The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Eiji Higa

Tingaara in the Far Away Ocean: The Aquatope on White Sand Thirteenth Episode Impressions

“When you like your work, every day is a holiday.” –Frank Tyger

Seven months after Gama Gama closes, Kukuru begins her position at the newly-opened Tingarla Aquarium. To her surprise, she’s made a project manager in the marketting department: the director believes that Kukuru’s past experience at Gama Gama would make her suited for promoting Tingarla, but Kukuru had originally wished to work as an attendant. Most of Gama Gama’s former staff have also taken up positions at Tingarla: Umi-yan, Kūya and Kai are also working in preparations, while Karin is in marketting with a different department. Kukuru is overwhelmed with the orientation materials, but resolves to do her best after Karin takes her on a tour of the facilities, which are an order of magnitude more sophisticated than those of Gama Gama’s. However, to Kukuru’s displeasure, she also runs into Chiyu. When Kukuru’s supervisor berates her for over-stepping and attempting to go ahead with a preparation exercise that was not communicated to the staff, Kukuru begins to wonder if she’s cut out for work in the real world. She declines a dinner invitation from Karin and wanders over to the beach to consider her situation, and here, she meets with Fūka for the first time in seven months. Overwhelmed with emotion, Kukuru tearfully embraces Fūka. Having just passed the halfway point to The Aquatope on White Sand, I was not expecting to write about the series again so soon (I scheduled a post for the sixteenth of October), but the events in this episode were immediately relatable – today marks a bit of a milestone for me, as I’ve been with my current position for precisely a half year now. It is worth noting that Kukuru starts at Tingarla on April 1, 2022, and I started my current position on April 1, 2021. These have been busy and uncertain times for me, but it’s also been exhilarating: I feel my happiest when I am completely focused on an objective, whether it be devising a solution for a new workflow or hunting down a bug I was assigned. At my age, I am old enough to know when to take a step back and regroup, but remain young enough to completely understand how Kukuru feels about her new employment at Tingarla. Right out of the gates, Kukuru is assigned to a position she feels that she has no experience with: whereas Kukuru had been a very hands-on individual at Gama Gama and participated in everything from cleaning and feed preparation, to acting as an attendant and devising ways of raising attendance, here at Tingarla, Kukuru is given a very specific position with very specific duties. For someone who had been accustomed to a wide range of roles, following a set of procedures she’d grown familiar with, this is understandably a bit of a unpleasant surprise.

When I graduated from university, I joined start-ups, and there, formalities and processes were secondary: the goal had simply been to develop a functional product, and I wrote iOS apps with no checks and measures in place. On one hand, this gave me the freedom to implement an app however I saw appropriate, and I was able to address issues on the spot. However, the lack of procedure also meant that tracking bugs could be tricky, since the app was moving along so quickly, it was difficult to tell which build introduced a regression. Moreover, the lack of formalised testing meant that every release had the potential to break mission critical pieces. In my role with start-ups, I was involved in every part of app development, from sketching out workflows and requirements analysis, to implementation and acceptance testing. Six months ago, I began working for a larger software company in my hometown: this company has thirty years of history, and being well-established like Tingarla, has an extensive, well-defined set of procedures. Issues are assigned to developers and broken out over two-week sprints. We meet daily to provide progress updates, and completed work is peer-reviewed before being sent over to QA. App releases are structured so they are thoroughly tested before ever entering the customer’s hands. On day one, I was provided with a document that outlined my training, and to my surprise, I noticed that I was already assigned several tickets dealing with JavaScript related work items. Like Kukuru, I was shocked – my assignment had been for mobile development (and my experience was with iOS apps: I’ve never built complete Android apps from scratch before). However, here was also a learning opportunity – I accepted this offer precisely because the job description entailed learning about new systems, and I’ve longed to gain experience with DevOps processes. As I settled into my work, the team taught me the basics of JavaScript, and I brushed up on my old programming knowledge. While I’m not a competent JavaScript or Android developer at the time of writing, I am able to add new features and address bugs that are found. The key here is that willingness to learn, adapt, and more importantly, accept the rules within the new workplace: today, I cannot just start work on a bug I found. Instead, I call someone in QA, we review the issue and then I log a ticket. The project leaders and QA team then determine how critical the issue is and what the appropriate timelines are, and then I pick it up when entering a new sprint. While quite unlike my start-up experiences, I fully understand why such a process exists. In practise, it offloads the pressure from me, allowing me to focus on my tasks (previously, I had to triage everything myself, on top of doing development and testing). Having said this, I do have a chance to offer my feedback during meetings, as well. This is the reality of working with a larger organisation, and while Kukuru is young and inexperienced, I find that the biggest thing for her in this second half of The Aquatope on White Sand is going to be learning about teamwork, collaboration and understanding why things are done the way they are, as well as capitalising on chances to provide feedback and improve processes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I am aware that this post comes completely out of the blue – I was originally set to write about Mother of the Goddess’ Dormitory, but the latest The Aquatope on White Sand episode was particularly relatable in that it took me a few weeks to get used to life at a larger company after I switched positions from my startup. Throughout this thirteenth episode, Kukuru does the sorts of things that would cause anyone who’s been in the workplace for a few years to roll their eyes. The intent of this post, then, is also a chance for me to show how I view Kukuru’s actions.

  • On my first day of work, the office was largely empty save for the IT head and HR head – with the global health crisis ongoing, it does feel like this is going to drag on indefinitely. I normally prefer working out of an office, since my desk has more space (enough to accommodate a second monitor), and I have enough plugins for the iPad and Android tablet I need for testing. Moreover, there’s a bit more leg-room, and there are whiteboards around. Kukuru doesn’t have this problem: The Aquatope on White Sand‘s world has clearly not been afflicted, and it’s business as usual.

  • However, for Kukuru, she’s devastated to learn that she’s in marketting now as opposed to being an attendant and spends her first hours at work wearing one of the best funny faces I’ve seen in a while – she looks like the living dead. While I’m (ostensibly) a professional who does what is asked of them, I also completely understand why Kukuru is feeling the way she does: she feels like she’s being asked to do the sort of work that she has no experience in and isn’t comfortable doing, versus working with the aquatic life in a hands-on fashion, which is what she loved doing most at Gama Gama.

  • The inevitable consequence of this is that Kukuru has the most funny face moments of anyone in any P.A. Works series since Shirobako, when Aoi similarly expressed her frustration and shock in response to unreasonable deadlines or unexpected setbacks. This did bring back a moment during my orientation training: when I read the list of introductory work items I was to take on, I noticed that there were several Android, JavaScript and SQL related things there, as well, and my heart stopped. After all, I entered with five years of Swift and UIKit experience, but otherwise had no practical Android or web development experience.

  • However, I’d studied SQL back in university and can still write basic queries, and recalling that I taught myself C# within the space of a week so I could do the Giant Walkthrough Brain, my shock abated. I thus sat down with another teammate and kicked things off, slowly (but surely) learning the systems. While today, I’m still a novice with the systems I’m working on, it’s a little easier to get around, and at the very least, I now know enough to ask the right questions that get me on track whenever anything comes up. I am aware being a full ten years older than Kukuru means unlike her, I have had plenty of time, both in university and industry, to gain professional development, which means I regard the same situations with a different approach. Having this professionalism also means I’m not going to disparage Kukuru for how she acts on her first day on the job, nor will I badmouth Tingarla’s staff for the way they treat Kukuru.

  • Kukuru’s supervisor, Tetsuji, is the assistant director and is a no-nonsense sort of fellow whose stern manner is indicative of someone who’s been around the block for a respectable amount of time and knows what he’s doing. The reason he gives for working at an aquarium: to preserve and promote marine life, is precisely the sort of thing I would say about my career in software development (e.g. “the implementation and deployment of software that simplifies a user’s experience, allowing them to achieve their tasks more efficiently”), and out of the gates, he hands Kukuru a massive pile of orientation documents to look over.

  • When Kukuru asks the director about her assignment, his response is reasonable – someone as experienced as he is would have seen the potential in Kukuru, and he did not hire her to stagnate in a position. Instead, the director has spotted something about Kukuru, determining that giving her a new position would help her to grow and mature, as well. Indeed, it is by taking on new challenges that one is able further themselves and truly understand what they are capable of accomplishing. The end result of this route is what is known as a T-shaped skillset, in which one exhibits mastery of one area, but also has enough breadth to do other things competently. In Kukuru’s place, I certainly wouldn’t have done the same thing, since I understand that higher-ups have a bigger picture, although I don’t begrudge her actions, either.

  • While Kukuru studies the orientation manual, Karin attempts to gain her attention. The computers seen here are 2017 model iMacs: I know this because I’m rocking one as my secondary home computer, which was my work machine until recently. The base 21.5 inch iMacs from this era sport a 2.3 GHz i5 processor and comes with 8 GB of RAM, as well as a 1 TB HDD. I souped up my machine so it has a 3.0 GHz processor, 16 GB of RAM and a Fusion drive. A Magic Keyboard and a Magic Mouse can also be seen, although I will note that, likely for copyright reasons, P.A. Works didn’t go with a proper Magic Keyboard: this one is raised and sports a pair of USB-A ports on the side, whereas the Magic Keyboards of that time have a single Lightning adaptor for charging.

  • Karin’s tour of Tingarla is what brings the life back into Kukuru: while exploring Tingarla’s facilities, Kukuru is reminded of why she’d chosen a career in the aquarium to begin with, and owing to the fact that Tingarla is brand-new and state-of-the-art, the facilities are world-class. Even the secondary tanks are larger than Gama Gama’s main tank, and the exhibits are innovative and engaging, completely drawing Kukuru in.

  • During said tour, Kukuru regains her old energy and enthusiasm, being like a child in a candy store. The purpose of this tour was to show that Kukuru retains her old passion for all marine life and the ocean – The Aquatope of White Sand will merely need to show how Kukuru’s passion and her new duties at Tingarla will intersect. I count myself immensely lucky in this particular respect, as I greatly enjoy my work as a software developer. Looking back, one of the main reasons I’ve not taken any time off to travel was precisely because for me, going in to work every day isn’t work to me, and I feel at my happiest when there are things to work on and problems to solve. With this being said, I am glad to have a large number of vacation days: they come in handy for various appointments that need to be attended to.

  • As quickly as Kukuru’s spirits are restored, her mood sours the instant she encounters Chiyu again. Chiyu’s attitudes towards Kukuru can only be described as passive-aggressiveness, the practise of conveying hostility in an indirect manner. In this way, she’s the opposite of Kukuru: Chiyu is able to maintain a professional facade and insult those she disagrees with without raising eyebrows, whereas Kukuru is very direct about how she feels. It appears to take all of Kukuru’s self-control to keep her from slugging Chiyu during their first encounter at Tingarla: throughout the entire scene, Kukuru is positively shaking with indignation.

  • Since the first half ended, Tsukimi has decided to work at other restaurants to further hone her craft, and after Kukuru and Kai’s first day at Tingarla, they head on over to a comfortable but low-profile establishment called Ohana (a not-so oblique reference to Hanasaku Iroha). Seeing Kukuru disheartened leads Kai to remark that he’d taken up a career in the aquarium because Kukuru had inspired him, and working at Gama Gama the previous summer had really opened his eyes to what was around him. This perks Kukuru up a little, and she heads to work the next day resolving to do her best and pick new things up.

  • However, things aren’t always so simple: while Tetsuji had assigned Kukuru to organise a mock sessions for the different departments, the preparation team had not even read the emails indicating such an event was planned, stating they’d been too busy to check. This sort of justification is flimsy and wouldn’t fly so well with me, but it also indicates that Tingarla’s communication protocols are still in development. Every solid company understands that communication is the lifeblood of its operations, and a part of onboarding includes getting hires used to the tools and procedures for communicating.

  • Kukuru’s weakness at this point is taking it upon herself to get everything set up. This had worked at Gama Gama because they’d been so small, but here at Tingarla, the large number of staff keeping things running means there’s a process to follow. I am reminded of a training exercise I read through, which explained why all work items are assigned version numbers. This is based on a task’s importance, determined by a triage system, and attempting to push work items out of order can create problems in the version control, especially if there are merge conflicts. By breaking procedure, Kukuru could introduces new problems for the other staff, who must clean up after her mess.

  • Seeing that no one’s prepared for the exercise, Tetsuji determines that it should be rescheduled instead, and swiftly sets Kukuru with a reprimand – at Tingarla, she’s starting from the bottom anew. Kukuru is holding herself back, but finally snaps and demands to know if he’s referring to phytoplankton or zooplankton (the chief difference being their cellular makeup: the former possess chloroplasts for photosynthesis and cell walls, whereas the latter do not). The other staff are seen suppressing what appears to be laughter: assuming this to be the case, I imagine that the others will probably warm up to Kukuru on short order, and even Tetsuji might become more understanding of Kukuru.

  • Meanwhile, Kai has a chance to speak with the graduate Eiji Higa, who states that his preference for marine life stems from a dislike for how messy things are between people. In this way, he is similar to Kukuru, and when Kai shares his background as having come from a family of fishermen, Eiji feels that he will likely get along with Kai just fine. While Eiji’s comments come across as being a bit blunt, I understand where he’s coming from; in software development, I am not dealing with the complexities of human interactions, but rather, with the cold, logical outputs of a microprocessor. When things go wrong with a function I’m working on, I can be assured that it was a fault of mine, which means said fault can be fixed, but people problems aren’t anywhere as straightforward.

  • Chiyu is seen requesting a book for further reading, impressing her supervisor. Although she’s outwardly friendly and professional, Kukuru does seem to draw out her true nature. P.A. Works, however, is not known for writing characters for viewers to dislike; people like Chiyu have their own reasons for acting the way they do, and a part of their character growth comes from opening up and making an active, concerted effort to make amends. This was the case in Angel Beats!, Hanasaku IrohaTari TariShirobako, and Sakura Quest, so it stands to reason a similar route will be taken here.

  • Kukuru leaves her second day of work more dejected than before, and declines Karin’s invitation to grab some dinner together. Seeing Kukuru’s day leads one to sympathise with her: starting out any job can be challenging, even for senior people who’ve been in the industry for decades. In fact, when asked, most people report that it takes around two to three months to really get used to a new job, although for some people, it can take up to a year. For me, I’ve found that it takes a month to get used to anything new, although it takes a bit more time for me to fully learn a system.

  • Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, even assuming the low end of things, Kukuru’s got time yet, and I imagine that she’ll find her footing yet, especially as Fūka’s made a big return. The Aquatope on White Sand had shown that Kukuru had come far precisely because of her time with Fūka, and at this critical juncture, she’s returned at the perfect time to support Kukuru during the middle of her transition. Being a core part of The Aquatope on White Sand, it was always the case that Fūka would return, and having her back means the next chapter of their journey together can begin.

  • Fūka’s arrival comes out of the blue, so I’m hoping we’ll get some insights into what Fūka had done during the past seven months, before focusing fully on Kukuru and Tingarla. I assure readers I won’t be breaking schedule again and will return after fifteen episodes to write about The Aquatope on White Sand then. With this being said, this is the fastest I’ve ever put out a full post (a shade under two hours): it’s time to catch some sleep so I’m rested for the day’s assignments.

While I am quite old now, I fully appreciate that Kukuru is only eighteen or so: her youthful naïveté and lack of experience with large-scale operations has resulted in conflicts right out of the gates at Tingarla. Thus, one of the most important things for The Aquatope on White Sand is to give Kukuru a chance to properly learn and appreciate both protocol and teamwork. Kai and a new coworker have spotted this, as well: while Tingarla is a state-of-the-art facility staffed by the best and brightest, having a dream team means nothing if no one can cooperate and communicate. The muck-up with the emails pertaining to the first training event shows that Tingarla’s staff have yet to find their chemistry and act as a true team. Once Kukuru sorts out her own conflicts about working at Tingarla, the larger question of unifying the different departments to act as one and providing the public with the best possible aquarium experience will become a major storyline in this second half. It does appear that magic and the supernatural could be sidelined in the next few episodes of The Aquatope on White Sand as Kukuru learns the ropes, and with P.A. Works’ track record of introducing cold, unfriendly characters, my experience tells me that there will be plenty of opportunity for Kukuru to get to know her new coworkers better, understand the processes and become an indispensable cog in the machine that is Tingarla. I’ve long held that individuals and society is at its best when every individual understands that they are part of a whole. This can mean making personal sacrifies, but in the end, seeing the sum of teamwork is an immensely rewarding and meaningful experience – with this being the route that The Aquatope on White Sand appears to be taking, I am very excited to see where this series is headed, and moreover, now that Fūka’s back, Kukuru has a very powerful source of support and encouragement in her corner: together, Kukuru and Fūka are quite ready to take on whatever lies ahead for The Aquatope on White Sand, and viewers can be confident that I’m going to be here following this journey, as well.