Feb 28, 2015

Anime Review: Nagi no Asukara

Nagi no Asukara title/logoWow. Well… I should have known once I saw this was a P.A. Works production. It’s beautiful and pushes all of my buttons. The animation is phenomenal (as expected anymore from them), Manaka is adorbs, the osananajimi vs. newcomer storyline hits me right in my vulnerable spots, and the setting is nicely inventive and stylistic and adds to the charm and the presentation. The music is above average, with nice OP/ED themes, and the sound and voice work is equally great. And it’s also a full two cour that doesn't drag? Oh dear…

Hikari walks to school through his fantastical underwater city

Nagi no Asukara (lit. From the Calm Tomorrow but usually subtitled in English as A Lull in the Sea) is technically a bit sci-fi/fantasy but it’s really just a drama masquerading as such. The story is that there are some humans still (yes, I said still) living unda da sea due to them having “Ena”, a transparent but shiny-in-the-right-light coating that lets them move and breathe normally underwater, but surface dwellers exist too in a weird hybrid present history. There is, as expected of the genre, a lot of racism and tension, plus a whole lot of curious backstory to the circumstances, mythology, and mechanics. But at the forefront is a typical jealousy/romance/friendship thing, and this works well considering it provides a very relatable aspect to grasp onto while the rest of the weirder fantastical stuff sinks in slowly. Sci-fi is always a tenuous beast and this is probably a good way to allow the more inventive side to mellow and develop while the viewer is focused more on the understandable human aspects. And who wouldn’t want to follow the cute girl, the hot-headed childhood friend, and the Hayama-esque man-of-few-but-honest-words new guy?

Most of the main cast in their typical early-morning-before-school scuffling

The various main cast are all archetypes you’ve seen before, but that’s okay since they are all executed so well. Hikari, the lead if any, is short-tempered and quick to outburst, often hurting those around him he loves the most, stubborn but ultimately honest. It’s nothing new but he’s effectively used and it’s easy as hell to empathize with him as he watches all of the people he loves most seemingly drift away, snatched up falling for surface dwellers. His resentment and racism naturally escalates as his innate impulsiveness lashes out on them, those he feels are stealing his most precious things: family, friends, and… well… of course he secretly (and unknowingly) loves the hell out of the sweet but bumbling Manaka. It’s… again, nothing new, but damn if it isn’t delivered in a package that is easy to digest, a feast for the eyes and ears, and exactly engineered to make me crazy. I do so love a well-told tale of love, stupid kids, impossible fantasy, and gorgeous eye candy.

Manaka is caught in a fish net by Tsumugu

P.A. Works is always known for their exceptional quality of animation, though sometimes it can be a little sterile with its cleanliness. Over time they have slowly but surely gotten better at a more natural and evocative style while still maintaining the high quality and it has culminated in NagiAsu, an excellent blend of fluid movement, expressiveness, and style. The feel has the expert rom-drama delivery of Ano Natsu de Matteru (helped along by the inclusion of Yanagi Nagi also doing the ending songs), the group dynamics of AnoHana, and a bit of the sci-fi-fu of Shin Sekai Yori.

Manaka collapses to her knees on a forest path as the sun begins to set

As much as I initially despised the newcomer dude for daring to interfere with my precious childhood love drama, he is, as even Hikari quickly admits, not a bad guy. A bit deadpan at times, he clearly shows a kind side and a sense of humor amidst his ultra-calm demeanor. This is exactly the sort of “archetype executed well” I’m talking about. Reticent males aren’t anything original, but they don’t need to be when it’s done well. And praise is deserved since it’s difficult to write these sorts of characters well, managing to hit just the right notes without it seeming lame or forced or worse (but easiest of all) just plain boring.

Manaka stands in the shallow water, shoes in hand, observing a brilliant sun and sea

Even better, NagiAsu skillfully delivers most of what I’ve told you in the first couple of episodes even, weaving the details into plot-advancing dialogue. Only one brief exposition dump exists! But… this series is a full 26 episodes. Can it maintain this streak? Does it ever start to drag despite its clearly excellent qualities? I’m pleased to say, no, it doesn’t. It trucks along and even has a time-skip and it’s just great throughout. All of the characters end up being fantastic and fleshed out enough with most of the loose ends dealt with by the end. Even if you think some of them are annoying/flat at first they will eventually grow on you as the events unfold and you get to see other sides and subtleties to each.

Hikari's older sister, Akari, makes a phone call in a booth at night while shooting stars fly overhead in the sky

NagiAsu is never as clever or thought-provoking as a true sci-fi piece but it uses a lot of the same good qualities and mixes them with more traditional and competent drama/romance storytelling. So much of it is exactly what I hoped and expected, but that’s not a condemnation. I’ve been around the block so many times that I’m coiled like an aggressive snake. I’m so used to being slightly (or greatly) disappointed that when a show finally, confidently, delivers in spades I’m more ecstatic than a load of laundry ran without a dryer sheet. I fully realize that I am probably gushing and that, objectively, the acting, writing, and execution are no better than any solid Hollywood live-action effort but… the honest truth is that I’m stupid thrilled to be a weeaboo because of shows like Nagi no Asukara.

Manaka splashing water playfully with a big smile

As of this writing, you can watch Nagi no Asukara for free on Crunchyroll.

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