“I guess she wasn’t cut out for it.” With those words from her manager, Fuuka Miyazawa’s childhood hopes of idol fame are soundly put to rest. Truly, she’d tried her hardest to excel as an idol, throwing herself into practices and spending late nights practicing her routines. But she simply wasn’t as good or as popular as the other girls. And when she overheard the earnest pleas of one of the auditioning juniors, begging her manager for a spot on the team, she simply couldn’t help but think that this was her fate: to acquiesce her position to someone more talented, someone more fit to be an idol than her.*
Left with no other choice, Fuuka decides to quit. She packs up her Tokyo apartment, bids farewell to the tearful junior in question, and heads to the airport, her dreams shattered. On a whim, she decides to travel to Okinawa instead of home, fearing the laborious festivities her family and friends have planned for her. And after a series of peculiar happenings, she ends up visiting Gama Gama Aquarium, run by Kukuru Misakino, a high-schooler who’s particularly obsessed with aquatic life. Kukuru gives Fuuka a tour of the aquarium, which, as we eventually discover, is considerably short-staffed. But the sights of the aquarium have captured Fuuka’s heart; and whether it’s the salt in the air or her notable lack of water, she ends up begging Kukuru to let her stay. Maybe, in the expansive halls of the aquarium, she’ll be able to find a new dream for herself.
Before I get to talking about what happened in this episode, can I just take a moment to talk about how gorgeous this show looks? I’m getting Nagi no Asukara vibes, which makes perfect sense, as Aquatope is being produced and directed by the same talent that worked on that show. The attention to natural details, to lighting and shadows, to framing and depth—it’s simply breathtaking. I might run out of drive space for screenshots before this show ends! The music and sound design bears mentioning as well here. I liked how they introduced Fuuka in her silent apartment room; the stillness weighs on us the same way it’s weighing on her, as she reflects on the goals and aspirations that she once possessed but no longer does. That tender attention to detail, for the most part, persists throughout the episode, making this premiere one of the highlights this season.
Now, let’s get back to the story, which also gives me NagiAsu vibes, though not for very positive reasons. I will say that I really like how they’re setting up Fuuka’s character; she reminds me of Kyouka from Remake Our Life, but far more consistent and poignant. You feel the same dejection that Fuuka feels as her dreams deteriorate before her eyes, the same crushing weight of the expectations of those around her, the same longing for freedom and purpose. She was the highlight of this episode, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her character. Kukuru, on the other hand, definitely reminds me of Manaka, or alternatively of every other genki female lead. I didn’t like NagiAsu in part because Manaka’s genuine emotions and her critical role in the story were overshadowed by her generic character. I’m hoping Kukuru doesn’t fall prey to the same fate. And I’m similarly hopeful for the whole show. P.A. Works has a tendency to produce works that look great, with lively and expansive worlds, but that ultimately don’t live up to their own expectations. Aquatope promises to be a hopeful coming-of-age story about conquering one’s regrets and pushing forward for the sake of a brighter future. Let’s see if the show can keep that promise.
*Truly, first impressions are a treacherous business. I’m not exactly sure why Fuuka ended up quitting, but from what I can tell from the first episode, this seems like the reason. Forgive me if my assumption is proven to be widely off-base.
The aquatope on white sand is airing on Crunchyroll. Read our thoughts on all the new summer anime series, in addition to comments from our other writers, on our Summer 2021 Anime First Impression master post.