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[Tsuritama]
AKA: Vappu, つり球
Genre: Comedic Science Fiction, Slice-of-Life
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Available streaming on crunchyroll and Hulu (Sub Only)
Content Rating: 8+ (Political Incorrectness, Some Violence, Some Peril)
Related Series: None
Also Recommended: Ponyo, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, Kids on the Slope, Urusei Yatsura.
Notes: An original production that aired as part of Fuji TV's NoitaminA series, a programming block devoted to expanding the anime audience beyond the young male demographic. The character design in this series is courtesy of Cencoroll's Atsuya Uki, his first project undertaken since the release of that short.

I have yet to determine whether the "traditional" Enoshima festival dance seen in this series is based on any actual dances.
Rating: Three StarsThree StarsThree Stars
 

Tsuritama

Synopsis

Yuki Sanada is an orphaned high school student who lives with his grandmother, a woman whose career requires frequent relocation and prevents him from establishing any real friendships, much less the social skills necessary to initiate them. Whenever he becomes anxious, he freezes in place, unable to breathe, and experiences the sensation of drowning while donning a markedly demonic expression-so potent with seemingly latent rage that others become wary of him at its appearance. Shortly after arriving at their home in the grandmother's most recent workplace, the island of Enoshima, a zealous transfer student named Haru-wielding a water gun and sporting a fish bowl atop his head-appears on their doorstep claiming to be an alien and that he will henceforth be living in the same house; though his presence continually makes Yuki uncomfortable, Yuki's grandmother happily agrees to let him stay. Haru subsequently insists that Natsuki Usami, a sour and taciturn classmate who, outside of school, is known for his fishing skills, teach the two of them how to fish, a demand that leaves Yuki in confusion and simply annoys Natsuki. After this continues for some time, however, Natsuki finally agrees, and both he and Yuki soon find that what seemed like a foolhardy endeavor might be exactly what they need to escape their demons. (Adapted from Wikipedia.org)


Review

The beautiful part of Tsuritama is its time spent as a charming and absurd piece of sci-fi comedy, where a kooky tale about a shy boy, the self-proclaimed "alien" he finds himself living with, and said alien's insistence that a sour loner teach them to become master fisherman turns out to be surprisingly touching. Though Tsuritama is not the first show to tell a story of misfits growing out of their misery, it is one of the better ones I have seen: the hilarity resulting from the absurd setting combines nicely with its serious treatment of the sport of fishing and the personal satisfaction it brings, making the show quite enjoyable. Frustratingly, however, the show doesn't handle drama nearly as well, and when, near its end, it attempts to carve what amounts to a story of saving the world out of a series that had largely been devoid of plot, we end up with an awkward, angsty, and unconvincing "climax" whose presence in a show that never seemed to be building towards one is strange in itself. In a nutshell, Tsuritama is a good series that would have been much better had it not attempted to have some of both worlds: though it remains an enjoyable ride, the mess it makes at the end of that ride comes close to ruining the experience.

Tsuritama's strength lies in its ability to simultaneously draw us into its story of loners growing out of their solitude and use humor to amplify our fondness for them. To give an example, the show literally introduces Haru to us by having him walk in the door of Yuki's classroom, claim to be a space alien, pull out a squirt gun, and douse him with a sort of "magic" water that causes him to involuntarily perform Enoshima's traditional festival dance in front of the entire class. Yuki, unsurprisingly, is infuriated, but he soon finds that this embarrassment is the least of his worries: Haru proceeds to move into his house without invitation (but with his laid-back Grandmother's happy consent), follow him around constantly, and, for no apparent reason, insist that he get the irritable and taciturn Natsuki to teach them to fish. The situation seems entirely absurd, and Yuki's "demon face", Haru's childish behavior and strange proclamations, and this sudden and seemingly random obsession with fishing make for good laughs and leave the impression that the show has little interest in forming anything besides comedy out of this nonsense. But Tsuritama doesn't do that. Though we laugh at the situation, we're left also feeling a little down at seeing what a joyless person Yuki is, and we're left to ponder just why Natsuki is an absolute grouch towards everybody. Haru is clearly not quite right in the head, and yet we wonder whether he might be just what the two of them need to snap out of their external foul moods, and whether his idea of getting Natsuki to teach them all to fish might be just what they all need. The show plays with this notion for the first few episodes and then goes all out with it as the plot progresses, and while the comic element remains, we find ourselves with something of a "quiet" sports series that tells a touching story. The characters learn to fish, they begin to grow fond of each other as they work through their differences, and the show feels all the more real in that it talks about fishing with some professionalism: though it might be a bit much to actually go and catch a fish based on what you learn in this series, it spends a surprising amount of time talking about what fisherman actually do. The strain of absurdist humor never quite disappears, and it's in fact what works to draw the characters together: after having scowled through his antics several times, Yuki simply can't hate Haru when he finds himself feeling more engaged in a pursuit and less depressed than he's ever been. Tsuritama is an extremely effective series in this regard.

The visuals and sound of Tsuritama are also quite good, aside from the occasional period of runny animation. I appreciated the presence of Atsuya Uki's quirky character design and enjoyed seeing the hair spikes and scowling, bespectacled characters that seem to have become trademarks of his work. The show's bright color palette was a bit of an acquired taste, admittedly, but once the dazzling animations of sea life began to appear around episode three or so, I no longer had anything to complain about. Although the soundtrack, a series of repetitive flute and guitar tunes, isn't memorable, it at least isn't out of place; both the opening and closing themes, however, are quite good and the opening animation's "dancing" gives The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's sequence a run for its money. Tsuritama, meanwhile, is also one of relatively few anime I've seen to set its story in a city besides Tokyo and thoroughly take advantage of the quirks of its chosen locale: though I know relatively little about the actual island of Enoshima, the version presented in this series is vibrant and colorful, with its seafood, bustling fishing industry, beautiful seaside neighborhoods, local legends of sleeping sea dragons, and, of course, the distinctive "traditional" festival dance seen in the opening and all throughout the show. Even if some of these elements are fabricated, their inclusion is a nice touch, for the setting feels anything but generic, and the characters, who always speak of their town with a subtle but detectable degree of love, somehow feel a little more fully realized as a result of it.

The problem with Tsuritama, however, is that its attempt at an actual "plot" is a huge mess, and that attempt unfortunately occupies most of the series' second half. This isn't to say that the show is incapable of being serious, as there is, for example, an arc in which Yuki's grandmother is sent to the hospital and in which the event's effects on Yuki are handled thoughtfully and carefully. Rather, it is my opinion that trying to fit a dramatic story to a story best told with a slow pace and best viewed with patient eyes was a huge mistake. For example, Haru's possibly being an "alien" isn't much of a problem when he's simply running around and spouting nonsense, as it's funny and even a bit endearing. Come the midpoint of the series, however, Haru is suddenly at the center of a strange and disjointed plot that involves another member of his species causing tidal irregularities and Yuki's fishing skills somehow being needed to subdue this new "menace". If it sounds amusing in print, it's not meant to be in the actual series: this plot development is told with a straight face, coming at the same time as angsty drama within Natsuki's family and the sudden revelation that a mysterious organization of international spies is trying to capture Haru and thwart whatever plans he may have. The show gets less and less entertaining as it lingers on these intertwining stories, and the end result is a befuddling transition to a disaster drama, followed by a completely underwhelming climax. The problem may have been that I found the show's portrayal of the spies as turban-wearing, curry-devouring devotees of Indian Culture to be unfunny (and perhaps a bit racist as well). Additionally, I was never enamored with the show's fourth main character, the spy Akira, who hovers around the other characters as an underdeveloped afterthought for the first half, becomes the means for a "betrays the organization to help his friend" arc to occur near the end, and never seems entirely essential to the series. Regardless, I was bored by the time the show ended, and I was especially disappointed after having enjoyed it so much at the start. I've seen far worse attempts at drama than Tsuritama's second half, but in this case it stings simply because it entirely destroys the mood I had so enjoyed.

A show that becomes as lost in the doldrums as Tsuritama does is a hard sell, but I do think that its good points make up for its dreadful ending enough for it to be worth watching. In my opinion, it really is unfortunate that it has to kill the mood as badly as it does. What was gearing up to be an especially good example of how comedy can be incredibly sweet as well instead ends up as another entry to my "starts out with potential and throws it down the toilet" list. I like Tsuritama for the humor, setting, and characters, but I really do wish that it hadn't tried to be greedy by trying to be plot-driven as well.

This is right in the middle. I was thoroughly enjoying this series until it tried to be serious science fiction and flopped, and so it sits squarely at three stars. Nick Browne

Recommended Audience: This show is pretty tame, but there are a few offensive jokes to watch out for: Akira's organization is a pretty clear case of ethnic stereotyping used for laughs, while the ridiculously flamboyant leader of said organization is obviously meant to be a caricature of gay men. There are also moments of violence (including one in which Natsuki slaps his younger sister), but they are few and far between.



Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of Crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Tsuritama © 2012 Tsuritama Partners
 
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