Nagi no Asukara – 09

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This isn’t the show I expected to fly under the radar, but it’s funny how things work out.

Nagi no Asukara had a fair amount of hype going into this season, but as the weeks have progressed it’s fallen behind other Thursday shows to the point where not many people seem to be talking about it.  And that’s a shame, because on balance I think it’s really damn good, and not just for the achingly beautiful P.A. Works visual poetry.  To some extent there seems to be an inverse ratio between the quality and restraint of Okada’s work and its commercial success – much like with the Rozen Maiden franchise and the anime industry in general these days – and Nagi no Asukara is definitely cruising for a commercial bruising, poised to fail pretty spectacularly on Blu-ray and DVD (probably south of 2000 combined sales) next month.

It’s interesting to speculate on why a show which had considerable buzz both positive and negative going into the season should now be met mostly with ambivalence, while other less-discussed shows are drawing stronger opinions.  One thing I guess we can say is that in Hollywood terms Okada, for all her clout, can’t “open” a series by herself – even if it’s a rare one of her originals.  I suppose Nagi no Asukara doesn’t push any of the right buttons – the girls are too young to be abjectly sexualized, and while the characters are cute the show doesn’t obsess over moe.  It’s just good, old-fashioned relationship drama and fantasy – elements that Okada is quite deft with – but the anime audience apparently isn’t much interested in that.

In a funny way I wonder if NnA might have been better off if it had been the disaster its critics were dismissing it as before it ever aired, because at least that way it would still be in the conversation.  But now the ones who expected to hate it have mostly left, disappointed, and the ones who like what it portrays aren’t the right demographic in today’s anime marketplace.  It’s certainly not an unusual scenario for PAW, sadly – their list of good series that failed commercially is a long one, and this show seems ticketed to join that unfortunate fraternity.  I really do like it – apart from a two-episode hiccup where Bad Okada hijacked Good Okada’s brain, Nagi no Asukara has delivered complex and believable character dynamics and an interesting fantastical premise, and this episode continued a very strong run over the last few weeks in both departments.

In the first place, we see a continuation of the theme that neither Hikari or Akari has forgotten about their father, which I was very glad of.  In fact I thought their reconciliation might just be the focus of the climax this week, and was a bit disappointed to see larger events intervene, though they were portrayed quite well.  The fundamental issue here is that Akari is a young adult and Hikari a child, so while it makes sense for her to have done what she did (setting aside the societal question) it can be strongly argued that Hikari’s place is with his father.  I like the way the difficulties between them have played out – there’s no hitting or screaming or verbal abuse (a little from Hikari, perhaps) – they just don’t communicate.  And that’s a pretty realistic scenario between fathers and boys Hikari’s age.

Another continuing theme we’re seeing Okada return to is the connection between growing up and the act of putting others’ needs ahead of your own.  Chisaki and Hikari are both trying to do this in their own way, and each finding it increasingly difficult.  I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle here – Tsumugu’s counter-argument to Chisaki (there may be a suggestion of some attraction on his part but with a sea slug, it’s hard to tell) is childish and simplistic, but he’s right in that growing up doesn’t mean abandoning who you are and ignoring what your heart wants.  We’re definitely seeing the potential for heartbreak increase here, as the dynamic of everybody liking the wrong person is reminding me more and more of Ano Natsu de Matteru.  Heck, even Sayu (who continues to spout mangled pop culture references) has unmistakably developed a crush on Kaname.  Well, at least someone under 30 has.

I found the scenes between Manaka and Hikari especially painful (in a good way) to watch this week.  I’ve been in Hikari’s camp all along, figuring he was going to have a pretty comprehensive character arc, but he’s probably exceeded my expectations in developing into a sympathetic and complicated character as quickly as he has.  I think he genuinely wanted to try and be the friend he thought Manaka wanted because that’s what a good adult would do, but there are limits to how much of that an adolescent can take and Hikari reached them this week.  It seems Manaka is fulfilling the clueless male lead role here in a sense, as she truly does seem to have had no idea how Hikari felt – but even so, their scene in the abandoned Shioshishio middle school is a heartbreaker.  When the dam inside him broke all Hikari did was hug her – which seems a natural enough thing to do – but her reaction was a sucker punch.  Why did she do what she did – an instinctive reaction out of sheer surprise?  Thoughts of Chisaki – or Tsumugu?   In any event she could have hardly have hurt Hikari more than she did, though obviously that wasn’t her intention.

There are bigger fish to fry, though, so that little saury will have to content itself with the back burner for now.  Things have reached some sort of tipping point in Shioshishio – after a secret meeting which got the children kicked out of town early for school, the decision has been reached to ban any visits to the surface.  That obviously involves the saltflake snow and the coming catastrophe, which appears to involve things getting very cold (global warming skeptics are everywhere).  These painful personal feelings can be shoved aside for the moment as the crisis demands, but they’ll only fester until addressed – rest assured they will be, sooner or later.  But for now Hikari and his father’s schism and his heartbreak with Manaka are secondary to the new reality, which clearly takes the larger plot to a nexus point where something has to give. At the very least, Hikari is going to have to choose for now – the surface and his sister, or Shioshishio, a father he resents and a girl who’s just broken his heart.  Sucks to be thirteen and have that staring you in the face…

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  1. r

    I'm guessing that Manaka pushed Hikari because of Chisaki… or she felt some unexplainable feelings towards him at that moment, she got scared and pushed him.

    Eitherway, Hikari just won me completely on this ep. I expect to see a lot of heart being shattered to pieces… but I do hope not.

  2. J

    This has definitely been the most enjoyable story this season, thanks to its consistency. Of course, with a sound background and setting, it's hard to think one would need a zany plot twist, as the natural flow of the characters in this setting swelling to a bursting point is drama enough, and it's natural drama as well. It's not forced or created by some poor fool(s) who was/were tossed the idiot ball.

  3. t

    " it's fallen behind other Thursday shows to the point where not many people seem to be talking about it"
    NnA is still one of the first things I watch in this crazy thursday. in fact it's always the first thing I watch…
    but, yes, series like KLK, GT and samumenco grab more attention, mostly it is due to the roller coaster of what's going on there. and while that happened, NnA established itself.
    the fact that shows like tend to be so much eventful make people alot more..talkative about that. and even one event here and there in NnA, mostly is in much smaller than Gorilla Guillotine.
    but I don't care that much…I still love the pace so far and events in NnA. the fact it's balanced making me love it. and yes, they aren't pushing the girls toward the audience in too much stuff (exception – the episode with the swimming), making it more lovely to see the real deal here. like in this episode when Miuna's friend frowned when Kaname asked about Chisaki. to see the reaction and the.."naivete". I like it that way. and that's what NnA wants to be. and I really respect NnA for sticking to what it wants to be.

    Manaka's reaction was painful indeed.
    I found it naturally what Hikari did..but the way she reacted was..even exaggerated.
    I's OK to reject Hikari, I was ready for this to happen. but that way?too painful. especially after this EP when both seem to getting closer, Manaka even encouraged him. yet that kind of reaction. did someone said Okada being manipulative?? 😛

    Chisaki and Tsumugu had an interesting interaction. but it affected also on Tsumugu, surprisingly. and there is Kaname who now seems to be really in love with Chisaki.
    it's like we don't enough complex with Hikari-manaka-tsumugu, now there is another trio XD

    but let's talk about the interesting thing here – something gonna happen. a disaster or so. Hikari and Akari on the line along with other Landies.
    I am mostly intrigued by this. the whole thing is happening because of God's wrath.
    in mythology, folklore, fantasy stories and some religions, the motif of a disaster by God's wrath is kinda widespread. mostly it's a great flood or some mega-disaster in order to punish the evil way of people, sometimes even to create the path toward rebirth of humanity or something like that (each story and his own reasons..)

    and it seems NnA is heading this way. what will be upon humanity of Landies? is it gonna solve the problem of the sea people?
    I don't know where this going, I don't know if it's good, but now we really can't deny that the fantasy element is more than a live here and it's going to bomb the macro level and affect our lovely middle school characters.

    it makes me wonder again about the timeskip that was discussed in RC podcast. it might be the event serve as the border of before and after.

  4. K

    That was awesome. The whole thing was meh in the beginning but suddenly I felt sort of high. Wow! This episode is really good. I love the complexity of the Love Dodecahedron. But what’s makes me believer is how real it actually is.


  5. B

    I agree, i ' m really surprised with Hikari, he has ground in a really complex an likeable character, i hope he gets Sayaka because Tsugumu if a bit to much meh

  6. a

    Ugh, I'm done! I give up on Tsumugu. Hikari is way, waaaay more interesting a character than he is, and I just can't support Tsumugu and Manaka getting together anymore. Hikari really solidified his place as my favorite character through this episode. I feel so bad for him having to not only hold his feelings inside so that he won't get in the way of Manaka liking Tsumugu, but also having to realize that Manaka just doesn't like him beyond a childhood friend.

    I agree that Tsumugu seems to be edging more toward Chisaki… and at this point, it's such a mess when Kaname clearly is chasing after Chisaki, too. I am so interested in seeing how everyone can end up happy by the end of all this.

  7. S

    I’m actually not all that surprised to hear NnA is going to bomb with sales in Japan. In regards to the quality, the show has been a sleep-inducing borefest for the last couple of episodes. In the beginning I liked how Hikari matures, but now that it’s established, it isn’t interesting anymore. At the moment, nothing surprising or noteworthy is happening and while that in itself isn’t a fault, the current events hardly interest me which makes the lack of excitement a bad thing.
    I think the story needs a dark twist, something unpredictable or a game-changer instead of the continuous meandering in love polygons. I can see it happen with a war between the two groups.

  8. M

    Woah there….this ain't no war drama!We're here for some romance drama,coming of age & scenery porn :)

  9. F

    This is a very good summary and reflection on the ep, I had not thought of the agonizing polygons from Ano Natteru as a comparison, but in retrospect I can see what you mean – though here it is thus far not quite as painful as it was in the latter. I remember squirming inside when that series was airing, to be honest. ^^

  10. Z

    "It's just good, old-fashioned relationship drama and fantasy – but the anime audience apparently isn't much interested in that."


  11. R

    i must say i am pleasantly surprised that NnA didnt turn out to be the okada disaster i thought it would. i prefer a series that tells a great story than try to pander to my fanboy/otaku whims.

    storywise, i would find it disappointing if manaka suddenly sprouts feelings for hikari, cause it would ruin the whole theme of hikari learning to let go of people, which is one of the series' core themes.

  12. h

    Okay. I loved this episode, but saw it rather differently from others here. I find Hikari's changes unconvincing. Too quick for me to accept. And his knock at the back of Manaka's knees made the same disgust rise in me as his ordering her about did in early episodes. However, except for that one event, I do like the current version of Hikari.

    Tsumugu may be my favorite character. He seems pretty interesting to me, quiet as he is. I look forward to a larger sample of his inner thoughts, and to some information about his grandfather's relation to sea people. His comment to Chisaki was full of potential meanings. All we know so far is that he likes the sea and sea-people. I haven't seen any real hint of special feeling for Manaka yet — as opposed to of her feeling for him.

    I thought Manaka's reaction to being hugged was just a matter of sudden instinct. She had never imagined such a thing with Hikari, and it shocked her. And she now has enough oomph to actually push back. Whether she thought of Tsumugu or not I don't know, but I didn't feel that. I can easily forgive Hikari for that sudden impulse, but as usual, it was a gesture made without any thought of her reaction, only of his own feelings. I don't blame him in this case, but it is certainly of a piece with how he has always been, for me. When she thanked him for all he had done for her, it felt like a farewell.

    I have almost (but not quite) gotten used to the fact that the main audience tends not to like many shows that I enjoy and admire. I think in this case, you have hit the nail on the head: not enough sexy high school girls and not enough moe. And so far, not enough violence.

  13. H

    I'm not a fan of Hikari, and haven't been through the whole series. I like him a little better that he's not as temper-driven, but he's still too impulsive for me. And even if the whole theme of the show so far is 'finding yourself', Hikari's method of finding himself is still putting pressure on others, unlike Manaka, Tsumugu, or Chisaki. Hikari imposes: he imposes on Itaru and Akari, he imposes on Manaka, his conflict with his father is mainly due to his father's imperviousness to Hikari's imposition.

    I felt like Manaka's reaction was due to her realization of the subtext of that embrace, and an outright rejection of that meaning. She is interested in being friends with Hikari, but she is no longer asking or wanting him to 'protect' her, and she is not interested in 'those feelings' with him. And unlike Chisaki, it's not because Manaka knows Chisaki is interested in him, nor because Manaka likes Tsumugu. I think it's because Manaka just doesn't want that with Hikari.

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