I confess to not being absolutely riveted through most of this episode, but in looking back on it I have a certain admiration for it. Frankly, you just don’t see too many anime episodes that focus for their entirety on emotions but do so without the crutch of emotional crises (of the sort we saw in episode 5, in fact). This was neither slice-of-life nor romance drama, but something in-between – 22 minutes of pubescent kids wrestling with the sort of emotional pyrotechnics that the little hormone bombs actually do. It wasn’t exactly exciting, but it was pretty genuine.
I’ll definitely take this kind of approach over the manufactured drama of the last two episodes, even if there were a few moments when that crept into the mix. And we saw something of a reversion from Hikari and Manaka, I’d argue – not coincidentally in fact. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that these two bring out the worst in each other. It’s most obvious in Hikari’s sake, where see him backsliding into petulance and pettiness, but no less so with Manaka, who tries too hard to please everyone and turns on the wateroworks again.
This is a real problem for the both of them, given how close they are and the fact that Hikari is in love with Manaka (and I’m not sold that the reverse isn’t also true). Chisaki’s speech at the end of the episode about wishing summer would last forever takes Nagi no Asukara into very, very well-worn territory – some would say cliched – but it’s well-worn because it reflects a sort of universal truth. Things that are possible when we’re children are no longer possible when we become adolescents, and one of those is for boys and girls to have friendships where hormones don’t get in the way. Hikari loves Manaka, Chisaki loves Hikari, and Kaname… well, what exactly? In any event, the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back, and what the heart has split asunder can never be wholly repaired.
I like seeing Okada take on these issues through the eyes of middle-schoolers, as I think it really suits her current perspective as a writer. Maybe it’s because the guys are too young to have become objects of her scorn, but her usual misandry is largely missing (so far). She’s taking on the trials and embarrassments of pubescence like group dancing and swimming class and doing it with a sensitivity towards both sides of the gender split that we really haven’t seen from her since (I’d argue) AnoHana. Yet another reason to hope the timeskip some are clamoring for doesn’t happen – that, and the less we see of the annoying moeblobs in future episodes the happier I’ll be. Things are already messy enough without Miuna becoming a serious factor in the romantic side of the story.
I also have to say, once again, that P.A. Works is doing a fantastic job with the visuals in this series. The animation itself is very good (an area where the studio is often underrated) but it’s in art that P.A. Works has always excelled. No one can deliver beautiful landscapes – and now seascapes – the way this studio can. From the sheer opulence of HanaIro to the glorious natural beauty of RDG to the fanciful surrealism of Uchouten Kazoku’s Kyoto, PAW consistently delivers real vision and a unique aesthetic quality no TV anime studio can match. And NnA is firmly establishing an exalted place in their portfolio – this is a gorgeous series, full of imagination and mono no aware. The Tomoebi – the fall of salt snow and it’s illusory effects – was telegraphed through the entire episode yet still exceeded expectations.