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.
The truth of the matter is, that’s a fine line for any writer to walk, and Okada has certainly crossed it many times in her recent career. I do now as I always have like Nagi no Asukara’s willingness to confront big emotional issues openly, without the frigid reserve which seems to be such an intrinsic part of most anime. I like the fact that this is a series where people hug each other and tell each other they love each other – that’s a good thing, not a bad one. In itself.
But with the last couple of episodes, I think Okada has overstepped herself and we’ve at times slipped into the realm of the maudlin. Simply put, there was too damn much crying and wailing here for my tastes. I think there are times when Okada has gotten the point across and simply doesn’t know when to stop, and when you factor in exploiting the cuteness of little girls, you really reach the point where manipulation becomes excessive.
For me at least, the issue with this episode isn’t one of substance so much as degree. I like the Akari subplot, and I think it’s provided a great forum both for Hikari to show his increasing maturity and to highlight the long-term crisis facing the Sea People. There was a lot of good stuff in this episode – I really liked the dancing scene, which so perfectly captured the almost immeasurable awkwardness of organized coed dancing for pubescent kids. I liked where the episode took Chisaki’s character, showing us how being a little more mature than normal for one’s age can sometimes give you the perceptiveness to realize why you’re unhappy, but not to do anything about it. Her conversation with Tsumugu – using him as her “sea slug”, which about describes his personality – was good too, showing us how badly she needed to unburden herself, and I liked his calm “Stop” when Manaka appeared on the scene. I even liked the interaction between Hikari and Miuna for the most part, and I especially liked when Hikari told Akari to stop being his Mom and start being Miuna’s.
It’s too bad Okada didn’t trust the audience to get the point (which is often an issue with her) because the emotions behind all this were very authentic and the point would have been easily gotten without all the histrionics. C’est la vie – I can honestly say I’d rather watch a show that gets the big emotions right but overplays them than one that’s false to the core, though I do hope the writer steps off the gas now that we’ve seemingly reached the story’s first major resolution. I think the bigger problem is very clear here, and it’s way Akari’s happy ending isn’t really a happy ending. It’s nice if she follows her heart and stays with Tooru and Miuna, but that means another lost breeding-aged Sea Person, and a net gain for the Landies (who hardly need the help). The intro scene made it clear that the Sea God (whoever that is) is fully aware that the current situation can only result in one ending, if unchecked, and it doesn’t seem as if he’s willing to let his people go extinct without a fight.
Perhaps this will all come to a head with the five children of the core cast – not technically the “next generation” as they’re the same one as Akari, but certainly at some remove from her. If indeed Manaka loves Tsumugu (frankly it’s getting harder and harder to see why, as he isn’t very interesting) would Hikari have the stomach to let her go as he did his sister? Hikari has, not surprisingly, shown the most growth of anyone in the cast and this is clearly his story, so it seems very likely that he (perhaps after a timeskip, though I hope not) is going to be the key player when the crisis of the Sea People is resolved one way or the other. He’s stepped up as a very fine lead, one of the strengths of the series – he was always relatable for me as he seemed quite realistic for a 13 year-old, but he’s actually become likable as well as believable.