Spy x Family – 12 (Part 1 Fin) – Aquatope of Spy Fam

It was pretty apparent SPY x FAMILY wasn’t going to end at twelve episodes, but not so apparent was how it would wrap up its first cour. Rather than a big new development or thrilling cliffhanger, it elects for a bit of a grab bag palate cleanser. The first few minutes are easily it’s weakest, as the heavy narration and retreading of facts we already know had the stench of a recap.

Thankfully, that soon transitions to Loid’s current predicament, which is that Operation Strix is not his only job as Twilight, it’s just his most important. Due to short staffing, he’s called upon to take on numerous side missions that keep him out late or otherwise separated from his fake family.

When he overhears the neighbors gossiping about it, he decides action must be taken to shore up his standing as husband and father in his apartment block by taking Anya and Yor to the aquarium on a day off. Of course, this means completing all of his side missions beforehand, leaving him particularly haggard on the big day.

Still, Loid shakes it off for the good of Operation Strix. As his fellow spy who works at the subway store makes clear, spies work towards peace and a day when they’re no longer needed. She also has a mission for Loid on the day of his family aquarium trip, but the mission happens to also take place at the aquarium.

It involves a secret microfilm containing intel on a new chemical weapon that could bring the country to its knees if it fell into the wrong hands. Fortunately, it is currently in no one’s hands, but down the gullet of one of the two hundred penguins at the Aquarium.

Loid, whom it’s been established is already exhausted from overwork, must balance time with his family (and keeping up appearances with the neighbors, who are also at the aquarium) and disguise himself as a far-too-competent newbie aquarium worker.

When he finds the penguin with the film, he’s soon confronted by its intended recipient, whose lousy fake professor ID doesn’t fool Loid for a second. The bad guy bolts, but Anya (who had previously used her ESP to find the right penguin for Papa) tracks him down, grabs him, and pretends to be kidnapped.

When she calls out to her Mama, Yor springs into action, once again demonstrating she has a bright future as a hero of justice if she ever wanted to ditch the whole cold-blooded assassin thing. She kicks the dude so hard his head goes through the ceiling and keeps him hanging there.

I love how Loid’s difficult day is made much easier by his daughter, who as we know cannot reveal her powers to him, lest the show lose a third of its conceit. Loid uses the energy saved to make a big show of being a Number One Dad to Anya by winning her a giant penguin plushie.

Being between five and six (like my own niece), Anya immediately makes use of her vivid imagination to create her own intelligence agency with her new penguin plushie. She gives him a hilarious tour of the apartment as if it were a secret spy hideout, and also uses the tour as a pretense to enter her Mama and Papa’s rooms, which is forbidden due to all the “dangerous things” that are in them.

Loid yells at Anya for trying to go into his room without permission, and as you would expect of a little kid, Anya also overreacts, saying she hates Papa and Mama and threatens to run away from home. Loid and Yor quickly improvise to improve Anya’s mood by lending their voices to her Penguin plushie and toy robot. Their roleplaying continues out on the city streets, where passersby note what a “sweet family” they are.

It is an incredibly sweet, if low-key, way to end this first cour: with the core family at perhaps its most charming and convincing. The word “fake” is thrown around a lot, but while Loid, Yor, and Anya are all hiding huge secrets form one another, the more they interact with each other and experience new things together, the less fake a family they become.

The aquatope on white sand – 24 (fin) – Fishness as usual

The eight-word review? It stuck the landing with heart and soul. Aquatope wraps with three big events, the first of which is the most workmanlike. The entire staff is mustered to stock the new White Sand Dome, and it unfolds mostly without dialogue, just showing us just how complex such an operation is, and how speed and efficiency is balanced with the utmost care and delicacy with the living things they’re welcoming to Tingarla.

The second big event is the first wedding ceremony. We start with Kaoru and Chiyu joining Kukuru, Fuuka, and Karin in preparing the little personal touches that make the ceremony special and memorable, like name cards that feature a sea creature that matches the personality of the named. The barefoot magical affair goes off without a hitch; even Suwa can’t help but smile at the success, both in terms of getting a couple married and getting their family and friends interested in aquariums.

The third big event is the Grand Opening of the White Sand Dome, for which there’s a line going out the door and all the staff are out on the floor to greet them. Karin is now an attendant, and Kukuru’s grandparents attend and are proud of the growth they see in Kukuru. That said, she still wonders if she made the right choice to stay in PR and asks her gramps what she should do. His wise-as-usual advice: do yourself the favor of turning the path you chose into the correct one.

Kukuru and Fuuka take a break at the White Sand Dome, and Fuuka recalls how when she first got to Gama Gama she felt like she was drowning in a dark sea, which is just how Kukuru felt after Gama Gama was razed. But neither of them feel that way anymore. They love Tingarla, and right on cue, the same “effect” once thought to only occur at Gama Gama happens in the White Sand Dome, as Kukuru’s parents and twin sister join her and Fuuka in reveling in the sea life.

The fourth and final big event is, of course, Fuuka departing for Hawaii (specifically Oahu, as we later catch a glimpse of Honolulu). The difference between their last airport farewell and this one is like night and day. There’s no frowns or tears, all smiles and heads held high. Kukuru says “off you go” to Fuuka like she’s leaving for school for the day, not two years. “I’ll be back,” Fuuka replies in the same casual way. By the time Fuuka is in the air, Kukuru is already back to work at Tingarla.

As I suspected, the two years practically fly by, both in that we get a time jump to Tingarla’s third anniversary and the day Fuuka and Kaoru return home. There are a lot of subtle changes you’d expect, both in Kukuru’s hairstyle to her more confident demeanor at her desk. You can tell she’s taken on what’s in front of her with all her heart, and thrived.

She’s not alone: Kuuya has embraced his role as chief attendant and senpai to his old friend Karin. Udon-chan is now Tingarla’s chef. Kai is back as an attendant, and Choko has found a pretty young mate. Suwa has promoted her from Plankton to Nekton…though honestly I would have been a lot happier if he just called her by her damn name.

While in the taxi back to Tingarla with Kaoru, Fuuka gets out to stop by the shrine to Kijimunaa that she and Kukuru set up in a little wooded area not far from the aquarium. Fuuka gives the deity an offering of Hawaiian Macadamia nuts. These last two years, she and Kukuru have continued to do what’s right, and everything has worked out.

In scene where the two run straight at each other and embrace, I had all the feels. I could feel the love between these two young women; I could feel the relief they were back on the same island together; and I could feel the strength and wisdom they’ve both amassed, finding and nurturing their new dreams. The spirit of Gama Gama lives on in both of them, and as Gramps said, the hardships they both endured eventually led to wondferful rewards.

The aquatope on white sand – 23 – Big sisterhood

This episode began with Kukuru at a crossroads: does she fill the attendant spot being left by Kai, or does she stick with marketing, where she could inarguably play a larger role in helping far more animals for longer. But thanks to Tingarla’s director announcing the “Aquatope Project”, which will focus on environmental research and conservation, Fuuka is also at a crossroads.

The difference is, one of Fuuka’s two directions leads all the way to Hawaii for two years of training. No matter which job Kukuru picks, she’ll remain where she is. Both are hesitant for being tempted—not without good reason—to go in opposite directions: Fuuka going forth  to expand her horizons; Kukuru back to where she feels safe…but unchallenged.

The Aquatope Project seems perfectly timed to match with Fuuka’s recent come-to-Fish-Jesus moment regarding the harsh reality of mankind’s effect on sea life. Similarly, the return of Choko seems perfectly timed to match with Kukuru’s return to attending. Choko and the other penguins remember her! More to the point, they just know instinctively she’s a good human! Oh, hey Kai! Bye Kai.

Their big decisions are given further context by the state of Kukuru and Fuuka’s present day-to-day lives. When their schedules match up, Fuuka cooks for Kukuru, and they walk to or from the aquarium. But more often than not their schedules aren’t in synch, which means Kukuru and Fuuka are alone, but doing just fine. Kukuru overhears Fuuka telling Chiyu she can’t go to Hawaii because she “doesn’t want to leave Kukuru”, which makes Kukuru feel like she’s holding her friend back.

Just as Kukuru withholds her decision about what she’ll do as long as possible for dramatic effect, Fuuka goes through the candidate process (there are five vying for just two slots) while contemplating whether she can or should actually go if chosen. And while I predicted she would go, and Kukuru would stay in marketing, knowing so before it was official did not lesson my enjoyment of watching things play out.

What really made me very confident in my prediction was Fuuka’s final  presentation to the Aquarium’s brass and her fellow candidates. While everyone else gave perfectly nice and well-researched lectures at Tingarla, Fuuka takes everyone to Ban’s cove, dresses in a dolphin costume, and introduces the audience—which includes a bunch of kids and their parents on the beach—to Ban, and in doing so revealed her passion both for sea life and desire to learn more about them…which means making sure they don’t disappear.

While the panel deliberates over which two candidates will go to Hawaii, the grouchiest of them says Fuuka put on a “kid’s show”, while another points out that appealing to children early on will get them to care about the ocean. After all, they’re inhereting the future. Director Akira follows that up with an impassioned speech about the possibilities of the future that would make his shisho Gramps proud.

Later that night, Kukuru meets up with Fuuka at Ban’s beach to congratulate her for getting one of the spots. Kukuru also announces she’ll be staying in marketing, to gain the skills needed to protect the animals on a macro scale. She also admits that she turned Fuuka into her big sister, but has to learn to stand on her own two feet, which is why it’s okay for Fuuka to go.

But for Fuuka, it isn’t about big sister obligation, or Kukuru needing her. It’s about her needing Kukuru. Kukuru pats Fuuka on the head and says she’ll just have to be her big sister, seeing Fuuka off on an exciting adventure. While it’s sad to see these two parting, it’s also gratifying to to see them choosing paths that will help them grow as both people and professionals.

Not to mention, if these two take their jobs seriously, they’ll be too busy to miss each other; those two years should fly by! The question is, will we get to see any of those two years in the final episode, or will jump forward to beyond them? Either way, it’s sure to be a joyful tearjerker.

The aquatope on white sand – 22 – Dearly beloved

As last week’s transcendent finish showed, Fuuka doesn’t have to actually do anything to cheer Fuuka up, clear her head, and ultimately make her decide to return to Tingarla and get back to work. Whether it’s when Kukuru first spots her at the hatching, takes Kukuru’s hand and shakes her head when Kukuru says she’s only causing trouble for everyone, or just sleeping peacefully beside Kukuru, being there is what matters.

The next afternoon, Kukuru is with Fuuka on the ferry home, but not before thanking Misaki for taking care of her. During this time, Fuuka learns that sea turtles are endangered, in large part due to man-made harm. Considering I learned about this stuff when I was still in school, I was a little surprised by Fuuka’s ignorance, but it’s never too late to learn.

Back at the office, Kukuru’s boss Suwa responds to her deep bow of apology by thrusting the marked-up wedding proposal into her hands and telling her if she finishes this, deal or no deal, he’ll recommend her for an opening in the attendant department, allowing her to do what she’s always loved and come naturally to her. Karin wants that attendant job too, and Kukuru doesn’t really seem to dread the possibility of losing!

That’s because learning more about Misaki’s conservation efforts inspired Kukuru to do her part—not as an attendant, but as a marketer—to spread the word about how things are and what can be done about it. If she needs to make compromises to the wedding planner Miura, so be it: the more people walk through Tingarla’s doors, the more people will fall in love with it, and do more to help protect it.

That includes the curt and impatient Miura, who initially cuts Kukuru’s tour short to get down to business. Kukuru and Suwa show her the wedding venue, and this time Kukuru has more quick (and satisfying) answers to Miura’s rapid-fire questions. The first meeting wasn’t a failure, because it gave her the knowledge she needed to make the second presentation successful.

After accepting Kukuru’s “Wedding Under the Sea” proposal, Miura’s demeanor softens considerably, and she’s eager to continue the tour. She even leaves with a big jellyfish plushie, having enjoyed herself much more than she thought she would. And what do you know, Suwa finally praises Plankton! Sure, all he says is “Well done” and walks away, but for this guy, it’s huge.

Kukuru’s mood thus immensely improved and the job done, she finally gets to relax with her friends at Ohana, and is all smiles and laughs. But she has to be reminded that she’s in the running for an attendant position, because she was so focused on the wedding task before her. There’s a scene where she also makes Kai take a rain check on talking about something, and it’s here at the restaurant both we and Kukuru learn what: Kai’s dad collapsed, and the attendant opening is due to his departure.

Kukuru bails on the celebration, tries to call Kai, then lucks out to find him still at the aquarium. Kai confirms his dad needs surgery, so he won’t be able to work for a while, but doesn’t want to see Kukuru make sad faces. He’s not leaving permanently, after all; just going on leave until his family’s alright.

Ever since getting her drive back and then knocking the wedding proposal out of the park, Kukuru has no doubt considered simply staying in marketing. Will she reconsider now that she knows Kai will feel most safe knowing she’ll be tending to the animals in his place? If it’s just a temporary thing, then why not?

My Senpai is Annoying – 08 – Not Just Another Day

It’s Golden Week, and this episode is all about our two couples. Kazama and Sakurai go on the date to an aquarium that Kazama was brave enough to propose. Kazama likely believes he isn’t “worthy” of Sakurai or that he’s “out of her league”, but Sakurai likes him for who he is and he shouldn’t overthink things. Instead of worrying about how he could say or do things differently to make their date better, he should just enjoy the damn date!

Futaba has her Golden Week all figured out, sourcing her plan for the week from periodicals touting the proper route to becoming “a capable woman.” Of course, this is nonsense, as we know that as someone who has lived on their own since junior high and has a good job and wonderful friends,

Futaba already is a capable woman. But when the scenario of a horror TV program is eerily similar to hers, suddenly she doesn’t want to be alone. Takeda, sensing Futaba’s anxiety in just a 27-second phone call, comes calling, and Futaba is elated.

Kazama may be extremely self-conscious throughout most of the date, but Sakurai is having a perfectly good time watching cute sea animals, and especially when they meet a dolphin named Souta (Kazama’s first name) who has the same “unfriendly stare”. There’s even a stuffed Souta that Sakurai photographs with Kazama and laughs about, but Sakurai isn’t laughing at Kazama, she’s laughing because she’s having fun with him.

Futaba and Takeda also have fun on their day off, going to an arcade then out to ramen at Takeda’s go-to spot . They mention to each other more than once that this day kinda feels like work, but that’s only because they’re together.

Between the laid-back atmosphere of the ramen joint (unlike all the other restaurants busy due to Golden Week) and Takeda winning Futaba a crane game plushie simply because he wanted to, it’s a very good thing that things feel so normal and right when they’re together, at work or not.

After leaving the aquarium, Kazama suddenly has a notion and asks Sakurai to stay put until he comes back. But again, Sakuai becomes the target of unwanted attention, this time from two strangers who really want her to try mafé, with one of them even grabbing her arm.

When Kazama returns, he rescues Sakurai by borrowing a line from a shounen manga, of course. Kazama claims Sakurai is “his”, which is not always okay in some situations, but obviously Sakurai is into it and not about to contradict him. Also, it goes both ways, with Kazama being every bit hers as she is his.

Once again Kazama is embarrassed about his words and actions, but has no reason to be; for the only person who matters—Sakurai—he was very cool, and once again proved himself as someone who has her back. As they walk to the train, she uses his first name Souta to thank him. Of course, the item Kazama went back for was a Souta the dolphin plushie, so she could’ve been thanking him…but c’maaahn. She was totally thanking Kazama the guy!

As it has with previous episodes, Senpai continues to excel at portraying warm, cozy instances of two couples enjoying each others company. Kazama and Sakurai seem well on their way to dating, and even if Futaba and Futaba aren’t, they’re definitely much more than just co-workers.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 21 – Don’t wallow…struggle!

The way Kukuru simply disappeared last week was extremely worrying, but it turns out she simply needed to get away. Asking herself over and over “What am I doing?”, the answer is clear: work got to be too much, so she needed a break. She takes the ferry to sleepy Yamenura Island, where she soon runs into Umi-yan’s wife Misaki, a professor specializing in sea turtles.

Kukuru did the right thing by eventually responding to an understandably worried Fuuka by telling her she’s safe and everything’s fine, she just needed time off. Fuuka tries to cover for Kukuru like a good friend and co-worker, but Suwa sees right through the ruse, and tells Fuuka not to interfere with matters that aren’t her job. The way Suwa phrases it makes Fuuka so mad she starts shadowboxing like Kukuru, and almost accidentally slugs Kai in the face!

While there’s always a measure of underlying worry and stress one gets while playing hooky, it’s largely neutralized by the extremely chill vibes of Yameruna. Misaki, a wise woman, tells Kukuru she’s going to get yelled at later, but no point being sad about it now. She should enjoy the time she’s taken…and she does, by sleeping in, taking a leisurely stroll to the tiny island aquarium, and watching one of her gramps’ protégés in action.

Even if she knows Kukuru is fine, a part of Fuuka still wants to be with Kukuru during this time. When she learns from Gramps that Choko will be joining Tingarla soon, she wants to text Kukuru, but hesitates, worried the timing of such a text would be wrong.

She’s distracted, and shortly afterward an overly curious penguin gets badly pecked and scratched up by territorial peers. Fuuka blames herself, but both her boss says penguins fight all the time. The vet tells Fuuka not to wallow, but struggle. There’s no time for regretting when you’re carefully watching over living things.

The night arrives when Misaki’s quarry, a huge nest of sea turtle eggs, finally hatch, and it’s probably the event of Yameruna, which I may have mentioned is usually super laid back and tranquil. Much like the baby penguin’s first dip, the tension of this event is extremely nicely built up, then released when the adorable baby turtles emerge from the sand in droves.

Kukuru looks both awed and honored to be present for such an event, then overhears someone behind her saying “It’s amazing.” She recognizes the voice, because it’s Fuuka, who learned through Umi-yan that Kukuru was on the same island as his wife.

Instead of running into each other’s arms, Kukuru and Fuuka stand apart and continue to quietly observe the magic of nature. The hugs, tears, laughter, and scolding will come later. For now, they’ll keep a close eye on the animals.

The aquatope on white sand – 20 – Outside the tank

Kukuru has hit a wall again. There’s too much work to do, and not enough time to do it with the organizational skills she currently possesses. Her boss Suwa remains as unfeeling as a Vulcan. He doesn’t say it, but it’s implied every time he barks his catchphrase “That’s all from me”—which he didn’t actually say this week! What he’s really saying is “If you can’t cut it, I’ll find someone who can.”

Kukuru’s a free spirit, and being wound up so tight in that fish-less office is wearing on her. She seeks any relief, whether it’s pressing her face against the main tank (her sole interaction with Kai. Sorry Kai!) or going out to a lagoon to observe a lost baby dolphin, whom she names Ban-chan. She doesn’t just love how cute Ban-chan is, she also envies his freedom.

This is one of many excellent images that show rather than tell how things are going for Kukuru this week…she’s behind literal bars! She wakes up from a dream that she’s drowning! On top of all the other projects that keep her in the office well past office hours, Suwa orders her to prepare a presentation for a wedding planner for ceremonies at Tingarla. Kukuru gets to it … but is never into it.

Back home, her Gramps and Tingarla’s boss Hoshino discuss things at Udon-chan’s mom’s restaurant, which Udon-chan’s mom has to run instead of drinking because Udon-chan ain’t there. Hoshino says Kukuru is doing her best in marketing…no “but”! Gramps knows Kukuru and so knows how hard it must be, but still believes being “outside the tank” she grew up in will ultimately prove to be a “good experience.”

Perhaps it’s because Kukuru has no mom or dad to guide her during this crucial time when she’s just started adulting that he believes tough love is the solution. Kukuru gives it the old college try with the wedding presentation, but the show wasn’t fooling anyone. I knew she was going to bomb, and that Suwa wasn’t going to console her. That said, he seems neither mad nor disappointed in Kukuru’s first big presentation. I just wish we could have gotten something from the guy…maybe hear about his first presentation.

The wedding project isn’t ruined, it just needs a fairly substantial redo. But the cost of the presentation (whether it went well or not) is much steeper for Kukuru. She misses out on Fuuka going diving with Ban-chan, and she returns to Tingarla too late to see Airi, the girl in the hospital who came to visit. Karin tells her not to feel bad; she had work. But now work is taking up so much time and energy it’s denying Kukuru a lot of the things give her joy and happiness.

While working overtime again, Kukuru snaps—but softly; more like a stalk of kelp than a hard branch. As her eyes blur, she asks herself Why was I trying so hard again? So she could get more work and see less of the things and people she loves? That can’t be right!

Then she remembers her Gramps telling her Gama Gama was going to be demolished soon, so if she wanted to see it one last time, she’d better hurry. But work kept her from saying goodbye to Gama Gama while it was still whole. When she arrives by taxi late at night, it’s just a pile of rubble.

Kukuru’s already tattered spirit shattered into a thousand pieces at the sight of that rubble. There’s no melodramatic tears; I was reminded of Titus Andronicus when he said “I have no more tears to shed.” She just looks…defeated. Spent. The next day, Kukuru skips work, but work goes on without her.

There’s a parallel between Kukuru’s arc and Ban-chan’s. Both have been set loose—the dolphin got separated from his family, Kukuru got thrown out of the tank to either succeed or fail. Even though I know the show is not going push Kukuru to suicide, she is definitely not having a “good experience”.  Her absence from the office is frankly chilling, and I just hope she’s somewhere safe and close to loved ones.

The aquatope on white sand – 19 – The white dolphin in the red pumps

Fuuka’s not-to-distant past life catches up to her, as a film crew from Yona Productions intends to film a tv show at Tingarla…with Fuuka’s idol kohai Shiori Ruka as the co-host. They’re also very keen on Fuuka being the other co-host. Fuuka’s immediate, unhesitant response? “But I’m done with TV…”

As Karin gives Ruka and the crew a tour to familiarize themselves with the aquarium, Kukuru ducks out of work (and she’s got a lot of work) to make sure Fuuka is okay having remnants of her old life around. Fuuka assures her she’s fine; she’s going to turn down the co-hosting role. She’s an attendant now.

Fuuka intends to take Ruka out for one-on-one dinner, but Udon-chan ends up inviting everyone else (except Kukuru, who is working overtime). Ruka is up for the liveliness until she isn’t, and goes out onto the deserted patio to sit and reflect.

Fuuka comes out to give her some less intense company, and truly does look like a capital-S Senpai in the way she confidently counsels Ruka. She knows Ruka is working as hard as she is in part for Fuuka’s sake, so Fuuka tells her not to forget to work for Shiori Ruka’s sake.

It’s only later Fuuka learns why Ruka is so down aside from having not “made it” yet: she’s been being harassed online by her detractors, saying she’s getting unfairly promoted relative to her talent or some such nonsense. As Umi-yan puts it, the fans don’t see how hard she’s really working.

After a few awkward moments during filming, Ruka joins Fuuka for a break where Fuuka often comes to relax and recharge during a stressful day. She offers Ruka her pair of red pumps she intended to wear on stage one day, but never did.

Fuuka no longer needs them as a talisman of encouragement, as she’s found the place where she belongs and the thing she loves to do. So she gives them to Ruka, hoping they’ll be a source of strength for her too. If nothing else, they’ll remind Ruka of her dear senpai Fuuka, whom she clearly, genuinely admires and loves.

That admiration and love only grows during the final climactic scene in the tv show, when the new baby penguin jumps into the pool for the first time and immediately takes to it like…well, a penguin to a pool! Nervous and timid, the little one needs a little push in order to make that leap into the water, and Fuuka is there to give it.

It’s such a little gesture, and yet so meaningful and affecting both for the film crew, Fuuka’s co-workers, and the huge, rapt audience. Seeing Fuuka be the best damn aquarium attendant she can be literally brings tears to Ruka’s eyes…genuine ones, not forced ones.

That unforced sincerity ends up on film, and just may be one of the things that brings Ruka more fans going forward.  Like the little push she gave the adorable baby penguin, Fuuka may have given the little push—and red pumps—Ruka needed to take the next step in her fledgling career.

The aquatope on white sand – 18 – How to Raise a Boring Office Worker

The gang is back to work at Tingarla (fine, that’s what the sign says), and all are encouraged to come up with big event that will increase enthusiasm for marine life.

The winning idea comes from Akari, a part-timer who has been very upfront about this being Just A Job and not having any particular passion for aquariums. When Kukuru pushes for Akari to lead the way on her fish cosplay event, Akari declines.

After work Kukuru and Fuuka share another lovely waterside moment together, with Fuuka letting Kukuru rest her head on her shoulder and vent ever so briefly about something she’s needed to come clean about: she really misses being an attendant.

Fuuka also reminds Kukuru that like Akari, she wasn’t that into aquariums either until the beauty and wonder of the sea life, the smiles of the guests, and the enthusiasm of Kukur and the others caught her hook, line, and sinker.

Fuuka’s point is that not everyone ends up in a job doing what they love, and whether its marketing or tending penguins, you can’t argue that there’s nowhere Kukuru’s better suited to be considering her lifelong passion for the sea.

It’s not “too late” for Akari to become enamored of it, but even if she never is to Kukuru or Fuuka’s extent…that’s totally okay! Everyone’s different and it’s okay! There; that’s the thesis of this show.

Akari still feels a bit bad about how relatively harshly she shot down the notion of taking charge of the cosplay event, even if she was simply being honest. This job isn’t her life, at least not at the moment. She’s got college and other friends.

We get a really nice pairing with her and Karin having dinner at the restaurant where Udon-chan works—and has made improvements to the menu based on the feedback at the party—Karin tells her she didn’t invite her to talk about Kukuru, but to enjoy some tasty food with a friend. No need to sweat anything!

Akari and Udon-chan actually build a lovely little bond as two people outside the whole Fish Thing. Akari initially thought people like them were always having fun doing what they love all the time, and kind of envied that, since she just…wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about anything.

But seeing Kukuru work so hard and sometimes crash against Suwa, or Kaoru often worrying about her fish dying on her because she couldn’t tell they were in pain…Akari learns that sometimes doing what you love can be miserable.

When Kukuru realizes too late she hadn’t sent the email order for the fish stickers (rewards for the kids who identify the fish they’re cosplaying), but left it in Drafts (something I sometimes have nightmares about), the clock strikes five; Akari’s time to clock out.

But it’s not even a clock out that causes Akari to decide to return to the aquarium to help Kukuru and Karin make their own stickers. It’s because her friend had to take a rain check on their date. That, and Akari had nothing else going on, so why not help two people she likes as people, even if she doesn’t quite get their aquarium obsession?

The three work overtime to get the stickers done, and the next day, we get a day at Tingarla that’s very appropriate considering Halloween was just last Sunday: not only does the staff dress up as specific fish species, but also mermaids (in the case of Fuuka, Marina, and Chiyu) and pirates (Karin and Akari).

But nothing is more heartwarming and sweet than Kaoru dressing up as one of her favorite fairy tale characters: Urashima Tarou…with Kuuya as the sea turtle and Umi-yan as the comely Otohime. The fact that Kaoru loves the tale with a passion and has dreamed since childhood of being Tarou…it’s just the tops.

And hey, what do you know, the festivities even lead to Akari correctly identifying her first fish—the four-striped damselfish Kukuru is cosplay as. Kukuru notices the way Akari looks into the tank at the fish…it’s just a more subdued version of how Akari saw Kukuru look at the tank.

No longer apathetic about her workplace, Akari is well and truly charmed by it, but in a subtle, Akari-like way. Yasuno Kiyano really nails that breezey subtlety just as she does as the heroine from Saekano. I’m glad she got almost a whole episode in which to shine.

The aquatope on white sand – 17 – Pure bliss

Who could have predicted that one of the most fun, heartwarming, and overwhelmingly joyful episodes of Aquatope would come after Gama Gama closed down? After Kukuru reached détente with Kaoru and Chiyu in short order, it was only a matter of time before they had an opportunity to hang out on their time off. When Fuuka, Kukuru, and Udon-chan’s days off align, they decide to throw a hospitality party for their co-workers.

The three pull out all the stops. Fuuka gives Marina and Akari some skincare treatment tips she got from her idol stylist. Udon-chan whips up a varied menu of tasty dishes, and gets the constructive (and sometimes excessive) negative feedback she asked for. Kuuya comes over with Karin, drinks some plum wine, loosens up…and vanishes!

But nothing tops Kukuru luring Chiyu in to Fuuka’s apartment and giving her a back massage, which Chiyu is happy for, even if Kukuru sucks at it! Chiyu ends up giving Kukuru a proper back massage, noting that Kukuru’s lack of muscle knots is a sure sign of someone ill-equipped to remove them from others.

Kaoru came with Chiyu and her little boy Shizu, then Kai and Eiji arrive, having collected a still-plummy Kuuya who had passed out on a nearby bench. A takoyaki party breaks out, with Kuuya and Eiji having a friendly blind-sea life-takoyaki filling competition that eventually devolves into just everyone stuffing themselves with delicious takoyaki. Note Kai’s look of distress masking his delight that Kukuru sat next to him.

When lil’ Chizu does that typical little kid thing where they make a big stink about not wanting to go home, Fuuka and Kukuru break out the fireworks to put a sparkly capper on a perfect day. Everyone has fun, with no exceptions. Drunk Kuuya even scores a ride home with Umi-yan! It’s just so nice to see everyone outside of Tingaara, together, taking a break from all their troubles.

When Kukuru and Fuuka return to their adjacent apartments, two delectable mango parfaits are waiting for them in the fridge, courtesy of Udon-chan. The two best friends savor the treats on the balcony, talking about all the fun things that happened. I can’t tell you how much it swells my heart to see both of them so content. They’ve come a long way, baby!

The aquatope on white sand – 16 – Can’t help but relate

I’ve never disliked Haebaru Chiyu. When she first showed up at Gama Gama, it was clear she was trying her hardest to excel in what was established to be a very exclusive industry. Nor did I ever particularly side with Kukuru in their many spats; Chiyu is absolutely right that Kukuru was, in many ways, spoiled and privileged by being the granddaughter of a aquarium legend.

But this is the episode where my feelings about Haebaru Chiyu shifted from mere understanding to affection. Because, you see, all along, Chiyu has been busting her ass at both Gama Gama and Tingaara…she’s been doing that while being a single goddamn mom. When the attendant team has to take on overnight shifts for a pregnant penguin, she can’t do it, because she’s got a damn son named Shizuku.

They say context is king, and all along Kukuru has had it all wrong. Chiyu isn’t simply some arrogant go-getter looking down on her, she’s a desperate mother trying to balance her lifelong passion of marine life with ensuring her child has sufficient attention. That’s why, when Kukuru takes the shifts Chiyu would have had, Chiyu gets extremely upset with her. When Chiyu yells “I want to work too!”, I teared up, because I knew she was being brutally honest.

Once Kukuru learns Chiyu’s deal, she’s understandably, as she puts it, “torn”. Here she was, hating on Chiyu for being so ambitious and imperious, but all along, Chiyu had this whole other life completely outside the aquarium. It makes Kukuru want to try to experience something like what it means to be responsible for another human life. So she asks the vet Takeshita (who has also joined Tingaara) if she can babysit her son.

Fuuka, ever the peacemaker and moderator, pays Chiyu a visit at her home, and learns from Chiyu the strife she experienced. She was once married, but when she first tried to balance having a kid and working at an aquarium, she was eventually fired and her husband left her. Considering all that happened to her, it’s not surprising she’d want to keep her parenthood a secret at Tingaara. But Fuuka says there’s no need for that, nor is there any need to scorn Kukuru or Gama Gama.

After all, rather than press forward with her shallow hatred of Chiyu, Kukuru committed to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be mother. Takeshita’s little boy never stops crying for the half-day Kukuru is taking care of him, and nothing she does can calm him until his mama comes home. Even so, Kukuru feels she’s learned something precious about loving all living things—including little humans—as her gramps wanted.

Last week, Kukuru reached  détente with Kaoru, and I said it was fine if she couldn’t do the same with everyone she butted heads with, most of all Chiyu. But leave it to Aquatope to find a way for even Kukuru and Chiyu to drop their antagonist act and admit that they do in fact share common ground, namely a love of aquariums and a desire to protect the life within them.

When the penguin’s egg finally hatches and brings forth a new life, Kukuru, Chiyu, and her son Shizuku are all embracing, rapt by the awe of watching a new life enter the world. Shizuku did her due diligence to understand Chiyu better, and in return, Chiyu opened up to Kukuru and her other Tingaara co-workers about the fact that she’s a kickass single mom. Character growth all around!

The aquatope on white sand – 15 – Seaslugfest

Buoyed in part by the return of Fuuka, Kukuru has found her rhythm in the marketing office, and is starting to show her competence. Of course, this means her boss Suwa just foists more work upon her. But it’s not done out of malice; it’s a sign that he trusts her to get it done. While having a relaxing lunch outside, Fuuka reminds Kukuru of that.

As such, when Suwa gives Kukuru her largest responsibility yet: a two week exhibition. Kukuru gives it her absolute all preparing a variety of proposals, not merely so she can silence Suwa’s doubt in her (though that’s part of it), but because it’s a golden opportunity to nerd the ef OUT over sea life. She ends up knocking it out of the park with her proposal, which is accepted on the spot. Mind you, Suwa doesn’t offer “Plankton” any praise…but it’s still a huge victory!

Kukuru decides the exhibition will be exclusively sea slugs, the jewels of the sea. I have to admit I hadn’t given sea slugs much thought up until this episode, but I have to admit they’re as gorgeous as they are weird. Kai gets all excited about Kukuru asking him to join her at the shore to collect the creatures, only to find Kukuru invited Fuuka too. His romantic fumbling doesn’t go unnoticed by Eiji, who suggests he try to be a bit more bold.

Like her earlier projects, Kukuru is constantly having to butt heads with people with whom she simply has a lot of trouble getting along besides the minimal professional cordialness. One of those figures is Kaoru, who granted comes of as pretty prickly and inflexible anyway. But Kukuru has gained more spine since joining Tingaara, and one thing she will not countenance is exhibiting the sea slugs without feeding them.

The vast variety of sea slugs doesn’t just pertain to their looks, you see, but also their diet. One species likes one kind of sea sponge or moss, the other ignores it completely. Eventually she finds the right food for all but one of the species to be exhibited, but in the process of obsessing over that eighth, Kukuru completely forgets her tour duties. Chiyu, another one like oil to Kukuru’s water, doesn’t let her forget she messed up, while all Fuuka can do is try to keep the peace.

On the eve of the exhibition, Kukuru is working late hours, and she’s got bags under her eyes. Who should press a cool canned coffee against her head but Kai, perhaps trying to be a bit bolder as Eiji advised. Kai asks if he can do anything for the clearly overworked Kukuru, and she says yes there is: he can put up his hands so she can punch them! In the heat of the stress-relieving spar session, Kai wraps his fingers around her fist, kinda-sora-unconsciously seeking gentler contact than the usual punches.

No sooner is this contact made than Kai apologizes and the drew draw back. But even if Kai’s courtship doesn’t pay off, a different kind of ritual takes place between Kukuru and Kaoru…they come to a détente! Over, what else, their mutual passion for all things living in or near the sea! I’m not sure why Kuuya misgendered Kaoru, but I for one am elated to see her and Kukuru put aside their differences and focus on the common ground they share.

Kaoru even invites Kukuru to the shore! At the same time, she and Chiyu may never get along, nor will Suwa ever give her a break or crack a grin. But that’s okay! Just as not all sea slugs eat the same food, not all people can get along. It’s just surpassingly gratifying when it suddenly, unexpectedly happens.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 14 – Nunca te rindas

I don’t know about you, but Fuuka’s sudden appearance on the beach and her and Kukuru’s warm embrace are romantic as all get out. Just look at that shot: Fuuka is basically Kukuru’s valiant prince, drying her eyes strained from tears of frustration and filling them right back up with pure unbridled joy. Even better: Fuuka is back for good. She’ll be working at Tingaara…and even moved next door to Kukuru.

That’s a lot of surprises, but Kukuru is fine with all of them, because if ever there was a time she needed Fuuka close by, it’s now, when she’s feeling totally unmoored in her marketing job. Thanks to Gramps, Fuuka was able to get a job at Tingaara, and Chiyu is clearly not okay Gama Gama nepotism. If she’s going to accept Fuuka as a colleague and not a up-jumped hanger-on, Fuuka must memorize all 20 of the cape penguins.

“There’s no ‘Gama Gama Faction!'”, the Gama Gama Faction protested as they all went out to eat together. Though replacing Kuuya is Eiji, who is tastefully intrigued by the former idol-turned-penguin attendant. Rumors of cliquery aside, I like how the Gama Gama exiles still hang together after work, lay down their troubles, and enjoy Udon-chan’s widening culinary repertoire.

Kukuru admits after dinner that a part of her felt jealous that Fuuka got the job she thought she’d get at Tingaara, but fully admits that kind of thinking is childishness she wants to grow past. With  Karin, Chiyu, and her fellow marketeer Akari (voiced by the Saekano heroine herself, Yasuno Kiyano!) an now Fuuka, she has plenty of girlsboss to emulate. She even discovers she does have a knack for making people care and fall in love with aquariums, as she takes the aquarium-indifferent Akari on a rehearsal tour and wins her over.

This week Kukuru does indeed work harder and smarter than her first bumbling/arrogant days, staying meek and formal on the outside, but keeping that burning fire in her belly stoked. She learns the value of forming little alliances with others to make things easier, and figuring out the precise way to deal with people. Take Chiyu’s second-in-command Marina (Touyama Nao—this cast is stacked): since Kukuru is Fuuka’s friend and Fuuka is cool, Marina will go to bat to change Chiyu’s mind about including the penguins on the tour.

Speaking of intricate social patterns, this week was a low-key cape penguin documentary, as we observe along with Fuuka how to tell the twenty penguins apart not just by their colored wing bands, but how they behave. And while Fuuka was only at Gama Gama for a month, that was enough to know when the birds are agitated due to their sudden new environment (mirroring Kukuru’s own difficulties).

Kukuru believes it was not only Fuuka acing the name-that-penguin test, but recognizing and acknowledging the emotional state of the birds that impressed Chiyu enough to give the go-ahead for their (limited) exposure to tour groups. Kukuru only manages to get a family of four in her first tour, but she ends up nailing the tour just as well as Fuuka nailed her test, showing that the director didn’t throw her into this new environment willy-nilly. He knew she’d eventually figure it out and thrive.

Is Kukuru’s anhedonic ass of a boss Suwa pissed she only snagged one group of four? Absolutely. Does Kukuru let him get her down for long? Nope! She walks out of that office ready to keep up the fight. The episode ends as it began, with Kukuru and Fuuka looking like a particularly happily married couple, this time cooking dinner side by side.

Kukuru gives Fuuka the credit for changing Chiyu’s mind by proving she not only knew about but cared about the penguins. But that’s not entirely fair to herself…who helped Fuuka study for that penguin test? More to the point, Fuuka makes it clear that while she feels she belongs in an aquarium now, the main reason Fuuka is back is to be with Kukuru. Kukuru just so happens to also belong in an aquarium, so it’s allll sea gravy!

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