「海のいいつたえ」 (Umi no Ītsutae)
“The Way of the Sea”
So far, I can attest that this is a really good series in the making.
It continues to amaze me how real this world feels every passing week. It’s not that I imagine such a world could exist, but rather that the characters and the situation feel real, they feel like something that, if they did exist, would more or less work in the same way as they’re portrayed. There’s a logic to the seeming un-logic of people living underwater and their various problems with the people of the land, particularly, as we’re told this week, in the truth about the prejudices between land and sea.
Of the two sides, I think the prejudices of the sea people are explored a bit more thoroughly than those of the land, but they’re not exclusive either. On the wake of Akari’s possible banishment from the underwater village, we learn that there’s a very specific reason for why people leave when they fall in love with people of the land. It would seem that the quality that allows the sea people to live, a substance called Ena that sticks to skin from birth, is not present in the children from a union between land and sea. As a result, the child of a mixed parentage would be unable to survive underwater, and thus the sea parent would be forced to leave the village in order to raise that child. Of course, necessity seems to have become tinged with prejudice and anger over time. There’s no reason to banish someone so that they lose all contact with their friends and family just because they “married out”, for instance, nor is there any reason to view such a union as “betrayal”, were it not for one somewhat understated fact. Akari, for instance, mentions that there are only “about four” marriageable guys her age in the village, and that getting married is thus somewhat difficult. We also see that Hikari, Manaka, and the others seems to have been the sole students at their old middle school, a place that held exactly four desks and a picture of a slightly younger group. That seems to speak volumes about the social situation and thus the friction between the land and the sea; the sea population is dropping. Dramatically. Even worse, when a sea person leaves to marry above the land, that lessens the reproductive potential of the village; a person who could raise a child under the sea now has to leave to raise their mixed children above the waves. That leads to uneasiness on the part of the remaining umi no hito, who are watching their community and culture slowly die away, and to understandable but misplaced resentment toward the world outside the water.
Then there’s Akari and the question of what’s the right path for her in such a situation. The relationship between Akari and Hikari is, for one thing, very caring in a sort of delicate way. Akari tried to become dependable and motherly to her younger brother once their mother was gone, but her maturity isn’t who she truly is. Like any normal person of that age, she loves and wants to be with the one she loves, but thanks to her duty to family and culture, decides to give her own desires up. But as Manaka says, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be with the person you love, though it’s scary to think of leaving everything you know and care about behind. How do you choose between two worlds, two lives, that you cherish equally for different reasons? What will Manaka choose when it comes down to Tsumugu and her life under the sea?