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