Please, NoitaminA store – sell Duck-brellas!
When a show is as brilliant at communicating joy as this one is – and I’ve seen few that I would call its equal – there’s a natural instinct to want that to go on forever. But that was never going to happen, and the storm clouds that were brewing last week started to rain on everyone’s parade this episode. it was still joyful at times, but one of the most intense episodes of the season for any series. The dynamic between the leads has changed almost 180 degrees over the last few weeks – Yuki is acting more like the big brother now, and Natsuki the temperamental child. The old relationship still exists when it comes to fishing, as witness Natsuki smiling like a proud papa as he watches Yuki start to think for himself while using his new tackle (100,000 ¥!) – which makes me think his father likely took a similarly loving and supportive teaching role with his own fishing education (Natsuki had to learn it from somewhere). But back in RL, Natsuki is now the one who’s clearly lost at sea.
Indeed it’s Natsuki and Haru who are suffering this episode, as old dangers menace on both the character and plot fronts. Poor Haru really is very much like a child – everyone’s otouto, as I called him a few weeks back. He even tries to cure his aching heart by putting a band-aid on it, which Keito gently tells him isn’t the way to handle the problem. Yuki by now has fully embraced the aniki role with Haru as part of his own maturation process, and he and Keito have exactly the same advice for Haru – you just have to try. It’s obvious that what happened out at Akemi really shook Haru up, to the point where he declares he’s done with fishing (and even briefly tries to forbid Yuki from doing so). First soccer, then ball-in-a-cup – but that’s not the sort of trying that’s really going to get it done. When he tries to beg off Natsuki’s birthday cruise because “I have to play ball-in-a-cup tomorrow”, it was a classic child’s response – and it really brings home the fact that Miyu Irino is doing wonders with this role. Haru could easily have been an irritant in the wrong hands, and Miyu-miyu has managed to capture the childlike innocence of the character and make him loveable. Ohsaka Ryouta’s performance is the star turn here, but Miyu’s is the most nimble and high-risk.
Meanwhile the other two leads are evolving in utterly believable ways. Akira is slowly and surely becoming more and more emotionally linked to his three young fishing colleagues, to the point where it’s hard to convince both his boss at DUCK – who feels the need to order Akira to keep his distance from them – and himself. Even Tapioca seemed to contradict Akira at one point. The veneer of the “surveillance” pretense is growing thinner – Akira declares a contest to see who can catch a bass first. He invites himself along on Natsuki’s birthday cruise, reasoning that the more people are present the less likelihood there is of a fight (alas, a good idea but…). Haru himself seems to have lost his fear of Akira, which tells me that Akira has changed in ways even he’s not aware of. Everybody in the quartet fills an empty space in the others’ lives, completes them as Summer completes Spring, Spring Winter, Winter Autumn and Autumn Summer – and it’s obvious that a major void in Akira’s life has been the presence of friends.
As for Natsuki, as much positive growth as he’s shown in his relationship with Yuki he’s sadly shown little in his family life. As devoted as he is to Sakura, he’s either blind to the pain his coldness towards his father causes her or simply unable to bring himself to change for her benefit. Sakura has totally accepted Mari in her father’s life while still holding onto her memories of their mother, but Natsuki seems unable to do the same. There may be deeper reasons for this – we get some hints of tension over Natsuki’s future – or it may simply be that Natsuki is more easily hurt and slower to recover than his sister. When Ayumi agrees to take everyone out on his boat for Natsuki’s birthday it seems like the perfect opportunity for reconciliation, but it ends up being just the opposite.
I don’t think there’s any question the scene on Ayumi’s boat is the darkest and most painful place Tsuritama has gone, all the more so because it contrasts so sharply with what’s come before. Natsuki can’t bring himself to smile (much to Sakura’s dismay) but he at least manages to keep his temper in check until an innocent remark by Ayumi sets off an argument about the future – with Tomotsu encouraging him to become a professional black bass fisherman even if it means leaving Enoshima and revealing that he’s been planning changes to the family store behind Natsuki’s back. Natsuki ironically accuses his father of being cold, and all this happens just as Sakura is about to give everyone the handmade bracelets she’s worked on with Tomatsu. She’s finally had enough and tells Natsuki she hates him, and he slaps her. I swear it was as if I felt that slap myself, it was so jarring – and while I’m not a big fan of crying as a dramatic device Sakura’s here was genuinely gut-wrenching. It’s all quite a mess – Yuki tries to be the big brother and intervene but it only leads to his first real fight with Natsuki, and a run-in with the fishing boat from the end of episode 7 leads to the bracelet for the Usami Mom being lost overboard – and very nearly Sakura too, were it not for Haru’s quick action.
What a sad place everyone is in now, really for the first time in the series. Sakura’s disappearance is surely going to bring everyone together to find her, but it remains to be seen if that will be more than a temporary détente between Natsuki and Tomatsu. I still fear for Keito-san, and then there’s the matter of what lurks out at sea – Haru can see the giant pink triangle hovering over the ocean, and he begs someone - the legendary dragon presumably – not to cause trouble on the birthday cruise. And apparently fishermen all over the place are falling victim to the “Enoshima Dance trance”. Whatever Haru’s initial purpose was I sense this has all spiraled out of his control, to the point where he really has no idea what to do next – I can’t help but think that it’s Yuki who’s connected to the dragon/princess legend in ways we don’t yet understand (might the red-headed boy somehow be the dragon himself?) and may eventually prove the key to resolving the impending crisis.