Nagi no Asukara – 07

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Wow – where did that masterpiece come from?

It’s been one heck of a Thursday for anime, and I haven’t even made it through the backlog yet.  But the shows that have become my Thursday A-list (a necessity since there are simply too many shows to cover in a day) all delivered big-time with stellar efforts.  Samurai Flamenco and Golden Time’s place on that roster are solidly entrenched, but Nagi no Asukara was wavering a bit after the somewhat overwrought fourth and fifth episodes – it rebounded a bit last week but this was easily the strongest episode of the entire series, a genuine home run for me.

The is the blessing and the curse, the maddening reality of Okada Mari.  Occasionally she has a series that pretty much delivers non-stop like True Tears or AnoHana, and occasionally the genuine clunker.  But usually even her decidedly uneven series like Hanasaku Iroha and Sakurasou (an adaptation though it is) occasionally deliver episodes that are truly great (often directly before or after awful ones).  This makes it hard to drop her shows outright, because you don’t want to miss when she hits – and while Nagi no Asukara is for my money better (so far) than HanaIro or Sakurasou, it definitely falls in that uneven category.

This episode, though, was anything but uneven – Okada the surgeon at work with a scalpel, not a chainsaw.  There are certain things we’ve come to expect from this series through highs and lows, like beautiful animation with a few stunning moments every week (I’d rank Hikari and Akari being caught in Uroko-sama’s ice storm as one of those).  But this one delivered on story as well, as Okada revealed once again that she has a gift for emotional clarity that few anime screenwriters can match.  When she doesn’t bury her own emotional lead in a lot of ponderous wailing and gnashing of teeth, she really gets to the heart of the matter literally and figuratively – and in this case proves why the premise of this series is one that can really pack a punch.

If Okada continues to trust the story – and the audience – I think Nagi no Asukara has a chance to be really good (and doesn’t need a timeskip to do it).  The fundamental conflicts in the story are quite powerful, both in terms of the conflict between the land and sea people (which is really the story of the decline of the latter as a society), and the personal side.  The stakes were perfectly clear this week, both for Shishishio and for the Sakishima family.  The writing was pretty much firing on all cylinders here, starting with for my money the most understated and authentic moment depicting Hikari’s agony at (as he sees it) losing Manaka to Tsumugu.  The romance angle has been heavy-handed at times, both with these three and with Chisaki, but not here – we got a simple “That hurt a lot more than I thought it would” thought from Hikari, and a lot of letting the characters’ faces tell the story.

More important this week (and probably overall) is the matter of Akari’s affair with Tooru and how it impacts both her family and her culture.  As a framing device we have the plucky kids trying to get the feuding adults to agree to hold the Ofunehiki – which could have been corny, but was handled really well.  We see a true friendship forming between Hikari and the his two former foes, Takeshi (Kawanishi Kengo) and Ku (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu).  This means Hikari trying to convince his father, and a group of adults from each side sitting down to negotiate (I loved the little detail that the sea people wrap their kimono right over, left, the opposite of the landies – this is an extremely important rule in Japanese society).  This is where the elephant in the room is finally acknowledged – after a promising start breaks down over whether the landies should apologize, the men of Shioshishio lay it right out there: you’re stealing our fish and our women.  It doesn’t get much more fundamental than that – the ability to eat and the ability to procreate.  Women are leaving the village because of a lack of eligible sea-men (sorry) but this is going to have an inevitable result, and that seems to be what the Sea God and his Priest are trying to prevent.

All that is why Akari’s situation so perfectly lays bare all the fault lines, personal and societal.  Tooru has already stolen one sea girl – now he’s about to steal another.  But aside from that, her family is breaking apart.  Hikari is pushing her to go, and in doing so taking the first huge steps towards adulthood – but the fact is he still needs her whether he’ll acknowledge it or not, and he’s effectively losing his mother for the second time.  And both of them are increasingly estranged from their father, who’s caught in the middle because it’s he who’s tasked with trying to keep Shioshishio from fading away to nothing.  Hikari’s anger and Akari’s regret are plain to see here, of course, but so is Tomori-san’s pain – he loves his children and he’s about to lose not just one but both of them because he’s trying to keep his culture alive.  And of course he’s already lost the woman he loved.  It’s a very sad situation for all concerned, and no easy answers are readily apparent.

The culmination of all this is Akarai’s resolve to go to Tooru, and Hikari’s decision to go with her – which prompts Uroko-sama’s icy attempt to prevent them from leaving.  He says in doing so that he’s sworn to protect them “because they’re His descendants” – clearly a significant moment even if the exact meaning isn’t clear (the implication is that “He” is the Sea God).  It’s Tomori’s plea for mercy that seems to prompt Uroko-sama to release the siblings, but this surely can’t end here.  It’s a very sad situation – Shioshishio is losing yet another breeding-age citizen, and Tomori is losing his entire family.  I don’t think the latter can be underestimated as an important point, though it’s not been emphasized much so far – can Akari and Hikari easily live with the fact that their father has been left alone under the sea?  There’s more than enough conflict and emotional volatility to power Nagi no Asukara for two cours without a timeskip – and if (a huge “if) it manages to tell its story with anything like the power and dexterity it displayed this week, the series has a chance to far surpass the expectations of the skeptics who’ve dismissed its chances since before it aired.

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  1. N

    It says something about seadad that he doesn't dare let a single tear drop from his eyes.

  2. d

    Excellent observation, but you're also assuming you'd see tears in the first place underwater. Enzo's right though, physics have sailed from episode one, so anything can happen because it isn't meant to make sense.

  3. R

    but… but… ice floats when it breaks apart….

    oh, what the heck! never mind that. couldn't agree more that this episode is really the best yet. i love how okada interspersed the kids' innocent efforts to get the ofuneheiki held with that of the adults rather trite bickering. it draws in a sharp contrast and lends more to the social issues the series is tackling. but the last one with uroko-sama is a bit of a long shot for me. it feels like it takes a bit out of the genuineness of the episode.

  4. I just can't focus on laws of physics with this one… That ship has sailed.

    What was it about Uroko-sama's actions that didn't seem genuine to you?

  5. R

    i cant really pinpoint it myself. maybe it was his sudden action that caught me off guard. it was a bit of a swerve from the mood of the whole episode. though i am well aware that he was bound to do that sooner or later.

  6. t

    it was really great.
    I totally loved the analogy with the surgeon. I really felt that this episode revealing layer by layer the issues of NnA.

    I am also pleased with uroko-sama going on icy-action. yet ended up let it be.
    the more interesting issue would be the living outside the village. it's not that easy..especially when they need to be in water and stuff. yes, a salty bath is possible..but still…they are sea creatures. leaving your home is affecting you. especially doing it due to unwanted circumstances.
    this would interesting. how his sea friends gonna treat him(*ahem* Manaka *ahem*)?what about the other landies at school?it's true they are good friends now..but still.
    I guess Hikari will find a place with his sister at Tooru's house. so..Miuna X Hikari gonna happen? 😛

    if it's not enough we have society issues, school issues (a bit less but it's there) and the romance issues, now there is also supernatural and mystery stuff combined together.
    while it's nice addition..I am still a bit..I don' doesn't feel 100% right, yet.
    moreover, I wonder if Okada Mari can handle everything. I think she can. but the supernatural-mystery phenomenon last time (AnoHana) brought that over-melodramatic climax. but 'mystery' itself was quite nice there…so, we'll see about that. I guess I still need to digest the ending, I am waiting for next week to organize my thought about that.

  7. h

    As a sometime defender of Okada-sensei, I have to honestly point out that this episode and the previous one are the first not to be written by her directly. This ep was written by Yoshino Hiroyuki and storyboarded by Asai Yoshiyuki (multiple episodes of Ragnarokr, true tears, Canaan, Fairy Tail, etc.). Directed by Harada Takahiro (multiple episodes of Kiba, AnoHana, Space Brothers, etc.). Of course, even if this script was by Yoshino, the plot is under Okada and the director's supervision.

    This was better than I'd expect a Yoshino episode to be (I'm not a great fan of his), but I'm still not ranking it as high as others do. I preferred Okada's waterworks episode (ep5), where emotions broke through to the surface instead of always being suppressed. Or maybe I was just depressed by all the negativity in this ep, to go with Hikari's forced positivity.

  8. I was certainly stunned to hear Yoshino wrote this episode – I'm just assuming it was the seiyuu or the universe no longer makes sense…

    I do consider the series composer ultimately responsible for the content of every ep, especially someone like Okada. She's made it clear in interviews she controls scripting pretty tightly.

  9. K

    Kaname dear, I always knew you were a lady killer.


  10. R

    It's definitely in the HSI category of Okada shows, but I definitely feel it's better than HSI because this series hasn't ever tossed out the dignity of its characters quite like HSI. Too early for me to make the call on the Sakurasou comparison though (They're similarly flawed, but also present moments of brilliance).

    In any case, it was definitely a great episode and it conveyed emotion way better than the last two episodes with the water works. It really does baffle me that Okada relies so much more on the theatrics but I'll take what I can get.

  11. s

    masterpiece….ehhhhhh…i myself wouldnt label this ep a masterpiece as it didnt really get on that level once throughout the ep. Was it a great ep? definitely. What i saw with this ep was pretty much the turning point in the narrative for both Hikari and Akari and the way they took their fates into their own hands, even going as far as to defy a god, was very endearing and effective as a critical point in the story. I gotta say i like what im seeing and cant wait to see what trials and tribulations await them as they begin to live on land and see more of the truth of their circumstances (the portrayal of hikari and Akari's sibling relationship is framed very nicely and in Anime that's a godsend)

    I have expressed before how Akari is my favorite character of this series and this ep continues to show why she is: she is headstrong about her determination to keep her relationship going with the human she is seeing, and wants to do her best as a mother to another person's child and to be a sister to Hikari. Still, she has her doubts about whether she can pull all of this together and that is what gives her character more realism in my eyes.

    Proud to see more growth on Hikari's side; the way he handled his jealousy in this ep was surprisingly mature, wanting to turn this ofuneheiki event into passive challenge while benefitting relations between land and sea dwellers. I gotta say he's coming up. What the ending has laid out for us is some nice ground work for future eps, and if those eps can capitalize on the events that transgressed while operating (more surgical puns) the narrative framework very methodically, i can see this series being a memorable one (without the need for a timeskip although one wouldnt hurt). Nagi no Asakura, please dont crash and burn (and hopefully okada doesnt draw any more influences from lifetime tv )

  12. M

    My tolerance for Hikari is turning into like and I dare say even a little bit of admiration.I admire the fact that he can see reason when the adults of Shioshishio behave like that.His father seems to be a good man with a huge responsibility but those other guys?They're a terrible influence and while I don't think the fishermen were any better,they definitely had a point with why their women keep running off.Now,I'm not saying it's those fishermen that women would prefer as their behavior is just as bad but they got MANY MORE OPTIONS to choose from on the surface and I believe it's something the men of Shioshishio should keep in mind.They can't afford to behave like that just because the surface dwellers can,they don't have that luxury & should try to be the better ones if they really want to keep their culture alive.

    I pity Tomori for having to put up with them and if you ask me,the Sea God is kind of an asshole for not getting more involved directly instead of putting most of the burden Tomori's shoulders.Don't get me wrong here,I'm all for a higher deity letting humans sort out their own issues but if he's not gonna help then he shouldn't ask for anything either.Honestly,since Shioshishio is this bad already it would probably best if the sea people just went to the surface and say goodbye to Shioshishio.Abandoning one's culture's definitely not something easy to do but the well-being of the people should come first and they'd most likely have better lives on the surface.

  13. E

    I believe there's a larger underlying, most likely divine, sort of event going on. Or at least that's the impression I get with the flame flickering more profusely and with the dad being torn between trying to avoid this possibly tragic event from occurring and the happiness of his children.

    Perhaps it's not that, and it's simply that they're trying to protect the sea-people population, but if there is some big revelation to be revealed, I hope it's well executed and not a poorly used plot device to ensue drama.

    Nonetheless, I think it'll probably show why the father couldn't allow his daughter to leave, and also just how much pain he's been going through, which would then lead to tears and a family reunion.

    Lastly, as mean as this may sound, I'm glad that Hikari's idea and effort was kind of shoved back in his face. Well I'm glad from a story telling standpoint anyways. It was much more real and the emotions felt much less forced than it had been in the past recent episodes. The agony on his face was apparent when his dad asked him if that was enough. It showed his naiveté when his confidence was just overflowing. Kudos to him though for still not giving up even after seeing what looked like a tall barrier to doing an Ofunehiki, i.e. the rift between the sea and land.

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