“When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” –C.S. Lewis
Fūka is surprised to learn that Ruka and members of a film crew will be shooting footage at Tingaara for a nature programme. While Fūka is initially reluctant to be shonw on TV, after overhearing that Ruka is having a bit of trouble with her career, as well as learning that Ruka is facing harassment from her fans, she decides to help out with the filming. Although things go smoothly, the crew are hoping to capture the moment on film, when the juvenile penguin takes to the water for the first time. When Ruka butchers a take, Fūka decides to take Ruka aside for a quick break, where she gives Ruka her old high heels. It turns out that Fūka had wanted to wear them on stage for a performance, but never had the chance to. Rather than discard them, Fūka hopes that Ruka will take them as a keepsake to encourage her onwards. Returning to the penguin enclosure, Fūka gently nudges the penguin forward, and Ruka is impressed with how far Fūka has come as a person. Meanwhile, Kukuru struggles with the work Tetsuji has assigned her. When she learns about a dolphin that has taken up residence in a nearby bay, she hastens to take a look, and encounters her grandfather here. Kukuru learns that Gama Gama is scheduled for demolitions as well. While Kukuru attempts to put together a proposal to a prospective client, a wedding planner, the proposal ends up failing as a result of her lack of preparation. Tetsuji indicates that this is a valuable learning experience, but after Kukuru learns she’d missed the attendant’s dive to check up on the dolphin, as well as Airi’s visit of Tingaara, she begins to wonder what her efforts were for. She decides to visit Gama Gama and is visibly saddened to see that crews have already begun tearing the old aquarium down. The next day, Kukuru fails to show up for work, worrying Fūka and Karin. It turns out Kukuru had wanted a break, and took an unsanctioned break: Karin and Fūka attempt to smooth things over, while Kukuru runs into Misaki, Umi-yan’s wife. The two help clear the beach of garbage ahead of the sea turtles’ hatching. Back at Tingaara, Fūka deals with the aftermath of a penguin fight, and becomes thoroughly irritated after trying to speak to Tetsuji about Kukuru. Having had some time to regroup, Kukuru decides to visit the Kamehausu, a local aquarium whose manager also trained under her grandfather. When the sea turtles begin hatching later, Kukuru attends alongside Kamehausu’s manager and Misaki. She’s surprised to find Fūka here, as well. At this point in time, we are now three episodes out from wrapping up The Aquatope on White Sand: of late, the story has shifted away from the supernatural to focus entirely on the workplace.
While The Aquatope on White Sand indicates that Fūka has settled into her role, Kukuru continues to struggle to find her place in the sun, and while she’s had several wins so far, she’d pulled through on raw determination and spirit alone. This approach has its limits, and the timing of Gama Gama’s demolition, the arrival of a dolphin in a nearby bay, and the fact that Kukuru has missed Airi’s visit at Tingaara, because she’d had a scheduling conflict with her botched proposal to a wedding planning agency, leads her to wonder if she’s giving too much for a job that she’s still wondering about. The sum of these events creates what is known as burnout; Kukuru has been putting her best forward as often as she can manage, but inadequate management, unclear expectations and poor workplace dynamics lead Kukuru’s work-life balance to be thrown out the window. She’d gotten by through her own passion previously, but several coincident events ended up conspiring to completely deplete Kukuru’s motivation. Burnout is a very real problem in the workplace, and although workplace guides suggest that things like practising mindfulness, sleeping and exercising well is a potential means of mitigating it, this doesn’t actually address the root of the issue. In order to develop a viable, long-term solution, Kukuru would need to speak with Tingaara’s director and provide honest feedback so the director is able to work with Kukuru on reaching a compromise of sorts, as well as capitalising on the fact that her coworkers in marketting, especially Akari and Karin, do care for her and would be willing to support her if she’d requested it. Instead, Kukuru’s in-the-moment decision, to go absent without leave, is something that would lead to a reprimand (or even immediate dismissal) in reality. However, there is merit to taking a step back to regroup, as well. By taking time away from her projects, which seem far removed from the aquatic life she loves so dearly, Kukuru is able to gain some perspective and regroup. In Kukuru’s place, I would have pursued a request to take some personal time first, and then schedule a meeting with my supervisor to discuss things. However, we recall that I am a full decade older than Kukuru and have had time to develop professionally. A core part of The Aquatope on White Sand is the fact that Kukuru, despite her intrinsic talents and interests, is still a novice in the workplace. Circumstances lead to her mistakes, but these mistakes provide an invaluable learning experience that will leave her better prepared to handle situations as they come up in the future.
Screenshots and Commentary
- When Ruka, Fūka’s old colleague from their idol group, appears in Okinawa to do a shoot on Tingaara, the team members are excited to appear on camera alongside an idol. However, Fūka ends up overhearing Ruka and her manager sharing a difficult conversation; it turns out that the idol industry is giving Ruka a hard time, as well, and the Tingaara project had been an assignment to bolster her popularity, which has been in decline. Conversely, while the other members of the production team are keen on having Fūka figure more prominently, Fūka is reluctant to take centre stage.
- For Ruka, her spirits are poor because she’s feeling that even though she’s enjoying the work, things are still uncertain in her career, and that the pressure is endless. When asked, Fūka explains that being an aquarium attendant allows her to focus on the animals and encourage them, giving her joy in ways that being an idol couldn’t. While Fūka doubtlessly found happiness in bringing smiles to her former fans’ faces, being an idol has its dark side, as well; Ruka’s fans are giving her trouble online, and Umi-yan rightly notes that people only see results, not the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
- As a software developer, for instance, I tend to be a lot more forgiving about bugs in production software that isn’t my own: I understand that no matter how tight a process is, some bugs will inevitably get out. For me, what’s more important is the willingness to fix them; while the customers won’t ever know how much effort went into this, for me, what I care about is delivering the product they came for. While Ruka laments that she hasn’t “made it” in her career yet, I remark that in a given career, I don’t believe that anyone really “makes it” until they’ve got experience backing their decisions and choices, and the confidence to carry things out without second-guessing oneself: only Ruka can answer what this means to her, and for me, “making it” as a software developer means being part of a good team who cares about developing maintainable software that satisfies the customer’s needs.
- Here, filming is well under way, and a microphone boom arm can be seen in the frame as Fūka and Ruka showcase Tingaara’s café after sharing information about Tingaara’s main tank. I’ve always enjoy watching people trying (or making) delicious foods on TV, to the point where seeing commercials for Food Network programmes is now sufficient to pique my interest in the show. One short segment has a lady become excited about trying some freshly-made cupcakes, and I find myself filled with a urge to watch that show in full so I could see what went into making the cupcakes, alongside the resulting reaction from tasting the love and effort in said cupcakes.
- The night before, Fūka had come across her old high heels, which she’d bought with the aim of wearing them one day when performing, but that chance never came. Fūka had since kept them to remind herself of what’s possible, and so, when Ruka butchers one of the takes, the pair go off to regroup. Fūka gifts these heels to Ruka in the hopes that she’ll be similarly encouraged. Fūka had mentioned that she’s come to enjoy being able to gently nudge animals forward, but taking a step back, we’ve seen that in The Aquatope on White Sand, Fūka’s got a talent for encouraging others. She’d done the same for Kukuru, and now that Ruka’s here, Fūka is doing her best for Ruka’s sake, too.
- The main highlight in this episode, then, is seeing how far Fūka has come; while she’d been lost before, helping Kukuru out led her to find her own path, and in an environment that isn’t quite the pressure cooker that is being an idol, Fūka’s really come to mature. Watching Fūka support those around her suggests to me that of everyone, she’s managed to find her own path in life and is in a spot now where she’s able to raise those around her up, as well. This is a sign that Fūka is at peace with who she is, and what she’s accomplished.
- To drive home this point further, Fūka is shown as having no trouble handling the Cape Penguins at Tingaara now: whereas she got a beak to the ass the first time she’d dealt with penguins at Gama Gama, she’s become an expert now and smoothly runs things, being able to guide the penguins out of the way and even pick them up without eliciting any panic. For the filming crew, they’d been really hoping to capture footage of the juvenile Cape Penguin take to the pool and swim for the first time. Throughout the episode, this particular penguin has shown some reluctance in hopping into Tingaara’s pool and joining its compatriots in the water.
- Besides providing exciting footage for the show Ruka’s been a part of, the little Cape Penguin also acts as a metaphor for transitions in life itself, and I found that the moments ended up reminding me of myself; I’ve always been a bit of a slow-starter, myself. I didn’t take the driver’s exams until I was sure I’d pass in one go, I spent almost six months preparing for the MCAT, and I didn’t even look at owning a home until I had enough in the tank to make a down payment. I’d be the penguin who looks at the water and think, “give me another day, I’d rather come back when I’m over-levelled”.
- Like the little Cape Penguin that Fūka gently nudges into the water, I’ve always found that, once the moment had come for action, my fears would evaporate, and I simply did what was needed. When the little Cape Penguin hits the water, he finds that it’s actually quite smooth, and glides about in joy, bringing a smile to the film crew and audience’s faces. With this, it becomes abundantly clear that viewers needn’t worry about Fūka: the reason why she’s not had quite as much time as Kukuru is because she was able to find her place in the world anew.
- Conversely, Kukuru is struggling, and despite her efforts to find enjoyment in her work, overworking slowly seeps in and threatens to sap Kukuru of her spirits; beyond overseeing plans to open a new wing at Tingaara, the new area that Tetsuji was speaking of, Kukuru has fallen behind on her usual assignments. She despairs to Karin and wonders why they didn’t assign some of the work items to her, since Karin would be more experienced and therefore, capable of getting things done faster. However because the full scope of Kukuru’s workload isn’t shown (we viewers only see glimpses of things, and aren’t there for the full length of Kukuru’s hours), I continue to maintain that, in the absence of substantial evidence, saying Kukuru is being treated unfairly is to make a massive subjective leap in judgement.
- When Kukuru catches wind of a young Bottlenose dolphin stranded in a local inlet after being separated from its mother, she hastens to see it. Kukuru’s grandfather and Umi-yan agree to keep an eye on it, and Umi-yan decides to request that Tingaara’s staff show up to help out. It is here that Kukuru learns from her grandfather that Gama Gama is scheduled for demolitions; from this point onwards in the episode, Kukuru’s work begins suffering: the last connection she had to her parents is being swept away, and this weighs heavily on Kukuru’s mind.
- This revelation is precisely why Kukuru’s spirits take a hit: it isn’t the nature of her work, the expectations Tetsuji has for her, or the fact that Kukuru still wishes to be an attendant one day, but rather, the fact that what was essentially a second home for her, a reminder of the times she spent with her parents, will no longer exist. Kukuru had embraced the aquarium because it represented a tangible connection to her parents. Kukuru had been unable to save Gama Gama, but with the building set to be torn down, it really drives home the idea that Kukuru’s memories could become lost to time.
- The next morning, Kukuru takes Fūka to see the Bottlenose dolphin; it turns out the dolphin’s doing fine despite being separated from its mother. Fūka and Kukuru are treated to some jumps, and Kukuru later returns to this spot to find some children here, who promise Kukuru that they won’t be too noisy. In an episode characterised by an overwhelming sense of dreariness, having the dolphin to look forwards to brightens her day up somewhat. However, this does cause Kukuru to lose track of time on several occasions.
- Whereas Kukuru clashes with Tetsuji fairly often, after learning of Gama Gama’s demolition, the fight is sucked right out of Kukuru. She ends up taking on a project to design a proposal that will impress a wedding planning company, who’s looking to host events in Tingaara’s new wing, which is set to open at Tingaara’s one year anniversary. However, Kukuru’s heart isn’t really in the right place now because she’s so preoccupied, and The Aquatope on White Sand takes the pain of showing this to viewers: the scenes are faded, and Kukuru’s seen speaking with other staff without her usual vigour. It’s clear that Kukuru is only going through the motions and not putting her best foot forward, and this couldn’t come at a worse time – while Tetsuji holds Kukuru in poor regard, he’d assigned her the wedding proposal because he’s seen Kukuru at her best and wishes to spur her forward in his own way.
- When one’s heart isn’t in the fight, no amount of time will yield a good result. As it stands, the wedding proposal plan was sunk from the beginning; The Aquatope on White Sand is not trying to show what overwork looks like, as some have asserted, but rather, the consequences that arise when working while preoccupied. I don’t mind admitting that I have days like these, too: everyone will inevitably have off days, but on the flipside, someone with experience will be able compartmentalise their troubles and focus on their task at hand. Kukuru is still young and has the time to learn this particular skill, so I’m not going to hold this against her.
- Even though Kukuru’s grandfather is retired, he’s still involved with marine life: here, he speaks with the director, who thanks him for the advice and remarks the dolphin’s doing fine. Further to this, the director is impressed with the effort that Kukuru has been putting in to her assignments, too. Kukuru’s grandfather implies here that he nudged the director to put Kukuru in a marketting role to broaden her horizons, and this remark has generated a nontrivial amount of discussion on how he’s wrong and should’ve allowed Kukuru to become an attendant in the first place. These individuals are the ones in the wrong: I’m an iOS developer by trade, but since taking up my current position, I’ve also been asked to look at Java, ExtJS and SQL as well. I accepted this position knowing that while I’d be out of my element, it’d represent a fantastic learning opportunity.
- Had Kukuru been made an attendant, yes, she’d be happier in the short term, but this would give her no chance to advance her skills. The proposal assignment is one such instance where Kukuru is pushed out of her comfort zone, and having done inadequate planning, Kukuru is unable to convince the wedding planner that their venue is suited for hosting weddings, as well as forgetting that the point of a wedding is for the human clients, rather than the animals. As it stands, aquariums do make for excellent wedding venues, and while it is true that flash photography can be harmful to aquatic life, choosing the right species can reduce this risk.
- While the proposal ended up being a failure, Tetsuji remarks to Kukuru are that this also was a valuable experience, since it gave them insight into what the wedding planner needs. This, in turn, provides them the information they need to put something more suitable together; rather than lay the blame on Kukuru, Tetsuji simply asks her to look at things anew with this additional information. While Tetsuji has been widely reviled, I am getting the feeling that while he’s uncompromising, he’s also genuinely invested in his work (at least, taking it more seriously than Bondo Garandō, the breeding manager who’s got a very laid-back character: a conversation between Bondo and Tetsuji suggest the two have been at odds with one another for quite some time.
- When Kukuru returns to the office, she attempts to take another crack at things, but finds her thoughts wandering back to Gama Gama. Things hit a tipping point after she learns that she’s missed Airi’s visit, as well. Leaving her work behind, Kukuru rides out over to the site where Gama Gama once stood, only to find a pair of bulldozers and a pile of rubble in its place. It is important to note that while Kukuru has been pushing herself, it was because she genuinely enjoyed the work she’d been doing, and the cosplay event speaks to what Kukuru is capable of achieving when her mind is in the right place. The Kukuru seen in the twentieth episode is a Kukuru whose mind is preoccupied by the very thing she’s now witnessing with her own eyes.
- Back during the summer, I returned to the site of my first workplace and to my surprise, found it in the middle of being torn down, as well; the site is undergoing some major changes, and the building my startup was in had been around since 1917. Amongst the rubble, I recognised the old fireplace I sat at while waiting for the team to gather for a comedy club event one night. With the building gone, nothing remains of my old start-up, save the old Xcode projects; looking back, things had been very rough back then, especially with respect to finances, but I don’t regret joining because it gave me a chance to develop my iOS skillset to the point where I could work on every step of the process with confidence.
- Kukuru’s response to adversity is to withdraw and leave her post, something that both parallels Fūka’s decisions when The Aquatope on White Sand first began, would create not shortage of trouble in reality. At the very least, one should go through the proper channels first and inform their supervisors before setting aside some personal time. Looking back, I count myself remarkably lucky in that I am in a field where I love what I do; over the past five years, I’ve only ever taken two weeks of vacation time so I could go to Japan, but beyond this, I’ve not had any other personal time. This was primarily a consequence of how start-ups are, and presently, I have three weeks of paid time off every year. Early this month, my supervisor asked me to use as much of that time as I could, since I can only carry over a maximum of five days into the new year, and since beginning this year, I ended up only using a half day for a home inspection appointment.
- As a result, I ended up requesting the last two weeks of December off, as well as two more Fridays off. This leaves me with four extra days I’ll bring into 2022, which will be useful on days where I’ll be moving, and with the time off, I plan on shopping for remaining furniture, building the MG Kyrios, going through movies and kick off Halo Infinite‘s campaign. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, being able to speak with Misaki helps Kukuru to regroup; Misaki is a marine biologist who specialises in Chelonioidea (i.e. sea turtles), and after running into Kukuru, Misaki hears her out, suggesting that her actions will have consequences, but for the time being, what’s done is done, and she should at least take the time to relax. I can vouch for the idea that walking away from a problem to regroup: there have been many a case where a bug or feature was defying my ability to solve, so I ended up talking a walk to clear my head and see if I could approach it from another angle.
- The Aquatope on White Sand has always had gorgeous weather, but the twenty-first episode’s skies are particularly standout; they’re a deep shade of blue that brings to mind the colour of the skies twenty kilometres up, as seen in Mythbusters when Adam flew up to the edge of the atmosphere in a U2 for a special. Weather generally is used to accentuate a given aesthetic or emotion in anime, so to see the skies take on such a hue is meant to remind viewers that while Kukuru is feeling down, there is still beauty all around her worth appreciating, and Misaki is helping Kukuru to gain this perspective.
- Back at Tingaara, after Fūka runs into Tetsuji and tries to explain Kukuru’s situation to him, Tetsuji remarks that it’s none of Fūka’s concern, and that his team will deal with things. The way Tetsuji phrases things is intrinsically irritating to her, enough to rile Fūka up send her into a Kukuru-like frenzy, in which she nearly punches Kai’s lights out. This moment did remove any doubt in me that, while Tetsuji might excel at his work, his interpersonal skills are lacking. Given that Tetsuji doesn’t get along with a fair number of Tingaara’s staff from what we’ve seen, I am curious to see how The Aquatope on White Sand resolves this, especially considering that even Chiyo and Kukuru end up reconciling to an extent where they’re able to get along from a professional standpoint.
- By the time Kukuru wakes up, Misaki’s already gone off to oversee research she and her graduate students are conducting. This leaves Kukuru to enjoy breakfast: a pork-and-tamago onigiri. At it’s simplest, these sandwiches consist of an onigiri wrapped around a large slice of spam and egg, but like burgers and poutine, Okinawans have found ways of sprucing things up. The dish is said to remind Okinawans of home, and while Kukuru is surprised that this is breakfast, the moment she sinks her teeth into one, her spirits are immediately lifted. While I’ve never had a pork-and-tamago onigiri before, the Chinese bakery nearby makes a bread version of this, featuring the spam and egg inside a sweet bun, and I’ve always found these quite delicious, a great way to start the day.
- After breakfast, Kukuru decides to take a walk nearby and check out the nearby aquarium. This excursion takes her through a vast, verdant field under skies of Egyptian Blue, she takes in the quiet world, one that is far removed from her usual worries and activity. This field greatly resembles the field seen in the elderly man’s vision when he’d visited Gama Gama, hoping to see his brother again. That Kukuru is here for herself now holds symbolic value; open plains signify being able to see clearly for miles around, and in a world that seems quite far removed from her own, Kukuru can nonetheless find what she’s looking for.
- Kukuru arrives at Kamehausu (literally “Turtle House”), the aquarium she’d been seeking out. It turns out Kamehausu is even smaller than Gama Gama, and lacks even the tanks that housed Gama Gama’s marine life. In spite of this, Kamehouse feels very much loved by its visitors: after dropping off the admission fee, Kukuru spots three young boys rush in, finish the day’s challenge and rush off to redeem their free ice cream from the manager. The smaller aquariums in The Aquatope on White Sand are not purely businesses, but they’re also local hangout spots.
- In this way, Kamehausu feels more like Gama Gama, compared to the commercial, institutionalised vibe that Tingaara gives off. This feeling is accentuated by the fact that the manager quotes Kukuru’s grandfather. At this point, it is worth mentioning that there isn’t a right or wrong approach to running an aquarium, or business in general: smaller businesses can give personalised service, while large companies are more versatile and resilient, but also more bureaucratised. Given what The Aquatope on White Sand is going for, I would hazard a guess that towards the end, the director will push Kukuru to introduce a more cozy, home-like feel to Tingaara in conjunction with Tetsuji, and there is a possibility that Kukuru may take her own experiences and successfully run her own small aquarium, too.
- After one penguin trespasses on another’s turf and gets beaten up in a fight, Fūka, Marina and Chiyu tend to its wounds before calling in Takeshita to take a look. Fūka’s come to care greatly for her charges and can’t bear the thought of anything happening to the wildlife. Fūka learns that Kukuru is with Misaki and becomes interested in seeing the sea turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. On a night with the full moon, the turtles hatch, and while Kukuru is concerned after the moon gets covered by some clouds, once the moonlight returns, droves of young sea turtles come out of the sand and make their way to the ocean. Kukuru is surprised, but pleased that Fūka is here with her.
- While the sea turtles hatch and make their way across the beach into the ocean, Yoshiaki Dewa’s incidental music swells to a crescendo, filling the scene with emotion. Dewa’s composition for The Aquatope on White Sand is very similar to that of The World in Colour, featuring a mix of upbeat songs for everyday life, contemplative and melancholy pieces for more emotional moments, and use of shamisen to evoke an Okinawan feel to things. The soundtrack itself is set to release on January 26, 2022, and at the time of writing, there’s no tracklist, but it is known that the soundtrack will retail for 3850 Yen (43.44 CAD) and come with two disks. This brings my current round of discussions to an end, and I will note that The Aquatope on White Sand has continued to keep me guessing on its run. I’m not too sure where this one will land, but as I’ve previously noted, I similarly continue to look forwards to seeing what this series has in store for viewers.
Besides giving Kukuru some breathing room, her excursion also allows The Aquatope on White Sand to really show off what P.A. Works is capable of. Her time with Misaki and the sea turtles shows just how evolved P.A. Works’ craft is: the turtles and penguins are expertly animated and move as their real-world counterparts do. The colours and lighting breathe new life into Okinawa, an already-beautiful locale. The sheer majesty of nature proves to be the tonic that lifts Kukuru’s spirits, and through this trip, Kukuru cannot help but feel amazed at what’s out there. That Fūka joins her for the sea turtles’ hatching further shows that, no matter how their paths deviate, Kukuru will always have someone in her corner. In this area, The Aquatope on White Sand continues to excel. However, with only three episodes remaining, there remains turf that this anime has yet to cover. The visions seen at Gama Gama have not been given any exploration, and similarly, the kijimuna that periodically appeared in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first half is nowhere to be seen. These developments must now be fitted into the remaining time, which likely will deal with the elephant in the room: Tetsuji and Kukuru will need to reconcile, even partially, if The Aquatope on White Sand is to be consistent in its themes. If the supernatural elements are to be relegated to the background, it will be disappointing, since The Aquatope on White Sand would imply that Corinthians 13:11 is correct. I’ve never believed in the claims that when “one becomes a man, [they necessarily] set aside childish things”. In other words, omitting the magic would suppose the world of adults to be a very dull and monotonous one, devoid of curiosity and exploration. Instead, I’ve found that the gap between an adult and a child is that a child receives magic, and an adult gives it. C.S. Lewis rightly states that Corinthians 13:11 is in fact childish: the desire to appear grown up by setting aside what is “childish” is in and of itself childish. An adult is someone who accepts themselves for who they are, as well as accepting others for who they are. With this in mind, because the magic has faded from prominence in The Aquatope on White Sand in favour for a tale of interpersonal development and professional growth, at the very least, the remainder of the series must sort out the conflicts between Tetsuji and Kukuru. Such messages would naturally be strengthened by the inclusion and return of both the visions at Gama Gama, as well as the kijimuna, and at this point in time, it’s anyone’s guess as to how The Aquatope on White Sand will wrap things up.