The aquatope on white sand
by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 21 of
The aquatope on white sand ?
Community score: 4.5
Episode 21, “Dreams of Blue Turtles” follows up on our forlorn dolphin from the previous week, but also… on our intensely lonesome lost “plankton”, Kukuru. After the events of not witnessing Gama Gama's final moments, she's completely MIA: fair, given the trauma of losing something so precious and important. Post-OP, we see that Kukuru is determined to keep to herself, which… while maybe not the most emotionally responsible option, is the relatable, common option that so many people take.
This episode, at its core, is about Kukuru escaping into her own mind and problems, that is, until she is swept off by Misaki, Umi's wife, to a beach to do some cleaning ahead of a new generation of sea turtles hatching. It is simplistic, yet necessary, work: the kind of rote activity that has a tangible effect, but also serves to occupy the mind away from harmful thoughts. More importantly, it returns Kukuru to her roots as an animal caretaker, even though she's still on-staff as Tingaara's newest PR staff member.
Maybe it's the fact that I'm turning thirty next year, maybe it's being in the second year of the pandemic, or maybe it's the fact that I, myself, have had to grow into my own after my departure from Japan in Summer 2020, but Kukuru's struggles with leaving Gama Gama behind ached in an all-too-familiar way. Her struggle to let go of something that has been so central to her life is beautifully executed, creating a really thoughtful “sequel” that answers episode 20 with kindness, both in its overall execution and in how the series adds in breathing room for Kukuru to sit in her feelings before gently urging the story ahead. Like a boat bobbing on unsteady waters at sea, Kukuru navigates her way to safe harbor not on her own, but through the guidance of those around her.
So much of The aquatope on white sand is about connections: about forging bonds, strengthening friendships, and reaching out to others. Thus, it makes sense that the way for Kukuru to heal is through the bonds of her community, through being reached out to, rather than her having to seek help herself. It also makes sense why Fuuka, in turn, has to learn an important lesson about reaching out: bonds and community are important, but not at someone's expense and certainly not at our own peril, which is a lesson I think marginalized folks – especially folks who are socialized with femininity – have to learn. It's hard, but necessary, and thankfully, Fuuka figures it out in the end.
Both of these journeys – Kukuru learning to be receptive to helping hands and Fuuka learning how to not take on everyone's need for help – converge in one of the most powerful scenes since the first cour's ending: a moment when life finds a way, as life so often does, and Kukuru starts to find her stride through facilitating and witnessing a safe hatchling for a generation of new sea turtles, while Fuuka just kindly… watches. It's hard to put into words how strong that moment felt, and honestly, feels like the kind of moment that should be left to viewers to interpret. What I will say is that seeing Fuuka have Kukuru's back without necessarily trying to “fix” things feels like solid, authentic character growth. It feels like they're both on the same path, even if they might eventually end up at different destinations.
There are other, smaller moments in the episode that come to mind: Kukuru's visit to an even smaller Okinawan aquarium, Fuuka witnessing two penguins fighting, and Kukuru untangling her emotions about believing in herself. All of these combine into a chanpuru of sorts, mingling all the bittersweet flavors of Kukuru and Fuuka's lives together until the peak of this week's episode with the aforementioned sea turtle hatching, leaving us not at the end, but in a different moment leading into what will probably be Kukuru's return to Tingaara.
The aquatope on white sand has absolutely brought its A-game for the past few episodes in its storytelling. Episode 21, in particular, feels like running down a hill: it's not quite tumbling into the finale yet, but there's this fantastic momentum towards what is hopefully a dynamic, emotional resolution. The image of that resolution feels clearer now, though it's a bit heartbreaking that Gama Gama won't be a part of that picture.
Poetic, thoughtful, unique, and artful: these are just a few of the words that spring to mind when I let myself think about aquatope. It's not always been a perfect journey, yet even in The aquatope on white sand's weakest weeks (I'm thinking of you, episode 7) there's still a lot to love. Wherever The aquatope on white sand goes, I know it's going to stick the landing. I'm just grateful I get to see where it lands after half a year with the series.
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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