This is an awfully good series, easily strong enough in terms of story and character to withstand the occasional lapse into the manipulative side of Okada Mari’s oeuvre. But I’ve been worried for a while that a DO NOT WANT timeskip might be coming – it’s been a topic of much discussion (relatively speaking, as the series as a whole hasn’t generated much) among the viewers – and this episode does nothing if not suggest in stronger terms than ever that such a thing might be on the horizon. But it might be even more of a jolt than anyone realized.
I don’t want to get into a long discourse about why I think the timeskip notion is a bad idea for NnA (you could listen to the relevant portion of the last RC podcast for a taste of that discussion) but in brief, I like the fact that this series is a fairly age-realistic look at a group that’s underrepresented in the avalanche of high-school series that dominate anime, genuine middle-schoolers who act their age. They’re a fascinating subject for fiction because this is the age when we’re most precariously balanced on the knife-edge between childhood and adulthood, when all the feelings of adolescence start to overwhelm us when we lack the skills and experience to process them and deal with them. We have 30 high-school series (or more) every season – why do we need this one to morph into yet another with a timeskip?
The developments this week represent a game-changer, though, and certainly seem to imply a timeskip – but not in the way the term was previously being applied. The calamity that’s been hinted at for nine episodes is finally given form – a global cooling caused by the decline in power of the Sea God (in truth, the globe could probably use a little saltflake snow effect right about now). This is presented in highly Shinto terms that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched series like Natsume Yuujinchou – the Sea God is only as powerful as the amount of prayer and belief He receives, and with most of humanity leaving the sea for the surface He’s obviously been growing progressively weaker by the millennia. The kicker here is that Ena – at least if Uroko-sama is to be believed, and Hikari is skeptical in appropriate terms for a 13 year-old – gives the people of Shioshishio the ability to hibernate until the crisis has passed. How long will that take? 50 years, a hundred – Uroko-sama isn’t entirely clear on that, probably because he doesn’t know himself, but he seems quite certain that the Ena-lacking landies better not buy any green bananas.
The sense is that this explanation is really just scratching the surface, and there’s much we don’t know. As well there are personal implications in the story, starting with the tale Uroko-sama tells of the girl in ages past who went to the Sea God to plead for the sparing of humanity from the last such calamity – is there a connection to Hikari or Manaka’s families? Uroko-also mentions that he’s “a scale from the Sea God that fell in love with a human woman” – which is how he understands the agony Hikari is going through over his violent rejection by Manaka. And of course there’s the fact that the main cast have made connections to those on land, most obviously Hikari, and he’s unwilling to stand by and quietly go to sleep as those on the surface await their demise, albeit a slow one. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
I can do without the fetsihizing over crying little girls (Manaka has been making progress as a character but I really don’t care for this side of her), but generally speaking this premise sets up a very interesting philosophical quandary and deals with it in an interesting manner. Tsugumu’s grandfather (a man of Shioshishio himself) reflects that such an environmental change isn’t inherently bad; just bad for humans. The people of Shioshishio seem to me to be trying very hard to convince themselves that everything will be all right, all the while having serious doubts (especially the older ones) about whether all this will really work. The party they have to celebrate their last big meal before fasting to help their Ena grow stronger has the feel of a wake, somehow. Hikari, as is his wont, prefers the contentious path – trying to get the Ofunehiki going by sheer force of will, and thus give the Sea God a spiritual B-12 shot and prevent the catastrophe altogether. And despite the pain he’s feeling about Manaka and the awkwardness between them, he still comes to her aid when a drunkard at the party starts trying to get her to drink sake and urging her to “pump out babies” as fast as she can as soon as she wakes up.
Last but perhaps most importantly in terms of the story, the notion of a long sleep from which they may never wake spurs a certain reckless abandon in the kids – especially Kaname, who finally steps from his perennial wise observer role and joins the fray. He confesses to Chisaki in strict “nothing to lose” terms, but does so in his usual low-key, direct fashion. Meanwhile Manaka has been thinking long and hard about Hikari, no doubt spurred on by her own fear that she may never wake from the long sleep, or may wake up alone. And perhaps too perfectly this is the moment she finds a red-bellied sea slug, and no matter how uncomfortable all this makes her not even Manaka can miss the obvious hand of fate guiding events to this nexus point. We never hear the question she asks, but we do know where her mind was when before she asked it, and one way or the other it seems the status quo between she and Hikari has been shattered beyond any hope of repair. Whatever their new reality and future may be, it’s going to look very different from the one they’ve left behind.