“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.