If I hypothetically decided to take up a new career as a James Bond villain, rather than the unbelievably lavish career of a sociology major, there are three things I’d make sure to do before plotting world domination and consequently being foiled by my arch nemesis: Buy an eye patch, perfect my evil laugh, and dangle every anime viewer over a pool of sharks via shoddy rope and ask them what the most Lovecraftian anime of the season is. If they answered anything but Tsuritama, they’d be promptly dropped and devoured by sharks, because life isn’t worth living without petty and decadent evil.
Unfortunately, since I don’t have the funds or lack of moral compass to assume a life of murderous pedantry, I’ll have to back up my point like any other, self-respecting blogger without access to a pool of sharks and embarrassing amounts of disposable income. I imagine that if most people were threatened with death in the aforementioned scenario, watching me cackle awkwardly while cracking puns about being all tied up and such, most would answer Haiyore! Nyaruko-san in a blind panic.
The reason why they’d be shark food is because Haiyore! Nyaruko-san is to Lovecraft what Futurama is to Star Wars; occasionally referencing the material, but not actually resembling it in any meaningful way. As fun as Nyaruko-san is, it’s about as Lovecraftian a story as any other otaku pander-fest out there, even if it’s wittier than most. On the other hand, for something that doesn’t directly reference Lovecraft or any of his works, Tsuritama is doing a great job of adapting his storytelling formula to its own, noticeably non-horror designs.
H.P. Lovecraft’s works are defined by one theme—a lack of control. Well two themes, but Anglo-centric white supremacy probably isn’t what Tsuritama’s aiming for. Back on topic, everything from “The Colour out of Space” to “The Dunwich Horror” is best described as an exercise in what happens when people are threatened by something wholly alien, but are unable to combat it. Lovecraft’s stories are definitely bleak, taking the rather nihilistic view that humans are worth very little in the grand scheme of the universe, and they have no way to keep themselves from falling prey to a higher power, be it an Elder God or another kind of spectral force beyond the veil of understanding. They can also be construed as a condemnation of humanity’s unerring sense of self preservation, and the willingness of people to offer up others to keep themselves safe. Really, even discounting this xenophobic interpretation of his works, there are many ways that his writing can be taken, but virtually none of them are positive.
Tsuritama, on the other hand, is brimming with such vibrancy and joy at just being alive that it can be difficult at first glance to see any kind of resemblance between it and works of such a pessimistic nature. After all, most of the show seems to center around getting over social anxiety to become closer to others, to traverse boundaries between disparate personalities using fishing as a means of emotional conveyance. Yet, even factoring in the difference in tone and genre, the two sets of properties bear an uncanny resemblance that goes well past superficial similarities shared by any series involving aliens and the sea; in particular, Tsuritama shares numerous storytelling techniques with Lovecraft’s oft forgotten yet chilling work, “The Whisperer in Darkness”.
The directions of the two, though entirely different in many ways, tread similar territory. In Whisperer, a country residence is beset by strange invaders every night for several nights. It starts small, with strange sounds being heard outside and alien bodies dead in a river, old folktales of creatures whispered around town, but the occurrences escalate in magnitude, eventually leading to sightings of live creatures outside the main character’s residence and his many guard dogs dying off one by one. The story succeeds because it builds dread over time, yet doesn’t explicitly state the motives of the creatures that stalk around the protagonist’s residence at night; it’s a case of the unknown being much scarier than actually having an idea why something’s happening.
Tsuritama follows a similar route, of building up a sense of mystery through means of increasingly inexplicable and numerous renditions of the Enoshima dance, albeit at the hands of Coco and Haru. Once others that aren’t affiliated with them are affected, the mystery only grows until it’s learned that the presence that lurks under the bait ball by the artificial reef is none other than the creature that our two favorite aliens are out to bring back to their home world, the same thing that’s compelling fishermen to perform the dance. Before the last episode, all we knew is that the alien’s not of this world, and it has the potential to control others; except instead of forcing people to worship it or let it eat them, it makes them dance and crash their boats onto land, which is still kind of evil in a slightly perplexing, unintentional way. While its intentions are nowhere near as malign as those of your standard Lovecraft eldritch abomination, the byproducts of its actions are still negative to warrant a comparison.
What Tsuritama succeeds at, much like the greatest of Lovecraft’s staggering collection, is building a sense of intrigue with clever melding of mystery and folklore manifested from common human fears. Either Tsuritama is one of the greatest examples of how to adapt horror tropes to non-horror media without clunky references, or it’s all a wonderful coincidence; even considering that the latter is more likely, it’s still a brilliant show that’s worthy of praise. And most importantly, I hope that through this veiled endorsement of H.P. Lovecraft, I’ve convinced some of my readers to give his works a shot, if only to argue with me about whether Tsuritama really does bear a resemblance. So get on it!