Fishbowl Wives review – a mixed-bag story of infidelity

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: February 14, 2022 (Last updated: March 13, 2024)
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Fishbowl Wives review - a mixed-bag story of infidelity


Fishbowl Wives is full of contradictions and inconsistencies, but there’s some worthwhile drama at its core — though perhaps slightly unsuited to its Valentine’s Day release.

This review of Fishbowl Wives is spoiler-free. 

Netflix have a sense of humor, don’t they? On Valentine’s Day, the International Day of Romance and love, they’ve released not one but two international series’ about… infidelity and extramarital affairs. Ha! Since my colleague is handling Devotion, A Story of Love and Desire, the responsibility has fallen to me to cover Fishbowl Wives, an adaptation of Ryô Kurosawa’s popular manga Kingyo Tsuma about several women in a high-rise apartment building who all, for various reasons, begin to veer away from their marriages.

Those reasons are varied and oftentimes quite tragic, and across eight episodes the story veers back and forth – while the tone often lurches to and fro – as Fishbowl Wives tries to keep all of its ducks in a row. The ostensible protagonist is Sakura, who since an accident has become the timid, battered housewife of salon owner Takuya. But a chance encounter with a pet store owner named Haruto leads Sakura to reconsider her life through the thick glass of a goldfish bowl, seeing herself as the trapped little creature too stifled by circumstance to swim freely. She makes her first step towards emancipation, and then several more, all while several other stories interweave with her own to mixed effect.

This format is… unusual. The triangular dynamic between Sakura, Takuya, and Haruto is clearly the central conflict of the series, but there is an abundance of secondary characters and plots that aren’t consistent in their subject matter or tone, and there doesn’t seem to be any particularly logical structure for how they’re included. The fish and its bowl become a recurring metaphor in each story, and sometimes a literal psychic character gets involved seemingly at random, but grafting these quirky, anthological appendages onto what would otherwise be an engaging and straightforward story doesn’t exactly create a coherent whole.

Some touch-and-go continuity notwithstanding, Fishbowl Wives also employs several repetitive gimmicks to make its point, at least at the times when its point is actually clear, which isn’t always. Female empowerment is obviously an objective, but it relies too heavily on the idea of men as rapey, controlling aggressors, and then sometimes tries to grow genuine affection out of that same bedrock, so the question of what the show considers a violation and what it considers a man being sexy and assertive is sometimes too nebulous for the show’s own good. It also has a tendency to juxtapose scenes of earnest human connection with sex scenes, as though it’s implying one is meaningful while the other is facile. Yet there are so many sex scenes – the show literally opens with one – that you can’t help but feel it’s trying to deliberately titillate in some instances. A hypocritical have-one’s-cake-and-eat-it vibe runs throughout.

Still, there’s some decent drama here. The performances are solid, the show is well shot, and some of the topics being broached are relevant and worthwhile. It’s an unusual series, granted, but it’s one that’ll also certainly amass some fans – as well as some passionate detractors. As ever, I’m somewhere in the middle, so I’m giving it a very cautious recommendation. Maybe don’t watch it with your partner, though.

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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