It’s always a little scary putting yourself in the hands of Okada Mari, especially on an original series, especially a two-cour. She’s a literary seductress, so alluring and able to draw you in, and so often she leaves you dead on the rocks with the seagulls pecking your eyes out while she laughs hysterically and gets ready for the next batch of victims. But we’re twelve episodes in this time around – almost halfway – and I can’t deny that I’m completely hooked.
I realize now that I’ve more or less been waiting for Nagi no Asukara to disappoint me, and despite a couple of slip-ups in the middle and some very strong efforts by the competition it is now what it was after the first week of the season – (surprisingly) my favorite of the Thursday shows. It’s the one I most look forward to each week, the most consistent, and the one that works best as an overall package. Every time the moeblobs appear the dignity and intellectual level of the show nosedives, and it’s not especially subtle in some of the emotional development – but there’s a directness and raw emotional power to the premise and characters that just plain works. This is a simple, modern-day anime fairy tale, and it seems Okada and P.A. Works were the perfect match for its telling.
For my money the scene at the cafe with Akari (Nazuka Kaori really is terribly underrated) and Tomoru is one of the best in any series this season. This is the kind of material Okada is incredibly good at – a very un-Japanese open declaration of feelings that are as honest as the day is long. Tomoru doesn’t want to hear it – what parent wants to be thanked for doing the duty of raising their child the best they can – but dammit, it’s nice to hear Akari take the time to express some gratitude. The series has revolved around the problems of her generation, but Tomoru was the one who lost his wife and had to soldier on with two children, not showing his pain, while leading his people in a time of crisis to boot. He hasn’t handled everything well, but he’s doing the best he can and he deserves to have someone thinking of him.
Nagi no Asukara is always going to return to the five at the heart of the cast, though, and so it is here. I’m still not sure where this is going in terms of the hibernation – there are several comments that the kids (especially Hikari) aren’t developing Ena as fast as they should be (especially given the evidence that children generally fall into hibernation faster). Tomoru – again showing his stripes as a caring parent – actually muses that Hikari might be happier living on, on the surface, and I wonder if there isn’t some element of that in what’s happening here. Maybe these kids are at just the perfect age where their relentless energy and desire to move forward overcomes their inherent compulsion to hibernate, and of the lot Hikari certainly has the most restless energy and sheer pugnaciousness. Sleeping really isn’t his style, somehow.
We’re also, at long last, seeing the last two members of the fivesome to really come into their own as characters do just that. We finally get a look at Tsumugu’s mother, and a sense of the fact that he’s so estranged from her that he uses Manaka and Chisaki as an excuse not to have to eat with her. His grandfather has an anime cough, too, so it’s clear we’re headed for serious anime drama on that front. And as for Kaname, it’s not surprising that he’s proving to be the most forceful in breaking through the stagnated relationships of the sea kiddos – but what I liked here wasn’t so much his forcing the issue by asking Hikari in front of the others what he thought of Manaka, but his reaction afterwards. He’s been if anything unrealistically mature so far, but he’s still a kid – and being the mature one is clearly not as easy for him as he makes it look. And let’s not forget that as of now, he’s the only one of the main quintet who doesn’t have one of the others liking him romantically. Sucks to be Kaname, really.
The final scenes of the episode were very strong ones, with a lot left to interpretation. Manaka seems to be the last holdout trying desperately to cling to childhood (though it’s clear from the moments before Kaname’s instigation that all of them are still drawn to the carefree childhood they shared), and it’s not surprising that she flees after Hikari admits what she already knows. Nor that he chases after her, or that Chisaki chases after him (as Kaname is left behind, unchased). The vibes are strong her that Manaka is starting to awaken to feelings for Hikari – she flat-out says “When did Hi-kun become a guy?” after seeing him waving the huge Ofunehiki flag (the message here? Girls don’t like perceptive boys, but they like boys with big flags). And strongest of all is the hilarious wink at the audience of having Manaka say “Wave that flag, Hikari!” at the end of the preview. But in classic cliffhanger fashion Tsumugu intrudes like a text from Arata at the height of a Chihaya-Taichi moment, once again scooping Manaka up in his fishing net. Mixed signals, indeed.
I’m not sure where that triangle – or indeed the pentagon – is headed, or indeed where the larger story is going. Will all of the sea kiddos go into hibernation, or any or them? Will Akari sacrifice herself to the Sea God and prevent all of it from being necessary, or will it be Manaka – validating all those hints in the ED? Will there be a time skip, and for how long? But the point is that these are all honest mysteries, well-earned by the development so far, and that’s why I’m so invested in finding out. Nagi no Asukara is a very well-written series both in terms of plot and character development, and even as it prepares to be another commercial bomb for P.A. Works it also shows just what Okada Mari is capable of delivering in the right situation. If the second half of this show is nearly as good as the first, I’ll be more than satisfied.