attention than it gets. But that’s a reality of the way anime fandom has evolved – if a show is about four guys instead of four girls, it’s only going to find a niche audience, no matter how great is is. And it is great, in this case – and it makes me glad that there are directors like Nakamura-san and an institution like NoitminA for whom such things as demographics aren’t the only factors in producing a show. Great anime comes in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of casts, and variety is always better than homogeneity.
Frankly, this was a series I didn’t think Nakamura-sensei had in him – not in terms of quality, but tone. Among the many great shows this Spring, Tsuritama has a remarkable air of pure, unbridled joy about it – there’s no show for which seeing the characters on-screen happy makes me feel so happy. This was the most joyful episode yet and I think one of the most joyful of any anime I can recall. A lot of that comes from Haru and his innocent enthusiasm, and I think the music (both OP/ED and BGM) suits the series and enhances it as well as any soundtrack I can remember. But ultimately everything about Tsuritama comes back to Yuki, and the amazing performance Ohsaka Ryouta is delivering. There’s something incredibly exuberant about watching someone who’s naturally anxious and neurotic slowly begin to overcome his fears and embrace life by connecting with other people. He’s had an amazing character arc, and we’re only in the fifth episode.
I can’t escape the feeling that Nakamura is about to break my heart – there’s just no way any show can be such an expression of pure happiness for an entire run, and when Nakamura-san goes dark, it can get pretty grim. You can guess easily enough what directions that sort of development might follow, but I think Tsuritama will ultimately be a life-affirming and redemptive show, and when the dark moments do come they’ll be that much more affecting because of joyous eps like this week’s – and the redemptive ones that much more exuberant because of those challenges.
I wasn’t sure what to make of charter boat Captain Ayumi (Hosomi Dasikue) when we briefly met him at Misaki’s shop last week, but he looks to be a good guy on the whole and certainly proves an entertaining figure this week. He seems to be filling a role that was previously missing from the series, that of an adult male role model, especially for Yuuki. Natsuki says Ayumi is like a big-brother to him, and I can see it in the way he interacts with the boys when they sign on to his boat to help out for the summer. To be honest I don’t really give a flip about fishing – no more than I did about Karuta when Chihayafuru started. But even if that show was mostly about the characters and not the pastime, just like this one, it’s remarkable how something really well-written can get you hooked (I profoundly apologize) on a sport that nominally holds little interest for you. The graphite rods, the “Madonna of the schoolyard” reel, the polarized glasses that let you see fish under the water (sugoi!) – I find myself getting swept up in all the excitement for that stuff.
That excitement is what ultimately gets the guys working on Ayumi’s boat, as the age-old cycle repeats itself – teenaged boys getting summer jobs to earn money to pay for their hobby. But ultimately of course this isn’t about how to hold the net and mahi-mahi, but about Yuuki the “stonefish” becoming passionate about something, allowing friends his own age to get close to him, overcoming his fears and even becoming comfortable (well, almost) with people staring at him. His neuroses are so easy to empathize with because we all have them to a lesser (hopefully) extent, and that’s also why it’s so easy to thrill when he finally works up the nerve to stand on the boat, or call out “Cast away!” in his full voice when he’s hooked a fish, thus locating a good source for the paying customers to try their luck. The fishing sequences on the boat were some of the most life-affirming of the season, and led to possibly my favorite single moment in any anime in a great Spring so far.
Increasingly, we’re seeing the first stirrings of the same journey Yuuki is making in Akira. He’s certainly got his MIB gig (“Bermuda Syndrome” is indeed the Bermuda Triangle) and keeping an eye on Haru the reason he keeps paying to fish on Ayumi’s boat. But Akira is slowly getting caught up in the same exuberance the boys (and the audience) are – he’s getting into fishing, and getting envious of the bond he sees forming between the boys. I don’t know if he’s really 25 (he did drink beer earlier) but even if he is, it was easy to see by his reaction to Natsuki’s “You don’t have any friends, do you?” that whenever his teens were, they were a lonely time – and even when he tries to convince himself later that he doesn’t need friends, it’s already ringing hollow.
If you care to speculate on the meaning of such things, Ayumi’s boat is called “Seishun Maru” (Maru being a common suffix in boat names), and can be roughly translated as “Circle of Youth”. Haru can mean “Spring”, “Natsuki” Summer, Aki “Autumn”, and Yuuki “snow”. Perhaps it’s nothing more than an affectionate play on words, or perhaps there’s a deeper meaning somewhere in there. For me I like to think Nakamura and writer Oono Toshiya are commenting on friendship, and how we’re each incomplete when alone, but that we’re all a natural part of a larger circle – and that if we allow ourselves to be connected to that circle, our lives will be more fulfilled and happy. It’s a nice thought – and as such, fits in perfectly with the general tone of Tsuritama, which seems imbued through and through with a joyous embracing of the universe.