Nagi no Asukara – 01
OP: 「lull ～そして僕らは～」 (lull ~Soshite Bokura wa~) by Ray
「海と大地のまんなかに」 (Umi to Daichi no Mannaka ni)
“Between the Land and Sea”
Always trust P.A. Works to bring in the glorious, glorious scenery porn.
Welcome to the world of Nagi no Asukara, where two types of people exist: those who live beneath the sea, and those, like us, who breathe above the waves. This is a world where neither side quite likes the other, where discontent lies broiling just beneath the surface, where quiet, peaceful, beauty seems all too likely to break at any moment, just like a storm at sea. Prepare your drama and art appreciation glasses; you’re gonna need them.
I’ve been anticipating this premiere since I first heard about the premise and the forces behind it. In one show, you have the likes of P.A. Works, the studio behind the recent wonderful Uchouten Kazoku; you have the prolific Okada Mari writing an original story, and a great cast featuring HanaKana and a personal favorite, Ohsaka Ryouta. There’s the benefit of two cours, as well as the fact that this isn’t an adaptation, which always helps open things up for how a studio chooses to execute its work. It’s no wonder then that I’ve been looking forward to finally getting to blog Nagi, and after this first episode, I’m happy to say I like it quite a lot already.
There are a few facets to this story that I can already pull apart, even though one of them is so far taking precedence. First and foremost, this is a character drama, the story of a small group of middle school students from the sea who are forced to attend school on land and the resulting relationships among them and to their new classmates. The leading drama surrounds hot-tempered Sakishima Hikari (Hanae Natsuki), a possessive and jealous boy who is in love with his childhood friend, the meek and adorable Mukaido Manaka (Hanazawa Kana). Things grow more complex, however, when Manaka is accidentally fished out by a young fisherman, Kihara Tsumugu (Ishikawa Kaito) and she begins to fall in love with him. There is also a fourth addition to the love square, another childhood friend by the name of Hiradaira Chisaki (Kayano Ai), who is in unrequited love with Hikari, as well as her supposed supporter, Isaki Kaname (Ohsaka Ryouta). These relationships so far are all rather turbulent; Hikari is somewhat violent and incredibly dominating toward Manaka in that angry, young teenage way, and Manaka herself is oblivious to his feelings, though she trusts him as her closest friend and protector. Chisaki is pining for Hikari but not at all unsupportive of Manaka, while all along a spark is building between the latter and her landed love interest, something Hikari can see at a glance and which has already begun to tear his world apart just a little.
However, teenage drama is not all that is afloat; there is a broader social problem here, which manifests itself in the tensions between the sea and land people. The sea people are a minority hated by those who live out of water, disliked even by young children and classmates of the same age, while the land people aggravate the sea people by violating fishing boundaries. These divisions are visible in the children’s every day life, where they’re seen as oddities, people with gills and sparkling skin that cracks when dry, as out of place as if they were true mermaids with fins for legs. But not everyone considers those of the sea to be freakish, and Tsumugu definitely instigates an almost fairytale relationship with Manaka when he compliments her otherworldly qualities (including a very embarrassing fish bestowed on her as a curse by her town’s representative deity), much to Hikari’s chagrin.
A third point of interest is the state of the underwater world, something that has only been hinted at through background conversations and comments. It seems that the sea people are facing an environmental crisis, where the sea is becoming hypersaline and threatening their way of life, if not their very health. Perhaps this part of the story will come into play further into the season, but it’s something I wouldn’t recommend forgetting for now.
That’s all well and good for a story about two worlds clashing, but is it worth watching? I certainly think so, though it depends on what you want to get out of the experience. I do think the character designs are a tad too moe for my usual taste, but when I consider the fact that these are actual children we’re looking at, middle school students instead of the usual high school offering, the art style feels somewhat more natural. The way the characters act also feels right for this age group; being a teen is never easy, and when the horrors of puberty first set in, children can be an utter nightmare of hormones and unreasonable anger. I think Hikari in particular, while a little grating, is a fairly perfect depiction of a typical young teen, full of jealousies, possessiveness, insecurities, and a bad temper. The other kids too aren’t far from what I’d expect of the age group, and I find that realism in personality to work well here. In addition, while the characters look (mostly accurately) juvenile, P.A. Works doesn’t skimp out when it comes to creating the world and atmosphere. The art is gorgeous, breathtaking even, and there are plenty of beautiful shots of both the underwater world and the seaside town. As to the story itself, I see a lot of potential in all three points of possible drama, and I can’t wait to see how the series develops from here.
I definitely recommend giving Nagi no Asukara a try before making any prejudgements, so come on and dip your feet in, maybe the water is just right. Or perhaps I should stop making all these terrible ocean puns, eh?
ED: 「アクアテラリウム」 (Aqua Terrarium) by やなぎ なぎ (Yanagi Nagi)