The aquatope on white sand, which has proved to be one of my favorite shows this season, has taken quite a somber turn in recent episodes. We’d received hints throughout the season that Kukuru’s ambitions to save Gama Gama Aquarium from its watery grave would be in vain, but until very recently there were still glimmers of hope: hope for a miracle, hope that the tides would turn in their favor, hope that their tireless efforts wouldn’t be in vain. Yet even a miracle isn’t enough to turn the tides of reality. By the end of episode ten, it seems like most of the characters have accepted the cold truth: Gama Gama is closing. Work as hard as they can, nothing will change. The obstacles are insurmountable, and there’s simply no time to try anything new.
By episode eleven, the day’s approached to begin closing down the aquarium—a task that’s especially necessary given the impending hurricane. But, of course, Kukuru’s not quite ready to accept the reality that everyone else has accepted. So she blocks up all the doors and declares a siege. Gama Gama Is Not Closing. Not if she has anything to say about it. And the others, too engrossed in their own typhoon-related business, don’t bother stopping her. Besides, it’s not like it’s the island’s first hurricane, and Kukuru knows what she’s doing. She’ll come around eventually—so they all agree, and disperse into their daily activities.
Later, Fuuka begins to worry about how Kukuru’s doing at the aquarium by herself. Of course, her stay-in grandparents pick up on this, and soon she’s running through the storm furiously, delivering food to Kukuru. Fuuka arrives and lays down an ultimatum: if Kukuru’s staying, she is too. Of course, Kukuru’s not so happy about this, but she doesn’t have much choice. It’s hard work maintaining an aquarium, especially when you’re alone and the weather’s this bad. Not to mention the sudden power outage throwing a wrench into her plans. They’ve only got a few hours before the generator’s power cuts off, stranding the fish without filters or air pumps. But Kukuru’s not ready to give up on the aquarium yet. She can’t give it up: can’t give up her last memories of her parents, can’t give up the joy of the aquarium, can’t let go of the magic. So Fuuka and Kukuru work tirelessly to save the aquarium. It’s their only hope.
Ultimately, however, the truth has a way of confronting futile hopes. A stray rock shatters a side window, exposing the aquarium to the outdoors. The girls try to reinforce it, to no avail: another window shatters, and the pipes start to come undone. And in the shattered pieces of glass strewn on the tile floor, Kukuru sees her own dreams falling apart. “Why can’t I stay here?” she wonders aloud. Why can’t she have Gama Gama? Why can’t she have the one thing she’s had all her life: the one thing that’s given her joy and hope and peace, the only thing she has left to lean on?
As she’s thinking these things, the generator breathes its last breath, and Gama Gama’s lights go out for good. It’s all over. But as Kukuru begins sinking to the floor in despair, Fuuka rushes over to collect Kukuru in her arms. “This place isn’t all you have,” she reminds her. They’ve still got work to do: they still have to protect the animals, even if the aquarium itself isn’t going to make it. So they get to work once again, collecting the fish into buckets and checking up on the tanks. Eventually, as the storm’s dying down, the whole crew makes it to the aquarium to tie up all the loose ends.
Finally, as morning dawns, the power’s restored to the aquarium, and they’re able to return all the animals to their tanks. Our two delinquents apologize profusely for the mess they caused that night, and the crew leaves Gama Gama shortly afterwards. Yet there are still more apologies to be shared. Kukuru apologizes for her coldness to Fuuka, and Fuuka confesses that she found joy in serving alongside Kukuru, despite how things turned out in the end. It’s then that it dawns on Kukuru: Gama Gama is really closing. She tried her best—they all did—but it wasn’t meant to be. And for the first time, she weeps: weeps for her parents, weeps for Gama Gama, weeps for the magical reality she longed to protect but wasn’t able to.
There’s so many things I want to say about this episode. I can’t say I’m surprised that Gama Gama’s shutting down. Again, it’s something that’s been hinted at the whole season. But if I’m being honest, if I were to place my reaction to the shutdown in terms of the characters, I’d be tempted to sympathize with Grandpa Kukuru’s quiet resignation. It’s just how things turned out in the end. Life will go on. The animals will find new homes. The visitors will find new attractions. The workers will find new jobs. Kukuru should just move on from Gama Gama. She should stop trying to delay what’s inevitable. She should stop causing trouble for others with her selfishness.
Yet Grandpa’s fatalistic resignation isn’t something that everyone can live with. Least of all Kukuru, whose entire life has revolved around this aquarium whose lifespan has finally come to an end. Of course she’s in tears when Grandpa thanks her for her work as acting director. She’s not ready to accept that it’s over. And while it’s true that she’s been selfish, in the wake of what she’s lost, she doesn’t need to hear about that. She needs comfort.
But how to provide this comfort—that is the question. It is a difficult question. And since it is a difficult question, I can tend to want to flee from answering it. This flight response, I think, is what Kai’s been struggling with over the past few episodes. He wants to comfort his best friend as she’s struggling with loss, but he’s afraid of hurting her, so he lingers in indecision, neither providing comfort nor confronting her with reality. It’s sort of frustrating, as the Crunchyroll comments will tell you, but it’s sympathetic. It’s easy to sidestep hard conversations, to drape one’s concerns in a vale of frivolity, smiling all the while.
Again, though, that’s not answering the question. That isn’t comfort; it’s merely running away from the problem. Kukuru’s done enough of that, and she’s tired of it: tired of the façade. She needs to face reality, but she also needs comfort. And this, I think, is where Fuuka’s character shines the most, because she’s been exactly where Kukuru is now. She’s stood at the eclipse of a fading dream. She’s walked the path of failure paved with good intentions. She knows what it feels like when people don’t understand your sorrow. So she comforts Kukuru, not by unduly shoving the truth in her face, nor by distancing herself in fear, but by joining Kukuru in her sorrow. Instead of breaking up the siege, she joins the defending forces. She supports her friend until the very end.
There’s a lot we can learn from Fuuka’s gentle kindness to Kukuru in the wake of her fading dreams. First, Fuuka reminds us that there are no textbook answers for those who grieve loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or the loss of an important possession or the loss of a lifelong dream. We shouldn’t put on our lecture-hats and pontificate about the futility of earthly desires or the vanity of temporal pursuits. Nor should we offer cheap comforts, as if despair can be resolved in a moment of mindless ecstasy. Kukuru mourns the loss of a serious thing. She’s right to cry, because Gama Gama wasn’t meant to shut down. Things weren’t meant to be like this. And in that moment when we’re faced with the absurdity of a reality stained by disappointment, we should weep with those who weep.
But as Christians, I think Fuuka’s response provides us with an even more compelling hope than she’s able to offer Kukuru. I’m not entirely sure where Aquatope is going to go in its next cour, but I’m certain that if Gama Gama does end up shutting down, Kukuru’s comfort will come in part from Fuuka’s support. She crawled into the siege with her friend when no one else could; she joined Kukuru in her mourning.
Yet there’s a sense of futility to this coalition, isn’t there? Fuuka’s dream expired long ago. Kukuru’s dream is waning over the horizon. They can try to forge through the rubble and find some sort of purpose for themselves in the aftermath, but it’ll always be a fragile construction, because it’ll always be prone to the same failure that caused it. It’s like driving on a road trip with no destination. Arrival is only temporary; every rest-stop is the precursor to another journey. Every dream has cracks baked in; it’s impossible to avoid loss forever.
In contrast, the hope of the Christian faith is centered around a rugged cross and an empty grave. The rugged cross reminds us that God became flesh and dwelt with us and suffered our pain. He crawled into the siege with us when no one else could; he took on the reality of our sin and bore it on the cross for our salvation. The empty grave reminds us that there is a destination to all our journeys. This is a dream that will never be dashed. It’s the promise of eternal life; a promise that he purchased with his own blood, for all who will put their trust in him.
So we weep with those who weep; yet we do not weep as those with no hope. We weep; yet we remember that the God of all comfort transforms our sorrow into joy, that we might comfort those who experience all sorts of sorrows. Fuuka helps us picture the sort of kindness that we as Christians must model throughout our lives. Yet ours is a comfort born out of confident hope rather than bitter resignation. The coming kingdom of our Lord is one that will never be shut down. Our dashed dreams are temporary, but his kingdom is forever. And that’s how we find comfort: for ourselves and for the world.
The aquatope on white sand can be streamed on Crunchyroll.