“No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” –Gandalf the White, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King
With Gama Gama’s closure fast approaching, Kukuru is desperate to find any means necessary to save the aquarium, even attempting to run a story on social media about the visions that visitors sometimes see, but this is ultimately unsuccessful – Kukuru’s grandfather feels that banking on a phenomenon whose properties are completely unknown won’t be beneficial. Kai watches Kukuru with increasing worry – he’d been there for her since their childhood, and feels worried that he won’t be able to help her out. One evening, Kukuru decides to have Kai help her draw the phenomenon out, and finds himself in the middle of his childhood: it turns out he had provided some comfort to Kukuru after her parents has passed away. However, even with this memory, Gama Gama’s fate is sealed. As a typhoon approaches, Kukuru barricades herself in and adamantly refuses to let anyone help her. Worried about Kukuru, Fūka braves the storm and ends up doing what she can for Kukuru even as the storm knocks out power and blows in windows at Gama Gama. When the emergency generators run out of fuel and the pipes begin bursting, Kukuru wonders why everything she holds dear is being taken from her. Fortunately, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan are available to help, and they are able to prevent any harm from coming to the animals. Morning approaches, and Kukuru realises that Gama Gama is too old to continue running. On the last day of August, Gama Gama hosts a farewell event for its visitors, who leave behind their favourite memories. One of the visitors includes a manager for Tingaara, a new aquarium: impressed with Kukuru’s experience, he’s interested in bringing her and several of Gama Gama’s staff on board. After celebrating forty-eight years in business, Gama Gama closes down, and Fūka prepares to return home. Before parting ways with Kukuru’s grandparents, the pair learn that Kukuru originally had a twin sister who died prior to birth. At the airport, Fūka comes to realise that Kukuru had given her so much, and she decides to skip her scheduled flight to ensure she and Kukuru part ways with a smile. After boarding her next flight, Fūka declines the offer for the movie, feeling that she’s found another path in life to walk. Here at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s halfway point, Gama Gama has finally shut down, leaving Kukuru and Fūka at the end of one journey. However, as Fūka empathetically states, endings are not necessarily sad things: she hopes that Kukuru will seize whatever lies ahead for her and find her happiness anew.
Kukuru’s last moments with Gama Gama are a bittersweet one, and with this transition, The Aquatope on White Sand speaks to viewers about the importance of being able to find another way when things don’t work out as one had hoped. Reality is harsh; it is therefore imperative that one become accustomed to setbacks and failures – no failure is ever truly final unless one were to give up entirely, and while it can seem like the world has come to a halt when one’s desires end without being realised, there are always alternative opportunities that lie unexplored. When I was an undergraduate student, I had held ambitions of becoming a medical doctor. At the time, I was not confident with my programming skills, and felt that my penchant for spot patterns and understand processes would make me suited in medicine. I thus took the MCAT, altered my remaining course load to satisfy medical school prerequisites and applied – this was met with no success, and I never made it to even the interview stage for any of the schools I had applied to. However, my supervisor saw another route and suggested that I apply for graduate school instead, where I could build out my software development skills and also contribute to the lab I’d already had familiarity with. After working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain and realising that I was indeed capable of learning new systems quickly, solving problems under pressure and managing a small team, the career path of being a software developer no longer seemed so intimidating; indeed, I am now a software developer owing to my accepting and embracing an alternate route. The Aquatope on White Sand is similarly creating opportunities for Fūka and Kukuru alike: Kukuru is initially hesitant about working for Tingaara, but after seeing Fūka pick herself up, determines that she must also find a way to smile again. Fūka decides to pursue a new path and declines an offer to star in a film. While Gama Gama is done, the world hasn’t ended, and that means the opportunity to forge a new way forward still remains – the only question here is whether or not one has the courage and tenacity to take that difficult first step forwards. Both Kukuru and Fūka have dreams they can follow, and with half of The Aquatope on White Sand in the books, it is clear that endings are not always thus; resilience in the face of adversity is precisely what lets people move forward, so it is encouraging to see Fūka and Kukuru make decisions for one another’s sakes that will see them embrace whatever their respective futures hold.
Screenshots and Commentary
- At the halfway point to The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ll open with Kai biking over to Gama Gama. Kai has known Kukuru since childhood, and had been there the day Kukuru had learned of her parents’ deaths. Since then, Kai has done his best to support Kukuru; although this isn’t always shown on screen, the fact that Kai is willing to help out at Gama Gama in his spare time, and his hesitation whenever Maho mentions that he should date Fūka instead of being around Kukuru, suggests that for Kukuru, Kai is willing to go the extra mile.
- All of P.A. Works’ workplace/coming-of-age anime feature a reliable, stoic male character. This trend started in Hanasaku Iroha with junior chef Tōru Miyagishi, and then in Tari Tari, Taichi Tanaka fills that role. Kakeru Okikura ends up in this position in Glasslip, and he’s the equivalent of Nagi no Asukara‘s Tsumugu Kihara. It is not lost on me that P.A. Works tends to reuse archetypes in their series; I understand that some viewers hold this against an anime, but I’ve also found that having familiar characters in different context allow works to show how environments can impact people.
- With the end of summer rapidly approaching, Kukuru becomes increasingly desperate to keep Gama Gama open, asking Tsukimi’s mother to give a horoscope reading of Gama Gama’s future. Tsukimi’s mother gives a reading that Kukuru should be patient and not force things. In general, horoscopes are too vague to be effective (they’re ambiguous enough so that they can be interpreted a certain way, meaning that to some people, they look like they’re always right), so I never set much store by them, although purely for fun, I sometimes partake just to see how well reality aligns with fantasy: I admit that I am not adverse to reading horoscopes about what awaits me as far as relationships go.
- The closing deadline means that Kukuru begins distancing herself from even Fūka. I have heard unnecessary hostility being directed at Kukuru as a result of her choices, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly: people tend to judge anime characters from their own perspective (“if it were me, I would’ve done this differently”) rather than empathise with them, and this creates a highly patronising tone that does little beyond demonstrate how little viewers actually care about the characters. For me, I understand Kukuru’s situation, having been in situations where it did feel like all I had was myself. How I extricated myself from those scenarios were learnings, and I therefore have no trouble with Kukuru stumbling as she learns.
- The reason why fictional characters make mistakes at all is precisely because it provides a lesson that impacts how they approach things in the future. Thus, when Kukuru goes against suggestion and posts about the visions to social media in the hope of drawing in additional visitors, her coworkers immediately feel that this is a mistake; the phenomenon isn’t easily reproduced, and visitors are likely to leave disappointed because it’s not guaranteed they’d be able to see it. Kukuru’s last-ditch efforts to understand this phenomenon was predestined to failure: as The World in Colours indicated, forcing magic won’t work, because the power behind magic is intention.
- Quite simply, Kukuru isn’t sincere in her motives behind using the magic, so the magic won’t willingly manifest itself for her. This sort of thing applied to The World in Colours, where Hitomi’s magic becomes increasingly effective because she begins to put intent behind her spells following her experiences with Kohaku, and Harry Potter‘s spells work on a similar principle (visualising the desired outcome and having an intent to have a specific effect makes a spell more powerful). In the end, Kukuru’s grandfather gets in touch with customers and informs them that they’d been a little hasty about the social media postings: no such event is set to take place.
- Although Kukuru is asked to stand down, she still clings to the belief that the visions at Gama Gama might be instrumental in keeping their doors open. She therefore asks Kai to help her out, and while initially, nothing happens, Kai soon finds himself returned to the time where he’d comforted Kukuru after her parents had passed away. The visions appear to only appear for individuals under duress, and as I’d previously noted, shows what the individual most deeply desires. Fūka had wanted to find her own way, the veterinarian wished for safe delivery of her child, the elderly man wanted to speak with his brother once more, a boy longed to reunite with his dog, and Kukuru’s deepest desire is to be with her family again.
- For Kai, then, it looks like what he wanted most was for Kukuru to be happy, and this memory shows how he’d been there for her that one day; this is likely how the two became friends, and how Kukuru ended up taking such a profound interest in marine biology. It is clear that Kukuru’s love for the aquarium, and for aquatic life, stems from the fact that she feels that this connects her to her family. Kukuru isn’t fighting to keep Gama Gama open for financial reasons or for her pride, but because the place has personal significance for her.
- Being aware of this highly personal, emotional piece is essential to understanding why Kukuru makes the decisions that she does; courses on economics and psychology won’t be of use here. Her actions may appear irrational, but to Kukuru (in this moment), she believes that what she’s doing will have a positive outcome for Gama Gama even through they’re ultimately futile. For this reason, it is important yo watching Kukuru struggle in her goals because knowing the level of effort she’s put into things will only make Gama Gama’s fate all the more sobering.
- I’d not given voice to this previously: while watching The Aquatope on White Sand, I originally did not feel that the series possessed the same sense of melancholy and longing that The World in Colours had. However, seeing what’s on the horizon for Gama Gama despite everyone’s efforts has a melancholy to it. As a typhoon rolls in one morning, Kukuru’s barricaded herself in Gama Gama, intent on keeping the place open on her own merits. However, just because Kukuru’s actions might appear irrational does not diminish them, and one cannot help but feel bad for her in this moment.
- Kukuru’s internal feelings are mirrored in the weather – at least one individual had previously wondered if Okinawa was subject to convenient typhoons such as this, and after some quick reading, it turns out that The Aquatope on White Sand is well within reason to include a typhoon in the story. On average, three to four typhoons hit Okinawa in a given year, mostly between August and September. A tropical system is referred to as a typhoon when its wind speeds exceed 118 km/h (same as a Category 1 hurricane), and the average storm moves at around 16-24 km/h, although fast-movers can hit speeds of 60 km/h. With these numbers in mind, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Nanjō was grazed by a typhoon’s arms.
- Speaking to Fūka’s concern for Kukuru, she decides to grab some lunch and take it over to Gama Gama for her. However, Kukuru initially refuses to open up, and her facial expression speaks volumes about how annoyed she is, but eventually, she relents, and comes to face with a rather scary-looking Fūka, whose hair is strewn about by the hurricane-force winds. Perhaps as a consequence of my dislike of certain horror movies, I found the scene to be a bit intimidating to watch: I’ve never been fond of onryō, and where given the choice, I wouldn’t watch J-horror movies.
- Kukuru’s efforts to act tough backfire when her stomach betrays her hunger, and Fūka is all too happy to pass along the food she’d brought. While Kukuru refuses Fūka’s help, Fūka is determined to stay, having promised to help Kukuru see things through to the end. The two thus busy themselves preparing the deserted Gama Gama aquarium for the storm, sticking tape on the windows, securing all of the wildlife and moving the barricades to more vulnerable areas with the hopes of mitigating damage.
- Watching these preparations brings to mind the sort of thing I read about in books, and watched in National Geographic‘s “Cyclone!”, an hour-long special on hurricanes and tornados. As a child, I was fascinated with extreme weather, and the science behind predicting it, as well as how to lessen its impact on civilisation. The conclusion these specials drew were that storms are a natural part of the world, and that as humans, our survival was contingent on preparing for the worst and being aware of what nature is capable of. In recent times, shifts in global weather patterns have made extreme weather more widespread and frequent: the very thing the books I read some twenty years ago are coming to pass.
- I’m not too sure if things will only worsen from here on out, but if the wildfires and tropical storms are anything to go by, we’re in for a rough ride. For now, I’ll focus on lessen my personal impact on the world by conserving, recycling and reusing stuff wherever possible, although for the long term, it’ll need to be a collective effort if we’re to turn the tides. This is something that Kukuru has difficulty grasping – she attempts to send Fūka off once the work is done, but Fūka is resolved to remain by Kukuru’s side until the end, even after the power is knocked out.
- While the storm rages on, Gama Gama Aquarium becomes a visual metaphor for the last of Kukuru’s illusions falling apart around her – while she’d done her utmost until now, the overwhelming power of the storm, standing in for the harshness of reality, gradually seeps its way in, shattering windows and bursting pipes in the building. It is here, at the climax of the storm, that Kukuru understands the gravity of her situation – the emergency generators mirror the last legs Gama Gama is on, and once these deplete their stores of diesel, the power goes back out again. It is here that Kukuru loses all hope and asks why the heavens would take everything from her.
- In the end, Kukuru alone couldn’t save Gama Gama – even with Fūka’s help, this was a difficult task. However, as the storm winds down, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan show up to help. Thanks to the work Kukuru and Fūka have completed, the others are able to quickly stablise everything else at Gama Gama. The power is restored shortly after, and seeing everyone in the light serves to remind both Kukuru and the viewer that no, Kukuru hasn’t lost everything even with Gama Gama’s closure; there are many people in her corner, and while she’d been laser-focused on her dreams, she’s forgotten about the blessings that she does have in her life.
- Walking through Gama Gama, Kukuru is made aware of just how old the aquarium’s infrastructure really is – I’ve got an engineer in the family, and in our conversations, while yes, it’s usually the case that companies will attempt to rehabilitate a structure, there are situations where rehabilitation is more expensive than demolition and reconstruction. Gama Gama appears to have fallen into the second category, and despite Kukuru’s original plan to raise three million Yen for parts, it is likely the case that the building itself is crumbling and requires repairs exceeding the cost it would take to build a new aquarium in its place.
- Earlier, Fūka had received an offer to star in a film, and one of her former coworkers had informed her of this. This offer led Fūka to realise that after her original failures in Tokyo, she’d latched onto Kukuru’s dream because she wanted to be useful to someone. While Fūka had told herself that this was for Kukuru, it was really for her. Amidst the cold, blue light of the morning after the storm, there is a sense of melancholy in the air: washed out and faded colours in anime have always been indicative of a subdued feeling.
- Kukuru bawling her eyes out was the surest sign that she’s accepted the fact that Gama Gama is simply not salvageable. Nowhere else does The Aquatope on White Sand compel viewers to empathise with Kukuru more so than this moment; I’ve been around the block long enough to see defeat as total and crushing as this, having seen two start-ups fail during my time. However, failure is not the end, and people like Kukuru are also resilient. As such, one of the important things that The Aquatope on White Sand will need to address is how Kukuru is able to take that next, difficult step forwards; while it is easy to regain one’s confidence once there’s momentum, the greatest challenge always lies in picking oneself back up after a tumble.
- In this case, The Aquatope on White Sand reminds viewers that Kukuru does have a way forward: on the day of Gama Gama’s closing event, a manager from Tingaara gives Kukuru a surprise offer to work at the new aquarium once it’s opened, citing her previous record and experience as making her suited for the position. While Kukuru is still holding onto her memories of Gama Gama and wishes that every day could be this lively, from a more practical perspective, pursuing new opportunity with Tingaara means that Kukuru could continue to pursue her dreams of bringing the joys of marine life to visitors the same way Gama Gama had done for her.
- All this would take is a small change in perspective. Here at the closing party, final farewells are said, and Karin announces to the others that she’s taken an interest in working at an aquarium as well, having been inspired by Kukuru’s commendable drive and devotion. With endings, come new beginnings, and during this party, even Kūya expresses emotion at the fact that Gama Gama is closing and can be seen tearing up. However, both Kūya and Umi-yan possess considerable experience, and were promptly offered positions with the new aquarium, as well. It was reassuring to see everyone land on their feet: P.A. Works has always made it clear that while one part of the journey might be over, hard work and effort do not go unrewarded.
- Those who demonstrate commitment and loyalty will always find that this is met with repayment in equal measure somewhere down the line. This message is a rewarding one, and I’ve long believed that society should be driven by those with merit (where I define merit as a combination of dedication, perseverance, empathy and adaptivity). As Kukuru’s grandfather puts it in his final speech to the staff, kindness is something that no one can do without, and caring for life tends to bolster one’s empathy. In the end, he reads a poem from a fictional author that speaks volumes about the vastness of the ocean ultimately gives one peace.
- After the party, Kukuru and Fūka share a moment together to discuss their dreams and how much things had changed since Fūka met Kukuru. Under the gentle moonlight (a waning crescent, true to the lunar phase recorded on August 31 in reality), the pair share their feelings. Fūka notices that Kukuru hasn’t properly smiled since the typhoon and worries that Kukuru won’t be happy after she leaves, while Kukuru implores Fūka to pursue her goals, feeling that seeing Fūka work hard will inspire her to do the same. I get where Kukuru is coming from; being around high-energy, driven people also helps me to do the same whenever I hit a slump, although I will note that for my part, my drive comes from within.
- There is a tangible melancholy at Gama Gama the next morning: Fūka is busy packing her bags and preparing to Iwate, while Gama Gama’s staff prepare the marine life for transit to different institutions across Okinawa. Seeing the empty aquarium makes it quite visceral that this chapter has concluded, but before Kukuru leaves, the forces at play give her one more vision, a chance to feel reassurance from her sister. It turns out that Kukuru did indeed have a twin sister two died before birth, and right before Fūka leaves, Kukuru’s grandmother feels that the time has come to let her know of this truth.
- One imagines that, while Kukuru takes this in stride and feels that her sister’s energy might’ve been what kept her going during some of the tougher times at Gama Gama, a part of Kukuru would also be seized with an immediate and powerful sense of longing. Kukuru had long wished for a sister to be with, someone who could be there for her. The reason why she and Fūka get along so well is because Fūka is able to act as an older sister figure for her, although Fūka feels that she’d clung to Kukuru, feeling that if she was able to help Kukuru reach her dreams, she might find her own happiness, as well.
- Airports are always places of great joy and great sorrow: watching aircraft arrive and the feeling that family and friends are returning typically is a happy matter, similarly to how it can feel lonely to watch the people important to oneself depart for another destination. Fūka’s departure in The Aquatope on White Sand fits squarely into the latter and therefore creates a feeling of melancholy. As is typical of anime, The Aquatope on White Sand leaves a great deal to the last, last second: Fūka only realises that Kukuru would probably be in tears by the time she’d finished boarding and rushes off to make sure she’s alright, even though this means she’d miss her current flight.
- This is something that one would not do in reality. I know first hand that rearranging bookings is a pain, as I discovered when I was in Amsterdam, and the Brussels bombings caused all of my flights to be delayed, leading me to miss a connecting flight out of Charles de Gaulle to Rennes. Fortunately, the realm of fiction offers tolerances for these things, and the emotional impact of watching Fūka embrace Kukuru, as sisters might, was visceral. It is clear that Fūka knows where her heart lies now, and she’s willing to give up one dream to pursue another. After their emotions settle, Fūka explains that being with Kukuru had helped her to spot this.
- In the end, Kukuru decides that she will take up the offer to work at Tingaara and see what lies ahead for her future, promising that the next time she and Fūka meet, it will be with a smile on her face. Kukuru’s remarks about living isn’t something to take for granted struck a resonant chord here: death is something that awaits everyone, but not everyone can live on their own terms, so it’s up to oneself to really take initiative and do something meaningful for themselves and others. I have remarked previously that, from my perspective, living well and doing things that have value for others is the best way to live and find meaning. My beliefs are completely at odds with those who believe that living life to the fullest means having fun, but these are merely my core values, and I hold that living fully can have many meanings.
- Thus, as Fūka and Kukuru part ways for the present, confident that they will meet again, I’ll wrap up this halfway point discussion on The Aquatope on White Sand by saying that with fifty percent of this series done, I have been very happy with what has been presented thus far. The series’ meanings and messages are clear, and it is evident that one doesn’t need any a priori understanding of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus to fully appreciate the themes. I realise that even in a post of this length, I’m only scratching the surface for what’s happening in The Aquatope on White Sand. This is a series that works well with the episodic review format, but this would demand a time commitment from me that I simply lack. Having said this, the Halo: Infinite open beta is live, and having preloaded earlier today, it’s time to wrap this post up and see whether or not my aging rig can run this game with playable framerates. I’ll return tomorrow to write about Hanasaku Iroha a full decade after the finale aired, and there, I’ll also provide readers an explanation on why my blogging has been a bit spotty since my last post about AI bots in video games.
Speculation about what is to come in The Aquatope on White Sand has been raging nonstop ever since it became apparent that Kukuru was locked in an impossible struggle against the clock, and the general consensus is that The Aquatope on White Sand will take a similar approach to what Nagi no Asukara did some eight years earlier – the series continued five years after the first Ofunehiki, and dealt with the challenges that the characters face after being separated from one another in a chronological sense while at the same time, striving to pursue their original goals. The Aquatope on White Sand is structured in a very similar way, and the second half will likely explore how the characters pursue old goals while working within new environments under different rules. One element that The Aquatope on White Sand still needs to deal with is the presence of the supernatural visions at Gama Gama, and what role the kijimuna will play in things. These aspects had become more common as The Aquatope on White Sand progressed, but the general rule is that, if something is introduced, then it necessarily needs to play a role of significance in the future. Having the additional twelve episodes here in The Aquatope on White Sand means that there is sufficient space to deal with this in a satisfactory fashion: spending half an episode on elements surrounding local folklore and exploring how entities like the kijimuna impact people within the context of Kukuru and her desires would elegantly tie the two elements together. This could go either way for The Aquatope on White Sand. On one hand, Glasslip is an example of how P.A. Works had completely failed to properly incorporate magic into the story, but on the flipside, P.A. Works have proven themselves to be very competent with supernatural elements in The World in Colours. Given how The Aquatope on White Sand has progressed up until now, I would suggest that optimism is warranted, and that the supernatural piece will probably be woven into the story with the same sort of finesse that Nagi no Asukara had demonstrated. Assuming this to be the case, we have what looks to be a captivating journey ahead in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, and I am rather excited to see how this one embodies the learnings of its predecessors to create a current and moving tale of rediscovering one’s path anew.