Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish
Tsuneo Suzukawa is saving up to go to college outside of Japan, but his job at a dive shop isn't bringing in enough money to do that, so he agrees to a second gig as a caretaker for a shut-in disabled girl, with whom he becomes closer. But then... Things Fall Apart.
"Things Fall Apart" is a well-known line from Yeats' The Second Coming (a poem which, sadly, has many lines that resonate with my own views of the current world situation.) I didn't know until recently that it's also the title of a novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe.
So what does this have to do with Josee? Nothing, really. But Josee's heroine was actually BORN Kumiko, and adopted the name "Josee" from a character in the works of her favorite writer, the French novelist and playwright Francoise Sagan. During a conversation she has with a librarian who's another Sagan fan, several works by that French author get name-dropped. I can think of several other anime shows- Looking Up At The Half Moon for one- where literary works get mentioned, and I'm always a little suspicious that when this occurs, it's either to demonstrate the author's literary erudition (the late Ms. Tanabe was a well-known writer in Japanese literary circles), or to give the work some extra credibility-by-association. Personally, I judge works purely on what I think are their own merits (or lack of same), and wouldn't give any extra points for mere references to Ms. Sagan's work than I would expect to receive myself for citing Yeats and Achebe. (Though I'm going to be using "Things Fall Apart" a few times in the review, because they certainly DO for our protagonists.)
Still, Half Moon did apparently lift at least one plot idea from one of the works it cites. I'm totally unfamiliar with Ms. Sagan's work, but Josee certainly doesn't start like a work of high literature. It begins with a variant of a depressingly familiar anime first-encounter trope, and then aggravates the banality by having the same thing happen again happen late in the show, exactly where and when you'd expect it to, in another of those happy coincidences of time and place that I'd normally associate with dreadful rom-com scripts.
Where the show DOES surprise you is in some of the characters' irrational behavior- mostly that of Josee's grandmother, who'd been her caretaker until Tsuneo showed up. Granny warns Josee that "the world is full of beasts", yet is fine entrusting her granddaughter- who is confined to a motorized wheelchair- to this 21 year old male she really knows nothing about. I guess she really DID want to go play pachinko. Yes, caretakers who have to be so 24/7 need a break. I GET that. But I might have made a different, and certainly more careful, selection. And if you're going to "leave those kids alone", it would seem to me a better idea to let him take her out to public places (at least in the daylight hours), instead of insisting the two stay inside the house; better for her social development, AND better for minimizing the chances of hanky-panky. ("hanky-panky" is an expression old folks like me use.) But, as they liked to say in my family, if everyone here acted logically "there wouldn't be a show".
Josee also made me recall Looking Up at the Half Moon in the verbal abuse our "heroine" subjected poor Tsuneo to, right down to making unreasonable demands of him. I suppose, in both of these shows, you could argue that the young woman was acting out of bitterness, which in turn came from social isolation, which in ITS turn came from their respective physical limitations. I GET that, too. But it's STILL hard to develop sympathy toward someone who treats an innocent person, who's trying to help, with such utter contempt. Josee, at least at first, seemed strangely un-nuanced for a female character created by a female writer, and to tell the truth I never completely warmed to her, even when she had to struggle out of some dark events herself.
There are a couple of people from the dive shop where Tsuneo works that became important to the story. Hayato Matsuura turns out to be a pretty solid supporter of our hero, despite the usual male-sidekick tendency to try to hit on all the ladies. On the other hand, his other friend from the dive shop, Mai Ninomiya, while seeming to be sweet and supportive, is possibly nowhere near as selfless as she lets on.
As for the other items in the show's title, there ARE physical objects associated with them, but they're mostly metaphors for aspects of Josee's psyche. The "fish" refers to her relationship (and bond) with Tsuneo. But the "tiger" refers to her being able to face things on her own, without leaning on someone else. When Things Fall Apart later this becomes important, and I felt we should have been seeing things, including developing coping strategies, much more through HER eyes- but the focus remains solidly on HIM. (I'm NOT belittling his problems, though. As an aside, shortly after Things Fell Apart for Tsuneo, my wife walked in while I was watching this, and declared Tsuneo was a "gloomy Gus". She, of course, had not seen the buildup to this, where several metric tons of hurt had descended on Tsuneo like a hail of bricks of bad fortune. There needs to be a term for making judgements about characters or situations without knowing the backgrounds behind them. I'd suggest calling them "Out-Of-Context Experiences".)
It just seems strange to have to say that a female writer SHOULD be showing this more through the eyes of her female character than through the male character; perhaps in Ms. Tanabe's original story, it was. One thing in particular would have benefited from JOSEE'S perspective: what her OWN feelings were about her personal part in creating his sad situation, which she did deserve some blame for, even if it was unintentional. (Even a show like Moonphase showed us its heroine struggling with guilt over unintentionally wounding the hero.) But THIS show would rather spend its time introducing a rival for Tsuneo's affection, and the subsequent sparring over him. I didn't find this terribly original.
On the other hand, the film WAS nominated for 6 genre awards, according to Wiki (including a Best Film nomination in the 2021 Crunchyroll Anime Awards), and WON one- the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2021 Audience Award), so maybe Grampa's the one who's out of step here. Wouldn't be the first time.
A few miscellaneous things:
-The show is rather proud of its musical score (it's quite pleasant), and it's included as a separate disc in the FUNimation DVD/Blu-Ray package.
-Considering how ALL Hans Christian Andersen's "heroes" wound up, I would say that, at least to a MODERN audience, he seems less like someone who loved children, and more like a sadist who HATED children and wanted them all crying their eyes out. (Which is why Disney re-wrote The Little Mermaid). For once, I totally sympathized with something Josee did.
The Rec this time is what I consider a better anime film involving a character with a disability. For something closer to Josee (but with the genders reversed), I'm going to rec a manga that has not YET been adapted as an anime, Perfect World.
Grampa's going to be an out-of-step curmudgeon again, but I WAS annoyed by some cliches and Granny's bad judgement, AND by what I viewed as a curiously unsympathetic depiction of the female lead by a female writer (though of course the screenplay may reflect the attitudes and priorities of the MEN adapting the story more than those of its original creator.) — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Mature situations, including injuries. No fanservice. Right Stuf says 13+; I agree.
Version(s) Viewed: DVD/Blu-Ray Disc
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish © 2020 BONES.
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