It’s been a long while since I last wrote an episode review for an anime so I’m very rusty to this type of blog post (even if it is technically me winging it most of the time). Even so, I was initially at a loss of words on what to make of the first episode of The aquatope of white sand. Surprisingly, what exactly is an aquatope is not the first question I have for this series.
Before Summer 2021 began, I was looking forward to aquatope for two reasons. First it’s studio P.A. Works. Their work for the past two years haven’t clicked for me (don’t get me started on The Day I Became a God) but they’re still a studio where my fanboying dies hard. I guess animating Angel Beats! still bears clout for me. Second, aquatope happens to be a new collaboration between director Toshiya Shinohara and series writer Yuuko Kakihara. The two of them last worked on Iroduku: The World in Colors, coincidentally a P.A. Works show. I quite enjoyed Iroduku. The ending could’ve use a slight revision but it was overall an engaging and emotional romantic drama series. It was also quite gorgeous but that’s P.A. Works for you. Whether or not the same team can make lightning strike again is something only time will tell but it was enough to made me hopeful.
The set up for aquatope actually reminds me a bit of Iroduku. There’s no magic or time travel going on here (I think) but like Iroduku, this show follows a young girl in need of some soul searching. Here, we have Fuuka Miyazawa (Rikako Aida), a former idol who has recently given up on her dream of showbiz. Rather than return home as she had planned, Fuuka decides to take a detour to the city of Nanjo in Okinawa. From there, she stumbles upon a struggling aquarium and meets its young deputy director, high schooler Kukuru Misakino (Miku Itou). Feeling a special connection to the place, Fuuka asks to be employed at the aquarium.
From the synopsis alone, you’d think aquatope would be considerably more grounded than Iroduku. To my surprise, and this is where my confusion at the beginning of the post stems from, there are some elements in the premiere that appear to be far from normal. Throughout the episode, there’s a little kid with a rather extravagant appearance, roaming around the streets of Nanjo. What significance they bear to the plot is currently unknown. Midway through the episode, Fuuka spends the night at the beach and when she wakes up, she’s somehow covered and surrounded by what appears to be shells or fish bones. With how organized the objects are, someone or something must’ve put them there. When Fuuka finally visits the aquarium, the water in the fish tanks seemingly and magically seep through the glass, flooding the facility until Fuuka finds herself underwater, as though she’s adrift in the depths of an ocean. After that, Fuuka finally meets Kukuru, who seemingly has some idea of what exactly the former just experienced.
Honestly, I’m stumped. I’m not sure what to make of all this. Clearly something is going on here but as to what exactly that is, your guess is as good as mine. And pardon me for sounding impatient but the lack of hints, let alone an explanation, leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. This isn’t like Iroduku where the element of magic is established from the get go so anything out of the ordinary that happens isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility. I’m also left to question the necessity of such elements. Obviously, this staff has made this work before with Iroduku…but do they need to do it again?
If you can look past that, there is still plenty to like in this first episode. In particular, aquatope does a good job eliciting sympathy for Fuuka. Her motivation for taking a random detour is to avoid dealing with her folks who would try hard to cheer her up and convince her that she’s made the right decision to quit her idol career. Not only is that amusing, it’s also very understandable. A key detail in her backstory is that she offered to hand over a big opportunity to a fellow idol. In doing so, she got severely overshadowed by her peers. That alone is unfortunate as Fuuka acted selflessly and she ultimately gets punished for it. At the aquarium, she notices a fish hiding in a corner and relates with its hard working personality and lack of presence, though that only makes her more depressed over her decision to quit.
Fuuka’s introduction isn’t entirely a downer. There are some fun scenes along the way where she meets some of the local townsfolk, a fortune teller and a tour guide to be specific. I particularly enjoy the scene with the former as it’s implied that Fuuka was about to get scammed but after a heartfelt conversation with her, the fortune teller decides to give her an earnest reading. The scene with the tour guide is a bit more pedestrian though I like that the character doesn’t question Fuuka’s runaway status too much. One nice little touch, even with the already peculiar happenings throughotu the episode, is how the tour guide offers Fuuka some pamphlets which coincidentally results in the latter finding out about the aquarium.
Since the first episode revolves more around Fuuka, Kukuru ends up being a bit sidelined. The most I get out of her character here is that she’s very passionate about the aquarium, as evidenced by her praying for it to stay in business and her accidentally sharing her research and experiences in all her homework. As mentioned earlier, Fuuka meets Kukuru at the end of the episode so any chemistry between them is presumably saved for subsequent episodes. Kukuru doesn’t seem like a bad character per se, at least not yet, but there isn’t much to go on in the first episode.
That’s kind of indicative of my first impressions of the aquatope on white sand. This premiere isn’t half-bad but isn’t as strong of a sales pitch as I’d like for an anime premiere to be. Time will of course tell however if things will go up from here.
Thanks for reading!