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Jellyfish Can't Swim in the Night
Episode 11

by Nicholas Dupree,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Jellyfish Can't Swim in the Night ?
Community score: 4.0


As we reach the final act of Jellyfish, it's time to start paying off our leads' various conflicts and arcs in preparation for the big finale. In service to that, this episode feels... well, “rushed” isn't quite the word. Overstuffed, maybe? “What I Love” has several plates it needs to keep spinning across its runtime—while also giving Kiui as satisfying a conclusion as it can—and the result is as messy as you'd expect from this title.

The smallest and simplest of this episode's plot threads involves Kano trying to finish the song Kiui and Mei demoed last week. Despite returning from the brink, Kano still has a lot of conflicted feelings about her music career, which makes the creative process a sludgy torture. Granted, she might also be having problems because she's trying to sing while sitting down like this, but the emotional turmoil can't be helping. It's mostly resolved off-screen as set up for the finale but I appreciate Mei's influence in re-writing the whole song—and the idea that Kano wants to write something addressed directly to her mom. JELEE's previous singles have been thinly veiled odes to Yoru, so it only makes sense that Kano makes something to express how she feels about the first person she sang for.

Then there's Yoru's storyline, which... okay. I don't like to give stories crap for straining credulity. I care about a story's ability to make me care for its characters or think about its themes—so I'm not concerned with how credible it is at lying to me. I can accept leaps in logic if they support authentic emotions or make interesting points. However, there are so many tiny contrivances to Yoru's story that it's started to undermine my ability to connect with her on an emotional level.

For one, it's ridiculous that Yukine is serious about this arrangement. Yoru is a high school amateur artist who's been active on a single project for less than a year and has never worked in anything professional. The fact that Yukine brought her in to handle a project this big with less than two months to deliver is so ridiculous that I assumed it was a trick meant to sabotage JELEE. Yet when Yoru rejects Yukine's corrections and delivers her revisions at the deadline, Yukine is entirely cool with it, and happy to make these new designs work. So what, exactly, is the truth with this lady? Is she the cutthroat producer who would throw her daughter under the bus to preserve her career, or is she the bleeding heart who loves seeing Yoru express herself with her art even as it puts the whole production at risk? Typically I'm fine with ambiguity, but this feels like Yukine is two different characters, and it makes me worry that her falling out with Kano will turn out to have been some easily-forgiven misunderstanding.

Also, this is more personal but I disagree with Yoru's anger over having her art corrected. It can be frustrating to see your hard work changed or be told it's not good enough but that comes with the territory when you're a commissioned artist, yeah? You aren't just making art for yourself—you're making something for somebody else, for a paycheck, and meeting your client's specifications is an important skill for any aspiring artist. Yoru has been doing things in easy mode because she only has to meet her own standards and JELEE's loose deadlines. Yet instead of this being a learning experience, Yoru resolves that she shouldn't need to compromise her work and only express her style and vision because love for what she does will trump anything else. At the same time, Yukine's corrections are so vague and unhelpful that it makes me question her standards as a professional. In concert, it takes any catharsis out of Yoru's story here while throwing the larger conflict with Kano and Yukine into further question.

Finally, there's Kiui's story, and it's a lot. Ever since Kiui's introductory episode, fans have wondered if the hints at gender nonconformity with Kiui's v-tuber persona were pointing towards anything substantial. I didn't expect much, since Jellyfish is a show that wears its emotions on both sleeves and delivers its sentiments with the subtlety of a meteor strike. With how blunt-force the show has been about every other kind of identity, I figured that if it was interested in addressing ideas of gender identity, it wouldn't use such a soft touch if it was building towards something. So hey, full props to Jellyfish for going there, even if the execution is a little muddled.

It's not that I think the show should have put a label on Kiui's identity or nailed down their pronouns or whatever—I appreciate that there's a lot of fluidity about it all. Gender is a complicated, intensely personal topic that can be tackled from a lot of angles—and I like how Kiui's pairs closely with personal presentation and how others react to it. There isn't some needless dichotomy between who Kiui is in meatspace vs who Kiui is under the Nox persona or which one is “real.” Both are aspects of Kiui's larger personhood: two points on a wide spectrum of identity mapped out by their desires, insecurities, relationships, and experiences. The difference is merely in how willing and comfortable Kiui is to express those aspects under public scrutiny where there's more immediate pressure to look and behave “normally” or else be mocked or dismissed as following trends. The resolution is that Kiui finds the courage to be their authentic self despite those pressures, emboldened by Yoru's support and finally fed up with hiding for the shame of embracing what they love.

My issue is mostly in just how fast that resolution comes and the awkward delivery of it all. Kiui's only had one full episode of focus before this—since the Driving School one focused more on Kano and Koharu. This is the first time we've gotten to re-examine all the ideas planted in their introduction, and there's not enough room to breathe when Yoru and Kano's storylines are crammed into the recording booth too. So Kiui ends up delivering their cathartic speech to a trio of characters we've just met, who are paper-thin Asshole Teenagers that exist to spew insults and then stare blankly during Kiui's response. It's another moment of Jellyfish defaulting to an easy, familiar means of dramatic resolution, deflating a strong storyline right at the finish line.

It makes for a busy episode that feels like a roller coaster of quality. There's a lot to like—and a lot that makes me skeptical that we'll get a satisfying conclusion. At the same time, I appreciate the show's ambitions. I like that it's willing to tackle topics you rarely see addressed in any mass media and does so with obvious compassion. I wish its storytelling could keep up with those ambitions.


Jellyfish Can't Swim in the Night is currently streaming on HIDIVE.

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