The aquatope on white sand – 13 – #aquadulting

We return to Aquatope with Kukuru in a new apartment, in a smart pantsuit, saying her usual prayer (this time to her parents’ shrine), starting her very first day at the brand-spankin’-new Aquarium Tingaara. Umi-yan and Kuuya are already working there, while Kai is in the same group of new hires as she is. But while Kai is assigned to the fish team, Kukuru is assigned to…marketing.

The director has high hopes for her in PR, where Karin is already working. Have you ever, due to various circumstances, ended up in a job you had no idea you’d be doing? Well, that was me about five months ago, and it’s Kukuru here.

Working at an aquarium, but not tending to the marine life? It almost seems like a cruel joke, and Kukuru doesn’t get it. That said, when Karin frees her from the mountains of manuals her director Suwa gave her and takes her on a tour of the modern, impressive facilities, the little kid in Kukuru immediately resurfaces. (This still, by the way, is my new desktop wallpaper, the previous one being the sky after the typhoon).

But she gradually learns that kid has no place at Tingaara. Here, not even Umi-yan can keep ice pops in the feed freezer. Gama Gama was loosy-goosy, and a lot of outsiders like Suwa and Chiyu (who is magnificently smug throughout this episode) believe that had a lot to do with its failure. Tingaara is a strict, by-the-book, professional enterprise, perhaps wound a bit too tightly.

Even so, after dinner at the restaurant where Udon is now working and training, Kai reminds her that Fuuka dove into the world she knew nothing about when she started working at Gama Gama. He himself didn’t originally really want to work there, but did so because he wanted to help her, and eventually came to like it. He thinks if she tries something new and sticks with it, she might have a change of heart.

Reinvigorated by his words, Kukuru goes back to work with her head held high, doing the work that’s in front of her. It seems like preparations are ready for a behind-the-scenes tour Suwa assigned to her, but as he puts it in a very public dressing-down in the office, she really only did the work she knew how to do. He suggests she cease relying on experience working at a failed aquarium and nicknames her Plankton…smaller than small fry.

After getting chewed out and again having her commitment and seriousness questioned by Chiyu, Kukuru leaves the aquarium exhausted and discouraged, declining Karin’s dinner offer and instead sitting on the beach alone. She starts to cry, not knowing how much more of life at Tingaara she can take.

Then, out of nowhere, Fuuka arrives, precisely when Kukuru needed her the absolute most. While they were still together in last week’s episode, the way Aquatope totally turned Kukuru’s life on it’s head and everything she endured made it feel like months had passed…which indeed they did! All of that also makes their reunion that much more heartwarming.

Kukuru has had a rough couple of days, but there’s a reason Tingaara’s director assigned her the role he did. Hopefully seeing Fuuka will remind Kukuru of how rough she was on her in her first days at Gama Gama, and how Fuuka didn’t give up, and ended up thriving.

Tingaara may seem like a cold, cruel, nasty, grown-up place—or at least most of the humans who aren’t Kukuru’s circle make it feel that way—but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Kukuru may struggle and fail a lot more before she finds the right wavelength in which to thrive, but I’m excited to watch her find it!

The aquatope on white sand – 12 – Everything becomes the ocean

It’s the last day of Gama Gama, and admission is free. The place is packed with people, which has Kukuru asking why they didn’t come earlier. But even so, she understands that Gama Gama has gotten too old to properly care for its sea life. The logic doesn’t make the last day any less melancholy, but there’s a hint of hope, as Kukuru is offered a job at Tingaara when she’s done school.

Once the last visitors head home and the doors close for the last time, the staff plus Karin and Udon-chan have a little party celebrating 48 glorious years. When everyone learns Kukuru has a job at Tingaara if she wants it, and that Umi-yan and Kuuya are also taking jobs there, a tipsy Karin urges Kukuru to go for it. But Kukuru just isn’t sure, and that’s understandable: the offer came on the day she believes her dream to have ended.

Gramps makes a very awesome and tearjerking speech, and then Kukuru and Fuuka spend some time on the moonlit beach. After the emotional roller coaster of the typhoon, they’ve fully made up. In fact, Kukuru believes it’s now her turn to support Fuuka’s dream, by urging her to take the lead actress job in Tokyo. Fuuka books a flight there for tomorrow.

The next day, Gama Gama is “hollowed out”, as all of the sea creatures are placed in portable tanks bound for either Tingaara or other aquariums that requested them. Kukuru is shook by just how lonely it is with the lights on and the tanks empty…until she goes into the room where all the visitors left notes on the wall.

It’s a room full of warm gratitude, and Kukuru can’t help but smile and feel grateful for everyone who came to Gama Gama and were changed forever. Then, while walking past one of the empty tanks, Kukuru experiences another illusion, once again involving someone who looks like her sister, who gives her a loving pat on the head as if to say “you’ll be alright.”

Back home, during Kukuru and Fuuka’s last meal together for some time, Kukuru mentions the illusion she experienced, believing she’d met her “doppelganger”. This is when Gran finally decides to tell Kukuru something they were going to tell her when she grew up.

As she’s already been an aquarium director for a summer and then lost that aquarium, Gran decides she’s grown up enough. Kukuru had a twin sister…but only Kukuru was born.

I understand Gran not wanting to keep Kukuru in the dark any longer, but the timing couldn’t be worse when it comes to Kukuru and Fuuka having to say goodbye so soon. At the airport, Kukuru tries to put on a brave face, as she feels she owes it to Fuuka, who supported her dream for so long.

Airport goodbyes always get me, and Aquatope really nails it, from the awkwardly formal handshake to watching from Kukuru’s POV until Fuuka disappears into the terminal.

But that is not goodbye, because before she boards her plane, Fuuka thinks about how she only cried when she was alone after her dream ended. She thinks about how Kukuru must be crying alone right then, and decides she can’t board the plane; not now. She runs dramatically through the airport, calls Kukuru and asks where she is, and meets her out on a patio where she is, indeed crying alone.

The bottom line is, making sure Kukuru didn’t have to cry alone was far more important to Fuuka than a movie role in Tokyo. She had to be in the position where she had to choose to learn that the job wasn’t really a new dream. You could say she’s torpedoing her career simply because Kukuru’s gran got talkative about things past at the worst possible time.

Still, Fuuka simply couldn’t let the person who helped her find strength and happiness after losing everything cry by herself. After sharing some big ol’ sobby hugs like two close friends should (seriously, WTF was with that handshake earlier guys!) Kukuru decides she’ll work at Tingaara after all.

The aquarium and its fragile micro-ecosystems taught Kukuru over the years that life can be difficult, and being alive isn’t a given. It was basically a coin toss that Kukuru got to live and her sister didn’t, so she now feels doubly motivated to make those who love her proud; that includes Fuuka.

Fuuka ends up on a plane back home to Iwate as planned, but as she settles into the cozy night flight she reads the poem Gramps read during his farewell speech, about how everything eventually becomes the ocean, which is probably why whenever someone peers into “the ocean within”, they find peace. Kukuru joins in, and they finish the poem in one voice, telling each other see you tomorrow.

It’s a bold and gorgeous way to end the first half of Aquatope, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what new innovative ways the show will cause me to bawl my eyes out when the second half comes around.

Kakushigoto – 07 – What They Grow Beyond

Hime voices interest in a puppy, and researches a bunch to prepare, she comes across the “ten commandments of dog ownership”, one of which is to spend as much time as possible with your dog, as chances are they’ll only live ten years. Having any lifetime put in such stark terms is particularly upsetting to Kakushi, who later equates it to the life of a manga artist.

Kakushi comes around to having a dog when he learns through Ichiko how having one will help an only child feel less lonely (though Ichiko is not an only child), just as Hime learns from some mothers in an alley that they (i.e. what she and Kakushi don’t have) are necessary to properly care for a dog. If they knew Hime’s situation they probably wouldn’t have said that within earshot. Meanwhile, the original litter of puppies all found homes, but Kakushi’s father-in-law produces one for Kakushi to present to Hime.

It’s not just any dog, but the descendent of the dog Hime’s mother had (and the subject of her father’s painting, which one of Kakushi’s assistants find at the ocean house). While the moms discouraged Hime a bit, the sight of the new puppy erases those doubts, and she vows to sleep beside the puppy on its first night home (though later ends up kind of between her dad and the puppy).

Kakushi’s father isn’t done with anonymous gifts for Hime: Kakushi comes home to find a baby grand piano has been delivered. Like the dog with the long and distinguished lineage, the piano is a kind of inheritance. That gets Kakushi and the assistants thinking about how assistants inherit some of their masters’ style, but because they end up doing most of the physical work, it’s more of a new synthesis. Similarly, as master age their skills often wane while their apprentices rise.

In the midst of all this talk of lineage, and inheritance in the present, some new clues are presented in the obligatory flash forward. Hime’s classmates tailed her to the seaside house, continuing their detective club from school, but also because they’re worried about her. Then Ichiko appears, shockingly not in a tracksuit, bearing “good news and bad news.”

This got me thinking: perhaps Kakushi isn’t dead yet in this timeline? Maybe he’s just ill, bedridden, and possibly near the end. Maybe during this time he told Hime about the house, finally revealing the hidden thing he’d kept hidden so long even at 18 she had no idea what he did for a living. And maybe the good and bad news relate to his present condition. Or maybe not.

In any case, the consistent trickle of future information is starting to create a conflict: While I’ve enjoyed the present-day adventures of Kakushi, Hime & Co. (and the ensuing comedy), I’m beginning to care more about these more drama-oriented future events. There are essentially two shows here running in parallel, with the future one by far getting the short end of the stick runtime-wise. We’ll see whether and how the show manages to bridge these two times.

Kakushigoto – 06 – Pride and Privilege

Someone keeps giving Hime expensive backpacks every year, despite the fact her dad already bought her one. Because she’s a kind and gentle soul, Hime tries to wear both at once, inspiring Kakushi. But to him, giving a kid a backpack is a privilege that must be earned and appreciated, not an obligation to be fulfilled.

When this philosophy is applied to the manga industry, Kakushi imagines a kind new world where everything is a privilege to be grateful for, whether it’s the artists being grateful for the privilege of having their art published, or the readers being grateful for the privilege of that art. But when taken too far, Kakushi ends up overextending himself, having accepted the privilege of too much extra work. Rasuna thinks he sounds like a corporate slave, but as he’s self-employed he’s more of a “man-slave”. 

We eventually learn that the mysterious serial backpack provider is Kakushi’s father-in-law, who judging from the Toyota Century is some kind of big shot. Kakushi still seems to hold a grudge for the man’s reluctance to allow his daughter to marry a gag manga. But now that Kakushi has been a father for ten years, he would feel the same way if Hime brought someone like him home. As Kakushi says, he’s “a freakin’ paradox.”

One of the extra tasks Kakushi took on to realize his Kind World was an autograph session, which is booked the same time as his day-date with Hime at the very popular and sought-after Kidzanira, where kids get to try out a bunch of adult jobs in a controlled environment. Fortunately, the bookstore where he’ll be signing autographs and the Kidzanira are in the same mall. But that also means a risk of Hime finding out his job, so his assistants take turns keeping an eye on her.

During the morning session Kakushi is convinced everyone in line is either someone he knows (Ichiko), a friend of someone he knows, or people paid by his editor to stand in line. The way he phrases his questions to the latter group furthers his misinterpretation of events. It’s not until after spotting a poster for a famous painter that he realizes that those in the line are there because they are legitimate fans who love and respect his work. Even a father and young son are united in their love of Balls of Fury.

Just as his confidence returns and he yells “I’m a manga artist, damnit!”, his exuberance accidentally knocks down a partition, revealing Hime in a cloud of smoke. For a moment it looks like the gig’s up, but Ichiko swoops in with a tremendously creative save, telling Hime she and Kakushi are at the “Kidzanira for adults” trying out different jobs. Even so, Hime doesn’t even recognize her dad in his manga uniform, so he didn’t have to worry. What he may have to worry about? Hime wanting to work in a bookstore!

Fast forward to the future, where the older Hime opens the “17” box to reveal envelopes full of manuscripts. At first she seems unmoved by the manga, which is about a father, mother, and daughter. It’s all so boring and ordinary…which is why as she continues to read the tears start welling up. There may not be swords or magic on those pages, but there is a bunch of real life; a life very familiar to Hime.

This closing scene is one more emotional “bomb” that had been intricately constructed in the “past” sequences that preceded it. All those mundane moments of her and Kakushi just living life together given gain deeper resonance in the future where he’s suddenly absent.

Despite Kakushi’s reservations—not to mention his father-in-laws about him—Hime may well fall for someone like him. Not because that person will be a gag mangaka, but because they’ll be kind and loving, and consider loving and caring for her to be an honor and a privilege…because that’s exactly what it is.

Kakushigoto – 05 – Bathrobe Party!

Tomaruin has signed Kakushi up as a judge for a manga competition. Despite his gag manga specialty, he actually proves quite astute at judging his assistant Keshi’s manga (which is far too verbose), impressing the other assistants. He’s initially against being a judge, but convinced by Hime that he should do his duty, or “society will crumble.”

Tomaruin makes a big mess of things, first by almost burying Hime in boxes of submissions (though only one submission per box, Amazon package-style), then adding “(LOL)” to the end of every one of Kakushi’s published assessments, leading to internet ire about him not taking the duty seriously.

Speaking of duty, we see Kakei delivering manuscripts to the hilltop house Hime visits in the future, since it’s Kakei’s turn for that particular duty. The sight of a chore wheel confirms that Kakushi, his wife, and Hime lived together there once.

When the editorial board demands the last eight pages of a manuscript be redrawn, Tomaruin seals Kakushi up in a fancy hotel room, where he’s to stay until the work’s done. He’s worried about Hime being lonely (and unattended), so asks Nadila to stay past her usual time. When she can’t, Tomaruin volunteers to watch her. But for him, “her” is Nadila, on whom he has a crush, not Hime.

Kakushi is surprised when Sumita exits the shower of his hotel room, but she came to help him with his work. Because he can’t work in a suit, he changes into a bathrobe, and Sumita follows suit. As other assistants arrive to help throughout the night it gradually becomes a bathrobe party.

Meanwhile, Nadila arrives to watch Hime (her other client canceled) but Naru is already there, having run away from a fight with her parents. She and Nadila have a fun sleepover with Hime.

Tomaruin continues stalking Nadila until he’s caught by Ichiko (seemingly always on predator patrol), and Nadila, Hime, and Naru all identify him as someone different based on their past dealings with him.

While this sequence is fun, and it’s good Hime wasn’t lonely, Kakushi should probably be a bit more on top of, ya know, who comes and goes in his house, and who watches his daughter!

Another night while watching an athletic medal ceremony, Hime presents her dad with a gold medal she made. Kakushi knows that it’s likely that one day Hime will fall in love with someone and Kakushi will be relegated to “silver medal” status, but he writes the date on the medal so that when that time comes—hopefully years from then—he’ll be able to bear it.

Fast-forward to the future, when older Hime recalls when her dad wrote on the back of the medal she gave him. She realizes these newer boxes weren’t prepared by her mom, but by her dad. Tearing up, she pulls out the “17” box and hugs it, as if she were hugging a part of her dad…who it seems stills holds the “gold” for now.

Because really, she is. That eliminates any lingering doubt that she’s now an orphan. I wonder if we’ll ever learn what happened to Kakushi and more about what future Hime will do. Perhaps in the future timeline some combination of Ichiko, Naru, Nadila, and the assistants continue to figure into her equation.

Kakushigoto – 04 – Somewhere Far Away

This week’s time leap occurs at the beginning, with 18-year-old Hime explaining that the boxes her mother left her were full of things she’d need for the age labeled. Because everything was pre-stored, some if not most of those items were out of date by the time Hime attained those ages.

But she doesn’t mind. Thanks to the boxes, she’s able to experience a unique closeness to her mother she couldn’t have experienced. They serve as both time capsules and something like prophesies about a future Hime’s mother couldn’t possibly see…and yet at the same time, could.

But it’s back to the more lighthearted present-day of the show, when an assistant notes Kakushi is signing unimportant documents with “Kazushi”, assuming it’s his real name. However, Kakushi is his real name, and used it when he got published, so it’s his pen name as well.

When Kakushi’s editor Tomaruin goes to the EiC to declare his artists’ wish to change his pen name, the higher-ups are worried Kakushi has fallen in with fortune-tellers who may brainwash him not just to change his name, but start a cult! While having lunch with Ichiko, considers what it would be like for people to name their children after characters he created…only to find a woman named a dog after one of them…purely coincidentally.

Also coincidentally, Hime gets into onomancy (divination through names) and determines that while her pop has 5-star luck in just about everything, he should avoid the artistic fields at all costs. Later, Tomaruin stops by Kakushi’s house to find Hime engaging in Nadila’s native version of fortune-telling.

The editor is immediately smitten with Nadila, and returns to the bosses with the glazed cult member look, declaring his new name is “CEO”. But at the end of the day, Hime tells her dad they can rest assured, because there’s a guardian spirit watching over them both. That spirit is, of course, her mom.

When Hime comes to her father with an art assignment and asks for help with the background, the subject of “can dad draw?” comes up, something Kakushi would really rather avoid. That said, his assistant worry about his background skills as he hasn’t had to draw them in years (to say nothing of coloring).

While at first Kakushi wanted to balance helping Hime create an impressive work of art and exposing the fact he’s a professional artist, the assistants bring him back down to earth, making him raise the question of whether he can cut it with non-manga art after doing nothing but manga for so long!

The answer is, well…not really! Not because he’s particularly bad at backgrounds or coloring, but because his manga background unconsciously influences his style. He discovers this when on a lark he attends an art class run by none other than…Future Idol Senda Naru, who assumes he’s there to see her!

Naru is pretty good herself, and it’s she who gets Kakushi to realize manga has been so absorbed throughout his artistic language, he’ll sketch a stone bust like a shounen hero without even trying. But this is all moot, as Ichiko informs him when he leaves the class: he’s not allowed to help Hime with her drawing at all!

Now Kakushi isn’t worried about embarrassing Hime with manga-style backgrounds, but of Ichiko and Hime’s peers questioning her integrity. To avoid any question of him directly aiding Hime with her drawing, he arranges to have Ichiko accompany them to the zoo.

Ichiko rightly sees this as a date, belieiving Kakushi wants to keep them at a distance in case people see a teacher on a date with a student’s parent and get the wrong idea. Of course, this is the wrong idea, and Kakushi is just trying to protect Hime’s honor, but by the end of the date Ichiko thought the date was wonderful!

Kakushi’s odd date parameters also cause Ichiko to pay a different price with her other students: when she tells them her date is “far away” while looking wistfully up in the sky, they assume she’s gone crazy from the grief of a dead lover, and promise to behave in class from now on!

The myriad misunderstandings—some positive, some negative—are all a matter of the perspective of the observers. And so it is with Hime’s drawing: when the tigers don’t come out of their cave, she decides to draw herself and her dad from the tigers’ perspective—an idea both beyond her years and just the kind of creative thinking a kid would come up with organically.

Kakushi proceeds to buy the most gaudy, expensive frame for the drawing and hangs it prominently on the wall, despite Hime’s believe it disrupts the feng shui. Kakushi finds something very familiar about the drawing. Sure (and eerily) enough, the composition is identical to a photo he and his wife had taken with baby Hime at the same tiger enclosure, on the same bench.

In that regard Hime wasn’t just drawing what the tigers in the cave saw, but what her mother saw from her perspective “far away”, up in the sky: her daughter and father safe and happy, returning to a spot they once all shared. And so even without a time leap, the ending made me tear up all the same!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 01 – The Price

When we last saw Kirito and Alice, Eugeo had just died, Administrator was defeated but not killed, and Kirito had lost his right arm and his fluctlight fried by some kind of power surge. This exemplary episode is all about the aftermath of those events, both immediately following them and some months later.

Aside from Rintarou Okabe or Natsuki Subaru, I can’t think of a protagonist in recent anime memory who has suffered as much or fallen quite as low as Kirigaya Kazuto. He was being kept alive in Underworld, devoid of memories, but after saving that world from a tyrant, he lost even more. In the present, autumn is falling on Underworld, and Kirito is a mute, emotionless husk under Alice’s care—with frequent visits from her sister Selka.

Alice is no slouch in the loss department either. She may have regained a sister and, incidentally, her freedom from the Axiom Church and Order of Integrity Knights, but she lost Eugeo, one of the best friends whom she’d forgotten, while the other of those friends in Kirito is the aforementioned husk. It’s ultimately Alice’s episode, and it’s an unyielding portrait of anguish.

Alice scratches out a meager wage felling trees with her sword skills, incomparable to anyone else in the village. The villagers need her help to make progress, but suck their teeth behind her back and even mess with the minimally-responsive Kirito and the Blue Rose Sword he inherited from Eugeo. It doesn’t matter that Alice, Kirito, and Eugeo saved them from Administrator’s evil plans; they just don’t like them.

Knowing Kirito wouldn’t be safe anywhere near the Cathedral, she tried to return to Rulid Village, but her own father shunned her, so she settled in a cabin on the town’s outskirts with Kirito and her loyal (and adorable) dragon Amayori. It would be a happy life—were it not for Kirito’s condition and the still-looming Dark Territory situation.

The tranquil, picturesque surroundings call to mind Kirito and Asuna’s cabin, once the site of so much joy. But while Alice and Selka try to make the best of things, there’s no escaping the fact this is an extremely dismal situation, with no immediate sign that things will get any better.

Quite the contrary: with Administrator off in some other dimension, the world of men has never been more vulnerable to incursions of orcs and goblins from the Dark Territory. Bercouli musters his fellow Integrity Knights and starts re-training lower-ranked forces Admin had banished, but the time of the titular War of Underworld is just over the silver mountain horizons in the background of those gorgeous vistas.

Eldrie is on a mission to confirm the various tunnels into their lands have been blasted to slow the enemy’s advance, but his dragon senses his younger sibling Amayori and thus Alice. Eldrie begs her to rejoin the knights and join the fight. Alice doesn’t tell him she won’t, but that she can’t. Even if she didn’t have to care for Kirito, she can no longer wield her sword. Eldrie reluctantly accepts this and the two part ways cordially.

As Alice turns in with Kirito, sharing his bed to keep him warm or just so she can have human contact, her remaining eye fills with tears as she asks Kirito just what the hell she should do. After all these months with no progress, I imagine she’s starting to lose hope he’ll ever recover, and in the meantime has been coping, enduring, and operating on inertia.

When Kirito suddenly moves as if reacting to something, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope that’s just as quickly snatched away—he’s only reacting reflexively, as Amayori does. You see, fires are blazing in the direction of the town and there are sounds of fighting—no doubt a Dark Territory raid. So yeah, no hope, just more awful shit to deal with.

As all this is happening in Underworld, we have no idea what is transpiring in the real world with Asuna on the Ocean Turtle. While I’m no sucker for punishment, I do appreciate the bleak depths to which our heroes have fallen, because it will make it that much more compelling if and when they manage to claw themselves out. That’s why we must watch.

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