If Golden Time’s break arrived at the perfect time for me, I can’t say the same for Nagi no Asukara. Not only is the series firing on all cylinders and more involving than ever, but that was a hell of a cliffhanger to cap off the first cour. “Always leave them wanting more”, as they say, and that’s the goal of many of these season-ending episode of multi-season anime – but it’s going to be a long two weeks while we await the return of Nagiasu.
It’s hard to begin at the beginning of that episode because what happened in the final sequence was so shocking and monumental, but I don’t think the first half of the episode should be glossed over. Among other things, Okada (and it must be said, Yoshino Hiroyuki, who’s done probably his best work ever with his episode scripts for this show) delivered yet another brilliantly executed scene with the emotional amp turned up to eleven. I loved that talk between Manaka and Hikari – I loved the way it was drawn and shot, I loved the voice work by the seiyuu, and I loved the words Okada had them saying.
It doesn’t come as any kind of a surprise to me that Hikari has turned out to be one of the best characters of the season, since I never bought into the groupthink bashing after the premiere. He started out as a believably surly and impetuous 13 year-old, and he’s grown into a believably self-aware and empathetic one. His telling Manaka that he’d continue to hold her as precious even if she didn’t return his feelings was his high point of the series – it was mature and wise and borderline noble – though I suspect the message she was going to deliver “after the Ofunehiki” would have rendered it a moot point. I won’t say “we’ll never know” but clearly, at the very least it’s going to be a while.
The episode’s tone really shifted on a dime. We had a quiet, somber mood as the residents of Shioshishio began to drift into hibernation and goodbyes were shared with loved ones. An eerie silence settles over Shioshishio as the sea kiddos return to the surface, where a frenzy of activity is taking place to prepare for the ofunehiki. Okada doesn’t manage to get her males into drag – yet – but she does get in a little embarrassment factor with the traditional matsuri happi and shorts. The drums begin to pound, Hii-kun goes into Gavroche-mode with his big flag, and the party on the ocean’s surface gets started. And then all hell breaks loose.
So what exactly did happen, anyway? At this point it’s too early to say for certain. Uroko-sama and Tomoru-san use holy fire to guide the boats – a “gift to Akari” – but then Uroko-sama seems to betray Tomoru, putting him to sleep before apologizing that he’s “in the end, just a scale of the Sea God”. The sea began to roil and bubble, whirlpools formed, waves crashed into the bridge support pillar, and Akari was swept overboard. Hikari dived in after her and Manaka after him, Tsugumu dived in after her and Chisaki and Kaname after him. Akari seems ready to sacrifice herself to Umigami – that was really her intention all along – but it’s pretty obvious that Manaka is going to volunteer herself in her place, and that’s exactly what happens. The bridge pillar collapses, Chisaki saves Tsugumu, Kaname sees her cradling his head on her lap and falls back into the whirlpool. Manaka seems to slam into the sea floor at pancake velocity, and Akari eventually turns up floating on the water’s surface.
Whew – get all that? It’s a good thing this show was two cours, because as expected Vol. 1 bombed (1144 BDs) and this would be a terrible last episode. As a cour-ender though, it’s terrific – though it leaves me completely in the dark about where the second cour is headed. There’s a short preview at the end featuring Miuna, but it’s inconclusive at best about whether there’s going to be the rumored timeskip – she looks and sounds the same, though her words imply at least some time has passed. Shioshioshio seems to be covered in saltflake snow and Hikari is clearly not around, and as for Kaname and Manaka, well – Kaname probably managed to survive that chaos somehow (it’s not as though breathing underwater is a problem) but Manaka? That collision with the sea floor was brutal, terrible – it really did feel as if she was a sacrifice, though not in the way I imagined it might play out.
My feelings on a long timeskip are unchanged – I hope it doesn’t happen, although one where the characters hibernate and emerge the same age would be preferable if it does. Surely things are going to be very different, at least. My feeling is that Manaka had finally figured out that what she felt for Tsugumu was infatuation (he was “the sun” to her, everything she imagined in her “Part of Your World” fantasies) but what she felt for Hikari was love, so it’ll be a real shame if we never see their relationship blossom as it would have. This has been an excellent series, especially over the last month, so a part of me really doesn’t want to see it radically change just as it’s at its best, but at the same time Okada has earned some trust with this one. Nagiasu has definitely been one of the pleasant surprises of a generally so-so Fall anime season – here’s hoping it proves to be not a surprise, but a stalwart of what looks to be an even weaker Winter.