I won’t lie – I’m of the mind that Nagi no Asukara is ending at the right time. The heart of the matter is this: the only element in the story that really rings true for me at this point is Hikari and Manaka. It’s really the only part I still care about. After all the interesting themes and plot twists we saw set up in the first cour, it strikes me as a real shame that Okada has basically chosen to focus on the soap opera aspects in the second. I don’t see how even the series’ staunchest defenders could deny that – you might think it’s an especially good soap opera and be enjoying it, sure, but the truth that a soap opera is what Nagiasu now is seems undeniable to me. But I’m sure some will deny it.
I won’t start launching the I-told-you-so’s about the timeksip (gotta save something for the series review post) but boy, I’ve never been more convinced that the show would have been much better served not having one. It’s not as though the story being told in the first cour was finished – far from it. The problem is that the timeskip has resulted in that story being largely abandoned by the side of the road. The sea we’re swimming in now is tears of self-pity and pubescent infatuation, and even if everyone in Shioshio wakes up in the first five minutes of next week’s penultimate episode (they won’t) it’d still be too late to save the day.
It’s no secret that I never much cared about Miuna or Sayu’s arcs, but I’m the point now where even Tsumugu, Kaname and Chisaki are coming up empty. I don’t see a viable resolution here because if they wind up with the person it would be logistically convenient to wind up with, it will feel like just that – convenience. The heavy-lifting for Tsumugu and Chisaki, Sayu and Kaname, Hikari and Miuna (Heaven forbid) simply hasn’t been done – and it could quite easily have been done in Tsumugu and Chisaki’s case. And if these characters don’t end up with the convenient partner, they’re likely not to end up with anyone at all (though there’s still a shot for Hikari and Manaka, I think) which will rather mercilessly raise the question of why we spend the entire second cour obsessively zoomed-in on the soap opera in the first place.
Chisaki’s tears rang pretty hollow for me, because she’s at the point where she’s just using Hikari as an excuse to run away from having to grow up. That feels like a regression – I was strongly in her camp a few weeks ago when she was taking a lot of flak for not having moved on, but she’s running out of rope at this point. At least in Kaname’s case I can understand his desolation, because the story really has shat all over him since the beginning – hell, Chisaki still hasn’t even given him the courtesy of an outright rejection. He’s descending deep into self–pity but if anyone was ever justified in doing so… But again, any possible relationship with Sayu isn’t grounded in anything except a crush and convenience. It packs no punch as a story element now.
Thankfully we still have Hikari and Manaka, which was the first thread woven into Nagiasu’s quilt and fittingly seems to be the last one remaining as it unravels. I really do care how this turns out, and it’s the only relationship in the series that makes sense both emotionally and logically. I like the notion that Akira’s love note (even preschoolers are victims in this shipping war) should be a sort of trigger to get her thinking about the hole in her emotional consciousness – not so much Tsumugu’s half-assed idea of using the sea slug pendant (though he is the sea slug expert) as a kind of proxy Ofunehiki to save the day (and restore Manaka’s emotions). This feels like a rehash – we’ve been down this road before. And it really seems as if Okada knows this and her heart isn’t in it – she blows through the preparations in about four minutes of screen time. It’s a convenience, like so much else that we’ve seen of late – a device to get the plot where it needs to go.
The big themes that made the first half such an interesting mix – the cause and impact of the looming environmental catastrophe, the strained and xenophobic relationship between the sea people and the landies, the complex dynamic between Hikari and his father – are gone. It’s too late to believably return to them now, and that’s a real shame – they made the first cour interesting in a way the second simply isn’t. It’s remarkable how pedestrian Nagiasu has become – it was a really fascinating fantasy, but now the entire fantastical element of the story has been reduced to the point where it only matters as it impacts the pairings. The best hope for Nagiasu in the final two eps is to focus laser-like on Hikari and Manaka – that’s the one thing that really matters and can still be realistically brought to a conclusion. It’s not what I would have hoped for several weeks ago, but diminished expectations are a simple reality at this point.