The aquatope on white sand – 08 – Attack of the xanthid crab

Thanks to tireless work on the phones from Karin, Gama Gama finally gets to go on the road. Specifically, they’re bringing a little bit of the aquarium to Nanjo General Clinic’s pediatric ward. The ward’s kabourophobic director, Dr. Kinjou, has only one non-negotiable condition: no crabs.

So as chance should have it, one of the Gama Gama’s Xanthid crabs stows away in one of the traveling aquarium’s tank, and is discovered by Fuuka, who is left alone to set things up the common room when Kukuru, Karin, and Umi-yam are busy with other matters. Predictably, one of Fuuka’s fingers gets snapped and the crab is free to roam the hospital.

Meanwhile, Kukuru presents Dr. Kinjou with some stuffed sea life for the kids and goes off on a tangent about eels, and the doctor ends up making a comment about how nice it is they’re keeping busy before Gama Gama closes.

Karin later tells Kukuru that due to her job with the Tourism Association, she hears things, like that the new aquarium being built at the civic center will sap Gama Gama of what little tourist traffic it enjoys, spelling its doom. Kukuru doesn’t want to hear it, a skulks away to the roof.

She’s eventually joined by Umi-yan, who primarily came to the clinic to visit his young friend Airi, who was a regular visitor to Gama Gama before her hospitalization. Airi gives Umi-yan and sea life the cold shoulder.

She’s drawn back into the world beneath the waves when the xanthid crab climbs Dr. Kinjou and threatens to snap at her neck! Airi, the only one close enough to help the paralyzed-with-fear Kinjou, reaches out and carefully grabs the crab, marveling at how it’s alive.

Newly charmed by the sea, Airi joins the other kids in the common room, and the crab is safely stowed in a bucket for the return trip. Airi finally gets to interact with the theraputic doctorfish Umi-yan promised, and a huge smile returns to her face. Like the other kids, the aquarium is a welcome distraction from their health issues.

Dr. Kinjou initially seems ready to lodge formal complaints left and right, but lets the crab incident slide out of appreciation for the sparkly eyes and smiles the traveling aquarium gave the kids.

On the elevator ride down to the exit, Karin confesses that it was once her dream to be an aquarium attendant like Kukuru, but had to choose more stable employment due to her family situation.

When she watches Kukuru rush headlong towards her dream, Karin can’t help but feel a little envious. This makes me wonder if there’s a potential future where Karin makes her dream come true at a revitalized Gama Gama. But with news of a shiny new rival aquarium and a new face who has come to train at Gama Gama for that aquarium, Kukuru faces a very uphill climb.

It’s here where I must admit I found this to be the weakest episode of Aquatope yet, even though I still enjoyed it. Some of its strongest moments felt like variations on very similar, stronger moments from past episodes. It wavered between a Karin-centric episode, keeping the pressure on Kukuru, and Umi-yan being the nicest big guy in the world.

Most importantly, it had precious little Kukuru-Fuuka interaction. Whether you see their relationship as sisterly or romantic, it’s the beating heart of this show, and without it the episode felt underweight and hollow—like a crab you caught that’s too small to eat.

The aquatope on white sand – 07 – Going halfsies

In the first week of August Gama Gama Aquarium is on pace for a goal of 2,000 visitors thanks to the touch pools and shaved ice. But that first week took everything the staff had, plus Udon-chan working for free (and the shaved ice stall still lost money). Kukuru’s gramps orders the youngins to take a day off and spend some time neither working nor thinking about work.

This would, at first glance, seem like the perfect time to show everyone off in their swimsuits, but Aquatope is regionally accurate in the locals of Okinawa not being all that big on swimsuits. Indeed, only Fuuka wears one —the same one in which she had a photo shoot in Tokyo. This makes her very self-conscious, but Kukuru tells her not to worry about it. After all, she does look ridiculously cute.

The ladies meet up with Kai and Kuuya, who have set up a barbecue by the beach, though a little too close to the aquarium than they’d like, considering the goal is to forget about work. We meet Kai’s little sister Maho, who is super polite and formal and takes an instant liking to Fuuka, while hating Kukuru’s (fish) guts.

While I enjoyed Maho’s precocious rivalry with Kukuru, her voice sounded a little bit too much like the other, older women. This was definitely a case where an Ogura Yui or Kuno Misaki would have been a better choice. In any case, only children Kukuru and Udon-chan lament having not had siblings to liven things up.

Ultimately, the pull of Gama Gama proves too strong for Kukuru, who decides to peek in and see how things are going in her absence. She finds Yuuya had the same idea, and overhears him talking with her Gramps about what happens after Gama; namely the very capable and knowledgeable Yuuya taking a job at another aquarium.

The article in the paper is one thing, but hearing her own grandfather talk about the end of Gama Gama like it’s a foregone conclusion when she’s doing everything she possibly can to stave off closure, is understandably (fish) gutting.

In the episode’s finest scene, Kukuru is off on her own on the breakwater when Fuuka finds her. Kukuru breaks down in Fuuka’s lap, saying she’s not sure if she’s “going to be okay.” But without a moment’s hesitation, Fuuka embraces Kukuru and assures her that no matter what happens, she’ll be there with her.

Just when Kukuru was lamenting not having a sibling (and it being heavily implied in flashbacks that she could have had one), Fuuka plays the role of reliable big sister to a T. It’s really great to see how Fuuka has grown since moving to Okinawa, to the point she can be an emotional rock to Kukuru in her more vulnerable moments.

After some nonsense involving Maho’s would-be grade-school boyfriend Rui and Kuuya having a race on the beach, the little kids go home, the older kids break out the booze, and the kids in between wish they could have a beer or lemon highball or three to close out a day of leisure.

We also learn a lot more about Kuuya’s past as a popular and athletic high schooler (and Karin’s classmate) who was sabotaged by the queen bee after he rejected her and was taken in by Kukuru’s gramps. His story is somewhat inelegantly exposited in one go, but it’s still good to learn more about him, why he distrusts women, and how he’s a much looser, more laid back guy when he’s drunk…which tends to be the case with most people.

Speaking of loose and laid back, this is definitely the kind of episode a show can indulge in when it has two cours to work with instead of just one. Even so, this episode wasn’t completely devoid of the burdens Kukuru bears as she must go against virtually everyone’s expectations that Gama Gama is doomed. In fact, this episode hinted that it may just be doomed, and Kukuru is tilting at underwater windmills. But even if that’s so, it’ll be okay…because she’s not alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 06 – Sweet memories

When Kukuru finds an article in the morning paper about Gama Gama closing after 48 years of operation, it’s got to be disheartening. It’s one thing to manage the day-to-day operations of an aquarium, but to also be responsible for bringing it back from the brink? There are times it feels like Kukuru is putting way too much on her slim shoulders.

Still, one thing she doesn’t have to worry about is losing her new sister-from-another-mother Fuuka thanks to her resolving things with her mom last week, so we can move on to what I imagine will be the main thrust of the remaining half of the first cour: Saving Gama Gama.

When contemplating promotions that will increase traffic and buzz, Kukuru and Fuuka settle on cool sweets to fight the heat. They enlist Teruya Tsukimi AKA Udon-chan, who admits that her culinary upbringing by her mom Meisa (who hates sweet stuff despite being so sweet herself) is lacking in the sweets department…but Tsukimi also likes a challenge!

It’s also clear that Tsukimi feels a little stifled in a family diner that she doesn’t run, so while Kukuru and Fuuka feel like they’re asking to much with little in return, Tsukimi is eager for an outlet for her culinary creativity. She starts research immediately by taking Kukuru and Fuuka out to one of the best local ice cream spots.

It’s here where, when Kukuru picks plain but reliable vanilla and Fuuka is a little more adventurous with chocolate pineapple, Tsukimi has a triple-scoop cone piled high with all kinds of strange flavors that somehow mesh well. It’s those “infinite possibilities” with cooking that really get her juices flowing. The ice cream stop is also an opportunity for the three girls to just be three high school girls, joking around, laughing, and enjoying the beautiful summer day.

When Fuuka spots a sign pointing people to the ice cream joint’s insta page, she suggests Kukuru take a look at heightening Gama Gama’s social media presence. It’s at this point we see how old-fashioned Kukuru is when it comes to this kind of stuff; the aquarium might well have been saved years ago had it jumped on the SM bandwagon earlier.

Gama Gama is a treasure trove of content that millions of users are eager to consume and share. And not just the sea creatures, but the human creatures who keep the place running. While the episode interestingly avoids the possible side effects of Fuuka ending up on the aquarium’s Instagram, the fact is Kai and Kuuya aren’t unattractive, and when you’re in as deep trouble as Gama Gama, you use what you’ve got!

When Tsukimi, Kukuru and Fuuka reach out to Karin for an ice cream stall to borrow, she bursts their bubble by stating the difficulty and cost of obtaining the permits to serve food outside, particularly dairy. In an anime continuum full of school festival food stalls, I loved the realism Aquatope infuses into this situation.

Even without dairy, Tsukimi is determined to figure something out. She proposes shaved ice instead of ice cream, the permits for which are much easier to score. As she sits in the corner table of the diner doing research and figuring out flavors, her mom tells her she’s looking a little too serious, and her output as a result is not up to Tsukimi’s usually high standard.

That’s when Tsukimi decides to close the shop for the night, break out the colored pencils and markers, and start having fun. Only through fun can creativity happen, after all. When Kukuru and Fuuka arrive wondering why the diner isn’t open, she sits them down and enlists their help: they’ve got cups to draw on!

The next day, while Tsukimi is setting up out front with help from Kai and Kuuya and Fuuka is once again attending the touch pools, Kukuru is doing her rounds and encounters an old man with whom she’s very familiar. He visits Gama Gama once a year, every year without fail. She approaches him and thanks him for his patronage, and he brings up the newspaper article about the aquarium closing.

This man’s is a sad story about how he lost his older brother (in the war). He vowed to honor that brother by starting a business and becoming successful, but he failed. That’s when he came to the aquarium when it was new, where—and he has trouble explaining it, because it’s so hard to explain—he met his brother again. However it happened, it got him back on his feet, and he succeeded in building a new business.

It’s at that point I expected the old man to whip out his checkbook and ask Kukuru “So how much do you need to keep Gama Gama afloat?”…but of course this isn’t a show about easy or painless answers. Indeed, I was already on the verge of tears when I heard the man’s tale. What a fool I was to think that would be the most goddamn tearjerking moment of the episode.

Kukuru gazes into the tanks, and suddenly the schools of fish part to reveal her departed mother and father. At the same time, the old man sees his older brother, who used to carry him on his back, turning back and smiling before heading to the sea that would likely claim his life. Kukuru tearfully embraces her parents, and then spots a third person, who I’m guessing is her departed sister.

After Kukuru steadfastly invites the old man to “come back next year”, as there’s no way she’ll let Gama Gama close, I paused the episode briefly to blow my nose and dry my eyes enough to continue watching. Seeing that old man see his brother as she saw her lost family, reminded her that she’s not the only one for whom this place is precious, special, and irreplaceable.

From there, things get more lighthearted and fun, as Tsukimi’s shaved ice stand is up and running, and it’s revealed what she and the others were up to last night. Rather than just sell the same old familiar flavors, Tsukimi makes use of her own creativity and the unique aquarium setting to create little shaved ice masterpieces that resemble creatures at Gama Gama.

The little kids are wowed. Their parents are wowed. Older kids request a frogfish flavor and Tsukimi happily obliges. The entire enterprise catches momentum on Instagram. Tsukimi’s diligence, preparation, and artistry not only provided a much needed promotional shot in the arm for Gama Gama, but reminded her that she wants to fulfill her own dream to open her own eatery where she can do crazy fun stuff like this all she likes.

When she and the others celebrate at the diner, her mom surprises her by ordering the mango pork belly her daughter invented. And even if it’s still far too sweet for her taste, and she’s convinced Tsukimi won’t be able to run her own place, she still eats it. I’ve no doubt that beneath the criticism she’s truly proud of her daughter, and looking forward to watching her achieve her own precious dream. What a beautiful, fun, tearjerking, colorful, sweet episode. This show is too damn good.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

The aquatope on white sand – 05 – We only have august

Fuuka’s mom arrives, but she’s not a bitch, nor a force of nature. If anything, she’s apologetic towards Kukuru’s gramps for making him board a stranger for so long, and ashamed by how long she didn’t know where her child was. Despite her stern look that served as last week’s cliffhanger, she is someone whose position you can totally understand and respect. there’s no “bad guy” here.

That being said, Fuuka’s mom’s initial position is quite clear-cut: Fuuka is to come home to Iwate with her at once. Fuuka isn’t ready, so Kukuru and Kai aid her escape. Her mom could turn the corner at any moment, so they have to act fast—so fast, there’s no time for a proper goodbye between two friends who have only just begun to know each other.

Fuuka replicates the long, hot, sweaty walk she made upon first arriving there, making her wonder if she’s ended up right where she started. The major difference is, a friendly stranger in Karin saved her the first time; this time, she seeks refuge at Udon-chan’s family diner. Udon serves her up a quick and tasty lunch, along with this excellent nugget. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to think about things that don’t matter

Also, Udon’s mom is the fortune teller who told Fuuka she’d make a fated encounter. But that can be said not just of Kukuru, but the Gama Gama Aquarium, as well as the first creature she connected with: the shy little coral blinny. Udon’s mom offers to drive Fuuka to a free room in Haha, but when she remembers the blinny wasn’t looking so swell last time she saw it, she suddenly asks Udon’s mom to turn around and head back.

Unfortunately, Fuuka is too late, and Kukuru admits that when you’re dealing with living things every day, eventually you’re going to have to deal with death. As soon as she first remembered the little guy while in the car, I was just as emotionally invested in the poor doomed blinny as Fuuka was, resulting in this episode’s Goddamn Tearjerker status.

Fuuka’s mom happens to come into the back room just as her daughter is cleaning out the blinny’s tank, looking both pained and diligent. Kukuru steps up to the plate to tell Fuuka’s mom how much Fuuka means to her and the aquarium, but Fuuka stops her, and tells her mother directly that she wants to stay. Having been charmed by this place and its warm and generous people and seeing that Fuuka is serious, her mom agrees…but only until the school year starts in September.

Fuuka’s mom spends the night, lamenting at dinner to Kukuru’s grandparents how between Fuuka going off to be an idol and now, she’s barely been able to be a mother. Udon’s mom says letting a child go when they’re old enough is part of a parent’s job, while Kukuru’s grandparents assure her that everything will work out…even as the shrine of their daughter, Kukuru’s mother, sits in the corner.

Fuuka and her mom end up having a nice mother-daughter moment later that night as they sleep in adjacent futons, with her mom admitting she looked pretty good in those red boots. So the immediate threat of Fuuka and Kukuru being separated has passed, but they only have one month to achieve Kukuru’s dream (not to mention be together). I wonder if the remaining nineteen episodes will cover only that August, or the months of separation that follow.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

The aquatope on white sand – 04 – The girl with the red boots

Aquatope continues to meld stories of personal pain and growth, hints of romance, and slice of life in a unique setting with aplomb. This week we meet another employee of the aquarium, the gentle giant Umi-yan. He’s the first to realize that Fuuka is the Fuuka formerly of Yona Pro, and soon spreads the word to Udon-chan and Karin.

After work when Kukuru stops by Udon’s, she and Karin tell Kukuru while Fuuka sits in awkward silence with Kai, who just happens to flip to a channel on TV showing Yona Pro at an event. Just seeing the girl she let usurp her causes a visceral reaction in Fuuka, and Kai, also in on the big secret, quickly changes the channel.

The next morning, three old ladies are drawn into the aquarium before opening time to bask in Fuuka’s youthful beauty. The next day is a big one; the “Touch Pool” where kids get to touch sea creatures rather than just look at them.

Kukuru decides to give Fuuka more responsibility by being an attendant to the pools. While gathering creatures for the pool, Kai asks Kukuru whether Fuuka, who entered their lives so suddenly, will leave it just as suddenly some day.

Fuuka takes to her new job like a fish to water, taking voracious notes and adding her own cute little touches to make it a more colorful and fun experience. She even upgrades to bright red boots, surprising the rest of the staff. But considering they all knew she was an idol, should they be surprised?

When the day comes, things go swimmingly…at first. The kids love Fuuka and she crammed enough knowledge of the creatures to back her charm up with helpful knowledge. But then some older kids spot her, recognize her as the fallen idol, and prepare to snap pictures. Karin steps into their shot just in time, asking that they please not take non-consensual photos of the staff.

Umi-yan takes over the pool while a visibly shaken Fuuka, who tried so hard to buck up, is taken to the back by Kukuru to calm down. Kukuru apologizes profusely for getting so caught up in making the touch pool a success that she didn’t consider how Fuuka would feel.

But Fuuka doesn’t want her to apologize. She chose to be an attendant, and was happy when Kukuru put her to work and praised her. It’s here when Fuuka realizes that she wants to do a good job because she wanted to get to know Kukuru better and get closer to her.

Kukuru, in turn, realizes she wanted to give Fuuka more work so she’d fall in love with Gama Gama even more, so she could become closer to her. Pracicing what they preach to the kids about how touching a sea creature is worth a hundred words about it, Fuuka takes Kukuru’s hand and places it on her face, and Kukuru does the same with Fuuka’s hand.

Like Karin and Udon, I was absolutely slain by this scene, as it was surpassingly adorable and heartwarming in equal measure. It’s also to date the most overt expression of the show’s shoujo-ai overtones. Kai seems to have a thing for Kukuru but they’re old old friends; it’s different. Fuuka, on the other hand, inspires passion in Kukuru, and the feeling is mutual. They make each other better while helping each other heal from their wounds.

Fuuka returns to the touch pools with heightened confidence and poise, looking the older kids head-on and welcoming them to ask her anything…provided it’s about sea creatures. They look suitably chastened…how would they like it if someone took pictures of them when they were working?

After a long, exhausting, but ultimately successful and immensely fun day, Kukuru and Fuuka ride home, and before hitting the hay exhibit a far closer and more comfortable rapport, with lots of smiles and laughs. No doubt due to the exertions of the day, they end up oversleeping, but don’t sweat it. In fact, Kukuru decides to start the day by pouncing on Fuuka.

Naturally, someone had to piss in this blissful bowl of Cheerios, but thankfully the dread I felt as they approached the aquarium that those loan sharks had committed some kind of vandalism was mistaken. Instead, Fuuka’s stern-looking mom has arrived in Okinawa…and she doesn’t look happy.

Considering we’ve got twenty more episodes to work with, would the series dare separate Fuuka and Kukuru just when they’ve gotten so close? I dearly hope not! Instead it’s my wish that, as they pray to Kijimunaa each morning, as long as they keep doing what’s right, everything will work out.


Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 04 – Hey Little Sister, Shotgun

Sorao’s waffling over helping Toriko find Satsuki comes to a head when Toriko leaves in the middle of a very weird lunch to search on her own, thanking Sorao for her help thus far, but implying she can’t count on it anymore and that’s fine. To be fair, Sorao has every reason to fear the Otherside: one of its inhabitants, “Space-Time Man”, warns her she’ll be stuck there if she returns.

Unable to find Toriko to apologize, Sorao visits Kozakura, who inexplicably finds a photo of Satsuki on Sorao’s phone. When three strange people knock aggressively at her door, she whips out an enormous shotgun. Turns out it’s not overkill: the lead woman’s head swells to enormous size, threatening to swallow the two up.

In fact, maybe they do, because one moment the head is there, the next moment they’re in the Otherside. This is particularly distressing to Kozakura, a hermit who doesn’t do field work and is far from dressed properly for an Otherside excursion.

While searching for Toriko, Sorao tells Kozakura about her rather checkered past, involving a parent who was swallowed up into a cult (were those the folks at the door?), then tried to abduct her, only to end up being killed before Sorao could torch them with kerosene. She talks as if this is all the most normal backstory in the world…which it isn’t.

That said, it seems Kozakura was only included so Sorao had someone with whom to talke about her past, because Sorao soon ditches her when she starts using her special eye to discern what’s real and what’s fake. She ends up chasing another version of herself to a strange modern cell where Toriko, dressed in some kind of weird cult garment, is being held.

Toriko is entranced by a figure outside she sees as her “special someone” Satsuki, but in reality is some kind of Art Nouveau monster trying to lure her to God-knows-where. Luckily, Toriko shoots the shit out of the monster with the shotgun, causing it to collapse into itself. Toriko comes out of her trance, and the two make up.

The pace remains leisurely and the runtime is peppered with “wait, what?” moments, but the atmosphere of Otherside and the haunting music accompanying it remain a strong draw. Sorao’s still threatened by Satsuki and pretty generally scared besides, but at least now seems to realize that she and Toriko need to keep sticking together in this bizarre realm.

Otherside Picnic – 03 – It Takes a Village

It’s just Sorao and Toriko this week, as Otherside Picnic sticks to a simple formula: the two meet up, go to the Otherside, encounter something dangerous, then make it back safe and sound. Rinse, repeat. Throughout each of the three visits we’ve watched, Sorao wonders if she really should keep hanging out with Toriko, but hasn’t been able to keep herself from doing so—in large part because Toriko is fun and pretty.

This week while searching for the supply point where Toriko first found her gun, the two go into the nitty-gritty of how to search for glitches along their path. Wide shots of the two give a sense of scale of their surroundings, but because they’re rendered in clunky CG it pulls me out of those scenes every time.

The “Big-Heads” who inhabit the village are initially creepy, but as soon as there are dozens of them rendered in CGI, they look more goofy than anything else. And while they end up chasing the girls, one could argue they had a right to be mad about their friends getting shot by intruders.

During the ensuing chase, the girls stop numerous times while Big-Heads don’t, yet they’re never caught.  Also, both Sorao and Toriko stumble, but neither of them help the other up. They end up escaping back to their world through a miniature shrine, showing that there are many different ways in and out of the Otherside.

It’s somewhat deflating that even after Toriko expresses genuine affection for her, Sorao ends up in the precise same headspace as the beginning of the episode: wondering whether she should rethink continuing these excursions with Toriko. The kids chasing each other in masks that were the same colors as the Big-Heads was a neat little detail. Otherwise, three episodes in I must admit I’m getting a little bored with this.

Otherside Picnic – 02 – Beware the Slenderwoman

This week’s Picnic starts with a wall slam, but that’s misleading: Toriko isn’t seeking to ask Sorao out, but to suggest they visit a researcher acquaintance. Toriko seeks answers about her newly-transparent hand and Sorao’s newly-deep blue eye, both marks of the Otherside that remain with them even in the normal world.

The researcher, the somewhat unkempt Kozakura, pays Toriko for another mirror cube, and Toriko splits the cash with Sorao 50/50, is astonished the two women survived “close contact of the fourth kind” with beings from the Otherside, but when asked about their marks she simply tells them she’s no medical doctor.

However, Sorao learns more about what seems to be self-evident about the Otherside: people who enter there (a group that doesn’t include Kozakura) can potentially become irrevicably addicted to it and the strange entities therein, and never return. Such was the fate of Toriko’s friend and mentor Satsuki.

Toriko asks Sorao to accompany her back to the Otherside, and while Sorao initially balks at the idea of further visits, she still meets up with Toriko the next day. Sorao seems both pushed towards Toriko’s companionship and the wonders of the Otherside, but when Toriko remarks that Satsuki is “more important than anyone else” to her, Sorao sulks.

There’s a sense of jealousy, yes, but also annoyance that Sorao even came upon Toriko, as she tells herself things were just fine when she had the Otherside “all to herself”. Toriko picks up on the sulking and confronts Sorao about it, but before they can get into it a man pulls a machine gun on them.

Turns out he doesn’t wish to harm them, but warn them not to move so freely and recklessly. Turns out there are invisible “glitches” all over the landscape of the Otherside (which he calls the “Zone”) that serve as dimensional traps, scorching whatever touches them into ash. Like Toriko, he’s looking for someone seemingly spirited away into the Otherside: his wife.

Toriko agrees to accompany this Mr. Abarato to search for their missing people, while Sorao hangs back, even more annoyed that now a third person has invaded her once solitary space. Of course, it should be clear to her by now that the Otherside never was “all to herself”, she just hadn’t yet come across other visitors.

The three follow very inhuman footsteps into a large, creepy building surrounded by thick, eerie fog. Inside, Sorao sees an abnormally tall, skinny woman dressed in white—the urban legend Lady Hasshaku, but Toriko and Abarato see their missing persons. When Abarato approaches the lady, she shows her face, lashes out, and he suddenly blinks out of existence.

When Sorao chases after Toriko to keep her from vanishing too, suddenly Toriko is grabbing her hand from behind; Lady Hasshaku used Sorao’s feelings against her to lure her in. Sorao figures out that while she can see the lady’s true form with her blue eye, their bullets won’t defeat her until Toriko’s translucent hand is in physical contact with that form.

It works, Hasshaku dissipates, and the pair are transported back to the real world through the same torii in the Chichibu mountains through which Abarato had first entered. The episode ends on a comic note, with the pair having insufficient funds for the bus home, but considering Abarato is seemingly gone forever, the tone seems a bit…flippant?

Now that Toriko and Sorao know about the glitches, I’m hoping they’ll exercise even more caution in future Otherside visits. It may well be that Toriko’s friend Satsuki suffered the same fate as Abarato, his wife, or the dead(?) guy we saw last week near the river.

This was decent if not overly inspiring “case-of-the-week” that introduces two new players (one on-screen, one missing), a concrete goal for Toriko (find Satsuki) which causes some discord with Sorao. While last week suggested she was glad to meet a friend, Sorao continues to oscillate between between wanting to be with Toriko (and only Toriko) and wanting to be left alone.

Otherside Picnic – 01 (First Impressions) – Sharing is Caring

Kamikoshi Sorao (Hanamori Yumiri) is a solitary young woman who has found her way into another world, but when we find her, she seems to be in a bit of a fix. She’s floating in a pond like Ophelia from Hamlet (and a famous Klimt painting) and not only does it seem like she’s about to drown, but she’s not particularly upset about it, admiring the beauty of the light through the water as she sinks.

Then Sorao is suddenly pulled out of the water in a princess hold by Nishina Toriko (Kayano Ai) clearly a far more cheerful and gregarious young woman. There’s also a strange monster that makes you nauseous if you even look at it, but thanks to Sorao looking at it just long enough and Toriko tossing some rock salt at it, it is defeated, leaving a curious reflective cube.

Having felt a rush of danger and accomplishment from their joint defeat of the “thing”—called a Kurekure or “Wiggle-Waggle”—Sorao and Toriko retreat back to their own world. There, Toriko refers to where they were as the “Otherside”, and asks Sorao for her contact info, wanting to meet again.

Sorao only feels comfortable telling Toriko where she attends college, and to her shock, Toriko shows up while she’s eating alone in the dining hall. Toriko has a backpack full of rock salt and wants to return to the Otherside to hunt some Wiggle-Waggle, and she wants Sorao to come with.

Their subsequent journey to the Otherside via a different portal makes for another pleasantly weird, creepy, and atmospheric sequence, aided by Watanable Takeshi’s nervy ambient score and both dreamlike and nightmarish visuals. They must press the elevator buttons in the right order, stopping at a certain sequence of floors, on some of which lurk frightening monsters both white and black.

But once on the Otherside, we see that it is something of an alternate, fallen version of where they came from. Between this ruined yet eerily beautiful setting and the two very different personalities who explore it, I was immediately reminded of 2017’s excellent Girls Last Tour, with more conventional character design and the fact these girls aren’t stuck in the ruined place, but can come and go as they please.

Predictably, Wiggle-Waggle Battle No.2 doesn’t go as planned, as neither Toriko’s rock salt or her handgun seem to have any effect on the beast. Sorao goes over how things went down before and remembers that she maintained eye contact with the thing as Toriko attacked. This time, doing so is an even more harrowing and trippy experience for Sorao, who hears layered voices as the dragon-like beast descends upon her.

Still, she only has to stare at the thing long enough to make it vulnerable to Toriko’s bullets—too long, and she’ll go mad, she’s told. Toriko keeps that from happening by giving Sorao a well-timed slap, while pulling the weird blue tendrils that started to grow out of Sorao’s face (and which apparently killed another explorer nearby).

Toriko puts some caps in the Kurekure’s ass, and their reward is another magic cube, the true purpose of which eludes both of them. Then they realize just how close they came to utter ruin, and run like crazy people to safety, settling on the roof of the building where the portal home is located. Toriko suggests they go out and celebrate when they return, after a short rest. Sorao betrays an easy smile and concurs.

In the beginning, Sorao preferred to keep the Otherside to herself, but after meeting Toriko and becoming “partners in crime”, she now realizes the value and novelty of sharing the place with someone. She may call Toriko a “weirdo”, but only because she knows she’s a weirdo too. As different as the two of them are, Sorao had fun being weird in a weird place with Toriko.

And you know what? I had fun watching them too! This is no Girls Last Tour—at least so far—but it has a wonderful stripped down quality, an otherworldly mood and atmosphere, and just the right amount of potential peril. It’s just enjoyable to spend time watching these two explore this strange place while simultaneously exploring each other. Looks to be a fun ride.

Adachi & Shimamura – 12 (Fin) – Having a Wuvly Time

When Adachi learns Hino and Nagafugi not only spent the night together, but bathed together before school, she decides she can’t fall behind; she must be bold and decisive in asking Shimamura for the same opportunity.

Shima, ever bemused and practical, notes that her family’s bathtub is tiny, but Adachi still gets a win: Shima lets her stay for the whole weekend. Adachi can barely restrain her pure joy over this development. She over-packs to a ridiculous degree and ends up arriving way earlier than expected.

While at Shimamura’s, Adachi naturally feels closer to her friend, as she hoped to become. She gets to sit between Shima’s legs again, only instead of Adachi running away, Shima’s little sister (also named Sakura) takes her sister away for a rare bath together.

The first day Adachi says “nothing happens” with Shima, but at the same time, doing nothing with the one you cherish is pretty nice in and of itself! Shima also surprises her one day with matching hairclips, which make Adachi so happy she almost blurts out “I love you!”—until twisting it into “You look wuvly!”

Honestly, even if Adachi said those three words to Shimamura, it probably wouldn’t change things dramatically. She has Shima now, and while it may be a fight to keep her, we know from Shima’s perspective that she likes having Adachi around, later likening her to a cherry blossom she can look upon even when it’s not Spring and the trees aren’t in bloom.

Adachi gets to fall asleep on Shima’s arm, they go to school together for the first time, and Adachi’s prayers for them to sit together aren’t answered, they remain about the same distance from each other in the classroom, so that’s a wash.

As with IWGP, A&S takes a “Life Goes On” approach with its ending. Adachi doesn’t ever confess to Shimamura, and they never end up kissing. They’re still not even on a first-name basis. But forget those standard signposts; this show had a more nuanced, delicate touch. It was a pleasant, cozy portrait of two people who take great comfort in one another and are happier around each other than not, whether they’re doing something or nothing at all.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 11 – Desiring the Future

Back when Shimamura was in P.E. and suspected Adachi was on the second floor, but didn’t go up to see her, Adachi was indeed on the second floor, and didn’t expect her to come up and see her. For a couple moments she thinks she might be proven wrong, but it’s not Shimamura, just a third-year (whom I believe is a Hanazawa Kana voice cameo) looking for a quiet spot to read.

Ever since their second year began, Adachi has witnessed Shima easily find new friends, and can’t discern between her smiles and laughs with them and those with her. She gets the (wrong) impression Shima doesn’t care about her, yet can’t help but bike to the mall where they made happy memories, or think of which puppy she’d like best.

That’s when Adachi and Tarumi bump into each other, unaware of their connection with Shimamura, and Adachi notices Tarumi dropped her strap. Like Tarumi, Adachi thinks it would be just the tops if she and Shima had matching straps. But when spotting a lonely but quiet puppy, Adachi realizes she’s looking at a mirror.

That attitude is nurtured by a very random and fortune-teller, who looks and talks as eccentrically as Adachi is normal. Her advice is solid: the future can’t really be told, it must be desired, which means no running away from what is needed to achieve them. She has nothing to say to Adachi that she doesn’t already know, she just needs a little push to be more assertive in seeking Shima’s attention.

That brings us to a shift in POV to Shimamura, picking up from last week with her “Finally, it’s Adachi” remark. Having not heard her voice since the term began, Shima seems surprised how much she welcomes Adachi’s voice. This new assertive Adachi sits on the same chair as her and shares yummy bread, and Shima just knows that as her fake friends fade, Adachi will keep burning bright.

Shima sees all of Adachi’s moves as a sign her friend has made up her mind that she is the only one she needs. But is the reverse true? Shima can see Adachi has the same interest in straps and need to hold her hand (albeit her other hand) as Tarumi. She envisions her hands being held by the other two, all three of them with straps, in a Shima sandwich.

But only Adachi takes Shimamura aside, draws her into a big hug, and exclaims “I think you’re the best!” and plans to call Shima at 7 PM. She doesn’t stick around long enough for Shima to tell her that’s her usual time, so Shima arranges to eat dinner early, knowing full well Adachi will call her at 7 PM on the dot.

Adachi doesn’t call to say anything specific, she mostly likes the feeling of having Shima all to herself while on the phone. Shima calls her possessive, but Adachi thinks it’s normal, and it is normal, for someone who has feelings for someone and has decided not to run away or equivocate any longer.

Shima admits it’s “not a bad feeling” knowing someone cares about her, and is caught off guard by Adachi’s over-the-phone tears. Still, with Adachi, Shima feels her “possibilities are fixed.” If, not when, she were to choose someone to walk beside, it would be whoever is “best for her”.

While Adachi opened this episode believing she wouldn’t officially graduate to her second year until she confronted Shima, she’s actually well ahead of Shima in terms of knowing exactly what’s best for her and what she wants.

Shima isn’t sure about either, and weary of “surrendering” to Adachi’s puppy-like whims. How can Shima know she’s choosing someone who has already so heartily chosen her? I certainly don’t know, but at the end of the day (and hopefully by the end of this series!), Shima needs to learn what kind of future she desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 10 – Finally Adachi

The opening scene is filled with drama and suspense as Adachi prays to be in the same class as Shimamura. Her prayers are answered, and she’s not shy about celebrating it, much to the amusement of Shima, who is sporting a new look with her natural darker hair color. Obviously, the change hasn’t lessoned Adachi’s adoration of her in the slightest.

Shimamura even tests out calling Adachi “Sakura-chan”, predictably turning Adachi into one happy puppy. These two seem locked in, until three new “artificial friends” are drawn into Shima’s orbit, replacing Hino and Nagafuji. They eat lunch and chat together, and even though Shima doesn’t particularly enjoy it, she lets it happen, while Adachi…just kinda runs off.

There’s a lot to read into Shimamura and Adachi’s passivity this week, which starts with Adachi’s hope they’d remain in the same class. She’s not sure Shima would actively seek her out if they were in different classes, and sure enough, Shima admits she wasn’t close enough to Hino or Nagafuji to do that for them.

It’s not abundantly clear what’s up with Adachi, since after that first scene when she learns they’ll be together, we don’t get any more time inside her head. I for one buy that she’s just giving Shima some space, worried about being too possessive or clingy could make things awkward. Of course, her absence from class and from most of the remainder of the episode is its own awkwardness.

While Shimamura doesn’t check to see if Adachi retreated to the second floor of the gym, she also feels her absence when Tarumi calls her, requesting another hang-out. After their last “date” tanked, Tarumi has gone to lengths to rehabilitate her attitude to something more brash, bubbly, and fun. Not only does it come off as extremely forced, but Shima can’t help but not really pick up anything Tarumi puts down. She nods, smiles, and thinks about Adachi instead.

By the end of their second “date”, Tarumi expresses her desire to be full-fledged friends with Shimamura again, like they were as tykes. As with all of her requests to that point, Shima assents, but Tarumi finds it hard to read her vague expressions. They part when Yashiro appears, and when Shima asks herself “Who even am I?” Yashiro replies “You’re just you.”

Nice words, but frankly I still fail to grasp the reason for Yashiro popping in and out of this show at all, just as I continue to wonder why we peek in on Hino and Nagafuji’s long friendship seemingly growing more and more amorous, but only to the point of plausible deniability. If Shimamura ditched these two, why does the show keep checking in on them?

Is it to compare them with the much newer and very different pairing of our two leads? Our two leads were mostly apart this week, while Hino and Nagafuji continue to be stuck like glue. But absence clearly makes the heart grow fonder, as when it comes to Shima having her name called in class, only Adachi will do.

She seems relieved that Adachi finally approached her after she’d descended into a monotonous second-year existence of having lunch with her fake friends and not listening to them prattle on. Adachi worries Shima “doesn’t need her that badly”. But watching Shima’s potential new friends swing and miss, it’s clear at the very least that she prefers Adachi over others. By Shima’s standards, that’s a big deal.