The Infinite Zenith

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The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions At The Halfway Point

“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.

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Nine

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.” –Anais Nin

When Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that the staff take some down time, Kukuru reluctantly joins Fūka, Kai, Tsukimi, Karin and Kūya on the beaches of Okinawa, where they frolic in the warm tropical weather before sitting down for a barbeque. To Kukuru’s displeasure, Kai’s younger sister shows up, although this does little to dampen the group’s spirits as they enjoy their meal. After Tsukimi breaks out the sweets, Kukuru remarks that it must be nice to have a sibling, someone to go halvesies with and share in experiences together. With thoughts of work lingering on her mind, Kukuru heads back to Gama Gama, overhearing her grandfather and Umi-yan discussing the aquarium’s closure. Although she’s visibly disheartened by this news, Fūka reassures her, and later during the evening, Karin explains why Kūya is bad with women – during high school, he’d rejected a kokuhaku from someone in the popular clique, and they got even by bullying him extensively. Unable to cope, Kūya dropped out of high school and was directionless until meeting Kukuru’s grandfather, who offered him a job at Gama Gama. Later, Kukuru and Fūka are excited to learn from Karin that Umi-yan’s plans for a travelling aquarium are a go at the local hospital; on the condition that no crabs are featured, they are permitted to host an event. Unbeknownst to the group, a single crab snuck into the exhibit, and while Fūka grows worried after losing the crab, the event proceeds smoothly, at least until the head nurse runs into the escaped crab. A young patient, Airi, pulls the crab off the head nurse and rediscovers her joy of aquatic life: she’d distanced herself from the aquarium after becoming hospitalised, and refused to meet Umi-yan until now. As the clock counts down before Gama Gama closes, an aspiring aquarium keeper, Chiyu Haebaru, heads here, hoping to learn from Kukuru’s grandfather. However, she accomplishes little except irritate the living daylights out of Kukuru, and determines that Gama Gama has nothing to offer her. Kukuru is visibly upset by how blasé Chiyu is, and decides to check out the new aquarium being built in Okinawa, while Fūka receives a call from one of her former colleagues. We’re now three-eighths of the way into The Aquatope on White Sand‘s run: the series’ direction is still unclear, as, like its predecessors, The Aquatope on White Sand has chosen to focus primarily on giving the characters a chance to shine in their own right.

P.A. Works has never been a studio to shy away from portraying adversity on screen: in Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana receives a slap to the face shortly after starting her time at Kissui Inn, Yoshino ends up injuring Ushimatsu after attempting to renege on her contract in Sakura Quest, and Shirobako sees Aoi in tears as their latest project appears in jeopardy of being cancelled. Challenges appear, pushing characters to their absolute limits to test their resolve and determination, and in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s predecessors, the protagonists had always risen to the occasion. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru finds herself under mounting pressure to do something substantial for Gama Gama as the deadline draws nearer: she’s unable to relax, and constantly on the edge. Chiyu thus brings out the worst in Kukuru – as someone looking to develop a career as an aquarium keeper, Chiyu is focused, motivated and determined. However, despite the stories she’d heard about Gama Gama, she finds reality disappointing. Chiyu’s animosity for Kukuru is matched by Kukuru’s perception of her as a foe whose existence accelerates Gama Gama’s demise. Where these opposing forces collide, conflict is inevitable. Conversely, this same conflict is what drives growth: Aoi ends up standing up for MusAni after determining the copyright claim has a hole in it, Yoshino embraces her role in helping Manoyama host events that keep the town alive, and Ohana comes to make peace with Minko, before coming to terms with her grandmother’s strict manner and credos on running a good inn. Similarly, conflict in The Aquatope on White Sand is present for a reason. What Kukuru faces now seems insurmountable, but making amends with Chiyu will be an integral part to her own development, preparing her for whatever lies ahead with respect to Gama Gama Aquarium. With under a week left before August draws to a close in The Aquatope on White Sand, time is relentlessly ticking away, and short of a miracle, Gama Gama appears consigned to shutting its doors as they enter September.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the clock is ticking away, Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that she and the remainder of the staff get some rest: Kukuru initially complains, but in the end, relents, and the entire group hit Okinawa’s beaches together under beautiful skies of azure. Kukuru initially believes that time away from Gama Gama is equivalent to allowing Gama Gama to inch closer to being shut down, and I once shared similar sentiments. However, as I would find over the course of time, it is important to take strategic breaks in order to clear one’s mind and regroup.

  • Fūka is surprised that Kukuru, Tsukimi and Karen didn’t bother bringing swimsuits to the beach – she’s rocking a frilled white bikini, a pleasant fashion statement for the white sands of Okinawa, and grows embarrassed until she spots other beach-goers in their swimsuits, as well. I imagine that the explanation Fūka is offered is to indicate that locals are so accustomed to the beaches that they’re not terribly concerned about needing a swimsuit to enjoy the warm waters.

  • In August, the ocean temperatures in Okinawa is an average of 28.7ºC, making it slightly cooler than Cancún’s temperatures of 29.3ºC – when it’s this warm, one could walk into the ocean without ever feeling cool, and when immersed, it’s like being surrounded by pure bliss. My visit to Cancún was now five years ago: this was for an artificial life conference, and on mornings prior to the conference’s start times, I ended up walking along Cancún’s extensive beaches. The hotel I chose to lodge at wasn’t located along the waterfront, but the nearest beach was only a few minutes’ walk away.

  • I’d love to be able to visit a tropical destination in the future, and Okinawa is a tempting one. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, Gama Gama’s staff set about for a fun-filled day, while Kukuru focuses on trying not to think about work in any capacity. This is easier said than done, however, since they are by the ocean’s edge. After Fūka grabs a snorkel and swims alongside the fishes; she notes that it does feel quite different than an aquarium, being a magical experience. When Fūka and Kukuru share their experiences, the latter’s mind immediately wanders towards how aquariums are magical in this regard.

  • Kukuru and Tsukimi are disappointed that Kai’s younger sister, Maho, has shown up. Maho is voiced by Saya Hirose, and despite being only a primary student, she’s quite mature for her age. Kukuru’s immediate reaction to Maho suggests some longstanding rivalry and a mutual dislike for one another – the two immediately have a go at one another upon meeting. Maho is very similar to Maho Kazami of Please Teacher! and Ah! My Goddess‘ Skuld, fulfilling the role of the adorable but also mischievous younger sister.

  • I’m quite fond of Hirose’s portrayal of Maho, whose soft voice sounds very soothing. While Maho and Kukuru slug it out, I will recall a memory of three years earlier – on this day, I flew out to Winnipeg to continue on with a Xamarin project that I’d been brought on board to prepare for submission to the App Store and Play Store after their mobile developer unexpectedly left. I had spent much of August in Denver, scoping out the project to get a feel for how things were organised, and looking back, this was the easy part of the assignment: by the time my second week in Denver was up, I had a rough idea of where everything was, and moreover, had resolved a few tickets.

  • I thus enjoyed my evening meal under the setting sun before returning to the Hotel Fort Garry for a good night’s sleep. As stressful as the Winnipeg assignment had been, a good meal helped me to stay focused, especially when the backend team was lagging behind and consistently failed to deliver the endpoints I needed to continue on with my work. This assignment taught me the importance of being able to relax during downtime so when it came time to work, I was ready to hustle. Kukuru struggles with this, and here, after sharing some cold sweets with Fūka, begins to wonder what it’d be like to have a sibling.

  • As an older sibling myself, I sometimes wish I had someone above me to show me the ropes. Of course, when the younger sibling demonstrates exemplary wisdom and shows me how it’s done, I’m not too proud to decline help. Here, Fūka reassures Kukuru after Kukuru had overheard a conversation between her grandfather and Umi-yan about Gama Gama’s future. While understandably worried, Fūka manages to help Kukuru regroup, fulfilling the role of an older sibling and helping Kukuru to put things in perspective.

  • As evening sets in, Kūya shares a story with Kai that Karin simultaneously recounts to Kukuru and the others: as it turns out, Kūya had once been a high-achieving and promising student, but after turning down a girl from a popular clique, was bullied relentlessly. He ended up dropping out of high school and ultimately, found a position at Gama Gama Aquarium thanks to Kukuru’s grandfather. While he may not show it, Kūya is definitely grateful to Kukuru’s grandfather, and this moment serves to both indicate that Gama Gama means something to many people, as well as the fact that everyone’s got their own stories to tell.

  • When Karin announces that he’d managed to get approval for Gama Gama’s travelling aquarium, Kukuru is ecstatic; she begins to eat lunch with renewed enthusiasm. This is a fine chance to bring their show to other people and give them a taste of what Gama Gama offers. It turns out that the idea of a travelling aquarium originally came from Umi-yan, and like Kukuru, he’s quite happy that there’ll be an opportunity to show some of Gama Gama’s exhibits at the local hospital.

  • I spent an hour digging around near Nanjo to see if I could find the real world equivalent of Nanjo General Clinic. The closest spot is Okinawa Medical Hospital; it’s located a mere 270 metres from the shore, but the hospital’s design is completely different than what The Aquatope on White Sand portrays. I conclude that the location is probably the one and the same, but creative liberties were taken to create a location unique for the anime.

  • It turns out that the head nurse has kabourophobia (fear of crabs); the very word sends a shiver down her spine, and she prohibits Kukuru from bringing any into the hospital. While kabourophobia is uncommon, it does have a basis in reality, and moreover, fears are not always rationally rooted. For instance, there are some folks who are deathly afraid of garlic, onions, shallots, spring onions and the like. The term for this is alliumphobia, and while to me, there’s no good reason to fear something like green onions, individuals who do have alliumphobia fear it anyways, without any explanation for why this occurs.

  • Naturally, because The Aquatope on White Sand introduces kabourophobia into the episode, it must be utilised later: while preparing the exhibit, Fūka comes across a black crab that was accidentally brought to the hospital. Unfortunately for her, the crab escapes: Fūka has no luck finding it, and quietly lets Kukuru know when the latter returns. Given this setup, what would happen next was inevitable. For now, Fūka and Kukuru focus on getting the setup finished so the patients can have a chance to experience the aquarium.

  • As it turns out, Umi-yan had promised Airi, a little girl who visited one summer, that he’d bring Garra Rufa (Red Garra, more informally, “Doctor Fish”). With an omnivorous diet, the Red Garra prefer oxygen-rich, fast flowing water and have become famous for grazing on dead skin cells. The practise is not particularly sanitary, nor is it effective for dealing with certain skin conditions, but as an aquarium exhibit, this works just fine. Unfortunately for Airi, she became hospitalised and was unable to visit. Since then, she’s tried to distance herself from Umi-yan, unhappy that their promise was never fulfilled.

  • Other children from the hospital are immediately enthralled with the aquarium, impressed with the variety of marine life and their distinct traits. In The Aquatope on White Sand, children are portrayed as being particularly fond of sea animals and possess a curiosity to learn more. However, in spite of its topic, The Aquatope on White Sand never forces viewers to go pick up Sam Ridgeway’s The Handbook of Marine Animals to get: like Koisuru Asteroid, the science is simply used to drive the characters and their goals, keeping the story accessible to viewers.

  • As a child, I was always fond of learning, and one thing I remember particularly vividly was that, after field trips to the local science museums or local exhibits, I would always make it a point to visit the library and pick up books on the topic. In today’s age, a quick trip to academic journals and the online version of Encyclopædia Britannica is all that’s needed to satisfy my curiosity. One of my long-standing weaknesses is that everything related to the sciences, natural and applied, interest me, so I’ve developed knowledge of reasonable breadth by reading.

  • Without fail, the head nurse ends up being the one to find the escaped crab. She lets out a blood-curdling scream of abject terror, but Airi is able to pull the crab off the head nurse, sparing her of further agony. Airi regards the crab with curiosity, and subsequently reconciles with Umi-yan. Admittedly, while crustaceans are a fascinating form of marine life, I see them also as a delicious food source. With this in mind, not all crab species are edible: smaller crabs lack an appreciable amount of meat and are not a worthwhile food source.

  • Encouraged, Airi sticks her hand in the tank and smiles as the Red Garra do their magic. Seemingly disconnected stories are the norm for P.A. Works’ longer anime: they’re to establish the small changes that occur from chance meetings and give viewers a strong sense of who the characters are. Once things become better established, P.A. Works changes gears and gives the characters a concrete objective to focus on. Having been with P.A. Works since Hanasaku Iroha back in 2011, I can say with confidence that I have a good idea of their style.

  • It suddenly hits me that, prior to Hanasaku Iroha, P.A. Works would’ve only had True Tears and Angel Beats! under their belt. The latter was a masterpiece, and the former, I’ll forgive because it was their first work. However, some folks continue to hold True Tears against P.A. Works even to this day. I find this incredibly immature, since P.A. Works has since gone on to produce many solid of series (and only a small number of failures). As the day draws to a close, Karin reflects on Kukuru’s words about wanting to not go quietly into the night: the event had been successful by all accounts, but small victories alone won’t change Gama Gama’s situation overnight.

  • When Chiyu Haebaru shows up from another aquarium for training, Kukuru regards her with immediate hostility, viewing her as an enemy and a competitor whose existence endangers Gama Gama. This is apparent in how much vitriol she cuts the fishes up, and while Chiyu’s aquatic knowledge is impressive, Kukuru cannot bring herself to open up. This forms the bulk of the conflict for the ninth episode, since Chiyu is aspiring for a career as an aquarium keeper; in this role, she’d look after the various animals and ensure exhibits are properly maintained and safe.

  • Because of this goal, Chiyu is very serious about what she does, and out of the gates, she disparages the way things are run at Gama Gama to one of her colleagues. Whereas she had shown up with the wish of learning from a legend (Kukuru’s grandfather), she is surprised that one of Okinawa’s most iconic aquariums is become so run-down and aged. Her disappointment is understandable; while discussions elsewhere have been quick to vilify her, I found that Chiyu’s actions create a situation where she and Kuruku need to reach some sort of reconciliation.

  • This is why the conflict is introduced at all; the fact that Kukuru’s found a foe in Chiyu (and Chiyu’s mutual dislike of Kukuru) means that this is one more thing that Kukuru must learn to deal with in a professional and courteous manner, befitting of a fully-qualified aquarium director. At this point, Kukuru lacks that particular skill, and she goes ballistic when Chiyu slings a few insults her way. A physical fight very nearly breaks out, but fortunately, Fūka’s on hand to diffuse things. The stress and anger Kukuru experiences here creates some of The Aquatope on White Sand‘s best funny-faces, something that was quite absent from The World in Colours.

  • Kukuru’s experiences here bring to mind my own experiences with the Xamarin project I’d mentioned earlier: at the time, I was quite convinced that the hostility I was met with came from my approaches to mobile development being incompatible with HIPA-compliant practises. In retrospect, my conflicts with the Winnipeg team also came from my lack of familiarity with their DevOps procedures, and the fact that delivering an acceptable mobile workflow for onboarding caused them quite a bit of extra work. On my last evening in Winnipeg, after a back and fourth meeting with the Denver and Winnipeg teams, we met halfway, and I left the office for dinner at the Beachcomber: I ended up having a char-grilled Steelhead trout filet topped with salsa on a bed of rice pilaf.

  • While I left Winnipeg a little stressed, I was confident the project would soon wrap up. Unfortunately for me, the Winnipeg team continued to drop the ball with their backend development, constantly changing the JSON responses coming back from each endpoint in an attempt to make it look like the mobile app was failing. The me of now would’ve dealt with this by recording the responses while things were working so I’d have a video demo of my work, and then speaking to management about what I’d need (e.g. communications about endpoint changes) to do my best work. I am speaking from having three more years of experience since then, and looking back, I was no more mature than Kukuru as a developer. Here, Kukuru confides in Fūka, stating that it’d be wonderful to have an older sister like her. As it turns out, Kukuru is aware of her parents having another child, but she’s too worried to ask.

  • The next day, Chiyu is able to get some time to watch the legendary aquarium director, Kukuru’s grandfather, in action. However, Chiyu is completely dissatisfied that he spends more time tending to the customers than the aquarium itself, and feels that the afternoon was a complete waste of time. This is something that Chiyu has missed., but the contrast is readily apparent to viewers; Kukuru’s grandfather wishes to cultivate a sense of home for his visitors, and Gama Gama isn’t merely an institution for marine life, but also a place where people can go to relax.

  • Had Chiyu been aware of this from the start, there’d be no story to speak of. To really drive the stakes up, Chiyu gives voice to all of her displeasure, leaving Kukuru shaking with indignation. This was quite unprofessional on Chiyu’s part: I’ve certainly never felt the need to put down high school students while assessing their work at science fairs, for instance, although I do understand that leaving on such a rough note sets the stage for what is to happen next. A quick glance at the calendar shows that we’re down to a week for things, which means there’s precious little time for fights like these.

  • A week can indeed go by in the blink of an eye, although for Kukuru, time’s standing still – she vents her frustrations after Kai offers to act as a shoulder to lean on (in a manner of speaking). It speaks volumes to their friendship that Kai jokes to Kukuru about wanting hazard pay when she head-butts him. Much as how Fūka has proven to be quite distinct from Hitomi, Kukuru is different than Kohaku: P.A. Works’ characters are often quite similar in appearance and superficial traits, but ultimately, these small differences are enough to alter the look-and-feel of a given work. For instance, Ohana, Minko and Nako from Hanasaku Iroha return as Tari Tari‘s Konatsu, Wakana and Sawa, respectively, but different contexts and personalities mean that the character dynamics are drastically dissimilar.

  • When Fūka speaks to two of the boys who’ve come to see the aquarium as a cool hangout spot, they mention that they’ve been here often enough so that they’ve memorised every exhibit. However, Kukuru had heard from one boy that he’d once had a vision of his dog here. The supernatural aspects of The Aquatope on White Sand have been completely set aside for the time being, but the fact they’re occurring for so many people means that there’s a significance to them.

  • As evening sets in, Kukuru decides to head on over to the new aquarium under construction for a look, while Fūka receives a call from an old coworker, ending the episode on a cliffhanger of sorts. The Okinawan skyline here brings to mind the scenery that was seen in The World in Colours, which reminds me of the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand feels like it’s meant to take the magical piece from The World in Colours and add a Hanasaku Iroha component, as well. With this post in the books, I will note that I’ve never been anticipating an episode of The Aquatope on White Sand more, since things cut off very abruptly.

Racing against the clock had always been something P.A. Works had incorporated into their works, whether it was Hitomi doing her utmost to spend time with Kohaku and her friends before returning to the future, the merciless deadlines of anime production, the constraints imposed by the “Queen of Manoyama” contract, the Kissui’s Inn closing, or the drive to put on a performance before their school closes. Each of The World in Colours, Shirobako, Sakura Quest, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari have the central characters fighting a countdown to do the most they can before one chapter draws to a close, and in each case, the series have all structured its pacing smartly, keeping the pressure on to create a sense of urgency while at the same time, giving everyone enough space to achieve their goals before time’s up. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, a glance at calendars in-show suggest that we’re now down to a week before Gama Gama is set to shutter up for good, but we’re still three episodes away from the series’ halfway point. Pulling a miracle out of nowhere now would be disingenuous, and so, one cannot help but wonder if The Aquatope on White Sand is going to be going in a different direction: previously, P.A. Works’ anime have all hit their stride after their halfway points, with the first half being to establish everything and build the world up, before giving the characters a well-defined goal to pursue. It therefore stands to reason that Gama Gama will likely close as expected, and we might even see the aftermath of things (similarly to how Nagi no Asukara utilise a time skip to portray a story over a longer time frame). Regardless of where The Aquatope on White Sand ends up going, it is clear that this series has a large supernatural piece, as well – frequent mention of the visions visitors see at Gama Gama indicate that this will play a large role in things. As such, as The Aquatope on White Sand moves ahead, it will be important to have the supernatural occupy a more prominent role and affect the story more substantially than it currently has so far, as tying the workplace piece with the supernatural does seem to be where The Aquatope on White Sand is headed.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and An Unexpected Road to Friendship

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” –Thomas J. Watson

When Bocchi graduates from primary school and enters middle school, her best friend, Kai, determines that they shan’t be friends again until the shy and withdrawn Bocchi can befriend everyone in her new class. This seems an insurmountable mountain to climb for Bocchi, who cannot even speak to strangers without getting the dry heaves. On her first day of class at middle school, she manages to strike up a conversation with Nako, who comes to care for Bocchi. Over time, Bocchi ends up befriending the vice representative, Aru, and the foreign student, Sotoka. While Bocchi finds herself unable to convince Kako to hang out with her, she gradually becomes more familiar with her classmates, and so, enters her second year of middle school with a bit more confidence. This is Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu (alternatively, Hitori Bocchi no ○○ Seikatsu, or The Life of Being Alone), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the spring 2019 season. While I did have plans to watch Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, procrastination caused me to sit on this for months, and then years. Fortunately, with a bit of open time now that my schedule’s settled down, I’ve decided it was time to give Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu a go, and for my time, I was met with an anime that is adorable, telling a whimsical and honest story about how friendship comes about. The premise and setup in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu appears trite at first glance. Bocchi brings to mind Azumanga Daioh‘s Osaka, while Nako is not dissimilar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui. Likewise, Sotoka is Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen. Familiar character archetypes in a purely school setting sets the stage for familiar antics and experiences. However, this is only what the premise conveys; in practise, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a fantastic job of having the characters bounce off one another with their eccentricities, and in the end, contrary to the initial impressions the anime might suggest, the final result is a very rewarding one.

The goal Kai sets for Bocchi is one that appears unbeatable; befriending every last person in class is something that most folks typically won’t consider, since it implies forming a larger social circle than is typical of people of that age group, and indeed, even the folks considered popular usually do not make aquaintances of everyone in their class. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu chooses to show how this Herculean task has humble beginnings: Bocchi starts out by talking to Nako, and while Nako may appear to be harsh, she’s actually considerate, taking the time to look after Bocchi and patiently walks Bocchi through her troubles. Bocchi herself is friendly, despite being shy, and as Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu progresses, it is clear that Bocchi could succeed in her task; she’s pursuing interpersonal connections to those around her for the sake of getting to know others better, and this falls under the realm of likeability. It is generally stated that popularity is built around likeability and social status. The former refers to how well one gets along with others, and how well others trusts one. Someone who builds relationships around this aspect will be inclined to listen to others. Social status, on the other hand, refers to envy (or admiration) for others. While building relationships around status gives the impression of success, it also entails being controlling, dismissive and unkind: I recall the cliques in high school, during which the popular students were centred around a handful of likeable individuals for clout. While the people at the centre of these cliques were respectable and reasonably kind to those around them, the followers were considerably less so; people who build relationships around status tend to find it difficult to maintain meaningful connections to others, but fortunately, in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Bocchi is not doing anything for status: she genuinely wishes for solid connections to those around her, and while the anime has her definitively friends with Nako, Aru and Sotoka, by the season’s end, she’s beginning to get along with more people in her class, as well: Bocchi’s definitely acting in a likeable manner, and those whom she befriends will likely stick around.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Bocchi’s journey begins, she starts out with zero friends and only the vaguest idea of how to communicate with people: Bocchi figures it’s a good idea to employ some unorthodox strategies, but these all end up backfiring. Without any outs, Bocchi is forced to introduce herself to others, and while Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that she’s vomiting out of stress, the reactions of those around her suggest that Bocchi is dry heaving rather than vomiting; no shirts are ruined, and no custodians are called in to clean up the associated mess.

  • It is the case that stress and anxiety can induce dry heaves, so this aspect of Bocchi’s character is not particularly unrealistic or implausible, even if Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does exaggerate its characters’ traits. After summoning the courage to speak with Nako, Bocchi ends up befriending Aru, as well. One of the most pleasant side effects of Bocchi’s attempts to get to know everyone better means that those around Bocchi also end up becoming friends; Nako and Aru most certainly do not get along, but initially set aside their differences for Bocchi’s sake. Over time, the pair get a long better, although Nako remains fond of pressing Aru’s buttons late into the series (all in good fun, of course).

  • While Aru is occasionally busy with club activities, Nako has more time on her hands, and one weekend, decides to swing by Bocchi’s place. Bocchi’s idiosyncrasies are a little unusual, as evidenced when she wears a full bear costume while hosting Nako. Nako seems to take everything in stride, and while some of Bocchi’s antics are exasperating, Nako also comes to appreciate that at heart, Bocchi is kind and capable: she just needs a little push to be on her way: she’s voiced by Chisaki Morishita, whose roles in other anime are ones I’m not familiar with. Conversely, Minami Tanaka plays Nako, and I know her from Wake Up, Girls (Minami Katayama), Hanayamata (Hana N. Fountainstand) and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (Himeno Toyokawa).

  • Sotoka is the classic foreign student with a very curious understanding of Japanese culture: like Karen from Kiniro Mosaic, Sotoka makes certain assumptions, leading her to view Bocchi as a ninjutsu expert of sorts. This misunderstanding lingers throughout much of Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, but initially, the unusual dynamic between Bocchi and Sotoka also means that Bocchi also has the chance to hang out with one more person: Sotoka is fond of learning ninjutsu, and while Bocchi is no ninja, she does pass along some curious skills to Sotoka, including origami.

  • One cannot help but feel bad for Aru (Akari Kitō, Kaho Hinata from Blend S and Harukana Receive‘s Ai Tanahara): despite her attempts to maintain a confident and successful air about her, she’s also said to be “unfortunate”, which really gets on her nerves (to the point where she flies at Nako whenever Nako pokes fun at her). While 残念 (Hepburn zannen) corresponds to “unlucky”, Aru’s circumstance is probably better described as a “loser”: she somehow manages to kit herself out in a grade schooler’s uniform and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to conceal this. While it works on a few people, Nako sees right through things, forcing Aru to go home and change.

  • The characters’ names are all puns on their leading trait. Bocchi’s full name, Hitori Bocchi, means “alone”, Sunao Nako is a play on the phrase “honest child”, Honshō Aru is “true nature” and Rakita Sotoka is a pun on “outsider”. Some folks had a tough time working out why everyone’s names were puns and how this related to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s main themes; this is, fortunately, a simple enough exercise. Everyone is named after their defining characteristics, and their name thus gives insight as to their circumstances. The variety of situations, when placed together, creates a rather colourful set of experiences for everyone, showing how friendships can form among the most disparate of individuals.

  • If and when I’m asked, Aru is my favourite character: her cheerful personality and efforts to overcome adversity, especially in light of her poor luck, is admirable. It suddenly strikes me that the misfortune that Aru experiences is relatively minor (usually, losing bets or similar); when it comes down to the wire, Aru is helpful and supportive of those around her. The traits surrounding each character’s namesake are not debilitating in any way, and a major part of the charm in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is the fact that none of the characters suffer unnecessarily.

  • I’ve never been fond of series where a given character is made the in-show punching bag, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu mitigates this by having the characters be supportive of one another. Here, Bocchi recoils at a karaoke session. What happens next shows the extent of Kai’s desire to see Bocchi reach her goal: the pair meet at the same karaoke bar, but Kai adamantly refuses to even acknowledge Bocchi, causing Bocchi no small amount of distress. It turns out this was just as hard on Kai as it was for Bocchi, and fortunately, Bocchi’s small circle of friends do end up supporting her.

  • In this way, it is clear that Bocchi’s journey forward is about how well she can overcome whatever setbacks she may face; with everyone in her corner, Bocchi’s journey is no longer one she must undertake herself. This moment, of Sotoka carrying Bocchi, demonstrates the sort of artwork present in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu – from a technical standpoint, the anime is middle-of-the-road, offering smooth animation and consistent artwork. Where the anime stands out is how the voice actresses play their part to bring their characters to life.

  • Kako is probably the toughest challenge for Bocchi: unlike Bocchi, who wishes to further herself by building up new connections, Kako is the polar opposite and believes that the best way ahead is to be independent, relying on no one. This is why Kako refuses to be friends with Bocchi: it’s got nothing to do with any shortcomings on Bocchi’s part, but rather, the personal code that Kako has set for herself. While this is unusual (no-one is an island, after all), it means that Kako is the perfect foil for Bocchi.

  • Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does an excellent job of showing how being likeable (exhibiting politeness, empathy and a willingness to listen) is more important in maintaining good interpersonal relationships than status alone. In popularity, likeability and status are the two leading factors; the latter entails traits that make one appear more respectable or impressive, requiring one keep up appearances all the time. While Aru is prone to doing precisely this, I like her character precisely because she shows her true self around Bocchi and the others.

  • However, Aru’s desire to be seen as doing alright often means she will go out of her way to help others. Altogether, being more honest about herself and doing good will likely result in Aru learning to accept herself while, at the same time, continuing to do right by those around her. When Bocchi messes up during a home economics class, Aru steps in to help Bocchi: this action is seen by others as a sign of how well-adjusted Aru is, but she’s primarily helping out because she wants Bocchi to be happy, as well. The sum of these actions help two of Bocchi’s teammates, Peko and Ito, become friends with her later on.

  • While Kako might refuse to count herself as a friend to Bocchi and her crew, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to team up with Bocchi on a class trip. It’s clear that of the two facets of popularity, Bocchi (and Nako) are spurred on by likeability: they do the things that make them more approachable to others. Looking back, I always approached friendship from the likeability side, and I’ve always preferred maintaining a small group of close friends, with whom I could confide in about various matters, as opposed to having a much larger social circle.

  • When I entered university out of high school, I ended up following a very similar route that Bocchi took: I made friends with exactly one of my classmates during orientation, and as term wore on, and there was a chance to work with different people, our social circles grew. One of the topics we took, Christopher Boorse’s Health as a Theoretical Concept, galvinised the entire class into working together, and after my first year ended, while I couldn’t say I was friends with every one of my classmates, I could say that I became acquainted with everyone to the point where we could talk about both coursework and other matters. I’m not sure this satisfies Kai’s expectations for Bocchi, but being on good terms with my entire graduating class (around ninety students) was a fun experience.

  • Back in high school, assuming my memories are still accurate, while I wasn’t in popular clique or anything, I found that I got along fine with most people (save those with a profound interest in activism), and maintained friendships with a comparatively smaller group of people that I still am in contact with today. Ironically, I actually do have a few friends now that I’d met because I’d unintentionally antagonised them, although we made amends on short order and ended up with amusing stories to tell. I imagine that this will naturally happen with Nako and Aru, although since it is relatively early in the game, Aru instinctively jumps into Nako every time the latter mentions the word “unfortunate”, resulting in some visual humour.

  • As a general rule, I don’t like making enemies of people because antagonising others always requires twice as much effort. Conversely, being nice to people comes quite naturally and entails almost no effort beyond approaching someone and making their day brighter. Here, Sotoka, Aru, Bocchi and Nako make acquaintances of Mayo, who hails from a wealthy family; her parents are always working, and she’s somewhat lonely, but after encountering Bocchi, Mayo becomes curious about Bocchi and suggests that Bocchi take up a job of making paper cranes. Thanks to Sotoka’s skill, they manage to make a bunch.

  • In the end, Mayo joins Bocchi’s group of friends, sharing a day with them. She later writes to her parents, saying that she’s made new friends, but also would appreciate it if her parents could make some time for her. With this, Bocchi is one step closer to her goal of befriending every single person in her class: towards the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, the rate at which Bocchi befriends others increases: she manages to convince Sotoka that they’ve been friends the whole time, as well. This isn’t too surprising, since she’s gotten over the initial hurdle, and now, has a group of people in her corner to support her goals. Along the way, Bocchi has also brought others together.

  • As Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu sees Bocchi enter her second year, she acquires a smartphone, allowing her to better keep in touch with her friends. While smartphones are superior to feature phones in terms of functionality, feature phones (flip phones) remain relatively common in Japan owing to their durability and ability to hold a charge. In anime, smartphones are slowly displacing feature phones: everyone in Yuru Camp△, for instance, rock iPhones. In having Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu transition over to smartphones, then, the anime is suggesting that technology might be integral in helping Bocchi on her quest.

  • The finale has Bocchi successfully pin a corsage on a graduating third year student, and finding an uncommonly cheerful Kako who’s afflicted with a fever. Despite her stoic mannerisms, Kako is grateful that Bocchi goes to the lengths that she does to ensure everyone’s alright. If memory serves, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s manga began in 2013 and finished running this year – any continuation of the series in anime form would probably have Bocchi befriend Kako towards the end and reunite with Kai a changed person, better equipped with navigate the complex social networks of the world.

  • Where the anime ends remains satisfactory: overall, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu earns a B+ grade in my books (3.3 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten-point system, eight points). Despite being a seemingly unassuming anime set in a mundane setting, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a wonderful job of showing how chance meetings can precipitate something much bigger. The anime thus exceeds my expectations for this Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is not terrible by any stretch, although my propensity towards procrastination are, and I imagine that I’ll only get worse from here on out as I become busier.

Ultimately, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that the first step of the journey is always the hardest. It takes several episodes for Bocchi to open up to Nako, but once she does, she’s able to slowly get to know Aru better, as well. Similarly, Bocchi and Sotoka realise that they’re as close as friends are, and openly acknowledge one another as such. As Bocchi becomes more connected to the first group of friends she’s had outside of Kai, she is able to reach out to and interact with others in her class. While Kako is a special case (and reluctantly joins Bocchi’s group anyways), Bocchi manages to even strike up conversations with Mayo, a girl from a rich family, along with Peko and Ito, who were in Bocchi’s home economics group. The initial chat with Nako thus sets in motion a series of fortunate events for Bocchi, and while she still has a long way to go before she can speak in front of a crowd with confidence, at the very least, Bocchi is starting to mature and appreciate that her classmates are generally friendly and warm people who enjoy her company as much as she enjoys theirs. Things do speed up towards Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s final few episodes; the series suggests to viewers that having now taken her first steps, Bocchi’s future is a bit more exciting and bright than she’d imagined it to be. Leaving this anime, one can therefore be confident that whatever happens next, Bocchi has good company in her corner: her own increasing comfort around others, coupled with support from Nako, Aru, Sotoka, Mayo, Peko and Ito, will be a valuable asset in helping her to overcome her own limits and fulfil a promise to Kai, who, despite her cold reception towards Bocchi, very much gives the indicator that she wishes for Bocchi’s success, as well. It’s certainly an optimistic message, and consequently, I am happy to say that I had a great time with Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu: this is another one of those cases where, my tendencies to procrastinate notwithstanding, I should make an effort to check out the series in my backlog where possible, as there are many solid anime dating back many years that are quite worthwhile to watch.

Kanata no Astra and Building the Software Components to the Can-U-Eat-It Kajigger: An Exercise in Application Design

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” –Hal Lindsey

The latest round of Jon Spencer Reviews’ #AniTwitWatches event came to a close earlier today, and this time around, 2019’s Kanata no Astra (Astra Lost in Space) won the popular vote for the anime that the community. I thus embarked on the journey with the other participants, and swiftly found myself blown away by how well-executed this series was. A routine planet camping trip goes pear-shaped and the students, Kanata, Aries, Quitterie, Funi, Charce, Luca, Zack, Yun-Hua and Ulgar are made to survive and make their way back home. Along the way, the crew come to know one another better and deduce that theirs was no accident; there was some sinister plot to use a school trip as a convenient excuse to bump everyone off. Through this experience, however, the Astra’s crew come to develop as a team, cooperating and using their expertise to help advance survival in their own way. Kanata no Astra‘s themes of teamwork, the idea that everyone brings something to the table and that solutions come from the most unexpected sources were particularly strong, and the anime has taken a particularly strong approach towards its presentation of the sciences. Evolutionary biology, ecology, bioethics, sociology, climatology, space travel and engineering are several topics that Kanata no Astra make use of during its run to create a compelling and believable story. Information from every discipline is accurately presented, and to the appropriate level of detail such that viewers can be convinced of the world’s authenticity, without burdening them with excessive detail. There is no denying that Kanata no Astra is an exceptional anime, striking a balance between comedy and growth, as well as mystery and enigma. Episodes often swing between light-hearted exploration, grim survival, and the ever-present threat of a hidden foe amongst the group, as well as the lingering question of how chance brought everyone together. The sum of these elements in Kanata no Astra means that the anime offers no shortage of materials to talk about, and indeed, each and every episode provides a topic that could be explored in a paper. However, precisely because Kanata no Astra is so expansive in its breadth, I could be here for the next year outlining all of the science and history that Kanata no Astra gets right, from the ecosystems on Shummoor, to the accurate portrayal of life on the tidally-locked Icriss, the implications of cloning and the significance of never forgetting history. This would be to the readers’ detriment, and so, I’ve opted to go with something a little different this time around.

After the shock of survival wears off at the end of the second episode, Zack constructs a device called the Food Component Analytical Device (FCAD), known informally as the Can-U-Eat-It Kajigger (or for simplicity’s sake, TESTER), to determine whether or not the various flora and fauna they find are edible. This little contraption is only a secondary part of Kanata no Astra, but its importance to the series cannot be understated: Les Stroud has previously indicated that in a survival situation, people typically place a great deal of effort into finding food and go into a panic when rations dwindle, despite the fact that the average human body can go for three weeks without food. While Stroud places an emphasis on finding water (the body cannot last more than three days without water), it makes sense that the Astra’s crew are concerned with finding food: it’s a process that keeps the mind focused, and in a survival situation, being proactive and busy prevents one from wallowing (in turn reducing the risk one loses the will to live). However, Kanata and the others face a large challenge: since they are landing on alien worlds, each with their own unique ecosystem, survival is not assured even if there was a decently-sized biome. After all, alien physiologies and composition could differ greatly than our own. It is here that Zack’s TESTER becomes important: it is able to identify whether or not something is edible, safe for consumption, and while such a device might seem like the work of a prodigy (Zack is highly brilliant) who has access to future technology, the reality is that a device like TESTER could actually be constructed using the technology and resources that are currently available to us. In this post, then, I will walk readers through the implementation of TESTER, from a computer science and software engineering perspective. This post assumes that the hardware elements are already taken care of: as I’m not a computer hardware specialist or electrical engineer, I cannot readily speak to what parts would be needed to assemble the device. However, having spent the past decade in software, it is not out of the realm of possibility to go into detail what the software layer behind TESTER would require to work.

  • Kanata no Astra is an anime that gets virtually everything right, from character development and pacing, right down to science and society. There is something to talk about in each and every episode, as the combination of mystery and comedy drives a cast whose experiences become easy to become invested in. Shortly after they accept their situation and take stock, the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is food and water. Consequently, Kanata no Astra‘s early episodes are yet another situation where Les Stroud’s Survivorman is relevant.

  • In Survivorman, Stroud constantly points out that keeping out of the elements and securing good water is a top priority: the body can last up to three weeks without food, and as such, it is not quite as important to always top off when other needs must be attended to first. With this being said, survival also entails keeping busy, and under Kanata’s leadership, the Astra’s crew are able to occupy their minds by finding food early on, although alien flora and fauna make it difficult to know what can be safely consumed, or what shouldn’t be touched.

Preliminary Considerations

Chemical Analysis

The underlying technologies behind TESTER is likely a refined combination of Infrared Spectroscopy (IRS), Mass Spectrometry (MS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance pectroscopy. I know these methods best for their application in organic chemistry, where they are utilised in tandem to identify chemical compounds. IRS involves passing an infrared beam into a specimen and record the resulting absorption patterns. Different functional groups have specific characteristic absorption freqnecies (i.e. they produce specific patterns when subject to IR), and thus, can be used to identify common structural units in a chemical compound. MS entails vapourising a specimen and rendering it as a gas such that it is ionised. The molecule is broken into fragments, and these fragments have different mass-to-charge ratios. Plotting the mass-to-charge ratios on a graph gives the distribution of positive ions that are unique to each compound. Finally, NMR is used to observe localised magnetic fields around the atomic nuclei. By passing radio waves through a sample, the magnetic field around the nucleus causes a change in its resonance frequency (and corresponding energy level), which releases electromagnetic waves based on the atomic arrangement in said molecule. Nuclei in close proximity will shield one another from the magnetic field, and this in turn produces a plot of chemical shifts characteristic to the arrangement of the nuclei in the molecule. NMR is often conducted by dissolving a sample in a solution (such as deuterated chloroform) to allow for the atoms to be subject to the magnetic fields.

These three methods can be used in conjunction to very precisely identify the chemical composition of an unknown agent, and as such, are invaluable as the first step for retrieving what’s in a substance. IRS allows for chemical groups to be identified, while MS and NMR are useful in determining a sample’s molecular structure. With these techniques, we end up with a rough understanding of what a substance consists of: knowing the structure and any distinct functional groups thus allows for the overall molecular structure of compounds in a specimen to be determined. Because Kanata no Astra is set in a world with FTL-travel and appears more technologically advanced than contemporary human society, we will allow ourselves a hardware sensor that can carry out chemical analysis with high precision, employing more refined and accurate methods than is currently available built upon similar principles. In this exercise, then, we suppose that we have access to a sensor that carries out IRS, MR and NMR without destroying the sample while at the same time, properly identifying the chemicals 99% of the time. For this exercise, we also will suppose that the sensor comes with an SDK such that it is easy to properly send data into the software layer.

  • Besides the Universal Edibility Test, where one can determine if a plant is safe for consumption by first coming into contact with it and then waiting eight hours to see if a rash appears (indicating the presence of toxins), Les Stroud also gives three general guidelines for whether or not a given animal can be eaten: the animal cannot be brightly coloured, smell bad or plod along; all three indicate the presence of some sort of toxin-based defense, rendering it unsafe to eat. These methods do come with experience in the bush, and for the Astra’s crew, this is time the students do not have.

  • As such, Zack’s assembling of TESTER becomes an elegant and efficient way of sorting out the problem of acquiring food. Were this simple device not built, it may have slowed survival sufficiently as to render the remainder of Kanata no Astra poorly-paced, since Kanata and the others would constantly be dealing with low morale and energy from lack of food. Devices like TESTER are usually consigned to the realm of science fiction, but in this case, having worked with the components involved, and having seen similar technologies around, I became curious to see if TESTER could actually be built.

Data formats and databases

We will make use of the Simplified Molecular-Input Line-Entry System (SMILES) notation will be used to store strings representing the chemical compounds that TESTER uses. SMILES was designed in the 1980s to provide a means of defining expressions to represent how chemical compounds are structured using strings, which can then be parsed using a context-free parser. There are programs that allow for chemical compounds to be drawn (such as PyMol), after which the produced drawing can be interpreted as nodes in a graph and converted into a spanning tree (a tree where every node is included). From here, the string is produced based on a set of rules and returned. This makes it easy to quickly carry out string operations such as pattern matching on the chemical compound. With the SMILES standard, it becomes straightforward to now take data from IR, NMR and MS, and run queries against a database of known compounds to determine if something is edible or not. As such, the combination of chemical identification and line notation provides us with the foundations we need to begin designing the software behind Zack’s TESTER.

In order to carry out some of the functions in TESTER, it is useful to utilise a database of known chemical compounds and reactions. PubChem is an excellent asset for searching for chemicals by a range of properties, from its common name and molecular formula. Similarly, we can use a tool like the Beilstein database, which possesses around 22 million known reactions, and run queries against this. For the purposes of this discussion, we suppose that these handy functions are a part of the same SDK that accompanies the sensor units to simplify things.

Other Requirements

Having identified the main hardware component of what is required in order to ascertain the molecules inside a substance in order to test for edibility. Before continuing on, the definition of what is edible must be defined. We suppose that something is edible if it introduces no harm to an individual upon consumption and produces an appreciable amount of food energy for said individual such that they are able to sustain essential life processes. Generally speaking, the minimum requirements for something to be edible is that it must be safe to eat, but in the context of Kanata no Astra, it is not sufficient for something to simply lack poisons or toxins: some things can be consumed safely, but lack anything in terms of digestible energy for humans. Grass is one such example: while we can eat it without causing harm to ourselves, grass contains cellulose, which we cannot digest in a meaningful way to extract the nutrients out of. For the purposes of this discussion, edibility is not simply the absence of things that make us sick, but must also include the condition that it provides an appreciable amount of nutrition as to make it worth consuming.

  • There is a certain cleverness in how Zack designs the user interface for TESTER: there is a simplicity about it that makes the apparatus extremely easy to use. For operators, then, it’s a matter of jabbing the probe into a substance and then waiting for the chemical analysis to complete, then display the results back to the user. As a bonus touch, the device will also speak the results out. The hardware component of TESTER is beyond me, but aside from a battery, some sort of microprocessor, display and speaker, along with the sensor probe, I don’t imagine constructing the device would be too hard.

  • The fun part for me would be the software layer; I’ve been doing this sort of thing in industry for a shade over five years now, and previously, I was deeply involved with not just implementing apps, but also drafting out user stories, converting those into use-cases (along with fallbacks), and testing everything. While I do this as a part of my occupation, sometimes, it’s fun to use those skills and then apply them in a setting where the object is simply to share stuff. Thus, instead of writing thousands of words on why Kanata no Astra is an anime worth watching, I can write about how I’d go about building TESTER, and how this meant Astra’s crew were able to keep moving forwards with survival.

The Software Layer

High Level Workflow

This application is designed to analyse a particular substance for edibility. The user holds the device’s sensor close to the sample, and then the device returns a response indicating whether or not that substance is safely consumed. For instance, if the user were to analyse a sample of Agaricus xanthodermus (yellow-staining mushroom) tissue, the device will indicate that this cannot be eaten (with a frowny-face icon and the corresponding audio cue). Conversely, running tissue sample from Gallus gallus domesticus (domestic chicken) should return the result that this can be consumed (with a smiley-face icon and again, the corresponding audio cue).

  • Figure I: Basic workflow for the TESTER application. In this exercise, I’ve made numerous assumptions about the hardware, the existence of certain components and the fact that the resultant will have limitations (such as being unable to determine how certain compounds react when heated or mixed with other compounds, which is typical of the cooking process).

Conceptually, the workflow behind TESTER’s software component is described in Figure I: after the user submits a sample for testing, the sensor will return an array of SMILES strings representing all of the molecules identified within the sample. Then, the application will take this array and query a database of known molecules. An array of data transfer objects (DTO) is then produced and made into a model for the application. The application steps through this array to determine whether or not the combination of compounds in the sample might undergo any metabolic processes that create compounds deleterious to the body: a query is made to a separate table of reactions, and then a table join is carried out between the reaction table and known molecule table, with the latter being returned as DTOs. This second set of DTOs is returned as an array, which can be merged with the first array of existing molecules from the sample. The app takes this array and then reads it to determine whether or not there are any compounds harmful to an individual, as well as the total nutritional value of the compound. If certain thresholds are satisfied, the app returns that the entity is edible (otherwise, it is deemed inedible).

  • For this thought experiment, I chose not to design my own chemical analysis SDK or database: this post has been in my head since #AniTwitWatches’ second week, and initially, I figured it could be fun to do a little bit of database design and then write the SQL queries that produced the objects that could then feed into my app. However, working out how to organise the chemical compounds and reactions in a clear manner proved quite tricky: while I studied SQL back in university and know the basics of queries, it’s been a while since I’ve worked with more complex use cases.

  • Similarly, to prevent this post from veering off into a more implementation heavy discussion, I’ve opted not to actually write any code for the parts of my proposed system. This discussion is, in short, the equivalent of a napkin sketch of how I’d go about putting an app that can test for edibility and architect things out in a way that’s somewhat maintainable and modular.

Application Design

While this is a simple application, the model-view-view model (MVVM) pattern is a good choice for this, allowing for a reasonable separation of concerns in the app (Figure II). The view represents the UI, including anything that is rendered to any display. The view model facilitates communications between the view and the model, and the model itself represents the data. MVVM is an industry standard for mobile applications when the team size isn’t too large, being a balance between satisfactory modularity for development without being too segmented (other design patterns, like VIPER, are better suited for larger development teams and highly complex applications). The overall application architecture is described in Figure II using the MVVM pattern. All user interactions are sent from the device hardware, which informs the view model of the action that needs to be carried out. The view model will contain an adaptor class that handles communication with the chemical analysis SDK (Figure III). Information from the view model is sent to the adaptor which will make the required calls for running queries, and the results are returned. The adaptor pattern is useful here, allowing our application to make use of an existing code base and writing on top of it, creating a cleaner implementation that can be changed later to suit the application’s needs (or reused elsewhere) without tightly coupling the view model to the chemical analysis SDK. Results from the adaptor are stored in the model.

  • Figure II: MVVM design pattern for TESTER. Users interact with the view controller, which also manages the drawing of UI elements and handling user input. The view model contains an instance of the Chemical SDK Adaptor, which is the piece that will communicate with an external framework. I’ve chosen to create an adaptor that encapsulates functions TESTER would commonly use because this ensures my view model isn’t tightly coupled with the chemical analysis library (otherwise, the code would be quite challenging to maintain, especially if one were to make a more sophisticated TESTER from this starting point).

  • Figure III: speculated relationship between the TESTER app and an external library for chemical analysis. Note that the adaptor is the point of contact between the application and the external library, which we’ve supposed will hold all of the database entries, and relevant queries. Such a library would likely need to be provided with the sensor that TESTER uses, since this would make it easiest to take sensor data, convert it into a corresponding SMILES string and use this as the basis for analysis.

For this application, we will have two models (Figure II). The Substance model describes the results from a scan. It will have an array of compounds and two Booleans representing whether that substance is toxic and nutritious, overall. A compound model contains the SMILES string, compound type as a string, and two doubles representing the amount of toxin and energy value. From here, the substance stored in the view model is passed to the adaptor for analysis, and the adaptor returns a Boolean indicating whether or not the analysed substance can be safely eaten. The Boolean value is sent back to the view controller, which determines what to display to the view. In Kanata no Astra, TESTER displays an icon and plays a sound to indicate edibility, so the view controller can store a pre-set icon for edible and inedible substances. Similarly, two sound files can be stored and then played back in response to the results from an analysis. The UX TESTER provides is remarkably simple and well-designed: a more complex view isn’t needed because the goal of such an app is to denote whether a given substance can be safely consumed, so displaying an icon and playing a sound provides the user with all the information they will need to tell if something can be gathered and stored, or if it’s better to leave a certain species alone and go for pickings elsewhere. With this, we have determined the starting point for building the software layer to a real-world equivalent of TESTER.

  • Armed with this starting point, I’d be ready to actually begin building the app out. This typically means I’d go about preparing the project, laying out all of the views, view models, models, any services and interfaces the app might need, plus helper classes. I’d estimate that, assuming that the chemical analysis library was already there, it’d take me about about a week to fully bring a prototype of TESTER to life in iOS using Swift, assuming I’m working on things part time (the simplicity of the code-base means implementation would be fairly quick, and the rest of the time would be user testing).

  • Altogether, this was a particularly fun exercise to carry out and also serves to show just how much thought went into Kanata no Astra. I ended up choosing to write about TESTER because the software piece was something I am familiar with, but other topics in Kanata no Astra include ecology, evolutionary biology, astronomy, history and sociology, all of which are worth exploring. Kanata no Astra weaves everything into the story and ensures that enough detail is presented to viewers so they know what’s going on, whereas viewers with a more extensive background in something will immediately spot the connections and appreciate the work that went into creating a believable story.

Closing Remarks

  • Kanata no Astra is an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 10 of 10); despite being shorter, Kanata no Astra manages to fit everything elegantly into this space without ever feeling rushed, and in doing so, gave me reason to look forwards to each and every episode. From a thematic perspective, the anime covers everything from “everyone has value” and “teamwork makes the dream work”, to the implications of cloning being an ethical grey area, and the importance of preserving history to prevent future atrocities. This is easily a series I could’ve written about in an episodic fashion, since there is plenty of breadth and depth in the series to accommodate interesting discussions, and it goes without saying that Kanata no Astra has a strong recommendation from me.

The resulting Can-U-Eat-It Kajigger/TESTER application we have described here required considerable abstraction and simplification: what I’ve described above would be the equivalent to napkin sketches, a conceptual description of the TESTER device. This little apparatus appears simple on the surface, but it becomes clear that Zack’s device embodies Apple’s design philosophy, “It Just Works”; the simpler something is, the more is occurring underneath the hood per every button press. TESTER’s simple user interaction belies the complexity of the application’s underpinnings and speaks to both Zack’s skill, as well as the sophistication of technology in the future. Despite being utilised for the mundane purpose of helping the Astra team to find food, TESTER’s contributions to Kanata no Astra are nontrivial. However, while the device is a complex one, this exercise also shows that constructing such a device is entirely within the realm of possibility with existing technology, and in fact, devices like handheld narcotics analysers utilise the same underlying spectroscopic methods to quickly identify drugs in the field. We have therefore shown that devices like TESTER can easily be manufactured and produced in reality; however, a cursory glance shows that no such device exists, and moreover, testing for edibility typically falls upon more traditional methods (e.g. the universal edibility test, which includes touching a plant to see if it causes skin irritation after eight hours). It would therefore appear that there is an open field for such a device, so this raises the question of why a company like Raman, who manufactures handheld narcotics analysers, have not already expanded their product line to include edibility testers. The answer isn’t terribly surprising: beyond hunters, outdoorsmen and survival experts, ready access to food means that edibility is typically a non-concern. Moreover, survival experts and outdoorsmen are unlikely to place too much emphasis on devices that depend on a battery, as their failure in the field could prove costly. While there isn’t a present market for devices like TESTER, however, Kanata no Astra suggests that exploration of alien worlds, especially those with life, it may become important to have a means of quickly and easily determining if something is safe to eat. In a time where interplanetary travel becomes increasingly widespread, devices like TESTER could prove immensely valuable in helping astronauts to understand the nature of life on the worlds they visit. Of course, under such an eventuality, this would mean that demand for a TESTER would go up considerably. This little device is therefore the MVP of Kanata no Astra, and as I hope to have demonstrated, the Can-U-Eat-It Kajigger isn’t a conceptually difficult system to put together, providing the Astra’s crew with the ability to reliably solve for the problem of food and therefore turn their focus towards issues, resulting in an anime that was uncommonly captivating and engaging.

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Six

“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 ColoursThe 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.