Nagi no Asukara – 03

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I give up, Okada-san – you’ve got me (for now, at least).

There are a few things on my mind as regards Nagi no Asukara, apart from the simple fact that I like it very much and find it consistently entertaining.  There are elements to the show’s reception that have proved quite predictable, and it seems quite fitting that the discussion of an Okada series almost always follows the same pattern as the series itself – annoying as hell at times but hard to look away from.  I find the equation a bit more slanted than usual in favor of Okada this time, though – it seems as if a sizeable portion of the Western audience has really turned on her with a vengeance, and pre-judged this show as a failure before it aired.  There’s also the laughably hypocritical character assassination of Hikari, who’s being crucified by most of the audience despite the fact that he’s actually behaving far more believably for his age than most anime characters (and the fact that cute females endlessly get away with far worse).

If the discussion of the series is even more grating than usual, the flip-side is that the show itself is better than anything original Okada has done for quite some time (again – for now, at least).  Somehow, perhaps not even intentionally, I think in the combination of very young teenagers and this fantasy setting Okada has found a formula that really suits her muse – her sense of drama and flamboyantly emotional behavior actually fits beautifully with hormonally-infused pubescents and a fanciful premise.  In moving out to the very edge of magical realism Okada has found a more realistic voice than with her more conventional series of the last few years, and while I don’t know if she can keep it up for two cours, for now at least it’s really working.

There’s also the fact that Nagi no Asukara continues to be, in a word, beautiful.  Somehow the Buriki character designs in concert with P.A. Works art have created something that has an almost Ghibli feel to it, while still maintaining the essence of the P.A. Works aesthetic.  While the nuances would certainly be different I could even see this as a Ghibli story, too.  I have to hand it to Okada for the notion that Ena is, effectively, amniotic fluid – it’s a very clever conceit, for of course in the womb human babies effectively breathe under water.  There’s a certain poetry to the notion that the sea people symbolically never left the womb, and it quite neatly explains the crucial element of why the sea people are so adamantly against cross-breeding with landies.  If the children are, by nature, unable to return to the sea because they’ve lost their Ena, every intermarriage is effectively another step in the decline of the tribe.  It’s a serious problem if you look at it from their perspective.

I think that theme is a major part of where Okada is trying to go with this story, in fact – “if you look at it from their perspective”.  It applies both to the characters and the audience, in terms of something as simple as the fact that Hikari’s behavior is quite understandable considering his age and circumstances – and so is that of most of the cast.  But so far they’re mostly seeing things from their own perspectives, and the romance of Akari and the land dweller Tooru (Majima Junji) illustrates quite well.  Tooru, in fact, has no idea that Akari will be banned from the village if she marries him, or why.  She fancies him at least in part because there are so few marriageable men in the village (this is obviously a vicious cycle for the sea dwellers).

The flip-side of this is the way Hikari sees his sister, and the way her romance with Tooru makes him feel.  The issue is that Hikari has always seen his sister from a selfish perspective – I said last week he likely saw her as a kind of surrogate mother after their mother died, and that indeed was illustrated here.   Akari took it on herself to become a mother to Hikari, even abandoning her dream of becoming a mangaka (in anime themes don’t stop at the water’s edge) in order to start work so Hikari might someday go to college.  Hikari is now – as a sign of his maturing process, I might add – starting to realize how much his sister has sacrificed for him, and in addition to the guilt this makes him feel it also makes a part of him want to see her pursue her relationship with Tooru, even if it means she leaves the village.  This is a highly significant part of the maturation process – the development of empathy, and the dawning realization that what we want for ourself is not always the right thing.  Some people never get there – Hikari, at least, seems to be on the path to not becoming one of them.

Okada delivered the goods in the sibling scenes, which were excellent.  Another part of Hikari’s education comes in the way his view of Tsumugu is changing (and ultimately, that may mean accepting his relationship with Manaka).  “He’s a good guy” Hikari admits to himself, and by all accounts it seems to be true.  But there’s another reason why Tsumugu is both so knowledgeable and sympathetic to the sea dwellers – his father – or possibly grandfather – Isamu (Kiyokawa Motomu) appears to be one of them.  I suspect Tsumugu is aware of this, and laments the loss of his own Ena.  There’s also the rather shocking revelation that young Tooru is apparently already a father – of one of the two girls that have been harassing the Sakishima siblings, Miuna (Komatsu Mikako).  She apparently decides that she and Hikari have a shared goal, namely breaking up Tooru’s relationship with Akari – and how Hikari responds to this development is going to be yet another test for his character.

The last major point I want to make is that I am aware that there’s a certain manipulative quality to the writing here, as there is in much of Okada’s work.  I’m not blind, and I can see when she’s pulling my strings – but it doesn’t so much matter because the way she’s pulling them is pretty artful.  There are big emotions at play here – dead mothers, forbidden West Side Story romances, losing one’s first love – it’s broad, yes, but these are effective themes to pursue.  I like Nagi no Asukara because it isn’t afraid to operate in the realms of strong emotion, and while it’s been pretty heavy so far there have been some deft comic touches (like Miuna’s friend trying to chloroform Hikari with a dry rag and then decrying “The media has me dancing to their tune!”).  I like imperfect characters who actually grow, and I love the truly incredible job P.A. Works is doing with the visuals here, even by their lofty standards.  This is just a good show, plain and simple, and it’s a shame if many viewers bring so much baggage with them that they can’t enjoy the journey.

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  1. F

    Agreed. I was so impressed with the well presented development of the story and characters (not quite blown away but more of a Oh wow – well done! kinda thing) that Asukara made me commit to it. For now. I really, really hope the series sticks to its general guns they have laid out so far. If so it could be a really good series imo.

  2. Okada is a real talent, no question about it. She can go off the rails and when she does, it can be one of those freight trains full of dangerous chemicals that gets the army called out to evacuate the state. But if she can hold it together here, I think this series can be a really good one.

  3. i

    I liked NnA from the start and I like it even more now. On a packed Thursday it has to be number 2 for me. I think a lot of the audience is pissed at Hikari because he is not a paper cut out or Hikkimori or Otaku character that needs attention or gets a harem. He's a normal boy with normal problems and does not have the tools or the mental facility to deal with it. Simply put he's difficult to connect with for most of the male audience for an anime like NnA.

    That said I agree that he's a lot better a character than most characters in anime. People are flawed and Okada is showing that they grow to cover those imperfections. It also is one of her few shows that feels dramatic without being melodramatic, which is nice as I felt AnoHana was a touch too much at times.

    PA's art is often compared to Kyoani's in quality but I feel that Kyoani's feels beautiful but bland in KnK while PA have made their one beautiful and visceral. The difference in the scenes between the shining sun of the land and the blue moon of the sea are so vivid and leave such a clear impression that KnK does not.

    Overall I think if haters don't like it they should drop it, fuck their completion obsession. When I hate a show I drop it even if its the penultimate one. The fact that they;re still here means they like something about it. Bitch all you want but the fact is you like something about it.

  4. p

    "PA's art is often compared to Kyoani's in quality but I feel that Kyoani's feels beautiful but bland in KnK while PA have made their one beautiful and visceral."

    Pretty much this.

    Kyoani art seems beautiful for the sake of beautiful and they don't really make much use of it. It's like if they know that they can animate and draw well but they don't do anything to enhance it.

    PA Works on the other hand always have this melancholic, mono no aware, nostalgic feeling to every one of their shows. As enzo stated in one of randomc's podcast, such atmosphere have a "gentle sadness" attached it.

    It's funny how Hyouka, the only Kyoani series that have left any impression on me in the last 5 years, feels more like a PA Works show than a Kyoani one, and is no wonder why I loved it.

  5. k

    "I am aware that there's a certain manipulative quality to the writing here"

    It's not just the writing, and I think that's one of the main reasons why the show rubs me the wrong way. It's the entire thing. The writing is blatantly emotionally manipulative in a way I really don't like. The characters are walking stereotypes, and especially Manaka and the other girl whose name I always forget are carefully built up from tropes in a way that they're appealing on a physical and emotional level, which I wouldn't even mind that much but the way they go about it is so incredibly blatant. The character designs, especially for the girls, have a sleazy quality to me (it's worse in the original designs, though), and while the overall art and animation is pretty and fluid I find it rather self-indulgent and boring. It's like the creators expect me to be constantly awed at how beautiful it all is.

    And while the growth of a character like Hikari (and to a smaller extent, Manaka) is inherently interesting, the whole romance mess handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, kind of cheapens it. To be honest I don't see a lot of artfulness about this show. But I guess I have a peculiar taste. I'm watching because deep down there's a potentially interesting story to be told and hopefully it won't be fully built by stereotypes and tropes as it is so far, but I wish it was less in-your-face. I don't like to be emotionally manipulated, at least not in a way that's so blatant and yet expects to be taken seriously.

  6. kuromitsu, I guess the bottom line for me is that NnA is like a really good bunraku – I can see the strings, but that doesn't detract from my enjoyment. I know what Okada is doing with the emotional side of the show but just because it's not subtle, that doesn't mean it's not honest. I think the emotional palette she's painting with is quite an effective one, dealing with universal feelings many of us have or have had. And she's set it in a genuinely interesting premise with gorgeous art. I sometimes feel anime is too emotionally closed for my tastes, and one that's willing to be a little too open makes a nice change from the abundance of erring in the other direction.

    Also, I quite agree with Ishruns that P.A. Works is quite different than KyoAni. While the latter often has beautiful art and usually fluid, seamless animation, PA stuff is alive in a way KyoAni stuff usually isn't (apart from exceptions like Hyouka, which are heartbreakingly so). There's a depth of feeling communicated in purely visual terms with PAW that I find with no other studio.

  7. p

    You know, I remember a post you made a little while back when you compared PA Works visuals to Makoto Shinkai… and ever since then I'm beginning to see it more and more. Of course, there are some major budgetary differences since Shinkai has far more money invested into his movies, and that PA is more or so less working within the mould of the current industry (one that is heavily focused on moe and school settings), but their approach in visuals, storytelling and animation have some distinct similarities.

    I remember an interview a while back where Shinkai himself said he would very much like to make a TV anime series some day. And that just gave me the idea that PA Works would the perfect choice for him.

    Too bad it's only a dream at this point ^_^'

  8. There's no doubt in my mind, Shinkai and PAW share a very distinct sensibility. Narratively they obviously work within a very different framework by necessity, but even there I can see it.

    It should be pointed out that Shinkai did his first few movies on basically no budget at all, and still managed to turn out some amazing visuals.

  9. s

    The way I feel about Makoto Shinkai (and in a way PA works) is that he is sort of a poet with the way he creates beautiful visuals that act almost as an allegory to the narratives he crafts (it's almost as if the art is the narrative). While that is a wonderful strength, the problem i have with him and his way of making his art act as the narrative is that he is a poet to a fault; because while he elegantly constructs visual scenes capable of putting its viewers into a euphoric trance, the narratives feel weak in comparison and while i enjoy art and animation (i think both of them work in tandem; one is not more important than the other) it's not enough to praise his work to the heavens. Kotohana no niwa was a beautiful short film visually, but going back to shinkai's style of poetic story-telling being a double-edged sword, he treats his films too much like poetry, and i end up feeling like im being presented a haiku rather than watching a narrative unfold naturally and effectively pulling me into the character interactions or plot.

    In a way PA works is similar because as much as i enjoy their prepossessing art style and animation techniques, sometimes they dont quite nail the narratives and their art is not enough for me to really consider them a top-tier studio. Lately i have been enjoying their works such as the flawed (which i mostly blame on the amount of eps that was allowed for the studio) but preciouus, sweet, and genuine Red Data Girl and the recent Uchouten Kazoku.

  10. k


    It's not really the lack of subtlety that bothers me but how crass the show is about it (maybe "crass" is not the best word to use but I can't think of a better one). It's like even as it's trying to tell a delicate and deep story (note: trying), it's also trying to adhere to a lowest common denominator on all levels and the result is the anime equivalent of a daytime soap that takes itself way too seriously for its actual value.

    Perhaps the emotions are honest but it's still cliché, it's still a melodrama centering on a teen love polygon, the "pure young characters" are designed by an artist known at least as much for his ero work as his non-ero jobs, and it shows (even though animation has mostly cleaned them up – it feels like the producers are winking at a certain group in the audience, and then there's the merchandise). The whole thing lacks restraint but very self-aware about it and I don't see much value in its excesses.

    Regarding the art and the animation, I don't really see much incredible artistry there either. Of course it's pretty (though it's the kind of pretty that I find boring) and clearly lots of effort went into it. Every now and then it also has moments of good art direction. But Shinsekai yori was made on a miniscule budget and yet to me its art was a lot more effective and involving than anything I've seen in Nagi no asukara so far. You compare the recent P.A. Works anime to Shinkai's works but what I've seen of those was a more delicate and atmospheric than anything I've seen in RDG or Nagi no asukara.

    Anyway, I'm not saying this is a bad anime. It's certainly overall well-made, and its story has a potential that makes me keep watching (even though I don't expect that it'll deliver in a way that I'll appreciate). I just don't think it deserves all this praise. Then again, I'm not into this kind of series to begin with.

  11. Z

    I don't get the whole PA Works/Kyoto Animation thing about the art being inherently more beautiful. Certainly it is more "refined", as in they've afforded more time and money into adding reflective surfaces, detailed gradation, and lighting effects, than other studios, but that's only on a superficial level.

  12. M

    I still can't say I like Hikari but I appreaciate the character development he's received this episode – the sooner it starts,the better if you ask me.Granted,he still had his share of annoying moments but at least he's self-conscious to a degree.I hope they'll show us more of his inner thoughts,it really helps.

    Don't get me wrong,I have no issues with a flawed characters and would pick one any day over Mary Sues but while leaving room for character development is great,I think one should be carefull on not leaving too much.Giving us one or two early reasons to like a character,despite being flawed,seems to be the better choice as it can make viewers eager to see said character grow and be more forgiving of his/her shortcomings as opposed to being unlikeable from the start,making some people be a lot harsher whenever the he/she screws up and appreciate less of the character development received.Some will even go as far as to flat-out ignore any signs of improvement that such a character is showing.

  13. l

    This episode confirms something I suspected at the start. The sea folk community is slowly dwindling. The face that they needed to close the school is probably due to not enough students to keep it going. Akira mentioned that they are few single guys left.

  14. K

    Well I speculate that Tsugami is half sea folk, since his dad has ena and is staying on the land must mean he was banished. Also explains why Tsugami is interested in the sea folk.

    And due to the way the gene pass down, logically since Tsugami is half, if he and Manaka had a child it should have ena I believe.

    However this episode made Hikari a lot more tolerable and understandable which was good.

  15. p

    While it's previous obvious that I don't like this series very much (and that I have some baggage that it's impossible for me to let go), I am truly baffled in regard to various posts on Animesuki, MAL and ANN in regards to the discussion of sexism. In addition I had some completely off the rail comparisons that the sexism (largely by Hikari) is comparable to likes of Oreimo and Sword Art Online.

    I don't think some people understand the notion that Nagi no Asu Kara does not endorse or promote such behaviour, but rather they are using the character flaws as a mechanism and manipulative emotional string for character development. This is very different to the likes of Oreimo which ultimately promotes incest as a good thing and that rejecting every romance opportunity to obtain that goal is admirable, or Sword Art Online where after it shows the main female lead as an independent, strong willed woman only to completely destroy her character as a damsel in distress to the Nth degree and that it promotes a message that all girls need to be protect.

    I am truly baffled.

  16. p

    *pretty obvious

  17. Z

    Welcome to the fanbase!

  18. p

    I don't think I said I was a fan of this series ^_^'…

    Just more of a lolwut reaction to the people who are calling it sexist.

  19. m

    The sea dwellers' eyelashes are blue and the land dwellers' black….

  20. n

    I love PA Works since True Tears but it dwindled from HanaIro. They made me a fan again with Uchoten Kazoku and this one's really looking good so far. About Okada… I just realized she worked on (series composition) 5 out of the 10 (tv) anime PA Works released, this is the fifth one. I really treasure her True Tears and Canaan but not the other two. So far, she's hitting the right notes with this one… I just hope it won't be so contrived.

    Since someone already above said about the probability of having an offspring having an Ena between the two. Let's assume not having Ena is the dominant trait, 50% recessive trait is not enough to display the trait, and Tsumugu is 1/4 sea dweller (forgot what they're called… and, Enzo, the official site says he's Tsumugu's grandfather). So, if we use punnett square here, AAAa x aaaa, you'll get 50% chance of the offspring to be half-sea-dweller and 50% for 75% sea-dweller. Well, there are other factors in play but yeah I'll stop the nerd talk here.

    If they get to have an offspring with Ena, then Manaka might not be banished. Ok, they're still kids and I doubt this anime will go into "that" territory… but we never know.

  21. n

    Lemme correct my nerd talk (this is just off the top of my head… never had genetics class when I was in uni so IDK if what I remember is correct but I think it is)…

    Grandfather (aa) x Grandmother (AA)
    -> Offsprings are 100% Aa

    Father (Aa or AA) x Mother (AA or Aa)
    -> Offsprings are 50% Aa and 50% AA

    Assuming Tsugumu is Aa, so…
    Tsugumu x Manaka = 50% Aa and 50% aa

    So, an offspring with Ena will only show in Tsugumu and Manaka's kids…

    (ok that's enough but yeah there are other factors… this is just a simple and basic one)

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