First Impressions – Nagi no Asukara

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Oh, well – let the drama begin.  And I don’t mean on-screen…

OP: “lull ~Soshite Bokura wa~” by ray

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This intensely front-loaded anime season continues with another of the most hotly-anticipated premieres, P.A. Works Nagi no Asukara.  Let’s be clear up-front – this show features three elements that tend to be love/hate – P.A. Works, Okada Mari’s writing, and Buriki’s character designs.  As such it’s going to be entertaining to watch the discussions at the very least, especially as there’s been a mad rush to dismiss this series as trash before it ever premiered.

For me, I love P.A. Works animation, I like Buriki, and – though I’ve been wrongfully accused of hating her – I’m hit-and-miss with Okada.  Yes, she drives me crazy too often and she has some incredibly annoying habits as a writer, but my year-end best show lists are often littered with Okada series.  With a two-cour original to work with, just about anything seems possible from her.  She’s paired with Shinohara Toshiya here, a director with quite a bit of experience and a restrained sensibility (I liked his unusual choices with Red Data Girl) and history tells us that Okada shows are usually most successful when she’s paired with a strong director who can help keep her excesses in check.

There’s usually one show per season I really hope succeeds just because it’s been pre-judged by so many viewers, and this is the one for Fall.  And so far, I’m quite pleased – the negativity has been so relentless than even I was starting to worry, but I found the premiere very engaging.  And I won’t lie, I found it absolutely beautiful too.  P.A. Works marks an interesting contrast with Kyoto Animation in that they always produce interesting-looking shows, but are far more willing to experiment with content and visual style.  The animation itself isn’t on KyoAni’s level, but unless the latter is at their peak (as with Hyouka) I actually prefer the look of P.A. Works shows in general.  Uchouten Kazoku was a gorgeous change-of-pace for them, and NnA gives them a chance to apply their trademark scenery porn to underwater scenes.  The premiere is just beautiful, in that heartbreaking mono no aware way P.A. shows often are.  And Buriki’s hyper-pretty designs are a good match for the look of the show.

I’ll get to the drama in a minute, but it’s interesting that the premise of Nagi no Asukara is so outlandish yet gets almost no role in the conversation.  In this world, mankind is divided between land and sea – and the underwater clans aren’t mermaids but true humans, with some adaptations (special skin and gills) that their land-based cousins have lost since they left the water behind.  It isn’t made a big deal of – it’s just the way it is.  Everybody knows about everybody else and while there’s clearly some tension and discrimination (the sea people are the oppressed minority in the equation) it’s more akin to social commentary than fantasy.  It actually makes a sort of interesting twist on the whole transfer student/clash of culture theme, and I’ll be interested to see where Okada goes with it.

But this is Okada (to dispel any doubts, she tosses in some gender-bender manservice in the very first shot), and the relationship angst is what folks will surely talk about.  The impetus of the story is that the middle school for sea people has closed, forcing the four kids at the center of the story to go to the landies’ school.  The narrator and central character is Sakashima Hikari (Hanae Natsuki), who takes a protective role with Mukaido Manaka (Hanazawa Kana).  Their friends are quiet Isaki Kaname (Ohsaka Ryouta) and gentle Hiradaira Chisaki (Kayano Ai).  On their first day at land school, the hapless Manaka gets swept up in the net of a local fisherman (overfishing by Landers is a bone of contention here) where she catches the eye of his son, Kihara Tsumugu (Ishikawa Kaitou).  Let the drama begin.

There are a lot of groans at what looks like a straight-up teen romance kerfuffle brewing, but those can work – the relationship dynamic seems a bit like that of Ano Natsu de Matteru (which was likewise a teen romance dressed in the clothes of fantasy/sci-fi) and that show certainly worked.  Hikari loves Manaka, who’s quite taken by the gallant Tsumugu.  Chisaki silently pines for Hikari, and confides her pain to Kaname – whose own romantic inklings are not yet explored, though it might be expected that he likes Chisaki.  Hikari is the one at the center of the storm, and he fills many roles here that are more commonly the domain of female leads: he’s the osananajimi and clearly tsundere for Manaka, at the very least.

Hikari is a tough kid to like at first glance, I admit.  It’s a pretty radical departure for Hanae Natsuki, who’s more associated with sweet and borderline moe boys like Wien from Tari Tari.  He’s hot-tempered, pushy and possessive – though he certainly does love Manaka.  She’s more or less playing the damsel-in-distress role here, a crybaby girl constantly getting herself into trouble that Hikari sees it as his job to get her out of.  That makes it a very sore point for him when Tsumugu is the one who rescues Manaka after she flees the school in shame after her dirty little secret (a curse placed on her by undersea Demi-God Uroko-sama (Toriumi Kousuke) which takes the form of a farting fish on her right knee) is revealed.  I suspect Hikari is going to show a more vulnerable side as he’s forced to grow up over the course of the series, and that will make him more sympathetic, but we’ll see.

I see plenty here to keep things interesting, though with Okada disaster is always lurking just beneath the surface (pun intended).  The visuals are gorgeous, we have a very strong cast indeed, and I think the standard premise is tweaked just enough to make it seem fresh.  There’s the issue of the culture clash and the spiritual side of things for the sea people to keep the romance from monopolizing the narrative, and there are some moments that feel very authentic to me – such as when Chisaki reacts exactly as she should to Manaka’s suggestion that she apologize to Hikari for not welcoming his pushy assistance –  “You didn’t do anything wrong.  But when he apologizes, make sure you accept it.”  I liked what that says about the dynamic – Chisaki says “when” because she knows Hikari will apologize, and indeed he does, and she’s thinking of Manaka despite her own interest in Hikari.  That gives me hope that Nagi no Asukara won’t descend into tortured angst but rather be a friendship story with complications – and if nothing else, I have full confidence that it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous to look at.

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ED: “Aqua Terrarium” by Nagi Yanagi

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  1. K

    I agree with you. I fall in love with this anime when I saw the preview. It was amazing!


  2. t

    animation and visuals were indeed eyegasm. P.A at their best. and they back to drama and SOL with school that they know to do so well. along with hanasaku (which was their flag project so far for celebrating first decade for the studio), NnA is the second 2cour anime. and we already can see lots of complex drama x romance along side with the sea-land conflict.
    I indeed fall for the show (like a lot of PA shows) but yet something is amiss. I feel like somethings were a bit hasty like the "news" that Chisaki love Hikari. it was a bit early to say directly IMO
    it's just that…I don't know. something is still missing. but I know PA will lead the way toward another great dramatic and romantic fantasy anime.

    after the episode I was like..something is very familiar there..then it hit me – the little mermaid. now I just need an addictive song like "under the sea" and all set. LOL I am kidding

    P.s 2
    it's a bit early damn with them. now I need to choose a hikari x manaka or hikari x chisaki or kihara x manaka.
    last time I did that "team" stuff was in chihayafuru when I was obviously chose team Taichi rather than team Arata.
    but that's probably just me…LOL

  3. p

    I'm actually disappointed that the first episode wasn't terrible… but instead was mediocre to decent. I must be a masochist when it comes to Okada.

  4. i

    I liked it and I was just feeling that it would be nice for an anime that was a bit more melancholic or less about some guy getting some super hot girl or the reverse and more about trying to cope with heartbreak. It would be a nice change of pace from typical wish fulfillment anime. Another thing I really like about PA is that though its there, the moe they bring feels far less artificial and far less used in a quota system designed by the accounting department.

    I liked both Ano Natsu and Anohana, so I really am interested to see where this goes, especially since Golden Time came off quite flat.

  5. p

    I have to disagree. I loved Golden Time but was very ambivalent about this. I'll talk about Golden Time more when Enzo inevitably posts his thoughts on it later.

    So NnA. Well it is through and through a PA Works show in same vein as True Tears, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari. It has scenery porn coming out of its ass as if it was influenced by Shinkai (ofc with a much lower budget since its TV) and it has that melancholic mono no aware atmosphere, which I really love. It's because of this that I always place it above the likes of KyoAni shows with the exception of Hyouka (which funny enough felt more like a PA works show then a kKyoani one if we ignore the 1st half of Chitanda's character) because the former's trademarks involves silly school and moe antics.

    Unfortunately, though, NnA has the worst character designs to date by PA Works. It's as if they are trying to beat Visual Arts Key in their own hypercute sad girls in the snow type of game, making it too tryhard and excessive.

    The main female character herself is also a big downer. Probably the worst female character of the season so far and she reminds me of a hypercute Menma.

    And the inevitable Okada sex comedy moment with the "smells like ovulation" unless that was terrible subbing. Ugh.

    So in the end, it has the PA Works elements I really love, but at the same time significant amount of elements I despise. Medicore to decent pilot episode. Though I have feeling it's downhill here with the overlooming teenage melodrama romance angst about to hit us in the face with the subtlety of a brick in the face.

  6. i

    Agree that Manaka is a pain, but the character designs are very fluid and more childlike than their other stuff, so its a nice change of pace. Also I feel Nagi will be of a much more like True Tears, with a proper romantic drama rather than a simple slice of life series. Also while I say Golden Time is flat, I didn't mean that I dislike it; just that it seems obvious from the start where the romance is going whereas Nagi is not so.

  7. G

    Golden Time was ok. I really liked this 1st episode and want to see more. Cpopelion was good and so was Kyoukai no Kanata. I'm also looking forward to Yozakura Quartet and Freezing sequels.

  8. S

    I think I love P.A Works just plain out of their scenery porn. Heck, I've even sold my soul and bought their illustration book.

    One of the places that I absolutely love in this world is Santorini in Greece, and that's exactly what P.A Works brought into the water world of this show. 30 seconds in and I'm already an outright fan of NnA.

    You can see some of the similar backdrops of Santorini here:

  9. K

    I don't see what's particularly egregious about the character designs. They err on the side of cute, but nothing really screams out moe blob. The character designs complements the supernatural theme of the series and the age of the character themselves. The background animation is just absolutely beautiful.

    There's definitely a lot more going for NnA than just the romance aspects, and I'm interested to see how the love pentagon plays out with the events bubbling in the background. None of the characters particularly stand out right now, but I do find the Hikari-Manaka-Tsumugu triangle quite similar to Taichi-Chihaya-Arata in Chihayafuru.

  10. I agree – I like the character designs. Buriki is stylized, I admit, but I think his characters have the redeeming quality of being quite beautiful. And given that these characters are actually the age they look, that's a point in the show's favor too.

  11. M

    I'm worried for when the drama will come.Don't get me wrong,I enjoy a good drama anime(which seem to be nearly extinct) but with so many of the characters being basically brats,I just don't know how well that'll work.I mean,teen angst can be annoying at times but kid angst?I'm scared now!

  12. The way I see it, most anime drama these days feature high-schoolers acting like 13 year-olds. Why not have one where 13 year-olds act like 13 year-olds?

  13. M

    Yea,guess you got a point there.This one has that excuse at least.Still,I wouldn't mind a time skip,although that's probably unlikely to happen.

  14. Why a timeskip? We got an infinite number of high-school anime every season, so for me the occasional middle-school or younger and college character-driven show is Heaven-sent. Please – keep them the age they are now.

  15. h

    Just wondering, what do you mean by gender-bender manservice? Does this have anything to do with a particular summary of the anime which said, "This will change as the land-dwelling human Tsumugu Kihara befriends four girls who live in a village at the bottom of the sea."?

  16. Just a joke based on the anime cliche of starting a series with some fanservice of the female lead, and Okada'a tendency to put boys in girls clothes for no reason apart from her own prurient interests.

  17. s

    One thing P.A works definitely know how to do is scenery and art; in terms of animation they are quite alright as well; if anything that is what i think puts them at a tier slightly lower when being compared to Kyo ani because Kyo ani has gorgeous scenery as well as fluid animation backing up the art (take hyouka for example in which a lot of the time, details such as hair and limb movement is accentuated whenever possible and man did the series have great dynamic lighting). Kyokai no Kanata is also pushing great scenery and impressive visuals and animation as well; Along with dynamic lighting, its got this pretty cool thing going on with illumination and unnatural lighting, while playing with shadows a bit. (In my opinion, its on the same level as Hyoka even though it has a different feel to it). Overall this fall season seems to be brimming with beautiful anime; Nagi no Asakura had a solid start; nothing special so far but i dont expect gold within the first ep, there definitely seems to be some promise within it all; I just hope it doesnt enter melodramatic territory; Okada tends to lay that on thick sometimes as i find that to be one of the weaknesses in her writing. I dont mind her other quirks that tend to drive some up a wall

  18. R

    P.A. Works never disappoints. The studio always gives the viewers the most gorgeous sceneries, and I'm always impressed by the amount of care and level of details that the studio is willing to invest in. Nagi no Asukara is one beautiful-looking show, period.

    This is a solid opening in my view. Right off the gate, it paints us the world, shows us some tension and emotions, touches on themes like discrimination, and introduces the characters that can potentially have their own personalities. Having said that though, Okada has the tendency of writing annoying character archetypes and making things melodramatic, but I'm going to give her and the show the benefit of the doubt and hope that it will turn out to be something lovely.

    Fall truly comes with choke-full of stimuli for the eyes, and I like the wide variety of beautiful and creative styles that we seldom see in previous seasons. I'm excited.

  19. g

    Yup definitely gonna watch this anime.
    melodrama with a cool ass underwater setting = awesome

  20. A

    Despite the fact that the characters are slightly annoying, the anime is pretty intriguing. I'm most interested about how the Land Dwellers vs. Sea People aspect is going to play out…and if the dynamics between the characters, let alone the characters themselves, will gain some depth.

  21. E

    I was pretty sure that Uroko-sama was just some statue inside their shrine and the Sea God was just superstition; so I was pretty surprised that he came out real. I hope that there will be more appearance of him, because honestly, I am a bit pessimistic about future episodes already. This is Mari Okada, the writer who made her character stumbled to stairs just to say some trivial things, cried like a baby for some trivial things, etc. It's only episode 1, yet Hikari was about to punch his rival already. It might turn into real brawl in the future.

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