Number of Episodes: 11
Production Company: A-1 Pictures
Brief Overview: Yuki moves with his grandmother to the Enoshima area of Japan. His specific brand of anxiety has prevented him from having an enjoyable school life, so he tries to make a good impression. Then, self-professed alien Haru enters his life and introduces Yuki to the sport of fishing, which may become crucial to save the world as they know it.
Episode 1 Summary: Yuki is used to transferring to different schools; the fact that he doesn't make friends very easily means that he doesn't get attached to one place. When his grandmother, Keito, uproots him to take a new job in Enoshima, it seems like business as usual until his first day at his new school. His self-introduction doesn't go quite as planned, and he's singled out by Haru, an oddball who arrives with fishing pole in tow.
Before he knows it, Yuki is wrapped up in Haru's desire to go fishing and finds himself at a fishing supply rental run by another classmate, Natsuki. Natsuki grudgingly takes them out on the docks, where Yuki has some unexpected success and gets dragged out of his anxiety's undertow. When he arrives home, things get even "better" - Yuki learns from his grandmother that Haru has decided to live in their house.
Thoughts: I'm a big fan of director Nakamura Kenji, to the point where I've really enjoyed all the anime series he's directed - even those which other fans and critics label "underwhelming." I find that his skill isn't just in presenting aesthetically unique anime, but in incorporating elements that are sensitive to the many mental and emotional aspects of being human that so many other storytellers ignore or address in ways that are lacking. Whereas Mononoke and its precursor Bakeneko could be labeled as some of the few truly feminist anime and Trapeze tackles a whole slew of mental illnesses with a difficult balance of humor and sensitivity, Tsuritama narrows its focus to that of its protagonist's social anxiety, presenting it in a way that I found to be both unique and accurately representative. Yuki begins to drown in his own insecurities and to suffocate in his inability to speak, an experience to which I'm able to relate all too well. I find that anime rarely gets this condition "right," so to see it presented in a way that's both creative and accurate is a definite plus.
That, however, is not the primary reason that I enjoyed this episode. I have a self-professed love for anime series that are dark and which present sad or bittersweet situations along with a compelling plot. I like the emotional catharsis that comes with seeing someone dig themselves out from hopeless situations or watching as someone learns about life's complexities in a meaningful way. This episode, however, made me feel giddy; I don't think a minute went by when there wasn't a huge smile on my face. Some viewers might be annoyed by Haru's unbreakable grin or his sing-song vocal proclivities, but I just wanted to give him a hug. Haru's interactions with Yuki lay the ground work for what I think the actual point of the series will turn out to be; while terrors of the deep and life-threatening situations may be in the cards come climax time, I think that Yuki's progression towards overcoming some of his personal issues (and perhaps Natsuki's transformation from hard-ass to friend) will make up the meat of the show. While it might damage my "street cred" to say so, sweet and pleasant series like this often turn out to be some of my favorites.
Nakamura has few peers when it comes to the use of color in the series he directs. The series begins with a storybook-style mythology lesson that makes use of bright stippled shapes and colors that seem lifted directly from a box of crayons, and goes on to reimagine Enoshima as a place that's splashed with bright, tropical tones and simplified, appealing textures. The places may be well-researched and accurate in terms of layout, but the stylization provides a wonderful fantasy veneer that helps the viewer get into a mindset to expect fantastical things to happen. Beyond that reasoning, though, watching a show that features such distinctive design is just more fun than sitting through yet another anime series that looks exactly the same as its peers.
Along with its other positive aspects, this series seems to have decent comedy chops as well. It's not clever in the same way that I find Trapeze to be clever, but the timing of Haru's water gun shots and other antics tickled me in a way that managed to provoke some laughs. There's something very disarming about the way he interacts with the other characters; it's clear that he's socially inept (likely due to the fact that he's an alien, imagine that), but the way he rustles the feathers of everyone else (aside from Keito, who seems perfectly willing to accept him) is funny and cute.
The next several episodes of the show put the whole "end of the world" plot on the backburner while some new supporting characters are introduced. We meet Haru's sister, a female alien who doesn't even attempt to blend in with the locals. Amusingly, while the way she dresses pegs her as a non-resident immediately, she seems much more socially adjusted than her innocent, na�ve brother. Perhaps she's visited Earth before? We also meet the fourth member of Yuki's unlikely group of friends, Akira, who's not only half-Indian but twenty-five years old and masquerading as a high-school student. The few scenes that feature his pet duck, Tapioca, have been as amusing as they are confusing. The reason for Akira's infiltration of the school and his interest in Haru aren't entirely clear at this point, but what is clear is that he's involved in something very secretive (and wacky) that I hope will prove entertaining later on. Natsuki gets a bit of character development as well, and without spoiling much it demonstrates that his sullen attitude is a reaction to some things going on at home. When he finally cracks a smile while trying to tutor his new acquaintances in the intricacies of ocean fishing, it feels as if it's really earned.
The primary focus of activity throughout the following several episodes is Yuki's development as a fisherman. Through learning to cast properly using a lure, Yuki begins to work through some of his anxiety issues. What I like is that the "drowning" metaphor resurfaces several times, but each time it appears as if Yuki is able to break free from it more easily. I'm glad that he isn't suddenly "cured" of the ailment (dear Sakamichi no Apollon, I love you, but rain does not suddenly cure a person of crippling, vertigo-inducing social anxiety), but rather works towards it becoming more of a non-issue.
While the series seems to be primarily low-stress and not very plot-heavy, there is a bit of a sub-plot involving Keito that requires Yuki to overcome some emotional strain on his own. While I'm not always a huge fan of characters I like being thrown into possible peril (I mean, yay for a cool female parental figure, am I right?), the way in which Keito's situation is presented emphasizes her love for her grandson and her desire for him to come out of his shell. That in itself is a pleasant revelation, and I'm interested to see how this unfolds.
There are viewers who might become annoyed by Haru's antics, who might not understand Yuki's personal problems, and who might get tired of Natsuki's crabby attitude, but I find that all these elements work well together. It's clear that, while there may be more fantastical elements in the show's future, the character groundwork that's being laid now is one of its most charming traits. When I need a pick-me-up this season, I know right where to go.
- There's something very charming about Haru's attitude and ability to bring different people together. His glee is contagious.
- The show handles Yuki's anxiety well and represents it with creative visuals.
- The use of color adds a fantastical element to the show's real-life setting.
- Some viewers may find Haru too much to handle.
- The "end-of-the-world" plot is quickly thrust to the back-burner, which may cause some people to lose interest.
Recommended? I personally love this series and think that Nakamura has another winner on his hands. Though it might sound corny, it's a great feeling to be able to root for the characters as they learn to be friends and work together.