The aquatope on white sand
by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 19 of
The aquatope on white sand ?
As playful as the title sounds, “Goodbye, High Heels” is a somewhat serious and much-needed Fuuka-centric episode, tying up some of the loose character threads from the first arc of the series regarding Fuuka's former life as an idol.
Fuuka meets up with Ruka, one of her former cohorts from Yona Productions, to make a documentary, which feels par for the course for an aquarium as robust as Tingaara. Perhaps inevitably, Fuuka's asked to be a part of the documentary as a reporter, even though she's distanced herself from her past of being on TV and being a public-facing individual. It's this table setting that sets up a really thoughtful episode about Fuuka, one which addresses some of the lingering questions of the first arc and delivers a proper closure to that chapter of her life.
As an ex-idol, Fuuka's very aware of being in public, mostly because if she appears on TV, it'll raise loads of questions about why she's not an idol any longer. She's notable enough to still be recognized, but not so much that she can't live a regular life. It makes sense that she wouldn't want to upset the somewhat precarious balance she's worked hard to obtain, which is why she chooses to turn down the assignment. Ruka, on the other hand, couldn't understand why her senpai chooses to forego the opportunity to return to the limelight, and in that brief outburst, lays bare the insecurities and guilt she has felt since Fuuka's departure from her idol career.
It is implied in aquatope's premiere that Ruka played a large part in Fuuka's decision to relinquish her dream of being an idol. Fuuka's remark that "it isn't enough to be hardworking", and the brief flashback that follows, suggests that Fuuka saw something in Ruka that makes her more deserving of the spotlight than she was – something that Fuuka cannot compensate for with hard work alone, and made her realize that the idol path ultimately wasn't for her. Ruka, for her part, felt that she has stolen her senpai's opportunity to shine, and is clearly still harboring that guilt despite Fuuka's reassurance that it wasn't her fault. Ruka has taken it as her responsibility to become an idol for Fuuka's sake – Fuuka's last words to her before her departure years ago, meant as words of encouragement, has unknowingly become a burden.
As a deeply devoted fan of idols, I love how candid aquatope is about the realities of idols who have "made it"; getting to the top means trampling on others' dreams whether you want to or not, and once you're there, it doesn't take much to get pulled down once again. And sure enough, Ruka's hit a similar slump in her career that Fuuka has had. We're informed that Ruka is receiving some online harassment over something she has no control over. It's not an issue that can be resolved through hard work alone, and in times like this, drive isn't enough. In times like this, you need something more.
Something like a pair of high heels, given by someone who once dreamed of the stars, but moved past that to find her footing by the sea instead.
It's the perfect passing of the baton – serving to both absolve Ruka of her guilt, and give proper closure to a chapter in Fuuka's life. And I suppose, this parallel between Fuuka and Ruka is also what made episode 19 a really, really enjoyable episode. Fuuka's gesture might feel like a whimper, but it's actually a bang. It's just much more natural – so often, life situations don't end with big bangs nor does it end in whimpers: life resolves itself in small steps and quiet, ordinary moments. It's funny moments like little hiccups (this is more a reference to Ruka's attempt to be super cutesy and having it flop) and more importantly, it's realizing that it's alright to not be where you thought you'd be.
There's a gentleness about episode 19 that I found myself loving this week. As the year winds down and we count our successes, it's easy to look back and see all the paths you didn't tread. Yet episode 19 is a reminder that just like a penguin going for their first swim, we too can find success in just trying and believing. As I look towards being closer to thirty than not, it's a story that resonates: I expected to be in a very different life situation than I am right now. All I can do is strive and try my best. It's just like Fuuka says: we can overcome our fears with belief. Wise words from a wise young woman in one of the wisest series of the year. It really puts a nice bow on a thoughtful episode about moving through guilt, rather than simply moving on from it.
One thing of note is that aquatope's music continues to be really, really good: there's lots of playful b-flat clarinet combined with cello and bass rhythms that really emphasize uncanny moments. Most notable is when Kukuru is getting chastised for her job. It's noticeable in all the good ways without being overwhelming, lending itself to the consistently excellent sound design of the show.
Overall, you can definitely feel that next week will mark the last arc before The aquatope on white sand finished. It's hard to imagine this series coming to a close, and yet… everything ends. The aquatope on white sand is no exception: in five weeks, we'll bid our goodbyes to Tingaara, Kukuru, Fuuka, and an entire community. Where the story will be is still not necessarily clear to me, in the sense that I don't know where things will resolve. But I think that's kind of like life: who knows where we'll end up until the very end? That said, I'm still pretty sure it'll be somewhere good, and hopefully, tear-y because nothing satisfies me more than weeping over a good anime.
The aquatope on white sand is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Mercedez is a JP-EN translation and localization Editor & Proofreader/QA, pop culture critic, and a journalist who, when not writing for ANN, writes for Anime Feminist, where she's a staff editor, and for But Why Tho?. She's also a frequent cohost on the Anime Feminist Podcast, Chatty AF. This season, she's devouring Restaurant to Another World bite by delicious bite. When she's not writing and reviewing, you can find her on her Twitter or on her Instagram where she's always up to something.
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