- Sucks to be Kaname, huh?
- Let me get this straight – the showcase hug we get in the finale is Manaka and Miuna?
I’ve written so much about Nagiasu over the last six months that the “series review” portion of the post is pretty much impossible to write without rehashing a lot of old ground, so why bother? The final episode was never going to change any of that – the ship had sailed as far as what kind of series this was going to be. There was simply too much that wasn’t fixable in one episode, so the finale was always just going to be about the finale.
So how did it do on that score? Well, exactly as you’d expect, I suppose. Ethereally beautiful visually. Possessed of isolated moments of real emotional profundity, balanced with those of exasperating inanity. Ultimately unsatisfying. In short it was everything you’d expect from an Okada Mari episode of an Okada Mari P.A. Works series. It was a lot like the finale of Hanasaku Iroha, in fact (though not quite as good), which is the other 26-episode original show she wrote for P.A. Works and thus, unsurprisingly the one that it most resembles in many ways (I re-read my HanaIro series review post after I wrote this one, and was unsurprised to see how many themes were consistent between those posts). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that could quite match HanaIro in terms of outright inconsistency (this show and Sakurasou come close – is there a common denominator? Hmm…), and I think NagiAsu stands as the slightly better work as a whole. But they’re both maddening pieces of work, both in the viewing and in post-factum consideration.
Any discussion of the positives of NagiAsu starts and ends with the visuals for me. P.A. Works can paint an emotional picture like no other studio, and watercolors clearly suit their aesthetic. The visuals have never really wavered in this show (as they didn’t in HanaIro) but the finale was especially stunning. There were several shots that stood out (the screencaps are full of them) and on the whole, I think this may be the most visually impressive show since Hyouka – it’s that good. What P.A.Works understands is that art and animation is about more than just pretty pictures, it’s about having a sensibility – telling a story with images. I think one could look at the screenshots from this episode and understand the flow of the story without any of the dialogue (and in fact, it might be the better experience).
But this is Okada, and of course that means lots of tears and too-dramatic moments, and moments that should be dramatic and aren’t dramatic enough. I think probably the best part of the episode for me didn’t involve any of the main cast at all, but the person we’ve only talked about – Ojoshi-sama (Sayami Haori) – who’s coincidentally a doppelgänger for Tamako from Tamako Market. It’s the story of her ill-fated relationship with the Sea God that’s the underpinning for everything that happens in Nagi no Asukara, and the details framed the rest of the series perfectly. It had a grace and subtlety much of the rest of the episode (and series) lacked, and I wish we could have seen more of it.
“I wish we could have seen more of it” pretty much defines my feelings about this show – and of course its eternal partner, “I wish we would have seen less of it”. The return of Tomoru was powerful – and only served to remind me of what a shame it was he was absent for the entire second cour. The fate of the land was rather poetically mused on in the final moments – likewise a reminder of how badly that story was shafted. We saw the reunion of the people of Shioshishio and the surface dwellers powerfully depicted, reminding us of what a fascinating thing their clash of cultures was before it was dropped from the plot. We all know what those things were thrown over in favor of in the second cour, so there’s no need to rehash it – especially as we got plenty of reminders of that in the final episode, too.
The reunion between Hikari and Tomoru was a classic NagiAsu tease, really. What a wonderful, complex relationship – but there was no physical contact whatsoever between father and son after their years of separation. No, it was Miuna who got the affection from Tomoru – just as when everyone was reunited on the surface, it was Miuna that Manaka hugged and cried over? Symbolic? I’ll let others decide for themselves. We received only brief, inferential words to try and give emotional closure to the two most interesting relationships in the series (along with the Sea God and Ojoshi-sama, it seems) – between Hikaru and Tomoru and Hikaru and Manaka. Yes, the point is made – but it wasn’t enough. After 26 episodes of suffering through all the nonsense that was shoved down our throats, I thought the audience deserved more than that.
There’s irony, I suppose, in the fact that after all the elaborate theories and speculation, the ending was pretty much by-the-book. Manaka ends with Hikari but we don’t get so much as an acknowledgement from either (Akira scored more physical contact with Manaka than Hikari did). Tsumugu ends up with Chisaki, Kaname is left on the outside looking in (did he even have a family?) and generally (as usual) screwed over and forgotten. No one ends up being married off to the Sea God – or becoming the new Sea God. The land is still in trouble, but may nebulously be saved by the power of love. It’s all pretty insubstantial, really – but it is somewhat redeemed by the fact that the finale gets the central theme right. It’s better to fall in love with someone and be hurt than never fall in love at all, because pain and loss is an inherent part of love. It’s Mono no aware to the core, and that’s the essence of the P.A. Works sensibility.
I’ll be very interested in seeing how my feelings – and the overall perception – of Nagi no Asukara change over time. There’s no denying that this was a show that delivered some outstandingly good things, but it was just as undeniably encumbered with deep and crucial flaws. I was skeptical of the timeskip idea from the beginning – I certainly argued against it – and I think it proved to be a significant detriment to the overall success of the series. Timeskips can be useful for expanding the emotional range of a story, but they can also be an excuse to kick unfinished business to the curb – and I think that’s what happened here. Much that was developed in the first cour was effectively abandoned in the second – and worse, the themes of the second cour were far less interesting on the whole.
There’s no need to restate the obvious, but NagiAsu seems to be about what one can expect from a two-cour Okada original. She’s a writer of undeniable talent, and her skills shone through admirably in the first cour. In the second she mostly indulged the bad habits which can make her insufferable. But I’ll still take that over a show that takes no risks and is mediocre from start to finish. Nagi no Asukara was often interesting even when it was infuriating, and it did enough in the first cour to keep me invested in the characters (well, some of them) even through the histrionics and missteps of the second. And I’ll never forget the miracles the series worked with sight and sound – it was a triumph of what the medium of TV anime can be when artists of imagination and vision are allowed to express their talents. A mixed bag? Undeniably – but certainly one far more memorable than most.