I’m hard-pressed to think of a show that’s been as consistent as this one has. Though there have certainly been stylistic changes, the overall quality has been remarkably stable – every episode has been great in its own way. Tsuritama is simply an outstanding show. It seems to have been planned out with exacting care, each episode telling it’s own internal story tightly and completely while still leading neatly into the next. Perhaps the single greatest lesson to be learned here is patience – Tsuritama never panicked when the plot seemed to move relatively slowly, putting in the hard work to develop the characters to a degree rarely seen in anime (especially one-cour anime). We’re seeing the payoff now because the buy-in is rock-solid, and the plot is moving quickly without feeling rushed. This is how you do short series – everyone take notes.
It’s Haru who’s really emerged as the tragic figure here. I’ve referred to him as “everyone’s little brother” a few times, but I’m starting to see him in new ways that incorporate that concept but move past it, and I think Ono Toshiya and Nakamura-sensei are going for something specific here. Haru is, effectively, what happens when you try to deal with adult concerns through a child’s perspective. Haru is obviously a genius by human standards, but emotionally he’s a sweet, immature little boy – he loves, he hates, he pouts, he lets his emotions drive his actions for too often. His decision to try and drive everyone away from Enoshima by casting himself as the evil invader (“The invader comes from the bottom of the sea”?) was executed childishly, but in many ways it was Haru’s first adult decision of the series. And in driving Yuki and Keito away – all the way to Nagoya – he sacrificed his happiness for their safety.
Now, the message of Tsuritama isn’t going to ultimately support that course, obviously – but it’s still a selfless, adult act. If I may go out on a limb here, as I think there’s a very deliberate allusion to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” being made here. If you don’t know the story (shame on you) it tells the tale of a blonde little space alien who comes to Earth and details the various encounters the Little Prince has there. Let me just throw out a couple of lines from the story:
“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Think about that in the context of what Keito says to Yuki this week, about what Haru told her just before he zapped her with his water gun – and what she “heard’, as opposed to what he actually said.
“It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.”
The connection there should be fairly obvious in the context of Tsuritama’s story. Haru’s connection to Keito is very, very strong – perhaps the strongest bond of any two characters in the story. The flower is symbolic in both cases, of course – but I think the symbolism is the same.
I’m not going to harp on this connection, because Tsuritama is its own story and this connection is only a sort of spiritual one. I don’t think Le Petit Prince is predictive of events in Tsuritama (especially as regards the ending) so much as a shared feeling. No, this is very much a Japanese story born of anime tradition and suffused with Japanese thinking and an obvious love of a certain way of life that’s under threat. But Haru has emerged as the key figure, as it’s his presence that acts as the change agent on everyone involved in the story. I’m struck by how the roles of older and younger sibling seem reversed with Haru and Coco, and by how little the two seem to have in common. In many ways she’s the stern, rational oppositional force to his emotional impulsiveness – but in the end, it’s he who’s the stronger, as witness the fact that she falls under the dragon’s sway (we can call him JFX now as well) while he continues to maintain his sense of self even after losing contact with her. Perhaps this is why he was sent to Earth to try and tame the dragon – maybe he’s as exceptional among his own kind as he is among humans.
I have to give full kudos to Tsuritama for continuing to be wildly entertaining through all the various phases of its story, and never losing its unmatched sense of whimsy even as the plot grows darker and more intense. I mean, come on – the DUCK troops walking around in rubber ducky suits that squeak when they walk? That’s just perfect. The entire invasion sequence was grounded in delicious absurdity, with Enoshima dancers everywhere and the DUCK troops squeaking around and telling them not to wash their buttocks after pooping. This really is a bit like Wes Anderson in a way, intentionally surreal, a living storybook, yet still trying (and succeeding, in this case) to be grounded in emotional accuracy. Given the revelation that DUCK is part of the Japanese government, it’s a bit odd that they wear turbans, eat Indian food and drink chai all day – but that’s a topic for another discussion.
In the final analysis I think this last arc is going to be about everyone casting aside the trivial and dedicating themselves to what’s important to them. Akira is simply trying to do the right thing – protect everyone and keep Haru from being destroyed by any means necessary. Yuki has awoken and left Keito behind in Nagoya, returning home to make sure Haru doesn’t have to face his darkest hour alone. Natsuki is with his family, but it’s clear from his conversation with Yuki that he feels a responsibility to stand by his friends’ side. It’s Haru’s decision that remains the most difficult to figure. Everything he’s tried so far has failed – including sending his friends away – and he’s already declared his willingness to never return home in order to accomplish his appointed task. I keep going back to the seasonal symmetry of the character names here – I think they face a task that can only succeed if they all complete it together, because without each other they’re incomplete. Whether they also face bittersweet separation when that task is done remains to be seen, but that feels to me like the direction we’re headed.