Episode 1 of The Aquatope on White Sand premiered on July 8. It perfectly embodied the kind of charming, slice of life vibes I was expecting from a show about teen girls working in a small seaside aquarium. However, the ending of the episode hinted that there may be more than meets the eye to this anime’s story.
In terms of themes and story, episode 1 of The Aquatope on White Sand doesn’t offer us anything groundbreaking. Protagonist Fuuka is a former idol. We’re introduced to her just as she’s planning to return home, having decided to give up on her dream of performing. Rather than simply consoling her, Fuuka’s mom treats her decision to quit as an inevitability, stating that entertainment isn’t stable work. It’s a familiar statement, and the show’s portrayal of an aspiring artist’s mother feels all too realistic. But it’s Fuuka’s mom’s comment about a “cheering-up party” that pushes her over the edge. All of a sudden the former idol is boarding a plane to Okinawa, with no immediate plan in mind.
Our other lead character Kukuru lives in Okinawa and, despite being a high school student, is the director of local Gama Gama Aquarium. Compared to the soft and polite Fuuka, Kukuru is bold, brash and happy-go-lucky in nature. But it’s her enthusiasm for sea-life that seems to be her defining characteristic. Kukuru devotes so much time to her work at the aquarium that she has to take remedial classes at school. She even gets in trouble for submitting a squid-raising journal instead of a math report. While Kukuru daydreams in class, we see a flashback of her holding a parenting journal with her name on it. What this means and how it relates to the story is yet to be revealed. But I’m interested to see how things develop. Perhaps this story will be more serious than I originally thought.
Given that the story and characters in The Aquatope on White Sand have only just been introuced, the main highlight for me during its first episode was the animation. Episode 1 is full of beautifully-animated shots of the story’s setting; rural Japan’s Okinawa Island. Glistening, azure blue waters, quaint seaside houses, and of course, the colorful sea-life of the aquarium; all are a feast for the eyes. An island setting provides opportunities for stunning animation, and the animators at P.A. Works certainly stepped up to the mark here. Of particular note is a scene in which Fuuka falls asleep on the beach at night, under a starlit sky. Also noteworthy is a scene which occurs towards the end of the episode. But we’ll get to that later.
Setting as a character
I’ve often heard that, in film and TV, certain settings are so central to the story, that they almost become a character. A prime example of this would be the way that the remote outback is used in Australian cinema, to evoke a sense of isolation and wild, untamed beauty. The same could be said to apply to rural locations in anime. With so many stories taking place in bustling cities like Tokyo or Ikebukuro, stories set in rural areas tend to treat their setting with more care; lingering on small details that influence the plot or tone of the series.
The Aquatope on White Sand seems to echo this sentiment. Its animation and sound design both help to enhance the overall tone of the series. The stray ginger cat, lounging by the side of the road, the noisy humming of cicadas, and the handmade welcome sign out the front of the aquarium; all these things contribute to the rural charm of its setting. As Fuuka looks upon the island in wonder, so do we. It’s this kind of attention to detail, highlighting the beauty in the mundane, that makes me appreciate the slice of life genre so much.
More than just a slice of life?
Episode 1 of The Aquatope on White Sand was exactly as I thought it would be…up until the ending. When visiting the Gama Gama Aquarium, Fuuka stumbles across a fish described as “not the most noticeable fish, but the hardest working”. As she reflects on the way this description relates to her own life, she begins to have a strange vision. The water in the aquarium tanks begin to ripple and spill out towards Fuuka, eventually engulfing her. Now totally submerged in water, Fuuka is surrounded by schools of colorful fish and sea-life. It’s a visually stunning scene.
Fuuka soon snaps out of her vision, to find a smiling Kukuru standing in front of her. Perplexed by what she’s just seen, she asks Kukuru what happened, only to be told it was probably a “kijimunaa” playing tricks on her. She further explains, “This place is old, so you can expect things to happen”. This genre twist came as an unexpected but pleasant surprise. While I would’ve been perfectly satisfied with Aquatope being a pure slice of life, I’m definitely interested to uncover the mysteries of this tropical island as the story develops.
Episode 1 of The Aquatope on White Sand is available to watch on Crunchyroll. The next episode will air on July 15. If you want a break from this isekai-packed anime season, then this series is worth checking out.
Official Website: aquatope-anime.com