The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide Between the Sky and Sea
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Between the Sky and Sea ?
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Between the Sky and Sea is the kind of project I can only imagine was conjured up by combining the cynical calculations of a clever marketing team with the feverish dream journals of a cosmologically inclined small-town fisherman. This is an adaptation of a mobile game where, in the near future, young girls fly up into space to catch fish, on account of the seas being emptied of them, only to do so they must summon the powers of ancient deities using a smartphone app. To call the fundamental conceit of this show “niche” would be an understatement.
What's even more surprising is how such a zany setup can result in such a dull premiere. It takes half-the episode for Haru and Co. to finally blast off into the stars, and the preceding ten minutes consist mostly of Haru wandering around Onomichi while the other prospective space fishers just stand around and wait for the plot to start. None of the generic characters, not even Haru, have enough personality to maintain such a dialogue and exposition heavy first act solely with their introductions and banter. So much of this episode's runtime is devoted to explaining how a group of young girls, one of whom has literally zero training, can just get blasted off into space to fight giant fish with phone gods, yet by the halfway point I was more confused by what was happening in this show than when it started.
I would forgive anyone that checks out of BtSaS before we even get to the rocket ships and giant space-fish battles that fill up the episode's second-half. The show definitely picks up at that point, though I still don't know if I'd call it good. As is the case with many mobile game adaptations that choose to tackle the mechanics of the game head on, too many of the character interactions are focused on explaining how everything works – Here's the phone app Haru needs to use to summon a god to fight the fish, here's how setting up a team works, etc. It gives what should be a weird and rollicking spectacle watching someone play through a video game's tutorial level, which is technically what's happening, I suppose. The animation and direction are nothing special either, which means that it's difficult to even enjoy the silly spectacle when it finally shows up.
Between the Sky and Sea is rooted in deeply weird concept that is almost impossible to take seriously, but in execution this premiere about as milquetoast as first episodes can get. This unfortunate paradox is perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this otherwise forgettable premiere, which is a shame. I always look forward to the zanier offerings in any season, if only because they give us fans something new and interesting to talk about. If pure novelty is what you're after, then maybe Between the Sky and Sea will work more for you than it did for me, but anyone else can safely avoid this one.
Between the Sky and Sea is a series based on an oddball concept: people now have to go up to artificially-created oceans in space in order to fish since fish no longer exist in Earth's oceans. That the series starts out by explaining that off as a culinary inconvenience, rather than the dire threat to the earth that it would actually be, is just the first sign that something may be a little off about the concept. But hey, it involves sending girls into space to fish in submersibles, right? So what's wrong with that?
A lot, as it turns out. The first starts out by burning off several minutes in travelogue mode as the heroine wanders around Onomichi City seeing the sites and trying in vain to take pictures of cute cats. (They commonly jump out of the way at the last second.) In an apparent effort to catch up, the episode then switches over to breakneck speed as it rams apparent lead protagonist Haru through the process of being launched up into space with two other girls – no matter that she's still a raw trainee and thus has no idea what's going on – and then dumps her out in a submersible to hunt giant-sized fish and an even bigger boss crab. Then the show curves dramatically off into left field by revealing that the “God App” the other girls had Haru install isn't just a gimmicky name for a personal assistant; it really does summon a god which gives the fishers' submersibles supernatural capabilities.
That supernatural angle is not mentioned anywhere in the promo material for the series that I remember seeing, so where is it coming from? This is based on an app game, so presumably the staff was trying to find a way to infuse a crucial game element into the show. However, it is entirely out of place and throws off what little rhythm the episode had going for it. And let's not even get into the whole discussion of why there are monstrously giant fish and sea life up in these balls of water in space which are supposed to serve as fisheries or how any of that was accomplished in a way that was even remotely cost-effective. Scenes shown in the opener suggest that we'll have plenty more of this, too.
The production values aren't bad beyond some space suits designed more to be sexy than practical, but in this case the screwy concept and bevy of cute girls doesn't add up well. At the end of the episode, I was left wondering what the heck I had just watched, and not in a good sense.
I've seen some truly ridiculous shows over the years, but Between the Sky and Sea is something else. It feels like a bunch of ideas were crammed into a single series with no regard for whether or not any of them were compatible with one another. Is it a PR piece for Japan's fishing industry, a tourism ad for the city of Onomichi, the anime component of a new idol franchise, or a coming of age mecha battle show? I'm not sure, but I think it might be all of the above, and that would certainly explain why this premiere is so baffling.
That mess of conflicting intentions would be enough to stretch even a good story pretty thin, and this episode isn't exactly a paragon of clever writing. It's littered with plot holes from start to finish, and there's seemingly no logic behind anything that happens. Forget the big questions, like how we ended up with giant space orbs full of sea monsters if all of the planet's fish supposedly disappeared one day. I can overlook some conceptual leaps in the name of entertainment. It's the more mundane stuff that kills this episode for me, like the notion that an entire government agency would somehow launch an untrained teenager into space on a moment's notice just to settle a petty argument. I'm no expert on bureaucracy, but that sounds like sufficient grounds for all kinds of people to be fired. The forced multimedia integration doesn't help either; I get that the show needs to push the smartphone game, but having the characters plug their phones into their space pods in order to summon guardian deities is way too on the nose.
It's a shame that the plot falls flat on its face, because I'm pretty sure there's a potentially entertaining series lurking beneath all the clutter. The visuals are all right apart from some backgrounds that look like tourism brochure photos with a filter on them, and the giant fish battle is kind of amusing in its own absurd way. The idea of the show's female protagonists fighting to be recognized as equals by their grouchy male counterparts is potentially interesting, and most of the cast seems vaguely tolerable when they're not making mind-bendingly stupid decisions. Given a more coherent plot, Between the Sky and Sea could have been a fun little sci-fi adventure, somewhere between Space Brothers and Bodacious Space Pirates with a dash of Love Live! thrown in for good measure.
Honestly, this episode might be worth watching just to see the madness unfold. It's a fascinating example of an anime series collapsing under the weight of its franchise-building ambitions. Beyond that train-wreck appeal, however, I can't think of any reason to stick around for a full season. It would take a staggering amount of work to cram all these pieces into a unified whole, and I'm not at all convinced that Between the Sky and Sea is up to the task. If you're looking for cute anime girls doing some insane fictional activity, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Even if we ignore the obvious conundrum of how fish got from Earth to space, much less in fancy round tanks (did the fish build them?), Between the Sky and Sea has some issues. Chief among them is the fact that the male fishermen are absolutely convinced that girls have no business being space fishermen based on…pretty much nothing. The fishing is done in little fancy robo-pods, so it's not like there's any heavy equipment involved, and when the initial team of girls are finally allowed to try, the men (who are clearly older and more experienced) not only don't offer them any assistance but then say that the fact that they couldn't do it perfectly right out of the gate proves that space fishing is a man's job. That's terrible seamanship in general, and I know a bunch of lobstermen and women who might like to have a word with them.
Beyond the inanity of their poor manners (and being from a coastal town, I'm well aware I got fixated on that facet of the episode), most of the character interactions in this episode either don't make sense or are simply annoying. In part this is because main girl Haru is one of those characters you wish came with a volume control specific to her – almost every line she utters is a screech, either of excitement, fear, or confusion. While her zaniness and clumsiness are clearly intended to be endearing, it doesn't quite pull it off, something that may be due to the ridiculously long amount of time it takes the show to actually get her to where she's supposed to be going. Most of the first half of the episode is taken up by Haru site seeing, chasing cats (while shrieking at them, definitely two things that draw animals to you), or startling other people with her loud exclamations. The other characters are well within their rights to be annoyed with her, but that doesn't excuse the inanity of their own behavior, such as shoving her on a rocket to suit their own purposes without ascertaining anything about her knowledge base…and then being mad that she's not as well-informed as they assumed she was.
Characters aside, this episode remains a bit of a mess. Even leaving science out of it, the plot seems to wander around too long before finally getting where it wants to be, and its game roots are really all too clear. There's nothing that says that a good anime can't be made out of a very simple game – Puzzle & Dragon X is a good example of it done well – but this one seems to function as if it's giving players instructions once Haru's in her flying fish, and the use of an app smacks of advertising rather than using current technology to fuel a plot point. The fact that the giant crab also has a name that sounds more like a monster in an RPG than anything you'd call an actual giant crab simply compounds the issue.
Between the Sky and Sea does have some lovely scene of coral and underwater in general. Haru getting stuck in the coral and being attacked by a giant fish is moderately effective in terms of feeling like she's in danger. But on the whole, this episode is too reliant on silly, unexplained occurrences and what feel like game mechanics. Actually going fishing (or to space) is probably a better use of your time.
Adaptations of smartphone games don't tend to be all that memorable, outside of rare exceptions like Rage of Bahamut. As advertisements for games that tend to eschew any sort of traditional narrative, they're often forced to try and turn a loose aesthetic conceit into an actual story, with generally mixed results. You can easily see the results of this looseness in Between the Sky and Sea, which ham-handedly introduces its smartphone game elements and often feels composed of spare ideas from other franchises. Fortunately, Between the Sky and Sea has one other thing going for it: it is completely, utterly ridiculous.
Though it's formally titled “Between the Sky and Sea,” this episode's title drop also offers a different and far more appropriate title: “Space Fish.” The “premise” of the show is that all fish just mysteriously disappeared ten years ago, and so humanity underwent the logical next step of designing giant space fishery-planets. The base absurdity of that concept is consistently supported by the episode itself, which seems to understand full well that this story is total nonsense. Our heroine Haru Soramachi essentially stumbles into a hot-blooded space fishing competition, spends a fair amount of episode time chasing cats, and basically exemplifies this episode's haphazard approach to worldbuilding, storytelling, and everything else it does.
Space Fish's best moments lean into the silliness of the situation, and are naturally bolstered by how arbitrary and frankly stupid the mechanics of space fishing actually are. Our heroines summon “guardian deities” to help them fish, who in turn manifest giant spears and swords and power-ups which the fishermen-mecha use to engage in actual combat with sharp-toothed megafish. It's not actually exciting, but it's delightfully absurd, and there are some genuinely, intentionally funny gags sprinkled throughout this episode.
Unfortunately, a tongue-in-cheek approach to a fundamentally ridiculous concept can only get you so far. While I enjoyed the silliness of this episode well enough, I was never actually invested in anything that happened - the setup is too ridiculous and execution too mediocre to create any genuine excitement. This episode leaned into the idea of laughing at itself, but a twelve episode series needs more substance than “our premise is bad and we know it's bad” to succeed. Between the awkward CG, profoundly contrived system of fishing, and generally middling aesthetics, the only thing I could really, truly recommend about this show is its relatively charming heroine. I'm glad I watched twenty minutes of Space Fish, but I don't think there's any need to return for minute twenty-one.
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