Does anybody know what an “aquatope” is? I’m not sure it’s a real thing. The word was mentioned in the final episode (I think) of Shiroi Suna no Aquatope, or Aquatope on White Sand, but it was so unremarkable I don’t even remember what it was about. Nor do I think it had much to do with anything that happened […]
Does anybody know what an “aquatope” is?
I’m not sure it’s a real thing. The word was mentioned in the final episode (I think) of Shiroi Suna no Aquatope, or Aquatope on White Sand, but it was so unremarkable I don’t even remember what it was about. Nor do I think it had much to do with anything that happened in the show. I spent a lot of mental energy—relatively—on this show thinking about the title. It ended up being a little bit of a distraction; as you can tell, as I’ve said nothing about the show itself yet.
So about that: my response is mixed. This was definitely one of those shows that split distinctly between two halves. The first half was emotional, intriguing, mysterious, and very engaging. The second half was often annoying, slow-paced, lacking all that made the first half interesting. The whole thing ended kind of nicely, but due to the mild frustrations I felt at the second half, I mostly was disinterested by that time. If I had to sum it up, I’d say this show had potential but got a little lost along the way. I liked it, but I could have liked it more.
The first half of this show introduced us to the handful of characters who worked at the very small Gama Gama Aquarium, one or two who work nearby but have close relationships with that group, and of course the outsider Fuuka. It wasn’t too many people, but just enough to make it a little confusing at times. A lot of them were nice characters, but they tended to get buried in all the bustle of the story. This series was more story-driven than perhaps the authors intended, with the characters getting a little in each others’ ways sometimes.
Fuuka Miyazawa has a nice design. She drew me into the story right away, as she was pursuing a “dream” of being an idol, a dream that was becoming less and less of a dream with each passing day and more and more of a burden. It felt relatable, even if I never will know what it’s like to be an idol. Lots of young people misstep in what they think they want to do in life, and often end up feeling overwhelmed and not knowing quite what to do next. Sometimes they let the current simply carry them along, others do like Fuuka and simply abandon the thing that they once aspired to that has lost its enchantment. The establishment of her character set a great tone for this show: a tone of the kind of sad, mild despair we feel when a dream evaporates as if it never was anything but a dream.
Inject Kukuru Misakino and the downward spiraling situation at Gama Gama Aquarium into this mix, and you were set for a very emotional series. Kukuru’s dream is coming to an end for a very different reason than Fuuka’s reason. She hasn’t become disenchanted with running an aquarium: the aquarium itself is disappearing. Gama Gama Aquarium is slowly meeting the fate that many aging small or medium businesses come to. The charm runs out, generations change, and these entities slowly lose the reason and resources to exist. This itself is somewhat sad, especially if it’s the dream of a new, younger generation to try to continue that dream. But forces beyond Kukuru’s control cannot be thwarted. She will lose her dream to those forces, forces for which no one is to blame, but simply and inexorably exist.
I like this dynamic. These two characters don’t randomly meet, but almost in a fated kind of way cross paths and are drawn to each other. It was very emotional, very sad. It gave all the fuel the story needed.
As well as some, perhaps, unintended fuel. Every time an anime starts to focus on the relationship between two female main characters, people start to say the word “yuri.” I don’t go in for all that; yuri is yuri, and it has its place, and if a show is not yuri, it’s not yuri. This show was not yuri, but I also understand why people thought it might be. I wondered about it for a while. The girls seemed fated to be together. Obviously this doesn’t have to mean yuri, but could simply be as great friends, but the emotional, almost romantic, feel of this story led me to question if this show, and these characters, would take that track. I kind of liked it actually. There was already a certain level of mysteriousness at least in the first half of this show, and this added another layer to that mystery. Unlike the other mystery elements that tended to fade through the second half, this one stayed around even if it became less of a focus. I wondered about this aspect all the way up to the end of the show, finding ultimately that this series wasn’t going to follow that track.
Those two main characters take up most of the show. We get a little sidetracked with a few of the side characters occasionally, even if all of it surrounded the two main characters, and I felt like that didn’t do much for the show. But mostly the focus remained on those two.
Everyone else does a pretty good job supporting the main characters. But there are too many of them to go into individually. Their dynamics with the main characters were often good, but there were a lot of different kinds of dynamics too, so it was a little hard to focus in on any of them. Some of the characters themselves were somewhat interesting individually, but they were definitely side characters and never got much development. Although, I shouldn’t make it seem like that lack of development is a bad thing. If this show had tried to develop any of the side characters more than it did, it would have been a terrible mess. Kukuru and Fuuka would have disappeared completely. They almost did at times, given the way the second half of this show was managed. Shifting focus to supporting characters would have done them in completely. So I’m not unhappy with that lack of development here.
The voice acting wasn’t much to get excited about. You have Miku Itou, the VA for Miku Nanako (The Quintessential Quintuplets) playing Kukuru, and then Nao Touyama (Chitoge Kirisaki, NIsekoi; Nagisa Shiota, Assassination Classroom) and Azumi Waki (Senko, The Helpful Fox Senko-san; Rem Galleu, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord), but those are your only prolific performers, and the last two are playing supporting supporting (yes I said it twice) characters. Nobody particularly caught my ear. Kukuru herself was a little annoying at times with all the forced ganbare stuff, but it wasn’t too bad. The voice acting seemed a little blah overall, but I cannot say it was bad. Just average to unremarkable.
This show ended up being very story-driven, and I wonder if that was the intention. I feel like Kukuru and Fuuka should have been a bit more impactful given the kind of story that unfolded around them. In that respect this show might have missed a bit on the characters. But that doesn’t rub me wrong here. The characters simply end up being a little less of a focus overall. So on the whole they end up feeling pretty average, but since the story ends up driving the series ultimately, average is alright here. The characters play their role, even if they could’ve been better.
I like what the studio tried to do here with the artwork. They tried to make it integral to everything happening in the show. They didn’t neglect it. This was a story-centric or even character-centric show before it ever could have been artwork-centric, yet the artwork is magnificent. Unfortunately, like pretty much everything else in this show, it lost most of its effect in the second half of the series.
In the first half, two things jumped out at me right away. First was the bright, glassy beauty of the characters. This show shined like one of those happy, jaunty rom-com or harem shows where the characters glow and shine like polished glass. The overall blue to teal color scheme enhanced this effect. It was amazing, stunning to look at regardless of any other factor. But add to that the mystery of Gama Gama and the way that was handled visually, you had a show that began to strongly pull the viewer into it. I was as immersed in those mesmerizing underwater scenes inside Gama Gama as the characters themselves. I personally wouldn’t want to be underwater like that—maybe it looks fun to some people—and watching those scenes I felt the same kind of apprehension I might ordinarily feel at the prospect of being submerged in that much water, as if it was very real. It was spectacular visually.
Second half: all of that disappears. The pretty art style is still there, but it doesn’t feel the same in the whitish, sanitary Tingaara Aquarium setting. But the mysterious visual elements were gone completely. It makes sense from a story perspective (maybe), as Gama Gama is gone, but simply speaking from a visual perspective, the show suddenly was missing a big element, forcing it to survive solely on other aspects. Perhaps it could have done so, but when such a forceful element like that is suddenly removed, everything else really feels lacking.
The effect was that the visual interest of this show almost completely evaporated in the second half, and thereby mostly erasing it from my impressions of this show. Interestingly, as frustrating an experience as that was, especially in hindsight, I have to say this was a unique experience. We usually don’t throw negative experiences in the “unique and interesting” category, but this remarkably struck me that way. For I can’t think of another anime where a significant shift in a show’s story or tenor affected the artwork so strongly. It’s remarkable that a shift in one element of a show could cause such a drastic effect in another, seemingly very unrelated element. It goes to show you that all the elements of anime are very much more interconnected than we might imagine, and certainly highlights once again how anime is ultimately a wholly visual medium.
That remarkability, in this case, of course does nothing to raise my estimation of what happened to the artwork though. It was disappointing to see it become so unimportant. The artwork was stunning in the first half. It was just there in the second half. So where I might have praised this artwork even more under different circumstances, I have to think hard to recall the greatest parts of it, instead of it being part of my overall impression. So it is really good, but doesn’t quite have as much effect it could have.
At times this show was trite and ordinary, at times it was remarkable and engrossing, possessing a strange and mysterious sweetness.
It has relatability. A girl has come to give up on her dream, finding it no longer a dream, and she’s too afraid, too apprehensive, too self-conscious, too embarrassed or ashamed, too unsure of herself to return home, so she finds herself wandering the land with no place to go. A lot of us have been there, to one degree or another. On the other hand, Kukuru’s dream dies before her eyes, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Whether it’s a dream or some other thing, such a circumstance is heartbreaking. Many of us know what it’s like for things to feel hopelessly beyond our control. The story surrounding Fuuka and Kukuru does a great job making this show relatable. I looked forward to seeing how the relationship between these two blossomed week to week amidst all this.
It has mystery. I started watching this show, and I sensed it was headed in a Yuru Camp or A Place Further Than the Universe direction, so I when I first laid eyes on those strange, surreal underwater scenes within the Gama Gama Aquarium, I was surprised and entranced. I was captivated. I felt absorbed by the water, and even felt a tiny bit of the rush one might feel if you were submerged in that much water. My eyes and mind were pulled into this watery world. I was amazed. After those scenes would end, I would marvel, wondering what fantastical direction this show would turn to in the end. On top of that, you have the mild yuri thing going on which made me curious as well, aforementioned. And you had that little sprite of a creature that was running around. Fuuka and Kukuru would do their little offerings at that little shrine here and there, and I figure it had something to do with that, but the creature itself and what it was up to were complete mysteries to me. I was engrossed in this series. I couldn’t wait for the next episode every week.
It has sadness. This is very closely tied to the relatability aforementioned. But think about this: broken dreams are sad and all, but this show shows us two extremely relatable ways, for two different sympathetic characters, that dreams can be lost. It’s a double dose of heartbreak. The more you think about it, the sadder it becomes. I had to stop thinking about it. Each episode wouldn’t feel ultra sad itself, but the inevitability of it all hung over everything. Then you’d get to the end of each episode (in the first half of the series) and that unbelievably sad ending song would play. You’d have seen a grown ass man cry if you’d been with me while I watched every new episode.
Then the second half of the series comes around. Gama Gama is gone. Kukuru moves to a new job. Fuuka moves to a new job at the same new aquarium. They’re working in this slightly sanitary corporate environment now, with lots of frustrating personalities around them, no more mystery, no more magic, no more sweetly sad ED. Just frustration with how Kukuru is treated, frustration at Fuuka and her storyline mostly disappearing into the background, frustration with the droll environment of the new aquarium compared to the homey, mysterious, sweet feeling of Gama Gama. It was life after the dreams get replaced: mundane, tiresome, empty. Perhaps it’s meant to be: perhaps it’s meant to feel sad. The dream replaced by reality. But it’s not fun to watch.
I became very disinterested in this show once the second half continued to drag on in this manner. Every new episode was Kukuru being treated like trash by her aloof manager, her venting frustrations about that as she tried her hardest to conform to these people’s expectations, and very little interaction with Fuuka. We barely saw many aquarium creatures other than Fuuka’s penguins. Because even when Fuuka was in the story, it was because some drama or other was unfolding with one or another of the other penguin attendants. Fuuka was hardly even a part of it.
The two halves phenomenon disrupted main plotlines too. The biggest main thread in this show is the fated meeting of two girls amidst broken dreams. It’s palpable in the first half, and it’s mentioned as a subtitle beneath the title of the show on intros and outros. When the second half comes around, the fated meeting begins to lose meaning. Fuuka and Kukuru are hardly ever together, aforementioned, and their new situation hardly looks like a fated one. It looks like a blah life that a lot of us end up living when we can’t find our way: when we can’t find that so-called “fated” path. Fated paths might not always be satisfactory—indeed they’re not—but it was a big letdown watching this unfold in this manner here. This was the wrong kind of relatability! Annoying managers and unpleasant tasks, delivered in copious amounts, slowly absorbing your life, are not something audiences really want to see, I’d imagine. The idea of a “fated” meeting between these two is tossed out of our sight in the midst of all this.
Many an anime becomes a tale of two halves. This show suffered badly from it. Whatever momentum the story picked up through the first half evaporated completely in the second. The writers tried to revive that a little bit in the last few episodes, but it just barely got this show back to what it was good at. The resolution to everything is a bit unsatisfactory—I won’t spoil it here—but at least it brought back a bit of the feel from the first half.
The biggest problem I have with anime that are afflicted with this two halves phenomenon is that I feel the better half was only good by accident. The writers lost control of their story. So one half turns out great, for reasons beyond the writers’ control or knowledge, and the other half turns out dumb, also beyond the writers’ control. The best stories carry threads all the way through to the end. The best stories, even if they change in some manner along the way, are not great at one end and forgettable at the other. The writers of great stories have a vision that carries through all the way to the end of their tales. When I see anime that does not have this, I think less of the whole. I feel like the first half is good accidentally, and the second half is the real misguided endeavor. Or, alternatively, even if the first half is intentionally made the way it is, why don’t the writers have the sense to realize what’s making it good and continue to use that throughout the remainder of the series? It’s always frustrating to me, from a critic’s viewpoint, when I see this two half phenomenon ruin an anime.
This show starts out like fire and ends like another day at work. It is beautiful, entrancing, fantastic, until suddenly it becomes mundane, ordinary, and boring. If it weren’t for the beauty of the first half and the feelings that inspired, I’d say this show was a disaster.
That’s my gut reaction to the whole show. But it doesn’t mean I disliked this show. As frustrating as it was, I can forgive the second half a little. The first half was beautiful, and as much as I’d liked to have seen the second half build on that and bring it to a better resolution, I will never forget the feelings of the first half. I will remember the blue tinted artwork, the sad inevitability and relatability of Fuuka and Kukuru’s situations, and the mystery of the supernatural suddenly and unpredictably inserting itself into this sad tale. I will soon forget the sanitary white and teal coloring and managers and deadlines of Tingaara. But I will not forget the fated meeting of two girls amidst their broken dreams.
It’s a big miss by the writers, producers, and studio to not realize how powerful a thing they had in their hands. But also, they did make something of it. 20-24 episodes is a lot. It’s hard to fill all that with quality material. Only a few shows have done it very successfully, not to mention long-running shows that have giant arcs and filler episodes that drive people crazy. So it’s somewhat understandable that those involved in production would lose sight of what made this show good. And nothing in this world lasts forever. Perhaps I should simply be happy with 12 or so episodes of sweet sorrow and sympathy, and should not focus so much on the negative here.
I mentioned the ED for the first half. It fit the show really well. It almost had a “watery” feeling to it. It was haunting, mysterious, sad, beautiful, both audibly and visually. It was one of the EDs that felt so natural at the end of the action that you felt no reason to turn it off. It drew you into the show like the other mysterious and emotional elements did. But that was the only remarkable music. The openings and the second half ending were ordinary at best.
This show is nicely encased in a single season. There’s no reason to have a second season. The story is all wrapped up as far as this particular story is concerned, and there are no lingering questions about any of the characters. So this likely is a one season anime, more of a rarity these days it seems. I’m happy about this. It’s good as one season, regardless of how much I can find to complain about. It’s nice for stories to be contained like that. Sprawling shows have their own appeal, but clear beginnings and endings, with limited action in between, are nice occasionally too.
Would I recommend this show? Probably not, but only because it’s tiresome in the second half. If this show was just the first half, I’d definitely recommend it. Those who really enjoy these friendship slice-of-life type shows would seriously appreciate the first half. I’ve been negative enough about the second half already, so I won’t go into that anymore, but it is the sole reason I wouldn’t recommend this anime. Beware the two halves phenomenon, world of anime. So enjoy the first half of this series, but toss the second half in the ordinary category. That’s about all there is to it.