Anime Boston 2024: Jellyfish Can’t Swim at Night Anime Premiere

Compared to new series premieres at Anime Boston‘s past, the first two episodes of Jellyfish Can’t Swim in the Night arrived with relatively little fanfare. There were no exclusive giveaways or special guests to talk about the show afterward. Instead of one of the big event rooms with a booming sound, it played in a smaller video room with a weak speaker and (for half the first episode) an open window. However, even under these not-ideal viewing circumstances, watching this original series from Doga Kobo is a clear highlight of the first day of Anime Boston 2024.

Jellyfish Can’t Swim in the Night evokes aspects of Doga Kobo‘s breakout hit Oshi no Ko in its focus on young artists navigating the entertainment industry, as well as in the high quality of its animation. Other series that come to mind while watching it include A Place Further Than the Universe, for its “putting the gang together” plotting and more ambitious take on the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, and Princess Jellyfish, with the special interest its protagonist centers her artistic energies around.

At the start of the first episode, Mahiru Kozuki abandoned her passion for drawing jellyfish after other girls mocked a street art mural based on one of her concepts. Kano Yamanouchi, a former idol singer-turned-Yankee tough girl who quit the business due to online bullying, loves jellyfish as much as Yoru — and it’s her dream to sing in front of Mahiro’s mural. As their paths cross with amusing awkwardness, the two girls bonded over their passions and decided to form a new art group named JELEE.

The second episode introduces the third member of JELEE: Mei “Kim Anouk” Takanashi, a pianist obsessed with Kano’s former idol persona (the fourth V-Tuber member appears briefly here but will presumably get a proper introduction to the group in the next episode). The socially inept fangirl has some difficulty accepting that Kano no longer wants to be “Nonoka Tachibana,” but as Kano learns how she influenced Mei’s life for the better, a one-way obsession begins to blossom into a mutual friendship — the first such friendship Mei has ever had. The way jellyfish need sunlight to swim, these girls need each other to pursue their dreams.

So I’m pretty sure this is a Yuri series, though who knows how much plausible deniability might get shoved in there by the end of the series. As far as I’m concerned, all these girls are in love with each other, and even the lamest “no homo” developments won’t change that. These opening episodes are a series of awkward and hilarious “meet cute” moments, and I can’t wait to see how these relationships evolve from here.

My one significant criticism of Jellyfish Can’t Swim in the Night is one that many people my age have of a lot of anime: I’d be even more into this if the characters were adults. Not only would that make the conspicuous fanservice shots in the first episode less awkward, but the characters’ conflicts feel more relatable from a quarter-life crisis perspective than from a high school one. Many adults struggle with anxiety over giving up on the dreams they pursued in high school or college — but how many high schoolers feel that way about their dreams from middle school? It makes me sad to think about it.

Then again, that sadness might be a real concern among those who experienced viral fame at a young age, and certainly the show’s message about conquering feelings of “cringe” is a valuable one for teenage viewers (though again, that would work with an adult cast too). So let’s see where this original story goes from this entertaining start.