A funny thing happened without my really realizing it – in spite of all the terrific anime this spring, Tsuritama became my favorite new series. It’s certainly the one I look forward to most every week, and one of the few I watch from start to finish, including the OP and ED sequences. It didn’t start out as my #1, though I loved it from the start – there are flashier series that made an even stronger initial impression – but the pure endorphin rush I get from Tsuritama has lifted it above the rest, at least for now. And it alone among all the shows in my absolute top tier has been consistently getting better since the season began.
But here’s where it gets tricky for Tsuritama and director Nakamura Kenji. Up until now the show has thrived brilliantly by dedicating itself almost entirely to character development and sheer positive energy – interesting, as those have historically not been Nakamura specialties. No series in ages has packed as much character movement and pure joy into five episodes, but with the excellent sixth the series has clearly started to transition. All of the plot threads that were exposed at the beginning are starting to be drawn together, and it’s no longer going to be enough for things to be agreeably random and inexplicable – the plot is going to have to start making at least some sense. The track record for Nakamura has been mixed in this regard – his most successful shows have been more episodic in nature, and the rest (including his last NoitaminA effort) have tended to suffer for too much ambition – intricate and involved plots too big to be resolved properly in the time allotted. I adore Tsuritama, so I sincerely hope this is the crowning success of Nakamura’s career to date.
Plot-wise, it’s possible that more important things happened here than in the last four eps combined. The themes of the first episode were revisited, with some entirely new wrinkles added as well. Much of it involved Akira (happily, we got to hear his theme music in full at last), even as he grows physically and emotionally closer to the boys in the cast. In the first place we still don’t really know what this exceedingly weird “Duck” organization is – a bunch of guys in drag apparently performing musical set pieces while giving orders to five guys in turbans (and a duck) via closed-circuit? It may be as simple as a MIB organization with a bunch of stuff added purely for color – but somehow I don’t think so.
Akira’s investigation this week (he seems to be allowing his personal involvement to push him deeper into this affair than his boss would want) leads him to interview Erika’s (and boy, does she look good as a Miko – but I’m a major Miko-con so I’m biased) Grandfather. He’s the Head Shrine Priest (please note: it’s a Shrine to a Dragon God) and Mayor, and we’ve seen him briefly leading the Enoshima Dance, and Akira is trying to find out more about “Kamikakushi”. Literally that translates as “Hidden by Gods” but folklorically it refers to being “spirited away” by an angry God. Gramps appears convinced that the dragon in the local folklore who spirited people away – and the princess who seduced him – were quite real. Of course we saw them ourselves in the first few moments of the premiere, and Gramps seems to have a feeling that the dragon is going to be making a reappearance soon.
Meanwhile, Keito has been given the go-ahead to return home in a few days, which naturally has Yuki and Haru ecstatic. Given how protective Keito is of the boys I have my suspicions she’s being allowed to go home to die – I sincerely hope I’m wrong – but for now, the significance of that is that it inspires Yuki to try and catch a tuna as a surprise for her welcome home. Tuna are big, smart predators (even a modest-sized one can easily be worth five figures, and the record for an 881-pound monster is over $700,000) and tough to find and catch. It requires a special rod, a harness/belt, good coordination with the Captain – plus a special technique for jerking their rod that Ayumi gives the boys a lesson in (sorry Fujoishi – just teasing). This quest for the tuna is very much reminiscent of last week’s tsunami of good feeling – it’s clear just how much Yuki has come to love these moments on the boat and fishing in general, and just how much Ayumi cares about his young crew.
But for all that, this time it’s more about advancing the plot than the characters. After failing to land a tuna from the Seishunmaru, the boys want to give it another try even though Ayumi plans to spend the day wooing Misaki, which gives Akira the perfect opportunity to observe them first-hand – he offers to take them out in his cabin cruiser. And when they come up blank in the search, it’s the perfect chance for him to investigate “Akemi” – an artificial reef loaded with fish (and perhaps a warning) that the locals superstitiously avoid after a fishing boat disappearance, and where Ayumi has forbidden them to go. It’s plain that at least half the reason for Akira doing all this is that he’s really getting into fishing with the guys – but after Yuki catches his tuna, things get very weird – a giant “bait ball” (school of small fish at the surface) appears, everything goes dark and Akira and Natsuki disappear momentarily. Everyone appears to have blacked out as the boat is suddenly far away from Akemi and short of fuel, and Haru – sporting a triangular halo – begins to behave in a quite frightening manner – apologizing, shooting the others with his hypno-squirter and ranting about “It’s him – this where we meet after 100 years”. The boat is swamped by something huge from below, grounded on a reef and Coco has turned up, scolding Haru.
I have no idea what that all means, but it’s easy to speculate – Haru must be connected directly to the dragon-princess myth, though if it was indeed the dragon rising from the sea, does that make him (or perhaps Coco) the princess? Rather than “aliens” it seems much more likely that we’re dealing with Gods in the Shinto sense, and the boat disappearance angle gives us a direct tie-in to Duck’s interest in the Bermuda Triangle. What’s not open to debate is that the adults in town were very worried – Ayumi actually slaps the boys before hugging them, and Tamotsu breaks down in tears (his son naturally doesn’t seem too interested). At the end Keito has her welcome home party and everyone dines on fresh tuna (what a shame to cook it). But Haru seems oddly depressed, and out at sea some fishermen are doing the Enoshima Dance on their boat for some reason…
What an episode. While it wasn’t the pure joy-fest of last week, it was still a masterpiece of great character moments and an overwhelming plot download, and featured some of the most amazing animation (I broke my personal record for initial caps) of the season. I especially loved the scenes of the Seishunmaru racing acing across the sea, looking backwards towards the bridge as the sea scrolled across the screen like a piano roll. This is definitely surrealist stuff, both in terms of look and content, but that’s what Nakamura-san seems to be best at. I’m on pins and needles now, waiting to see if he can guide the ship home from here – there are some dangerous waters ahead and he’s wrecked before. Tsuritama seems to be the most confident and vibrant work he’s done, though, so there’s good reason to hope he has it in him to give this show the glorious second half it richly deserves.