Tsuritama – 10

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Defensive Universal Confrontation Keeprs”.  The more you know.

Every season (if I’m lucky) there’s one show that I totally and unreservedly love, and no matter how much I admire and enjoy the other top series, that feeling is always unique to that one show.  Chihayafuru, Cross Game, Ikoku Meiro…  For me, all of these series conjure some variant on that feeling.  And this season, it’s Tsuritama.  Whether or not I can objectively call it the best show in a season this strong is a hard question (especially with Sakamichi out there) – but there’s no question it’s my favoriteTsuritama is an expression of pure creativity and pure positive emotion the likes of which I rarely see in anime, or any art form for that matter.  It’s as close to unique as any show you’re likely to see this year.

This was one of those episodes that did so much right that it almost feels as if it’s not even necessary to discuss it at all – it stands on its own, needing no explanation or interpretation.  I mean – where to start?  In the first place, there are quite a few shows in any given year that establish strong characters that totally connect with the audience, and several more than have elaborate and well-constructed plots.  But exceedingly rare is the series than can do both.  Specifically, character-driven shows often go through the same cycle – somewhere around the 2/3 mark, they try and make the transition to a plot-driven finale, and generally fail to a lesser or greater extent.  The magic goes out of the show somehow, and you still love the characters but wish the series had just stuck with showing them going about their lives and not tried to be anything more.

But not Tsuritama.  It ambled along at a pace that was somehow both relaxed and frenetic, irresistibly lovable but revealing only small hints of what its “plot” would ultimately be.  But in a tribute to the writing, it’s pulled off the impossible switch – the plot kicked into high gear and started to drive the narrative, but the show lost none of its magic.  Why?  If I’m to venture, because the plot ended up as a perfectly logical extension of the low-key setup, which in hindsight was revealing more than we realized.  It’s at this stage where any flaws in construction usually present themselves, but Tsuritama’s foundation proved rock-solid.  At least as importantly, the plot reveals itself to be driven by the characters – it’s all the emotional buy-in we have with them that makes the larger events in the last third of the show meaningful.  Everyone is behaving very consistently with what we expect, and no one is being twisted out of character for plot convenience.

The unfailingly excellent performance by the cast (especially Ohsaka Ryota) is a big contributing factor to all this success, but increasingly it’s becoming clear that it’s Miyu Irino’s performance as the little prince, Haru, that was the lynchpin.  I’m not sure which is more true – that no other actor would have played Haru this way, or that no other actor could have – but thank goodness we’ll never know.  I can’t imagine anyone else at the wheel during Haru’s dramatic scenes this week, especially his confrontation/reunion with Yuki.  It’s a performance that’s both flamboyant and totally real, a double as hard to pull off as the plot/character coup for a series, but Irino-san does it.  I can’t praise that whole scene with Haru and Yuki highly enough – in many ways it was the emotional payoff for the entire first 10 episodes, and all involved – Irino, Ohsaka, the director and writer – got it exactly right.  This was a classic example of coming through in the clutch.

Another thing I especially love about Tsuritama is the way it continually manages to combine realistic emotional interaction with absurd situations and surreal visuals.  As an example, Akira’s moment where he subdues the squadron of DUCK agents, then strikes a pose and hisses “Yoga!” in Sugita Tomokazu’s best martial arts voice as they fall to the ground with rubber-ducky squeaks.  Or Misaki pretending to be pregnant with Tapioca and our orange cat friend under her shirt, and the way the cat wipes his brow when it’s over, or DUCK’s Wild West wanted posters.  Meanwhile the imagery of the typhoon gathering strength and bearing down on Enoshima is like a beautiful storybook come to life, layers of flat backgrounds moving across the screen with increasing vigor.  Nakamura Kenji will seemingly never settle for visually doing something the same way it’s been done before, but while that can sometimes come across as a little busy and distracting, in this case it marries with the writing seamlessly.  Meanwhile the emotional moments are unerringly spot on – like the taxi driver doing Yuki a random act of kindness, or Natsuki finally trusting Mariko-san with Sakura’s care.  And Haru giving up the last of his precious water to feed Keito’s flowers.

It really does feel as if all the elements are being brought to bear exactly as they should be.  Everyone is confronting their own demons and coming together in the end to face their fate, as the elements themselves are bearing down on Enoshima.  And indeed, things are looking dark – not only has JFX apparently found a way to control others without getting them wet, but in doing say has incidentally caused Hemingway to be destroyed – and possibly Ayumi too (though I don’t think so).  Still to be revealed is just why Yuki needs to be the one to fish JFX out of the sea, though I suspect he is just that.  But the sense is that as long as the four leads are willing to put their fates in each other’s hands, it’ll work out somehow – though that might also include the very sad prospect of Haru and Coco (part of JFX’s “horde” now) going back to their home world.  We’re not going to get out of this without shedding a few tears (or a few more, in my case) but I think they’ll be bittersweet ones. Tsuritama is many things, but I don’t believe it’s a tragedy. 

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  1. A

    Absolute splendid episode. It made my day.

  2. R

    My favourite moment was Natsuki doing the Enoshima dance!

  3. A

    Haven't watched the episode yet, but I read the first paragraph and I knew I had to answer.

    I think it's time we seriously consider that Tsuritama is, in fact, better in almost all aspects than Sakamichi no Apollon. I read a lot of anime coverage, be it blogs or forums, and I've sometimes seen people write they enjoy Tsuritama more, but they're almost afraid to doubt SnA's superiority.

    Let's talk about SnA first. The first episode was almost flawless. It sets a distinct tone, is very precise about the themes, and it's stylish to boot.
    The second episode. The bullies scene was kind of laughable, but when viewed in context, some truth about the characters can be known, so I allowed it. Later, driven by coincidence/plot, they come upon Yurika, because they had to meet her in some way. Alright, it's cheating. But good shows cheat too. Hell, even great ones do. What will this meeting signify for the characters later? That's what I wanted to focus on.

    Let me talk about the later episodes as a whole.
    The latest ones focused a lot on Jun and Yurika. The problem is; they're not even people. A slideshow-flashback doesn't count as insight, and neither does cutting one's hair. Their story is full of conveniences, but the worst part is… I don't care about them. Because they don't feel real. They've been cut out from a cheap soap opera.
    If we want to talk about a good character, we don't have to go that far. It's Kaoru. It's been all about him from the start. His word-expressed introspection, obvious as it may be, hits all the right notes. He's highly irrational, insecure and selfish. And that's great. I love how his motive for becoming friends with Sentarou was selfish. It feels real, and real (not necessarily realistic), is what shows, especially of this kind, should go for. Everything about Kaoru is pretty well observed.
    But let us consider the scene in Sentarou's home, when he and Kaoru bond over his bird. Did it feel real to any of you? It certainly didn't to me. It actually felt cheap and not authentic at all. But… they had to bond. So they bonded. That's the main problem of SnA. Things happen because somebody (the writer) needs them to. Not because they do. It feels fake.
    I haven't talk about Ritsuko yet, so let me get this out of the way too: she's an awful character. Really, what do we know about her? She likes Sentarou, but then Kaoru confessed and now she kind of likes him too. That's about it. Let us consider Kaoru and Sentarou's arcs. There's thematic stuff there, like loneliness, family relations, the feeling of belonging. Now let us consider Ritsuko and Yurika's… they chase boys around. That's all they do. That's borderline sexist, and it's baffling coming from a female mangaka.

    What I'm trying to say here is this: Kaoru is a pretty good main character, but everything else about SnA, including plotting and other characters (with the exception of Sentarou, maybe), is sacrificed in order to help Kaoru's arc. That's not good writing at all.

  4. A

    Let's talk about Tsuritama now, and I'll try to make this short. Because, honestly, there's a lot to be told and be enjoyed.
    What was the first plot driven episode? It's 8 (I guess there's a case to be made for 7 too, but anyway). So what of the 7 first episodes? They were about the characters. There wasn't any plot, or to be more precise, there wasn't someone watching over them and setting all the plot pieces in a way that everything can fall into place. Of course every episode told stories about the characters that had a beginning, a middle and an end, but it never felt forced. It all felt natural, to me anyway. I consider the characters of Tsuritama a joy of characterization.
    Yuki – He started out very awkward and problematic socially. He had no self confidence. He couldn't even talk. He had panic attacks. In the course of these 7 episodes, he made friends and he started talking about what he enjoys or what bothers him. Is there anyone here that didn't crack a smile when he caught the fish while working at the captain's boat? That was wonderful.
    Haru – He feeds the mystery aspect of the show, but his journey to becoming human is no less a joy to behold. He learnt the meaning of choice and freedom.
    Natsuki – I seriously haven't seen family drama be this good in anime, ever. His family situation is so keenly observed that I almost can't believe it.
    Akira – Well, we know him the least, as he also fits in the mystery theme, but he also has come a long way and I think he'll have a bigger role in the final episodes (is it 11 or 12?).

    So, what happens when the plot starts rolling and the tone changes? We care. We want these characters to succeed. It's called empathy, and it's probably a writer's most powerful weapon. It's to get invested.

    This doesn't mean that this kind of approach is the only right one. Tsuritama didn't forget its plot and mystery, but it chose to put characterization first. It could have chosen differently, and then it would be judged differently, and it could have been either better or worse.

    Look, I get it. Sakamichi no Apollon has finesse, and gets some things right for sure. It also boasts a director that is considered a sin not to admire in anime communities. It's also considerably darker than Tsuritama, especially in the first episodes. And you know how many people confuse darker with better. I was excited about Sakamichi no Apollon too, albeit for other reasons than most were. I like coming of age stories, and I liked the first two chapters of the manga very much, as much as I likes the first episode of the anime. I was cautious about Tsuritama, since C was so problematic and crumbled under its own ambition. But Tsuritama has heart and authenticity. There's no question about which show's better for me. They're miles away.

    Anyway, keep disliking SHAFT's gimmicks and loving Ginga e Kickoff's earnestness Enzo. These are two views I can identify with. Maybe a time will come when I make this kind of post about Hyouka, because it also doesn't get enough credit, even by people who like it, since some of them do so for all the wrong reasons.

  5. Thank you for that detailed reply. I don't disagree with much of what you said about Tsuritama – I think I've said much of it in my posts on the series. It's wonderful, my favorite and probably the best series of the season.

    I do think you're being too hard on Sakamichi. It hasn't been as consistent as Tsuritama (I can't think of a show that has) but even the bad eps have been pretty good, and the good ones sublime. The two shows are obviously very different, but the complement each other perfectly – surrealistic and whimsical vs. realistic and intellectual. One is basically a celebration of a director influencing a project with clever visuals and unique choices – the other is a celebration of a director knowing when to stay out of the way in spectacular fashion.

    Sakamichi's problems, such as it has, are a result of trying to fit 9 volumes into 12 episodes. I think Watanabe has done that splendidly, with only occasional hiccups. I do like all the characters here, not just Kaoru and including Jun and Yurika, and I find all of their stories involving. For my part, Tsuritama may be slightly better – but I'm thrilled to have them both.

  6. A

    Actually, Watanabe has done a good job, all things considered. Most of the problems stem from the original material, if not all of them. I've read about half of the manga and sure, it's more detailed, but the main problems are still there I think.

    And yes, although we may disagree on Apollon, you've been fair to Tsuritama right from the start. I think you know of the people I'm talking about though, since you're an active member of the community and all.

  7. M

    Oh sheesh, it's been a while since I've left a comment here. I've been meaning to but…yeah. The anonymous commenter puts it the best, I myself find Tsuritama more enjoyable and better executed than SnA or many of the other spring shows this year.

    Last week, you mentioned similarities between Haru and the Little Prince, but decided not to harp on this connection. That's understandable. But Kenji Nakamura's work is so rife with allusions that it's not entirely impossible. Remember that scene where Yuki finds him just having shot Kate with the watergun? A rose was nearby despite not having any real business being there. Pretty amusing stuff.

    Anyway, the emotions were high this week and everything was so well done despite the absurdity. I was shocked when the last few minutes rolled around. And I'm going to be really sad when this show ends, but what a ride it has been!

  8. U

    I am pleasantly surprised to see people liking Tsuritama more than Apollon.

    Apollon is a solid show. However, by prioritizing average drama over excellent music, it missed the chance of being one of the best animes of all time. The male characters were the heart of the show, and they were the reason the show had such a strong start. However, as the show progressed, the focus subtlety changed from their interations and friendship, and gave place to a more romance-centric plot. After that, the show lost much of its original charm. Kaoru became too angsty, alpha male Sentarou became totally beta for Yurika and Jun lost his cool. Deep meaning between music and friendship gave place to a more trivial plot, and jazz became a gimmick. Apollon started as a 9/10, but now i would rate it as a 7/10 show.

    Tsuritama, while didn't start as amazing as Apollon, never lost its charm. Sometimes typical, other times unique, but always memorable. Tsuritama is the best 1 cour anime of this season.

    In my opinion, Chihayafuru > Tsuritama > Apollon.

  9. I don't want to totally hijack the Tsuritama thread with Apollon posts, so I'll end my discussion of it here. I do think Tsuritama is better, but I don't think Apollon deserves some of the hits it's taking. It never promised to be a "jazz show" – I think some people read that into it, but it was always going to be a character show that also had great music. And for me, I don't think the focus has ever really come off the male friendship – it's the heart of the show like it always was, and romance was always an important side element.

  10. b

    This anime is amazing. Every single main male character has changed and matured from their starting point at the beginning at the show, from Haru the fish, to Akira the 25-year-old indian. It's beautiful, it's hilarious, and there are time when it makes me want to cry.

    While Tsuritama is more consistent, I do think that the best episodes of SnA are better than the best episodes of Tsuritama. Especially that the school concert festival episode. I don't think I've rewatched an anime scene that many times in a row xD

    I don't think Ayumu is dead, as he sounded like he was going to get the rod first, and the characters seemed more like they were in shock that the ship was destroyed by a missel (which also implies that the DUCK crew are now under JFX's control). There also wasn't any in-depth character analysis of Ayumu just prior to this scene, as typical for most anime just prior to a non-main character death. Also it would clash with Tsuritama's feel — like you said, this series is certainly not a tragedy.

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