Nishimura Junji (director of True Tears) is the credited screenwriter for this episode, which should be a good sign any way you look at it. Of course he also wrote some of the most inane episodes of Hanasaku Iroha and some of the best Nagi no Asukara eps were penned by Yoshino Hiroyuki, so who the hell knows? Probably best to figure that it’s Okada Mari who’s driving the car no matter who the episode writers are, and what we get on any given week is largely left to her tender mercies.
This was better than last week’s ep, no question about that. I still see some of the Jekyll and Hyde tendency of Nagiasu, as there were individual scenes in the episode that were superb but also stretches that felt stilted and unnatural. The biggest net plus is that the grating romantic melodrama of Miuna and Sayu was largely set aside (though there was still way too much of Miuna’s insufferable navel-gazing and vamping). We may be about to see if the engaging romantic entanglements of the first cour can survive having Miuna added to the mix as a serious factor.
I’m still not sure why it was even necessary that Miuna be the one to lead Hikari and Kaname (who’s unfortunately given no real role in the episode whatsoever) back to Shioshio apart from shoehorning into the plot whether she belongs there or not, but there are hints that the mechanism was Uroko-sama – or by extension, the Sea God. He turns up in front of her when Hikari and Kaname head off to cool their jets after the trauma of seeing their home as a kind of lifeless wax museum, and seems not at all surprised to see her there. The decision has clearly been made that she’s going to be the show everyone the way, and not only does he not object to her leading the boys to Manaka, it almost seems as if that’s exactly the point.
Before that happens, we get the best scene of the episode when Hikari finds his father “asleep” in their home. I’m not sure what to make of Hikari’s panicked interrogatory about whether the whole hibernation thing is what it seems – I certainly had the same thought myself. In any event given all the history between father and son this moment is poignant in the way Nagiasu has occasionally been at its best, and showcases Hikari and the abundance of perspective he’s gained since the early episodes of the series. I don’t want to think that Tomoru and the others might in fact be dead – it would certainly cast Hikari’s monologue in a different light, though even as is it very much has the feeling of a child’s visit to a lost parent’s gravesite.
It’s nice to see that Nagiasu still has the ability to deliver the kind of atmosphere it does as Hikari and Kaname make their way through Shioshisio, Miuna in tow. It’s eerie, it’s sad, it’s unsettling – there’s very much a sense that there’s a darker story being told here than the one we’ve been led to believe is really playing out. I didn’t especially need almost ten minutes of the episode spent on Miuna posing for Newtype with pocky sticks, but I suppose if that’s the toll to respectable disk sales (V. 1 charted yet again and V. 2 opened at about 3400, a sizeable improvement) I suppose it must be paid.
Where this is all leading to, as is obvious from the beginning, is to Manaka – and once all the narrative grandstanding has been dispensed with that’s where the episode ends up. Finding her in a graveyard of old Ofunehiki, curled up in a giant (Godly?) hand, is both interesting and unsettling – and the fact that her Ena is seemingly dissipating seems to suggest that there might have been some sort of metaphysical transferring of Manaka’s Ena to Miuna. Naturally enough Hikari isn’t content to let sleeping girls lie when their Ena is flaking off, the dangers of waking a hibernating sea kiddo be damned – but the rumblings on the sea floor speak to the potential of an angry Sea God. Again, Uroko-sama (who still hasn’t shown himself to anyone but Miuna) makes no attempt to stop Hikari here, and though it would be no stretch to say he looks pretty unhappy, he looks pretty unhappy pretty much all the time.
Perhaps the fact that it’s Hikari that narrates the preview is some small reason to hope that the series may be about to return to using him as the point-of-view character – for my money that would be a huge change for the better that augers well for the final eight episodes. The flip side of that is that we could get into a situation where Okada cranks up the shipping wars even more with Manaka added back to the mix – it seems a near-certainty that she’s going to be awake and involved in the plot at the very least, and that Hikari is going to be much more forceful about his feelings. In truth the best weapon Nagiasu has in its arsenal is the larger story featuring the fate of the Sea People and the crisis they wanted so desperately to avoid, along with the dynamics inside Hikari’s family, and that’s where I’d love to see it focus over the final stretch.