What’s it about? After all fish mysteriously vanished from Earth’s seas, Japan created “space fish tanks” in order to preserve sea creatures and the ability to fish for them. Seventeen-year-old Haru is determined to become a space fisher, but winds up in over her head on her first day, and up against naysayers who don’t think girls have any place in space fishing.
CONTENT WARNING for discussion of workplace sexism
Do y’all remember the 90s? More specifically, the “Grrl Power” movement that suffused a lot of western (particularly American) media at the time? It was a particular kind of well-meaning-but-tryhard media, often written by men, that wanted to let you know that GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING and they’re TOUGH AND INDEPENDENT…but along the way usually painted sexism in laughably two-dimensional terms and either failed to examine or outright perpetuated more subtle forms of sexism and misogyny. Basically, everything made by Joss Whedon.
Anyway, that’s an anime now.
Part of me wants to give Between the Sky and Sea credit for making an effort. It clearly wants to be a story about its young female protagonists pushing against the system and proving themselves as professionals, making friends along the way. Lacking in subtlety though it is, there are people who need that extremely introductory approach. If it helps someone realize “hey, women are people!” then that’s a positive addition to the world. Woo. You go, girl.
But I can’t bring myself to leave it at that, because this premiere also undercuts its own seemingly sincere message at every turn. The six leads are broad archetypes who act out pre-approved designations of quirkiness, and Haru in particular is so far along the “clumsy ditz” scale that I was left afraid for the safety of her coworkers. And the male antagonists are the type to loudly shout “girls shouldn’t be allowed in this field!” so that the audience can pat themselves on the back and say “well, I’m not that bad.”
Meanwhile, the visuals are sprinkled with fanservice, with bikini shots in the opening theme and a deadly combo of boob armor, a boob window, and butt molding in the girls’ space suits. Normally that would be a matter of relatively minor eyerolling, but this wants to be a tale about fighting workplace sexism. Pardon me if objectifying uniforms on teenage girls (the male suits are completely covering and rather formlessly baggy, by the way) make me doubt your commitment to the cause.
(It does not help that Sky and Sea follows not far on the heels of the superb A Place Further Than the Universe, a show about teen girls proving themselves on a dangerous, trying expedition that exuded feminism without having to thump itself loudly on the back.)
The girls’ boss is the cherry on top, the only woman we’re shown in a position of authority…who is extremely emotional at the drop of a hat and repeatedly needs reigned in by her levelheaded male assistant. I’m still puzzling over her outburst at one of the recruits using “boku”—is it because any kind of masculinity is a betrayal of The Cause? Because her assistant lightly touched the girl on the shoulder, and The EssJayDubyahs are calling any kind of friendly, innocuous touch sexual harassment? I’d like to know what kind of straw feminist I’m dealing with here, show.
The overall aesthetic feels purposefully calibrated to be a mobile game: fishers use a mobile app to summon guardian deities that help their diving pods (collect ‘em all!), and the male fishers power up to do a fancy super move right out of an RPG. It’s not a terrible world, though one that isn’t interested in explaining certain elements beyond “because we want to do this kind of scene.” But the completely fumbled themes drop it from generic cute hobby show to borderline hot mess. You did indeed try, show. I kind of wish you hadn’t.