「熱帯魚、逃げた」 (Nettaigyo, Nigeta)
“The Tropical Fish Ran Away”

Episode Impressions

Two girls come together and meet in an aquarium that has seen better days. Raised by her grandparents, Kukuru Misakino’s (Itou Miku) dream is to take after her grandfather in running the Gama Gama Aquarium – although it has fallen upon hard times and has closed specific areas due to lack of foot traffic and staff to handle them. However, despite the lack of activity, it is depicted as a beautiful place full of vibrant marine life – where magical experiences can still happen. As a viewer, it left me feeling rather wistful and nostalgic of my own childhood trips to aquariums, sincerely wondering with a tinge of heartache how some of them must be struggling through a year of no visitors due to COVID-19.

Then we have Miyazawa Fuuka (Aida Rikako), a girl who has given up on her dreams of becoming an idol. The flashbacks demonstrate there had been plans for her to take up centre stage in her idol unit. However, a moment of softness causes her to step aside so that her kouhai Ruka can have a chance at starhood. Unfortunately, despite how hard Fuuka worked, the moment of softness essentially costs her career as an idol – as she slumps in popularity to the point where she eventually decides to quit. She feels empty and lost. And I understand the feelings of not wanting to return home to face people who had hopes and expectation in you, because of the inevitable pity party, having missed my conditional offer to attend my first choice university by 3 marks in one subject many years ago.

Wanting to avoid said pity party, Fuuka sees an advert for Okinawan tourism and jets off there in a spur of the moment. During her day there, she meets a sympathetic fortune teller who advises her to wander towards the Sagittarius constellation, and a friendly lady from the local tourism board saves her from collapsing in the heat, before ending up on a picturesque beach in the evening and falling asleep on the shores. We can see that Okinawa is a city whose people have treated Fuuka with compassion and kindness, a huge departure from the soulless, urban landscape that is Tokyo – where a corporate life emphasises the importance of sales and results above all else.

Eventually, Fuuka happens to wander over to the aquarium – where she experiences an out of body, fantastical aquatic deluge that seems to reinvigorate her, making her determined to stay in Okinawa and take up the vacant position at the aquarium. After taking a cruel beating from life over the past few months, it seems that she has finally touched upon something that can fuel her with impetus.

Disagreeing with Guardian Enzo on P.A. Works

Guardian Enzo might say with PA Works, they are a studio in decline who consistently self-plagiarize through the recycling and repetition of the same themes. The Pringles/Spam of anime, where you are always receiving a known quantity. I will agree that PA Works enjoy sticking to known quantities for the most part. Comfy local tourism type of anime, featuring young characters soul searching for meaning in their lives, who either love their local area or come to love their local area through the process.

But I do not agree with the way in which this has been negatively framed. I’d then ask, what’s wrong with following a formula? Don’t KyoAni generally stick with similar character designs, warm colour palettes and comfy slice of life? Ufotable with edgy designs, sleek edges and refined high octane 3D CGI action? Then there’s Trigger with at least one Kamina clone per series to help facilitate their super energetic approaches. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve never really held this against these studios. So why P.A. Works specifically?

In Defence of P.A. Works

Each studio exhibits its own characteristics and I do not think there’s a need to re-invent the wheel on a regular basis. In fact, I think studios that diversify their approach tend to come across as more soulless – like a sell sword who will take on any lucrative project. In that sense, e.g. A-1 Pictures and MAPPA, they tend to lack any kind of distinctive identity. Not to mention PA Works have come up with the likes of Fairy Gone and Appare Ranman which totally diverge from their generic formula – yet you can unmistakably tell it’s a PA Works production, where the focus is on pristine visuals and making sure that their characters are full of life.

For me I have always found P.A. Works to be a thoroughly charming studio. While it is quite evident they have somewhat declined since the hey days of Nagi no Asukara, which I would consider to be their technical magnum opus, there’s still a studio over there brimming with heart and soul. To me, it’s abundantly clear that the animation and production staff also come to love the local areas they explore through their works, with this love absolutely bleeding through onto the screens.

Also, I do not think it’s reasonable to continually judge a studio against their best works – for example, I do not judge my favourite studio KyoAni for failing to produce works that rival Clannad After Story, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Hyouka over the past 10-15 years. Because I understand they’ve found their niche which allows them to operate more sustainably in a way that offers humane working conditions, maximises the cultivation of talent and allows staff to be happy with their projects. There are some things more important than the end result – and for me, those consist of principles and values, especially relating to the heart and soul which you can often see me talking about.

More importantly, P.A. Works have still released works such as Sakura Quest and Irozuku which make my chest flutter with an indescribable sense of fulfilment – a special list that Aquatope on the White Sands will hopefully be joining soon. Personally, I look forwards to seeing how Misakino and Fuuka come of age in their late teens, as well as how they embark on a journey of self-discovery through a gorgeous, marine vista.

Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading this post and see you all next week!

28 Comments

    1. Forget Enzo, he clearly is an elitist contrarian for the sake of it. Remember his Gundam IBO season 1 review here that completLey shat on the show despite people liking it? Typical elite critic mentality.

      lead
      1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being critical of Gundam IBO. The show went full-on train wreck towards the end after that psycho got control of the stupidly broken mecha. It was FUBAR.

        Vance
      2. Disclaimer: I highly respect Guardian Enzo as a sempai and writer and hadn’t intended to turn the comments into Enzo bashing. I reckon he’s just very particular about his tastes in anime, and I just thought it would be interesting to bounce a post of one of his opinions, especially since I disagree with this specific opinion so much – just as he disagrees with the opinion I’ve represented so much.

  1. For reasons that I could not explain, these characters and their problems just didn’t resonate with me. I just found myself bored. I’ll be passing on this one.

    hjerry
    1. I can see that the characters have a rather pedestrian/quirky personality. But I find that to be more in line with what I’d typically expect from real people. And the issues of wanting a specific direction in life that the education system doesn’t accommodate for is a common one, namely how education expects you to be a jack of all trades even when you have decided upon a specific path. Or failing to reach a dream and being left to feel empty. Though basic on the surface, I suspect more problems will arise later on, especially based on the show’s synopsis description.

      1. The opportunity to do location hunting for Irozuku sites in Nagasaki was what drove me to visit there. I didn’t know PA Works created Irozuku until reading it here. Otherwise, it seemed to me Nagasaki is a smaller version of Hiroshima. If it wasn’t for Irozuku, I would’ve just stayed in flat areas (tourist sites) instead of climbing the hills to reach the locations where Irozuku visited. Aside from Harukana Receive, I can’t think of an anime set in primarily in Okinawa.

        Bakapooru
  2. It was a lame tweet. People enjoy making snide putdowns. On the subject of PA Works, I would add that they’re clearly more varied than the three other studios mentioned. In addition to the numerous shows which you’ve characterized, in recent years they’ve made Shirobako, which I consider superior to anything KyoAni has made since Hyouka (and superior to anything the other two studios have ever made, although I enjoyed Fate Zero and Kimetsu no Yaiba). They have, over the years, created numerous out-of-character shows such as Kuromukuro, Uchouten, Sakura Quest, Uma Musume, HaruChika, or Red Data Girl. Even shows like Charlotte or Angel Beats bear no resemblance. Yeah, they do have a signature-style show, but unlike similar studios, they do mix it up.

    Besides, KyoAni wants to make the same shows. Is there a qualitative difference between Glasslip/Tari Tari/Hanasaku Iroha and Tamako Market, Violet Evergarden, Hibike, or Chuunibyou? For ufotable or Trigger, variety isn’t even in their vocabulary.

    Mockman
    1. For me, Shirobako didn’t quite hit the notes it did for everyone else. But I nevertheless enjoyed and appreciated the show for what it offered. I think the inclusion of so many characters (naturally required since anime production literally requires dozens if not hundreds of people) diluted the scope for sustained character development – even if the story arcs and individual problems were compelling. In my books, character development is quintessential – with Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara and Sakura Quest being the trio of P.A. Works productions that fulfil this aspect best for me. Hopefully Aquatope will be able to join this pantheon of spectacular shows.

      Also don’t forget Appare Ranman in terms of stylistic outliers! Definitely the show they’ve made which is totally out of line from their usual, alongside Fairy Gone.

      Then despite completely lacking in substantive terms, Kamisama ni Natta Hi was definitely an example demonstrating that the studio can always knock visuals out of the park if they choose to focus on it.

      1. I only watch about half their shows. There is often a mood to them which may not match my own at the time. Of their shows of this style (i.e. not True Tears (great show) or Angel Beats), I did really enjoy Hanasaku Iroha. Actually, it sort of set a standard for me which the studio found it difficult to meet. Red Data Girl would probably round out my favourites from them. Fairy Gone looked lovely (and sounded — Ash-like Snow is a great song) but overall didn’t quite hit the high notes for me.

        Shirobako —as you say, a different type of show— is incredible in how it weaves minor characters into a great story. For example, the whole scene where Miyamori has to find an animator who can draw the season’s climax and visits the mahjong parlour where she meets the publisher, the director’s home, and then pipes up during the production meeting held to decide upon how to tear down the final episode. This just crackles with tension. Or the storylines around the old veteran players like the bearded hermit or the artist Ookura — I don’t think any show does this so well. They really didn’t waste a frame.

        Anyway, I hope that this show, especially since they’re going the full two cours with it which they haven’t done in a while, will be another on the good list.

        It didn’t try to do too much with them

        Mockman
  3. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with PA Works recycling/sticking to a formula. Like you’ve said, KyoAni has their own formula and, heck, Pixar has their formula that they follow yet neither of them are looked down upon. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to a status quo or trying to move outside of the box to see what sticks. Heck, SHAFT was once infamous for their animated head tilts at one point and was meme’d on.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how this series fleshes out since it does remind me of Nagi no Asukara (without the emphasis on fantasy elements and this time, it seems like it’s taking a backseat to be more grounded with reality). I don’t have an eye for detail like some people here do when it comes to anime analysis, I can say that the setting is very calming and the bright colours help emphasize the summer-vibe of Okinawa.

    Maru
    1. I totally forgot about SHAFT despite thinking of them when I was watching Vanitas no Karte, since the head tilt there made me look up the director – who lo and behold was a SHAFT alumnus.. Kind of strange how they’ve generally fallen off the radar, as if their popularity was entirely tied to the amount of Monogatari they could produce in quick succession.

  4. This is an excellent post, it’s about high time someone stood up and openly said that anime studios are okay even if their portfolios aren’t as varied as Guardian Enzo would like: his remarks come across as being incredibly elitist. I don’t think PA Works was at their apex with Nagi no Asukara. Sakura Quest and Iroduku have been solid, too. Aquatope seems it’s going to give a similar experience, which is great. I will be joining you on this anime and look forwards to seeing where Aquatope takes us.

    ViolinStar
    1. To be honest, some remarks I actually agree with Enzo upon. Some aspects of the current anime industry make me lament – for example, it’s clear that inhumane working conditions, overwork and high turnover in young aspiring animators is bleeding through to the end product. e.g. Wonder Egg Priority. My post wasn’t intended to be a stand against him, so much as an interesting ‘essay’ of sorts bouncing off a statement on a subject matter I happen to disagree with him upon. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for a sempai, colleague and friend like him.

      But I think it’s definitely too early to throw in the towel on a show like Aquatope, especially since it teases so much throughout its premise of offering more. We’ll have to see where it goes.

  5. Well, now that I’ve actually watched it, I guess I can comment on the show itself. Could be interesting. No negatives so far. I’ll watch some more and see how it goes.

    Curious though that several scenes didn’t warrant any mention in the review — the roadside prayer and offering, the acceptance of that offering and how fate serendipitously brought Fuuka to the island. Is there a connection? Or Fuuka’s peculiar fortune telling and trip to the beach — and who or what passed her along the way — where she very fetchingly looks like she belongs even after her long, hot day and not being dressed for it.

    https://randomc.net/image/Shiroi%20Suna%20no%20Aquatope/Shiroi%20Suna%20no%20Aquatope%20-%2001%20-%2018.jpg

    And of course, maybe her acid-fueled aquarium experience was really just a result of heat stroke the previous day and no food since.

    Mockman
    1. I do suspect the mystical figure will make more of a bearing upon the story. They stole Fuuka’s hat, set up coral/fish bones around her while she was sleeping and is probably the manchuin playing pranks that Misakino spoke about – I reckon he’s the reason why Fuuka had that mystical experience becoming immersed in an aquatic world. However, I didn’t want to clog the intro post with too many things. So I narrowed it down to the two heroines and talking about PA Works.

      1. That’s what I guessed but I figured that these things warranted a mention, at least in the comments. I was gonna write how at least her hat was well-suited for the beach but of course it was gone by the time she woke up (and I missed the from behind shot with its new possessor and didn’t notice it in the follow-up shot with the fishead being eaten).

        Mockman
  6. It just felt like they did everything right this time compared to the start of their other shows like this. The only thing that seemed off was the way she asked to be hired. That kind of came out of nowhere and it didn’t look like she had that big realization moment. Like OoO.

    sealouse
    1. Well, she does seem impulsive. She gave up her spot because she felt bad for a junior. She bought the bright red pumps but never once wore them. She jumped on the plane and headed south because she didn’t want to face the homecoming she envisioned after chatting with her mother. She doesn’t hesitate to get her fortune told or even to offer the seer a gift upon hearing of her difficulties. She slept on the beach like she hadn’t a care in the world. Maybe this is her nature.

      As an aside, we saw how she lost her hat while on the beach but I’m wondering if she wasn’t also moved during the process. She seemed to be more under the shelter when she woke up than when she fell asleep, although the different angles and light make it difficult to be certain. And I wonder if those coral pieces weren’t a form of protective charm for her.

      Mockman
  7. Despite its recent misses the past year or so (Kami-sama ni Natta Hi being the most recent one) I’ve always considered P.A. Works to be on par with (if not second to) KyoAni when it comes to visuals. Heck, had KyoAni folded after that tragic fire, P.A. Works would be a worthy successor. Fortunately, that scenario didn’t come to pass, and P.A. Works can once again engage in healthy competition with KyoAni this season.

    OK, on to the anime. The initial premise honestly reminded me of the film Between Maybes, where a burned-out celebrity (Fuuka in this anime, Hazel in that movie) spontaneously travels to a distant yet scenic part of Japan (Okinawa/Saga–yes, Between Maybes was shot there, and yes, the same Saga where Zombie Land Saga is set in) and has a serendipitous meeting with a kindred soul (Misakino/Louie). The only difference (that immediately comes to mind) is that I find Fuuka a tad more tolerable to watch than Hazel. (God knows my konnichiyawa a** cringed at the “no-no” things Hazel did in Japan, like being loud–though it kinda becomes understandable when you realize/figure out her circumstances during the course of the movie.) But enough digression.

    P.A. Works is currently doing a good job showing how scenic Okinawa is. And given that travel is currently only limited to those who’ve been fully vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19, seeing those places in anime (or TV shows) is the next best thing.

    I do wonder about that orange-haired kid though… Is he actually a spirit? An actual human kid? Is his presence a “maybe magic, maybe mundane” thing?

    Also looking forward to more of Misakino and Fuuka’s interactions and how their relationship develops. And while the second episode already has a similar story beat to Hanasaku Iroha (where the main characters are trying to save a longtime family-run business from closure), I do appreciate a different way of going at it (while the business fundamentals are still similar, running an aquarium is totally different from running a ryokan). It’s also good to see the other characters of the show being properly introduced and I’m looking forward to what role they will play story-wise.

    And finally, the ending song (in episode 2) is pretty soothing and relaxing to hear.

    Incognito

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