The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater
How would you rate episode 1 of
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater ?
What is this?
Hina Tsurugi has just moved to the country town of Ashiya, and she's eager to make new friends and indulge her favorite hobby: Crafting. Her plans take a turn for the briny, however, when she tries to rescue a local student from fainting on the docks, only to discover a passionate fisher preparing her morning catch. This is Kuroiwa, the older sister of Hina's childhood friend Natsumi, and she thinks a craft-capable girl like Hina would be the perfect fit for Umino High's Breakwater Club, which specializes in the arts of bait and tackle. There's just one problem: Hina is terrified of all manner of critter and sea-dweller, and has absolutely no interest in a fishing club. Kuroiwa and her friends aren't the type to give up on recruiting a new member, though, so Hina may just have to learn to find her inner fisherwoman and embrace a brand new hobby!
How was the first episode?
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater seems to be striving for an appeal similar to that of Laid-Back Camp, combining the warm atmosphere of a club slice of life with the allure of the great outdoors. Rather than a camping club, Breakwater centers on a rural Japanese high school's fishing club, a group who gather to fish at their town's beautiful harbor. The meditative nature of fishing seems like it'd be a natural fit for this sort of show - unfortunately, a variety of structural, narrative, and aesthetic issues prevent Breakwater from really shining.
Perhaps the most central problem with Breakwater, and I admit this might be a personal issue, is that fishing is kind of gross. Mashing up chum is gross, watching fish gasp for air with a hook in their cheek is gross, and gutting fish to eventually eat them is gross as well. This is not to say that fishing cannot be a calming or rewarding activity, but as an ostensibly soothing and visually alluring production, Breakwater feels consistently hamstrung by the inherently uncomfortable nature of its narrative focus. Where a show like Laid-Back Camp revels in the beauty of the natural world, and the thrill of exploration, Breakwater is not able to find anything with such universal appeal in its chosen activity, and thus its appeal seems contingent on whether the audience personally finds fishing naturally compelling.
Put aside the tonal incongruity of its concept and subject matter, though, and this still isn't a particularly strong premiere. Breakwater lacks the intricate background art necessary to make its setting seem beautiful or inviting, and also lacks the fluid animation necessary to make its cast feel genuinely lively. What's more, rather than being naturally caught up in the allure of fishing, the protagonist Hina spends most of this episode being blackmailed into supporting the club, resulting in a mean-spirited tone completely at odds with the show's ostensibly welcoming atmosphere. I don't watch slice of life shows to see characters use the threat of being groped by an octopus in order to manipulate others; that just makes me dislike both that member of the cast, as well as the show in general for being so unkind to its characters.
On the whole, Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater feels like a slice of life show that doesn't actually understand how or why slice of life shows work. I'm a sucker for shows that celebrate the natural beauty of rural Japan, but Breakwater manages to drain all the appeal out of its own strongest elements. This one's an easy skip.
If you've been wondering where all those cute girls doing cute things cutely were, the answer is fishing. Not that Tamayomi isn't also CGDCT-adjacent, but Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater is much more classic in terms of how the genre is presented. The activity the girls are engaged in (in an afterschool club, of course) is fishing, which is moderately surprising because fishing comes with far more gross bits than the usual for this kind of story. On the plus side, it doesn't look as if it's going to shy away from much, if any, of it: Hina's shown how to kill an octopus, touches chum with her bare hands, and there are zero quibbles about the “you catch it, you eat it” club rule, even from delicate-minded Hina. We haven't seen full-out fish cleaning yet, but I don't think the show will have any problems showing it, which is definitely a good thing.
The problem here – assuming that the usual molasses-slow pacing isn't an issue for you – is that it feels a bit mean towards Hina. She's very clear about what she likes and doesn't like, at least when she's talking to herself, but she's not very good at expressing that aloud to others, so when Kuroiwa forces her into joining the Breakwater Club (because they fish from the breakwater), you could argue that she's unaware of just how much Hina doesn't like “gross” things…or you could had Kuroiwa not made Hina faint twice or seen the total hysteria when the octopus was crawling on her. I get that the club was in trouble, but Kuroiwa's tactics are just cruel, and her laid-back attitude doesn't excuse the fact that she very clearly knows that she's pushing Hina into something she doesn't like.
That aspect does go away by the end of the episode, when Hina reunites with childhood friend Natsumi, who understands her issues and can help her through them, so it may not be a persistent piece of the storytelling, which would be good. There's also a (potentially uncomfortable) faithfulness to the way that the fishing club girls treat Hina, who has moved to their rural town from the big city – certainly we're not above grossing out tourists or transplants with local fare where I'm from. That doesn't make it right or anything, but it definitely captures the attitude of small coastal towns that in some ways speaks well for the episode. If you're not actively put off by slow-paced fishing stories, this may be worth checking out, but I'm not sure that this will be the cute girl show that breaks the mold and entrances those who aren't normally fans of the genre.
Anime series which employ fishing as a focal point and/or part of the underlying premise aren't common at all, but one seems to pop up every decade or so. The most recent prior example is probably 2012's tsuritama, but earlier decades included titles like Tsuri Baka Nisshi, Super Fishing Grander Musashi, and Tsurikichi Sanpei. This series looks to be the entry for the 2020s. It also distinguishes itself from its predecessors on one major point: this time it's the girls' turn. In all previous genre entries, female characters have been sparse if present at all.
In fact, this is somewhat a “cute girls do fishing” kind of series, though not much of what goes on in the first episode is especially cutesy. This is a title which doesn't flinch at showing things like the proper way to kill an octopus or chop it up to be eaten; in fact, it seems to delight in grossing out central girl Hina, a former city dweller who's in “fish out of water” situation here. What's odd about this is that Hina's high school is not shown to be an all-girls school, so why are there no boys in the club? (Even the club advisor looks likely to be a woman based on the closer.) For a school servicing a coastal town, I find it hard to believe that none of the boys would be enthusiastic about fishing. Unless there's an actual story reason for this, it seems like a bigger contrivance than normal for a series like this.
That aside, every indication so far points towards this being a pretty typical hobby-focused show. There's going to be a lot of instruction on fishing methods as Hina learns the ropes, though the series emphasizes much more showing rather than explaining. This is a double-edged sword, as while it does help keep things more active, it does not help viewers learn terminology. (For instance, the multi-hook line Hina uses at one point is called a sabiki, and what the chum is stuffed into is called a bait cage.) Predictably, the club members are also an eclectic bunch; Hina is the newcomer who's easily grossed out, Natsumi is the over-enthusiastic tomboy, Makoto is the tall, quiet one, and Yuki is the laid-back club president who speaks in the local drawl. Of these, Yuki is easily my favorite; the show is almost worth watching for her alone. She's one of those characters who can throw you off-guard by sounding more slow-witted than she actually is.
Technical merits here are decent but nothing exceptional, so the question here is going to be whether the “cute girls” appeal can draw in those not interested in the hobby. In that regard, I put it on about the same level as Tamayomi: might be watchable, but being at least receptive to the hobby in question will matter.
This is one of those occasions where it is impossible for me to separate my biases from a review, though in the case of Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater, it's because I find protagonist Hina Tsurugi to be too relatable. You see, I harbor a rather paradoxical phobia that is very similar to the aversion Hina faces when Kuroiwa and the other Breakwater Club girls are trying to pitch the idea of joining their ranks: My family hails from a tropical island, all manner of seafood (especially sushi) ranks amongst my favorite meals, but I absolutely hate fish. I hate looking at them; I hate the thought of one flying up at me with a hook in its gills and vengeance in its cold, dead eyes; most of all, I abhor even imagining one of those slimy little sea demons brushing up against my skin as I wade out into the sea. My ichthyophobia has produced legitimate panic attacks that are the source of some of the most embarrassing stories of my entire life. To say that I, too, would not be enthusiastic to join up in a fishing club is the understatement of the century.
That being said, I cannot deny that Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater is loaded with a cozy slice-of-life charm that at least explains why Hina might be so inclined to move past her fears of the world's creepiest of crawlies. The show's art and direction is soft and inviting, the characters all strike a very friendly first impression, and the story takes time to show that there are indeed practical joys that come practicing the closest thing there is to actual black magic, what with the summoning of eldritch monstrosities from the ocean depths and all.
There's the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of waiting for that first bite of the day, for one, and the more tangible delights that come from making a delicious snack out of food you caught with your own bare hands. Hina is a sweet girl, and I like how the show is contrasting her hesitant steps towards friendship with the likes of Kuroiwa and Ohno to the playful relationship she used to have with the scruffy Hanako. Hina might be looking at these fish loving country folk with a wary side eye at first, but she has roots in Ashiwa too, and there's something sweet about the notion of coming back to a place you thought had left no trace of itself in you, only to discover that it has all new memories to give, should you have the fortitude to venture outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
So, as far as slice of life shows go, Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater holds a lot of promise, though you can count me right out. I literally had to pause and emotionally catch my breath when Hina got that octopus stuck to her leg, and the sight of the girls eating the salted fish head first gave me terror-chills. It will, however, provide much edutainment for folks who either have fond fishing memories of their own, and also for anyone who is interested in learning more about the craft with the help of a bunch of nice anime girls.
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