Shiroi Suna no Aquatope

Title:Shiroi Suna no Aquatope
Aquatope on White Sand
Keywords: , , , , ,
Notables: AIDA Rikako
Animation - P.A. Works
Kukuru Misakino, an 18-year-old high school girl working in an aquarium, meets Fuuka Miyazawa, a former idol who lost her place in Tokyo and escaped. Fuuka will spend her days in the aquarium with her own thoughts in mind. However, the crisis of closing is approaching for the aquarium, as the girls explore their dreams and reality, loneliness and friends, bonds and conflicts.
(Summary Courtesy of Anime News Network)

TV anime that premiered on July 8, 2021.
Animated by PA Works.
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Watch Stretch [series:4341#628]
(Watch+ or Rent-)

(All episodes watched):

Fuuka is demoralized after her idol career comes to an ignominious end, and rather than face embarrassment at home she flies to Okinawa on a whim. A fortune teller accurately describes her as an 'insular, studious type without street smarts and who can't say no' (a clever way of developing her personality). I thought I detected something magical and mystical about this aquarium--there would have to be for a young girl, Kukuru, to be its director, wouldn't there? But I was imagining too much. Episode two clarifies the premise somewhat: Kukuru is the temporary director of a struggling small aquarium that is expected to go out of business soon. Rather than being 'magical and mystical', as I had first thought, the aquarium is quite realistic and we learn a bit about how aquariums function. And there was nothing wrong with Fuuka's performance as an idol, rather she nobly sacrificed her chances to help a fellow performer. That revelation sort of irked me; it sort of makes her seem like a goody two-shoes sort of girl when I think a genuinely flawed one (like the rest of us) would have been more interesting. Fuuka would rather keep a low profile but her modest fame keeps catching up to her. The two girls come clean with each other about where they stand. The theme of this show is supposed to be dreams; Kukuru's is to keep the aquarium going, Fuuka's was not yet clear. Does she want to become an idol again? Or will her dream become the same as Kukuru's? It was too soon to be certain, but I got the feeling that this just might be the star series of the Summer 2021 season; at least the competition would be weak. I just hoped all the supernatural elements would 'click' and the show would both make some sense and be fun to watch. The artwork and animation was sharp and high quality. Definitely an original plot, after no less than four isekai series this season.

One reason I got the distinct impression that this show would have a fanciful side was that some sort of gremlin-like creature (which apparently no one can see) appears several times. It seems to be known as a 'Kijimonaa' and these like to play tricks on people. It shows up a couple times but we still have no idea what it may have done or may do in the future to affect the situation at the aquarium. If little more than magic or the supernatural will be involved, can the girls really claim credit if they manage to save the aquarium? In the end, the Kijimonaa never says a word or directly affects anything, so I was left wondering why it had been included at all.

Fuuka's mother tracks her down, but contrary to what I was expecting she is a fairly sympathetic person rather than the domineering parent that all too many anime characters have. They make a deal to allow Fuuka to remain in Okinawa for a while. I didn't really see why two children needed to be introduced in episode seven; it seemed unlikely that they would play any part in the ultimate fate of the Gama Gama aquarium. Maybe just as filler? Kukuru keeps hearing predictions that the aquarium will close sooner or later, sometimes even from people who she had thought were enthusiastic supporters. It was beginning to look like nothing less than a miracle would be needed to save it. Is that where the Kijimonaa would come into the story? (no). But to have all the girls' hard work come to nothing and win this critical battle via magic wouldn't exactly be inspiring or admirable. It might be about the only way it could actually happen, however. Things seemed to be lagging a bit compared to the tension of the early episodes.

In a sense, the supernatural plays a part after all. A number of people have experienced strange 'illusions' while at the aquarium; these have been mentioned before, but didn't seem all that important. Kukuru hopes to use them as a desperate measure to keep Gama Gama open. But, like the Kijimonaa, these illusions ultimately make little or no difference to how the story plays out. Fuuka has a difficult choice to make after getting a phone call from an old comrade from her idol group. I had figured that the battle to keep Gama Gama open would be the central theme of this show and would go on 'til the end, and wasn't exactly looking forward to that. But no, the plot goes off in another direction at the halfway point. That is both refreshing and confusing; apparently the girls will need a new dream or dreams, but I have little idea what those will be. If she's going back to Tokyo anyway, why didn't Fuuka accept the fantastic opportunity that was offered to her? It wasn't exactly a lifelong commitment, and Kukuru herself had recommended she do so. This story does not make complete sense.

I liked the first episode of the second season, in which Kukuru starts her new job at the much bigger Nigaraa aquarium. This place is more like a corporation than the mom and pop sort of business that Gama Gama was, and after being assigned a public relations job that she feels unqualified for amidst strangers she feels disoriented and demoralized. It seems all too realistic. Her lifeline is the several Gama Gama employees, including Fuuka, that have moved there along with her. Still, I sort of wonder where this is all going, because no critical conflict that absolutely must be resolved has been made clear. Slice of life rather than drama, I guess. Would the Kijimonaa step in at the last moment to fix everything? But that would be totally out of step with the otherwise realistic theme of struggling to overcome real world problems. Kukuru tries to defuse problems by understanding where other people are coming from and making friends with them rather than losing her temper and/or giving up. This seems to be a skill that is prized in Japan.

Yes, 'Slice of life' is an appropriate keyword for this show, in the sense that it seems to be more about solving little day-to-day problems than some big conflict which might have serious implications. I wasn't sensing much of a climax approaching as the show passed the 3/4 complete mark. About the worst thing that I could conceive of happening would be Kukuru giving up and quitting her job at Nigaraa, which wouldn't be the end of the world. Indeed, she is increasingly becoming disillusioned with her job and feeling less and less satisfaction from it. Fuuka, on the other hand, seems perfectly satisfied with her position and gets relatively little attention. Even a visit by the girl who she allowed to replace her as an idol doesn't stir much regret within her. So, she's at peace but peace is kind of boring.

I was tiring of this story at this point, but episode 21 reinvigorates things somewhat. A demoralizing event leaves Kukuru feeling burnt-out, but she discovers a new source of inspiration: a small aquarium much like the now defunct Gama Gama. This is obviously the sort of place where she would like to work, not Nigaraa. But, based on all the anime I had seen before, I couldn't help thinking that her giving up on her place at Nigaraa would be seen as an intolerable betrayal of the ganbare spirit and wouldn't be allowed to happen. Sure enough, in the end the experience does more to reinvigorate her determination to do the job that someone else has chosen for her than to choose a new one for herself. Seems more like 'conforming' than chasing a dream to me, but not everyone can mold the world into their own image.

Time was rapidly running out for this two-season series yet I was still getting little sense of any sort of climax approaching. In episode 23 we finally learn where the word 'aquatope' comes from. An opportunity presents itself, and Fuuka (who has seemed to me to play second fiddle to Kukuru for a good while) goes for it, but is torn by a certain doubt. I guess this will be her 'dream', but it came out of nowhere and was achieved all in the space of one episode, and while Fuuka had been becoming more interested in topics like oceanic ecology there hadn't been much foreshadowing that she was in any way dissatisfied with her present position. On the contrary, she had seemed perfectly satisfied while it was Kukuru who was having problems at work.

...and the story comes to an end. Everybody's fine, nothing to worry about—but it felt kind of disappointing. There's no crisis, no climax other than Fuuka and Kukuru making some important but not exciting decisions. The Kijimonaa briefly appears but nobody can see it and it doesn't really intervene, so... what for? Visitors to Nigaraa experience a collective 'illusion', but it's basically a reflection of their wonder and curiosity this time. I guess in the end the message is more of what a great place aquariums are, not that the main characters have achieved amazing dreams. Eh, could have been much worse. But if I had known that I'd be getting this sort of reward for watching for two seasons, I'm not sure I would have.

Last updated Sunday, December 26 2021. Created Monday, July 12 2021.

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