Miscellaneous · Seasonals

12 Days of Christmas: Bridging Eastern Myth and Present Day with Tsuritama

ENOSHIMA-DON, SON
BEHOLD THE POWER OF ENOSHIMA-DON!!, SON

I’m a big fan of mythology, always have been, always will. Myth is an awkward topic to talk about; few characters from ancient mythology are actually relatable because all mythological beings, whether they be a deity, human, or somewhere in-between, are meant to be more than a man, bent back and detached from humanity. More often than not do we find ourselves relating to a mythical hero’s actions, rather than the hero himself. Only furthering the awkwardness of mythology is that for many, one set of myths aren’t merely a myth; one man’s myth is another man’s religion. Because of this, it usually takes someone with an open mind, willing to see the abstract, indirect touches behind the story itself.

The oldest and most famous of myths were at first passed down by word by oral tradition before being transcribed into a written language, and because of that, myth has no “single author” and takes many varying forms over the course of history. This can lead to vast confusion and an intensely high amount of differing interpretations. In ancient Greece, however, rhapsodes conveyed mythology through a poetic, oral tradition, and for them, epic poetry was a constantly evolving medium— these poets constantly free-styled and improvised the direction of their stories alongside the changing of time in order to teach the populace valuable lessons. The greatest of these lessons have been passed on for years beyond their times of creation, and in that have become harder for people to dissect and relate to. Few nowadays would bother to guess that the story of Theseus delving deep into the layers of labyrinth, a physical symbol which corresponds to our most useful organ, the brain, would be about slaying the feral part of human nature (the minotaur was half-man, half-bull) in order to progress humanity, a myth which Christopher Nolan would later take this myth and adapt into the fantastic movie Inception.

Exploring mythology is damn worth it, because myths are, in my mind, the greatest lies from which the greatest truths are spawned.

If I had to choose one particular setting to be my favorite from the shows aired this year, I would easily pick Tsuritama in a heartbeat. Not only is the world of fishing and aliens fully utilized by the meaningful script, there are no wasted moments and everything, from a quick section on lure fishing to a short stop at the temple, is used to a full extent and comes back by the ending. But more than that,  Tsuritama constantly finds itself on the brink of ancient mythology and reality, by blending in realistic fishing techniques with mythological know-how, but never using the latter to coast on suspension of disbelief. There’s a wonderful clash between reality and mysticism, and the dualistic nature of the show oftentimes gives way to both sides. However, the incorporation of Eastern mythology and how the underlying subtext translates into the show is what really makes the background stand out.

While I would love to discuss the always important lesson of Theseus and the minotaur, the myth and symbolic truth which Tsuritama takes inspiration from is actually fairly opposite (and at the same time, incredibly similar) to Theseus’ endearing legend. The myth that Tsuritama bases itself on is fairly obvious and far from intentionally hidden; it’s heavily based on the myth of the Ryūjin, a Japanese water dragon with the ability to control the seas and its many inhabitants. Now, the Ryūjin was special in that it could also take the form of humans, and as we find out, the mysterious alien JFX is only another member Haru’s alien ancestry, a group of humanoid aliens who could not only control sea creatures, but become fishes as well. The choice to make Haru an alien was really just based off of a snappy pun: Ryūjin is just another pun on the word alien, uchūjin. The dragon can only be calmed down by the kanju, a tide-ebbing jewel, which later takes the form of a fishing lure, and these elements later become core components of Tsuritama’s take on the modern myth.

However, an unspoken rule in Eastern mythology, whether it be Chinese or Japanese, is never to kill the dragon. Ever. Just don’t do it, or you will get screwed.  The dragon is the symbolic counterpart of the bull in Western mythology; it’s an embodiment of anger and the feral aspects of human nature. However, Eastern dragons, underneath, are stereotypically benevolent and kind. The angry and sometimes furious exterior is only an outward projection of the more visible parts of human emotion: anger and self-loathing. In Eastern mythology, the hero is never rewarded for killing the dragon, but rather for befriending and making peace with it. This is reflective of Western mythology’s beloved bulls: Gilgamesh kills a bull and he gets screwed. Theseus kills one and he has to face the minotaur once again in the future. Heracles however saves one and he is rewarded with another labor getting crossed off his checklist. Although it may seem abstract at first, the lesson of the dragon and the bull is this: in order progress and grow wiser as human beings we must not kill the bulls or dragons outside and inside of us, but learn to accept them as a part of our human nature.

The main character of Tsuritama, Yuuki, has his shyness manifests as drowning, suffocation, and anger: although he wants to meet other friends, his angry outward appearance makes it impossible for him to do so. Sanada and Akira are much the same; their outward anger and callousness, developed by their growing ambition to ascend the rankings of their careers gives them. However, by meeting Haru, one the series’ three Ryūjin aliens, the three learn to open up to them and dispose of their dickish treatment towards others. Yuuki in particular is most notable for this; his journey is one of self-acceptance and moving on. He sheds shy and angsty demeanor, but does not destroy it: he simply learns from the experience and goes on his way towards making more connections.

In the ending, the characters choose not to destroy the alien dragon Urara because in the end, he turns out to be no more than a tiny guppy, with barely a shadow of aggression. While Yuuki could have easily chosen to end it for Urara just as he chose to avoid Haru in the end, he chooses to reconcile and befriends him, the Eastern dragon, as a classmate, and learns to not only accept his awkward shyness, but also to overcome it: an experience rewarding in itself. And with that, the epic myth of Tsuritama comes to a close.

Stray Snippets

  • I freely admit that the first two episodes of Tsuritama were absolutely infuriating to watch, but now I’m confident enough to place it in the top shows of 2012. I revisited the first episodes later, and well, Tsuritama is just a fantastic experience overall.
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4 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas: Bridging Eastern Myth and Present Day with Tsuritama

  1. Oh hell yes to everything said about the setting; in particular, Kenji Nakamura deserves a firm pat on the back for going the extra mile to bring out the best in Enoshima. It’s one thing to just capture the geography and setup of the island and just transpose it into anime form, but in incorporating the local legends of the island, in particular kicking off the series with a recital of the Enoshima Engi, and making that fit into the series in a meaningful way along with everything else that has to be accounted for, particularly the myth of the Ryujin as you mentioned, Tsuritama really makes it seem like there was no other setting conceivable that could do its story justice. Heck, the Indian influences in the Enoshima Engi arguably give symbolic credence to having Akira in the main cast (although God knows why Duck’s HQ was stuck out in what appeared to be Dubai).

    1. There’s so much loving craft behind the setting that it’s hard not to get a bit giddy talking about. What makes it so special is the nonstop dualistic nature of the show: reality mixes with fantasy, aliens clash with humanity, and civilization clashes with nature (and so on!). My favorite reflection of this is when they attempt to fish out the dragon lord, but ultimately fail since their rod is, well, just a rod. There’s level realism hidden behind a veil of mythology which makes it so fantastic. Not only that, but everything is planned out incredibly well and there are no wasted details in the exposition. We won’t be getting a world as complete as this in a long time, that’s for sure.

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