“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” –Jonathan Swift
In order to be more useful at Gama Gama Aquarium, Fūka works hard at learning about the different species that are present and helps Kukuru to host a touch aquarium event, during which visitors are allowed to gently handle some of the aquatic life. Knowing that their audience includes young children, Fūka decides to spice things up and makes displays that appeal to younger visitors. Kukuru decides to make Fūka the attendant, and despite the latter’s reservations, she ends up doing a solid job of keeping visitors engaged. However, some visitors soon recognise Fūka as an idol, and Kukuru pulls Fūka aside to give her some space. In the aftermath, the pair reconcile and return to their duties. Fūka’s mother arrives in Okinawa shortly after with the goal of bringing Fūka home, and although Kukuru suggests that Fūka try to make a break for it, she ends up returning to the aquarium after growing worried about one of the fish there. Fūka’s mother soon sees her working with Kukuru, and happy that her daughter is fine, Fūka’s mother consents to let her stay in Okinawa to help Gama Gama Aquarium out, contingent on the condition that Fūka returns home when term resumes. Hoping to bring in more visitors, Kukuru struggles to come up with an idea, but after Umi-yan brings ice pops into the office after hours, Kukuru feels it’d be nice to offer sweets. Although Tsukimi suggests ice cream, Karin shuts the idea down owing to the health and safety regulation that ice cream vendors must adhere to. Inspired, Tsukimi goes with shaved ice with an aquatic twist, which turns out to be a major success. While looking after the aquarium, Kukuru runs into an elderly man who’d been visiting Gama Gama every summer since it opened. It turns out he had a fantastical, otherworldly experience here and encountered his brother in a vision on his first visit, and curious, he’d come to yearn for another experience. While gazing upon the fish with Kukuru, both she and the elderly man are taken into a vision: he reunites with his brother, and Kukuru spots her family. Kukuru realises that Gama Gama is special because it means something to many people and joins her friends, who are encountering success with their shaved ice stand. We’re now a quarter of the way into The Aquatope on White Sand, a series that combines the workplace detail of Shirobako with the idea of saving an aging entity in Sakura Quest. However, six episodes in, melancholy and magic are much more prevalent than they were in P.A. Works’ previous workplace anime.
The Aquatope on White Sand lacks the same sense of quiet introspection and yearning for direction that The World in Colours presents, or the energetic and upbeat, go-getter attitudes of Shirobako and Sakura Quest had. Instead, the anime exists as a happy medium between the two, combining the supernatural aspects of The World in Colours with the creativity and drive of P.A. Works’ workplace series: Fūka has begun to settle in to life at Gama Gama Aquarium and is applying her own touch on problem solving, proving to be a success in her role as an attendant for the touch pools. Fūka’s natural talent for speaking in front of people and driving excitement makes it such that the children who check out the pools develop an interest in marine life (and in turn, leaves their parents happy), while Tsukimi’s love of cooking means she is able to contribute to finding new ways of breathing life to the dying Gama Gama Aquarium. The solution she reaches, of creating marine-themed shaved ice, is as ingenious as it is effective; it fits with the aquarium theme and at the same time, is inexpensive enough not to demand anything unreasonable from Kukuru. The Aquatope on White Sand thus begins to show the creative spark that P.A. Works’ workplace anime are known for. At the same time, the supernatural takes on a much larger role here than it had previously; by this point in time, it is clear that there is a certain bit of magic about Gama Gama Aquarium, and among the peaceful, surreal environment created by the large fish tanks and the refractive properties of water, visitors experience visions that speak to their heart’s desires. When Fūka visited, she wanted to become lost in a new world. The veterinarian wished most to meet her unborn child. The elderly man greatly misses his brother, and Kukuru herself yearns for nothing more than to meet her family. That these visions are experienced by others clearly indicates that there is a bit of magic at work here, and this acts as a rather clever metaphor for how aquariums and their environment, in providing a glimpse of life in the ocean, also becomes a mirror for what is in one’s heart. Owing to how magic is utilised in The Aquatope on White Sand, it is reasonable to suppose that as Fūka and Kukuru continue to employ their creative (if mundane) methods for saving Gama Gama Aquarium, their efforts will set in motion powerful support from a yet-to-be-seen supernatural force that may be an asset from time to time, suggesting how once people invest the appropriate effort to push something so far, another actor may intervene and provide a bit of help as a reward to those who work hard to realise their dreams.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Like Sakura Quest had done previously, the initial efforts to save Gama Gama Aquarium are small-scale, creative projects that are intended to bring about a small boost in visitors, mirroring how as the characters settle into their roles and become increasingly familiar with their duties, they are able to bring more to the table. The idea of a touch pool is a simple one, and it falls on Kukuru to identify species that can be safely handled. While some species are very adverse to noise and being handled, others can be safely included in such an exhibit.
- It becomes clear that Fūka is very dedicated, and she makes a considerable effort to familiarise herself with the marine life hosted at Gama Gama Aquarium. Her background as an idol makes her well-suited for this, since Fūka would’ve doubtlessly needed to memorise lines for television spots, commercials and emceeing activities associated with her job. The skillset that Fūka brings to the table is an asset to Gama Gama Aquarium, since having a suitable attendent can really help to engage viewers with what they’re seeing.
- After Fūka becomes versed with the different aquatic animals at Gama Gama, she figures she’s got a few suggestions to try out for really raising interest among visitors; although she may not have years of experience in running an aquarium as Kukuru does, Fūka nonetheless does know how to keep a group’s attention. Her suggestions to spruce up the touch pools is well-received, and Kukuru becomes excited to see what Fūka has in mind.
- In a moment reminiscent of the “I DON’T MONEY” scene in Tari Tari, where Wakana had attempted to evade a stalker who turned out to be an old friend of her mother’s, Fūka is surprised by Umi-yan’s presence and initially takes her to be a suspicious individual, as well. In the escape, Umi-yan pulls his back, and it turns out that he’s no stalker, but rather, an older member of Gama Gama’s staff who also happens to be an idol otaku.
- Fūka’s previous occupation becomes a talking point among Kukuru, Tsukimi and Karin; there’s always the chance that, owing to how quickly news travels, people might hassle Fūka owing to her fame. The three are surprised that Fūka is somewhat famous, but since things have been fairly quiet in Okinawa thus far, the three agree to keep things under wraps for the time being so they don’t worry her. The outside of Kamee Café has quickly become one of my favourite sights in The Aquatope on White Sand: its food and cozy ambience makes it a comforting place to be.
- P.A. Works excels with water effects and reflections; here at the tide pools, Kukuru and Kai collect wildlife for their touch pools. Having known Kukuru since their childhood, Kai and Kukuru are close friends, and Kai often finds himself dragged off to do whatever Kukuru asks of him. However, while Kai is outwardly reminiscent of Taichi and Tsumugu from Tari Tari and Nagi no Asukara, respectively in appearance, his personality is quite different. This is a common criticism that P.A. Works faces in their works; for some of their best titles, character archetypes and designs are recycled. However, appearances alone do not tell the whole story, and the cast size in The Aquatope on White Sand is small enough so that everyone will likely get screen time.
- On the day of the touch pools’ opening, visitors are very pleased with the exhibit and Fūka’s solid job. However, things quickly go south when a couple of visitors notice that Fūka is here. They make to photograph her, only for Karin to step in and state that photographs of the staff are prohibited. Fūka’s fear gets the better of her, and so, Kukuru decides to pull her aside, asking Umi-yan to substitute in while Fūka regroups. While Kukuru might not have been the most sympathetic to Fūka early on, moments like these indicate that Kukuru is the sort of person who reciprocates those who help her.
- Once the shock of being recognised wears off, Kukuru and Fūka share a tender moment. The problem of Fūka’s fame is thus resolved for the present, and I imagine that with time, as well as a little support, Fūka will no longer be immobilised by people knowing who she is. Smaller problems in The Aquatope on White Sand are swiftly dealt with because there is something larger at play in this anime; rather than dwell endlessly on the minutiae, the story is written in such a way so that easier challenges are sorted out early on, allowing for the larger problems to be presented and solved over the space of several episodes.
- This approach may result in a choppier start (if memory serves, Sakura Quest was a little disjointed during its beginning), but once the main story is reached, one can expect The Aquatope on White Sand to really captivate. Here, Fūka and Kukuru prepare to retire for the evening, and while they’re not family (at least, nothing has yet been shown to say this is the case), the two are gradually beginning to become as close as Hitomi and Kohaku did. Their futons, separated by a few feet of space early in the episode, are now placed closer to one another, acting as a pleasant metaphor of their growing friendship.
- The question of when Fūka’s mother would arrive was a matter of when, rather than if; by introducing her early in the game, The Aquatope on White Sand establishes that the series is going to be about Gama Gama Aquarium and not matters that some fans tend to fixate on. Fūka’s mother has every intention of bringing Fūka home, even though Fūka herself has now become attached to the aquarium and wishes she could stay for longer. Fearing that she won’t be able to continue with her journey of self-discovery, she decides to take Kukuru and Kai’s suggestion of running off.
- Of course, lesser minds immediately turned towards criticising Kukuru and Kai. Despite my saying so for the umpteenth time (and to my general irritation, falling on deaf ears), high school students do not always make the most rational decisions when faced with a crisis. An adult would easily understand that this is the time to sit down and be frank, then work out a compromise of some sort. However, we have already established that Kukuru can be a bit impulsive and doesn’t always think things through, so it should hardly be surprising that her first thought is to get Fūka out of the aquarium and get her to make tracks.
- Fūka had noticed the blenny was unwell, but her own circumstances push her to continue on with her journey. Travelling along Route 331, I was able to locate the path that Fūka took, right down to the very bushes she jumps into in an attempt to hide from a car passing by; Kukuru phones ahead to let Fūka know of this so she can continue with her escape. I imagine, then, that owing to the fact that Fūka ends up at Kamee Café, the café must be located along Route 331, as well, although it is a fictional location that was purpose-made for the anime (a cursory search up and down Route 331 turns up nothing).
- To help buy Fūka time, Kukuru had decided to bring Fūka’s mother home to meet her grandparents, and while Fūka’s mother is initially reserved, once Kukuru breaks out her family’s homemade plum wine, Fūka’s mother has a sudden change of heart. Fūka and her mother hail from Tohoku, the northern part of Honshu; the last time I wrote about idols from the Tohoku region, it would’ve been Wake Up, Girls!, a series I came to enjoy very much despite the below-grade animation and art-style. A quick glance at the wall calendar shows that The Aquatope on White Sand is set in 2021, although in their world, there is no global health crisis, with people are coming and going as they normally would.
- This admittedly makes me a little restless, since case numbers are still surging in my neck of the woods owing to undisclosed circumstances. The prospect of enjoying a good chanpurū, as Fūka does here, seems out of reach for the present. Unsure of where to go, Fūka ends up heading for Kamee Café under the hot tropical sun, noting that she now feels as lost as she did when she’d first arrived in Okinawa, and after enjoying lunch with Tsukimi, who loves to cook and experiment with different recipies, Fūka learns that Tsukimi’s mother is none other than the fortune teller she’d met when she had first arrived.
- Since hoofing it limited Fūka’s options, Tsukimi’s mother offers to drive her over to Naha, where she can stay with Tsukimi’s aunt until things blow over. However, en route to Naha, Fūka longs to get another look at one of the beaches, and in doing so, runs into some children who’d had a great time at the touch pool. They ask Fūka what new things Gama Gama have in store for them and wonder if Kukuru could be convinced to put sharks in. There is actually a reason why sharks don’t go well in touch pools: smaller species can easily be stressed by constant touch and won’t be in good health as a result.
- Seeing the children leads Fūka to realise that there are things she’d left unfinished, starting with the blenny, and that her place is with the aquarium now. It turns out Kukuru had also spotted this and isolated the blenny so if it’d been afflicted with a pathogen, at least the disease won’t spread to other fish. Kukuru explains that life and death are part of the job at an aquarium, and in the process, learns from Fūka that she’d taken a liking to the blenny for having reminded her of herself.
- To prevent any pathogens from contaminating the water and other fish, Kukuru explains that there’s a special process for disposing of aquatic wildlife that die from disease. At this time, Fūka’s mother returns to the aquarium, and comes across Fūka cleaning the blenny’s tank with Kukuru. This moment speaks volumes to Fūka’s mother; seeing the dedication and effort Fūka’s put in to her duties here at Gama Gama allow her to appreciate what’d happened since Fūka had gone to Okinawa. Sometimes, silence speaks more loudly and words, and this is one of those moments.
- Thus, when Fūka and her mother finally have a proper conversation for the first time since her mother arrived in Okinawa, the entire conversation is one of compromise and understanding. Fūka is permitted to stick around in Okinawa until term starts, giving her and Kukuru a chance to make further progress with Gama Gama. Like Sakura Quest and The World in Colours, The Aquatope on White Sand operates with a limited timeframe, and P.A. Works’ propensity for imposing constraints on a series speaks to their belief that people are often at their very best when faced with some sort of deadline, determined to make the most of every moment.
- In this way, The Aquatope on White Sand eliminates yet another source of potential conflict by encapsulating things to the space of a single episode. Fūka had never really intended to run off, and Kukuru’s suggestion had come in the heat of the moment, rather than from the result of rational thinking. Running away from one’s problems have never served anyone well, but much as life suggests, it is a common theme in anime to have characters come to a discovery while attempting to escape their problems, leaving them with a different perspective of how to go about solving it. Tsukimi’s mother, and Kukuru’s grandparents assure Fūka’s mother that her daughter is in good hands, and later that evening, Fūka and her mother share a conversation, during which the latter praises Fūka’s boots (a subtle but clear sign that Fūka’s mother loves her very much).
- While the touch pools have been quite successful, Gama Gama continues to struggle to bring in new visitors, and Kukuru grows quite worried, especially when a local news article suggests that Gama Gama is consigned to being closed at the end of the summer. A host of ideas enters her mind, but none of them seem viable, at least until Umi-yan enters with his favourite popsicles, giving Kukuru an idea. She thus summons Tsukimi, who remarks that Kukuru seems to have a lot of requests of the lifetime. In the end, however, since the request deals with food and cooking, Tsukimi consent to help out, seeing an opportunity to further her skills.
- To research potential ice creams to serve at Gama Gama, Tsukimi suggests a field trip to an ice cream shoppe located a ways away – the three require a bus ride to get here, and at the time of writing, I’ve had no luck in finding the shop. However, upon arrival, the girls find the ice cream solid. Tsukimi is busy working out the complex flavours in her order here, and later, she sets off to check out what other shops are doing. In the meantime, Kukuru notices an ad for Instagram and suggests that they could give Gama Gama’s social media accounts some updates to generate some excitement.
- Whereas The World in Colours had been very moderate with its facial expressions, The Aquatope of White Sand brings back the funny faces that Shirobako and to a lesser extent, Sakura Quest, were best known for. While Kukuru initially finds it difficult to take photographs of Gama Gama and its staff, she does get into things and comes away with several photos worthy of Instagram. A good Instagram account can do wonders for a business, although I’ve long found that the Instagram API to be particularly nightmarish to use because of how tough it is to gain approval to access even the most basic of functions.
- When Tsukimi and Kukuru share their idea with Karin, she promptly shoots it down – securing a permit to sell ice cream is almost as difficult as being approved to use the Instagram API, and this makes sense because of the fact that ice cream is prone to spoilage and food-borne illnesses. Tsukimi’s mother suggests something simpler, and this leads Tsukimi to try shaved ice out; this simple desert is produced by grinding down a block of ice into shavings and mixed with flavoured syrups. Shaved ice dates back to the twelfth century in the Heian period, during which it was a desert for the upper echelons of society owing to how tricky ice was to make and store.
- By the Meiji Restoration, advancements in technology meant that shaved ice became more widespread. The dessert was introduced to Hawaii in the 1900s by Japanese immigrants. Here, Tsukimi demonstrates that shaved ice is a viable alternative, acting as a frosty treat for visitors. While she’d used a simple device here to shave the ice, Karin’s set off to find a commercial-grade shaver to make it easier. However, Tsukimi struggles to find a way of making the flavours more exciting, until she realises that since it’s going to be for Gama Gama, she can keep the flavours simple and do something aquarium-themed instead.
- Speaking to Fūka’s adjustment to life on Okinawa, she joins Kukuru in a prayer for a smooth day each and every morning: I believe that this is called uchatou-mintou, which is performed by making an offering of water or tea to the gods. Kukuru definitely believes in the Okinawan concept of mabui (similar to life energy), as she steps her game up by offering a fish head in place of tea or water; mabui can be lost, causing misfortune and ill health, so Okinawans have rituals for minimising its loss.
- While Fūka and Tsukimi get set up, Kukuru checks in on a guest who she’d noticed had been visiting every summer for as long as she could remember. When she speaks to him, Kukuru learns that the aquarium is special to him because long ago, he was able to reunite with his deceased brother here: he’d started a business that failed, but seeing his brother (who had likely died during the Battle of Okinawa given the imagery) gave him the courage to pick himself up and keep going. In the moment, the elderly gentleman encounters the vision he’d sought to see anew, and Kukuru is swept in, as well, although she spots her family, including a girl her age.
- The visions at Gama Gama Aquarium appear to speak to the individual’s deepest desires, bringing back memories of the Mirror of Erised and the fact that dwelling endlessly on what is only a possibility is not healthy for the mind (it’s better to focus on what one can work towards). The fact that these visions are so prominent in The Aquatope on White Sand, and the fact they’ve happened several times now, indicate that they no longer can be chalked up to metaphors or imagery – there is almost certainly a significance to their occurrences. The use of magic and the supernatural in a workplace anime is new territory for P.A. Works –they’ve previously been very successful with workplace series, and The World in Colours demonstrated that P.A. Works evidently learnt their lessons from Glasslip, using magic in a meaningful capacity to drive the story.
- The elderly man is overwhelmed with emotion, and Kukuru herself only just manages to hold her tears back. His dreams fulfilled, the man is at peace, and Kukuru only asks him to come back next year. P.A. Works has a history of seeing things close or come to an end in spite of the characters’ efforts (Kissuiso closes, as does the school in Tari Tari, Musani operates at reduced capacity by the events of the movie, and The Kingdom of Chupacabra is decommissioned). However, these endings were not met with sorrow, so it is conceivable that P.A. Works speaks to the beauty of endings and the possibility they bring.
- For now, however, viewers are treated to crowds enjoying the themed shaved ice that Tsukimi has made: she’s got clownfish, turtles and penguins, which are a smash-hit with the children, but when some youth ask her for something not on the menu, Tsukimi impresses them with an on-the-spot creation. There is a journey to be had ahead, and I expect everyone to bring their best to the table in what’s left of the summer as Kukuru works hard to save her beloved aquarium, with Fūka similarly lending her best before she has to return home in time for term to start.
- Having spent its first quarter acclimatising viewers to things, The Aquatope on White Sand is now ready to kick into high gear, and I am rather looking forward to the interplay between magic and creativity. With this talk six episodes in, I believe that I now have enough information to make a decision – I will continue to write about The Aquatope on White Sand every three episodes, as the series continues to offer much to talk about, and there are many moments that are worth discussing: between comparisons with older series and things unique to The Aquatope on White Sand, I anticipate having a great deal of fun watching this, especially as the anime will run from the hottest months of the year well into December, offering something to look forwards to for the next eighteen or so weeks.
Of course, what I’ve stated about where The Aquatope on White Sand could go is purely speculation, and with the remaining three quarters of the anime still on the table, P.A. Works has plenty of room to explore and impress. One thing about P.A. Works that I’ve enjoyed, which The Aquatope on White Sand employs, is the fact that the series is paced such that lingering questions of practicality are eliminated from the get-go. Much as how Tari Tari had Konatsu and Sawa singing with a full choir in the second episode to show that they could put a group together if they felt so inclined, The Aquatope on White Sand has Fūka’s mother appear early on to clarify that Fūka’s continued stay in Okinawa is one with reluctant approval (and a hard time limit). Rather than leaving things to linger for drama’s sake, both Tari Tari and The Aquatope on White Sand cut straight to the chase in dealing with the proverbial elephant in the room, allowing the series to focus on what is central to their story. For this reason, I’ve always enjoyed P.A. Works’ coming-of-age and workplace stories – they address problems directly early on so that the real hurdles are given enough time to be fleshed out and solved. With this in mind, The Aquatope on White Sand has proven to be very solid, and this time around, it is clear that P.A. Works has applied lessons from Shirobako, Sakura Quest and The World in Colours to their latest work, combining the creativity and resolve of those with a job to do together with the idea of introspection and self-discovery, aided with a little bit of magic. Six episodes into The Aquatope on White Sand, this anime has done a superb job of the workplace side of things, and as the anime is hinting at the fact that the visions that Fūka, the veterinarian, Kukuru and an elderly vistor have are more than just creative metaphors; they’re real enough to the characters, so there is now a very tangible expectation that P.A. Works will give this particular element sufficient exposition and detail, much as they had previously done with The World in Colours.