Tsuritama (2012) is an “odd duck” (pun intended) of an anime, meaning it uses a less common style of story telling. While many stories can happen almost “anywhere,” and many occur in a fantasy location, this show has a very strong sense of a real place; namely Enoshima.
Enoshima is an actual Island at the mouth of the Katase River in Sagami Bay, on the Pacific Ocean. The island is connected to the mainland by a pair of 600m bridges; a pedestrian bridge and a bridge for motor vehicles. Enoshima and Sagami Bay were made world famous for being the harbour and the area where the sailing races of the 1964 Olympic Games were held. The island is the centre of Shōnan, a popular resort area both because of the sandy beaches, and because of its proximity to Tokyo. Enoshima is roughly halfway between the center of Tokyo and the top of Mount Fuji.
The anime renders accurate depictions of the area, albeit with vibrantly exaggerated colours. The bridges, the sky tree (a prominent feature of Enoshima), the train stations, the high school, the beaches and piers, even the bridge at the mouth of the Katase River, and many other features of the area are all reproduced quite well for us here to enjoy.
This is a complex story with many layers and story types. It is partly a fishing story, partly a coming of age story, a story about the value of friendship and family, the importance of place, a even little bit of Man vs Alien, all with enough whimsy and over-the-top absurdity to keep it fun. With the exception of the opening of Episode 1, the entire story occurs in the Enoshima area, either on land or in the waters of Sagami Bay. And it is this strong sense of a real place that keeps the story somewhat grounded, even when the most absurd of events are occurring.
Almost all of the characters are, obviously, caricatures. The story is primarily about Yuki Sanada, a boy so helplessly self-conscious that he makes an absurd face when under stress which only makes him feel even more self-conscious and stressed. He lives with his Grandmother, Keito Sanada. Yuki is not particularly bright nor gifted in any way, but he is a nice guy when he’s not allowing himself to be too embarrassed to show it. Keito tries her best to guide and advise Yuki.
Upon arriving in Enoshima, an alien named Haru moves in with Yuki and Keito. Haru’s has arrived on Earth with his sister, Coco, and they have a mission to fulfil while here. Coco only shows up from time to time in the series. Haru immediately starts work on their mission, and Yuki is going to play a prominent role in fulfilling their mission on earth. Not being from earth, Haru is often unaware of human emotions and also find himself receiving plenty of advice from Keito.
Everybody needs a hobby, a pastime, or some goals in life. And everyone needs a mentor to be able to succeed at any of those. Natsuki Usami, a fellow high school student of Yuki and Haru, is a bit of a loner. Natsuki starts as the fishing instructor and mentor for Yuki and Haru and becomes a friend to them over time. He is a locally famous for his fishing skills and is called the “fishing prince” for his skills in competitions. Natsuki lives with his father and sister. His relations with his father are strained, but he holds his sister quite dear and is like another, much kinder, person around her.
The last of the main characters is the alien hunter, Akira Agarkar Yamada. He is older than Yuki, Haru and Natsuki, by about 10 years, but he ends up in the same high school anyway. Akira is quite aloof and another loner character. Akira keeps a white goose (or is it an oversized duck), named Tapioca, with him at all times, and constantly talks to it. Akira is an agent of “Duck,” a mysterious organization that tracks aliens. Akira has enough rank to have several agents who report to him, but still reports to several layers of superiors within “Duck.” Unsurprisingly, “Duck” has resources at its command that would make most Generals, and even most Commanders-In-Chief, jealous. As Akira follows and starts interacting with Haru and the rest, he becomes aware of the mission that Haru and Coco have, and starts to take part with fulfilling their mission while also making fiends with Natsuki, Haru and Yuki.
The story and action are the catalyst for the bringing together of these four characters. Haru, in part to fulfill his mission and in part because of how his character is, is usually the one to push and pull the story along until the climactic scenes. Learning any new skill takes time and practice and the process can be quite frustrating, even for fishing. But this learning process is the time when Haru, Yuki and Natsuki start to get to know each other, and during this process they become closer. It is also during this process that Akira stops watching from afar, and starts to participate with the others.
The story shows us how Yuki turns from an awkward boy with little by way of roots in any place, to a more confident young man with a deep connection to Enoshima; for this reason alone the story’s strong sense of place in Enoshima is critical. Haru, who knows little of human relationships, comes to learn of the importance of family and friends, and learns to participate as a friend amongst humans, all while receiving motherly advice from Keito and while being supported by his sister, Coco. Natsuki is able to open up enough to make friends with the others, and also opens himself up enough to improve his relations with his father. Meanwhile Akira is able to also open up and find friends, and to find the fortitude to stand up to what is important to him.
Fish tales are always hyperbole, and this anime is likewise over-the-top. But at its core is a heartwarming story about growing up and making friends, and about what friends can do together to overcome incredible hardships. It also shows that process of making friends is not without its own hardships, and that overcoming these hardships is well worth the effort. Likewise, the art style, the music, the story, the characters are all also over-the-top. But that it is all a bit over-the-top helps add to the comedy while softening some of the harsher moments.
Because it is a bit over-the-top it can be a bit hard to see the core of the story, specifically the character development of the main characters, at least at the beginning. But if you let yourself be taken in by this fish tale, you’ll have a whale of a time.