Clione are swimming sea slugs that live in the Arctic and other cold oceans. They're sometimes called "Sea Angels" (which would be thematically relevant for this work), but that's technically incorrect because the family Clionidae is actually just one of several sea angel species. They eat sea butterflies, which are swimming sea snails. I never knew about these creatures before watching this anime, but they're oddly beautiful. They're transparent except for a few blobs of colour and they dance under the ice, bobbing around as they flap their little jelly wings.
That's relevant because of this show's motif of marine life and the sea in general. Takashi wants to be a marine biologist and can talk for hours about it. Kyouko likes the rain, of which there's lots and lots in this series. Minori empathises with a lighthouse and even gets compared with one. (Kyouko thinks that's rude, though.) They visit an aquarium, buy an inflatable pufferfish and do goldfish-scooping at the summer festival.
That's the metaphor. The text of the story, on the other hand, involves a sickly girl called Minori who's being bullied. She's often absent from school because she's in hospital, but her classmates don't care because they're too busy making her the butt of all their jokes. Everyone's doing it. They have to join in (or at least keep silent when it's happening) or they'll get bullied too. Is that true, or is it just what everyone believes? Takashi and Kyouko aren't helping anyone and they're no better than anyone else, but that's just because they're too frightened to do anything and at least they're unhappy about it. They're also both feeling guilty over their uselessness and picking apart their own motivations as they fester in their own paralysis. "I'm trying to save her by worrying about her."
Eventually they act. They approach Minori, albeit out of school. They're not brave enough to defy the classroom. Even there, though, they're aware that their actions aren't simple altruism. "I wanted to be freed from the guilt of watching and doing nothing."
You'll have noticed that this show isn't mindless escapism. It's realistic rather than grim-dark, but it's definitely in a minor key. I thought it was excellent. Takashi and Kyouko do manage to be better people than they think they are, while Minori manages to find some happiness that she hadn't had before. Don't expect a Disney ending, though. It's emotional.
It's a short series, with a running time that's basically a movie with episode breaks, and it's based on a 2004 web novel that got a print release in 2012. It's interesting both for the story in itself and for the waterbound metaphor. Characters debate whether they're hermit crabs or clione. Minori looks out over the infinite ocean. Similarly the characterisation is full of shades of grey, both from the heroes and the bullies. The former are (perhaps excessively) aware of their own failings, while the latter come in different degrees and aren't beyond redemption either. I think it's one of the subtlest, most sensitive anime of 2017.
"I have two friends."