Most anime is some form of coming of age story. Heck, a large chunk of literature is about growing up. From Journey to The West (Dragon Ball those in the know) to Guilty Crown to Catcher in the Rye, it’s all about how a boy (or a girl. Anime likes to tell this story about girls a bit, too) learns to accept himself and then change the world.
Tsuritama, surprisingly, manages to highlight both intimate, personal growth and a world-saving adventure in a way few anime pull off. For the most part, a show focuses on its action portion as a catalyst for the main character to grow (see: Yuuko in Denno Coil or Alice's growth in Tweeny Witches) or keep itself close-hewed to interpersonal stories and stay mainly in the realms of the mundane (like Toradora! or Kimi ni Todoke which both concern themselves with high school romance). Here, on the Island of Enoshima, we meet a bunch of boys who can save the world because of the lessons they learned about friendship and themselves. Not since Stellvia have we seen a show get this right.
In three acts neatly bundled into twelve episodes Tsuritama tells the story of how a lonely boy starts making his first best friends in high school, and then how he eventually saves the world with their help. Precisely how this "goes down" is of little relevance (and would spoil), but suffice it to say that the show revolves around fishing and aliens. In the first act, Yuki works through his introversion, getting close to the island’s “Fishing Prince” Natsuki in order to comply withHaru's (who claims to be an alien) desire for Yuki to learn how to cast and reel. Here, we see a pretty typical story of a boy learning how to open himself to friends and what it means to move from letting life pass you by to actively living it. But things brew in the background. Natsuki has problems. Haru is hiding the truth. And the show manages to both deal with these issues in the foreground while hinting at what’s to come in the corners of establishing shots or during incidental moments of character building.
The result of such careful shepherding of the story is that we as viewers get to see both Yuki’s development and how he uses his personal growth to help his friends out. That the show does it in defined steps both heads off the “sudden change” trap that many shows fall into and also gives provides massive payoff when a confident Yuki steps up to help his friends save the day. We believe in his growth because the series made us watch it. In the end, it helps us cheer wholeheartedly for the teen loser in the final episodes.
What Tsuritama lacks in beautiful vistas and mind-melting action sequences, it makes up for in solid character design. While adhering to a consistent aesthetic, each character’s personality can be read from his or her appearance, from the fanciful pastels of Haru and Koko to the weathered joviality of Tamotsu. This extends into body language as well, as Yuki oozes awkward insecurity in comparison to Akira’s confident remove. Given that most of the show hinges on the interactions between its expressive cast, that the show focus on realizing its characters over giving a memorable portrayal of Enoshima shows that the anime has its priorities set correctly.
So, it depends on how much you like Haru’s voice. Longtime readers should know that I have an affection for characters with borderline annoying voices in the name of extra-fun. Haru is one such character. Miyo Irino’s portrayal of his vivacity and the complex nuance of learning emotion helps sell the oddball alien and stands out as the best performance in the cast. Beyond him, Yamada and Akira's dad, Tamotsu, were probably most memorable. Like the character designs, each person’s speech pattern and mannerisms help further the ensembles development and camaraderie.
On a scale of “this guy probably goes to your school” to “only in anime”, the cast ranks Natsuki, Yuki, Yamada, Haru. As the series straddles the realm between the mundane and the fantastic, having a smattering of believable personalities to go with the outlandish ones helps keep the series grounded, even when crazy alien antics dominate in the show's back half. The series' protagonist, Yuki, serves as the viewer's entry point as a generic introverted teen. He manages the correct mix of sullen, easygoing, and insecure that accompanies adolescence and has plenty of room to slowly but surely develop a shy confidence without becoming a different person--no small feat for a “lonely teenager” type. Natsuki, a surly fishing prodigy, spends most of the anime sullen due to family issues, placing him in the role of reluctant mentor to the group. During the course of the early episodes, he shows just enough compassion and warmth that his eventual blossoming seems like him returning to himself, not a change into another person, which helps make his eventual reconciliation with his father feel more seamless and natural.
But Haru’s progression towards humanity probably traces the most interesting character arc in Tsuritama. His playfulness and insecurity serve as a pretty good proxy for how an alien might come to make friends with humans. Moreover, his extraterrestrial nature allows us to hand-wave away his slowness, while also providing a the show’s actual plot. Of course, he only works as a character because he’s compared to his buddies who the series takes care to make consistent. Akira, by comparison holds the most obvious character arc (from suspicious antagonist to earnest conspirator), and he lines up well with Haru, since he is a stand-in for the series' other bad guy. However, his underlying motivations don't get the excellent treatment of the other boys.
I have problems scoring Tsuritama. When watching it, it didn't FEEL like great anime, but when I think about it... Here's the thing: The show nails its pacing, character development, and design. It has a sense of drama when it needs to, and can be exciting and intimate in turns. While the show didn't cause me to breathlessly marathon it, I enjoyed each episode. In short, if you even remotely like slice of life anime, watch Tsuritama. You'll be glad you did.
Yuki is an introverted teenager whose intense fear of public speaking makes it difficult for him to make friends, so hoping for a fresh start, he moves with his grandmother to the small island of Enoshima. Shortly after his arrival he encounters Haru, a strange youth claiming to be an alien - and what's more, the otherworldly visitor requests his help to catch a strange being that inhabits the local waters! Along with fellow classmate and local angling celebrity Natsuki, the boys must now form a bond in the hopes of saving the town from the force that is threatening it. With a mysterious organization also lurking about and posing potential danger, Yuki must put his best face forward and protect the island... with the help of a fishing rod?!
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.