Aliens in fiction generally tend to stratify and sort themselves into two distinct categories, depending on just how xenophobic the person helming the project is feeling that morning. They often don’t have much complexity past either wanting to remain on good terms with humans regardless of the species’ general nastiness, or wanting to make humanity their own personal all you can eat buffet, though this dichotomy isn’t necessarily indicative of the quality. It’s all too easy to insert subtext into the films promoting either peaceful co-habilitation or unrestrained flaunting of military might with little middle ground, depending on just how inclined the aliens are to liquefy the protagonists and suck their remains through bendy straws.
Anime, or at least Tsuritama, has a tendency to have its aliens fall out of these mutually exclusive camps. Haru and Coco are great examples, remaining on decidedly neutral, yet generally amiable ground with the rest of the cast, albeit in different fashions. It’s a reminder that for all their eccentric behavior, the two are out for their own self interests above those of the people that they’re living among. While Coco acting in her own self interest isn’t too surprising given her overall distant behavior toward the rest of the cast, it’s jarring when Haru starts acting selfishly when he’s spent the entire run making it so hard to dislike him. It’s not jarring in a bad way, mind, but remembering that he’s an alien with his own set of mysterious priorities hits harder after he’s previously made it his goal to act as friendly and wacky as physically possible in order to make friends.
Tsuritama is a show that knows how to make its characters likable, despite their many, many quirks that would get in the way of the sense of enjoyment in any lesser show. Even when Haru snaps and starts to aggressively shy away from fishing, the knowledge that he is indeed looking out for himself instead of Yuki doesn’t come across as insidious as it could be. He spends most of the episode in full psycho mode, and I found it almost impossible to find him annoying because he’s doing it for a very human reason, out of fear of regressing back to how he was during their odd little tuna fishing trip.
There’s something that often gets lost in translation when it comes to alien fiction, and anime is certainly no stranger to this. Even when an alien character is meant to be sympathetic, they often lack the humanity to really make it work. It’s less of a deficiency in storytelling, and more of a persistent focus on making sure that the audience is reminded as often as possible that the character is alien, sometimes experiencing emotions and processing things through a warped lens of logic in ways that humans can’t comprehend. The aliens in Tsuritama, to be frank, didn’t have to be aliens. They could have been Lovecraftian fish people, or mole men, or elves and the result would still be the same, because they’re able to interact and behave in ways that people can relate with. Haru in particular shows more emotion than any other character, always bordering and crossing over into irrationality; it’s no wonder that Akira is so suspicious of his behavior.
Tsuritama remembers that no matter what, any kind of character regardless of race or species has to show human emotions in order to be sympathetic. It’s all well and good to have them be heartless killing machines if they’re intended to be villains, but a display of real emotion makes moral ambiguity that much easier to process. No matter how Haru and Coco behave, it’s clear that their goals don’t necessarily align with their human friends. They’re out for their own interests above others, but their very human portrayal makes it difficult to begrudge them for it.