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From the world of anime comes the comedy series Tsuritama, a show that has aliens, an ancient legend about a dragon and a group of boys needing to save the world with fishing and the power of friendship. There is no denying it is trying to be original.
Yuki is a socially inept high school student who has constantly moved from place to place and has never been able to settle down. He moves with his grandmother to the island of Enoshima where another transfer student, Haru takes a liking towards Yuki and convinces him to learn how to fish with fishing protégé Natsuki. But they are being watched by another student, Akira, as the teenagers have to battle their personal problems as well as a threat to their tiny island community.
The first four episodes of Tsuritama are dreadful, an absolute slog to get through. The animation is weak and at times really ugly, there are annoying characters in the form of Haru and his sister and there is unfunny comedy throughout. Worst of all, the first four episode have the same story, Haru and Yuki have to learn a new fishing skill, Yuki struggles, nearly gives up and through practice and determination masters it. It is repetitive and gives the anime an unfortunate start. By episode five, the series starts to improve and by episode six the series finds its footing narratively and tonally. But audiences will be turned off because of the series’ need for ‘quirky’ humor.
The humor in the early stages of the series is weak, revolving around Haru’s enthusiasm, misunderstanding of social graces and his ability to embarrass others, particularly Yuki and sometimes Natsuki. An early running joke is Yuki blacking out and when he regains consciousness finds out he is dancing in public and Yuki getting so stressed that he reacts with sheer panic, hallucinating, being submerged in water and having some of the ugliest facial animation possible. Other jokes are just bizarre and seem to have no context like a fishing boat captain running out the fishing store at high speed to scream and a one-off joke where Akira’s head pops out the sand on the beach with his pet duck. Others are a little better like the organization DUCK ending calls with their Team Rocket like pose and when the organization comes to town blasts people with hot-air dryers.
As the series progresses it turns away from being a full on comedy and becomes more a light-hearted anime, having a better balance of comedy and drama. More dramatic themes come to the forefront, mainly Natsuki’s family relationships, particularly his strained relationship with his father. It all comes to a head in episode 7 and 8.
Though the series is eclectic with its sci-fi and fantasy elements, at its core is its themes about friendship. Yuki is a character who was never able to make friends and on Enoshima he finally finds somewhere he belongs and develops a passion for fishing. Natsuki has a resistance to teaching Yuki and Haru, needing to be convinced and when he finally lets them in, melting his icy persona he finally gains some friends. Akira who starts off in an antagonistic role also warms to the group and the group warms to him and the lines between his mission and budding friendship blurs.
The organization of DUCK also starts out in an antagonist role, a group not to be trusted, but as we get know more about them they are shown to be an organisation trying to do the right thing and their leader is a man in a tough position.
On the animation front, the series is weak at times: backgrounds and background animations like people doing tai chi lack detail and there are times when characters are speaking and their lips are not moving, in both English and Japanese. A minor issue, but it was a distraction.
The English dub was of a weak standard at moments, particularly the voice for Haru who has a really grating voice as the actor tries to sell his quirky qualities. In Japanese Haru’s voice is very gender ambiguous and look does not help since Haru looked like a teenage version of Hana from Michiko and Hana. It would have been best to stick to the Japanese vocal track.
Tsurtiama does have some pleasing music during its running time. Throughout the series there is a jovial whistling tune that adds to the light-hearted nature of the series and when the action and drama picks up, the music is perfectly cinematic.
Tsurtiama is a very touch and go anime series to get into because of the poor first four episodes, which were a grind to get through. It does get better as it mixes comedy, family drama and sci-fi fantasy, but it requires massive skills of pursuance to get to that stage.