Anime Review: Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea)

Since this will be my first ever entry on this blog I thought I would start things off simply and begin with a review of the latest anime I’ve been watching. That being Nagi no Asukara (Nagi Asu: A Lull in the Sea). The show was created by P.A works and directed by Toshiya Shinohara.

Spoilers for the anime ahead if you haven’t watched it. It is available on Crunchyroll and Kissanime.

 

Animation: The animation is stunning. The backgrounds and scenery are beautiful. The character designs are wonderful. The animation is also extremely fluid and mobile. There is never a dull or empty background. This is especially true of the underwater scenes in the anime which are breathtaking. The character designs are unique enough to easily tell who is who. Interchangeably looking characters is something that really bothers me in animation. The palette in the series is bright and alive. This could be a series of paintings. So in terms of animation I have to give this a 10/10.

World Building: The series spends a large amount of time on world building which pays off because the setting is important to the plot. Rather then just being a love story and coming of age story underwater. The sea and the characters’ relationship to advance the storytelling and character development. How each of the main characters feel about the sea matters and is explored. While the show does include a few adult characters the primary focus is on the teenagers. In addition to being a fantasy story, this is also a coming of age tale and a love story.  Or more accurately love stories as it would be easier to list the characters who are not in love with someone in comparison to the ones who are. The type of love here is in fact forbidden love. People from the sea who choose to be with someone from the surface are banished. This is because a child of someone from the sea and someone from the surface won’t have Ena. Without this they won’t be able to breathe underwater and must live on the surface. So many people have left the sea for the surface that the population is getting smaller and smaller, making it taboo to be with a surface person.

The Ena is explained as being like scales or fluid covering the skin. It makes sense up until surface characters like Miuna and Tsumuga start to develop Ena. The anime explains this as them being stretched to their very natural  limits unlocking their sea abilities. So all they needed to do was to almost drown? That never happened before? Tsumuga spends a lot of time fishing, he never fell in? There are scenes were he does nearly drown but does not develop Ena. Miuna also falls into the water at one point but doesn’t develop Ena then but later she does. I feel like they could have come up with a better idea to give surface characters this ability. As it happens it comes off more as a the plot needed it to move forward type thing. Another problem is the whole oncoming disaster that awaits the surface unless the sea god regains his power. Very little detail is given as to what this disaster is supposed to be. Except that has something to do with the Salt Sea snow appearing on the surface. Except that it will come after all the characters are dead and they need to save the world for their great grand children. You could have just said it was global warming.

The dislike land people and sea people have each other despite all being human and their unwillingness to work together can be seen as metaphor for any other type of prejudice. By the end most of the characters do seem to have grown beyond this espically the younger ones. With surface people now able to gain Ena one of the big reasons for prejudice is now gone.

I’ll give it a 7/10 for World Building.

Characters: Since this is primary a character driven story I’m going to look at how the following seven characters grow and change. This lot are arguable the main characters: Hikari, Manaka, Kaname, Chisaki, Tsumuga, Miuna and Sayu.

Hikari: At the start of the series Hikari is loud, brash and insensitive. As a boy from the sea he hates land dwellers. He also shows himself to be a person who is not accepting of change. He reprimands Manaka for not wearing their old despite the fact that their school is closed and they now have to attend a school on the surface. He goes as far as saying just because their school closed down does not mean that the spirit of school has to. He distrusts and dislikes the surface dwellers to the point where he is willing to believe the worst of them even without evidence. He accuses two surface boys of destroying the Ojoshi-sama they were working despite having no evidence. He accuses Itaru of having an affair with his sister simply because Itaru has a daughter. But he does begin to change. The first instance of this is when he apologizes to the surface boys for wrongly accusing them. He later also begins to put his sister’s happiness with Itaru in front of his mistrust of the surface dwellers.

By the end of the first couer Hikari is supporting his sister in her relationship, trying to get people from the land and the sea to work together and has confessed his feelings to Manaka. But through out all of this he still wears his old school uniform. He visits his old school every now and again as well. Has he truly accepted change? At the Ofunehiki he does change out of his uniform into ceremonial dress but only after being forced to. Of course the Ofunehiki is interrupted by the Sea God and His Scale. This causes Hikari, Kaname and Manaka to fall into the sea.

Hikari is the first of them to awake five years later. For a boy who dislikes change he is now faced with his worst nightmare. Everything has changed but for him. Chiskai, Tsumuga, Minua and Sayu have all aged five years. Hikari’s sister is married to Itaru and has a son called Akria. In one scene Hikari rages at Tsumuga that everything has changed so much but for him it was only yesterday that the Ofunehiki happened. In one scene he looks for his old school uniform but can’t find it. Chisaki avoids Hikari because she too has changed. But on meeting again Hikari . He then finally consents to getting a new one and wears it. His old uniform forgotten. In the last episode there is a scene where Hikari and Kaname talk about the former and Manaka. Kaname says that despite knowing each others feelings the two haven’t changed. Hikari responds that that is fine that things can change or they can stay the same. Hikari has come a long way from episode one. He has learned to adapt. I would give his character development a 10/10 however not all characters get the same level as character development he does.

Manaka: Manaka starts off the series probably being my least favorite character. She is a klutz, smiling sweet nice girl who cries a lot. What is her flaws? Is that she has always been herself to be protected so for once wants to go somewhere she isn’t. She also puts other people ahead of herself but to a complete fault. Two examples of this are shown in series. The first comes in the climax of the first half in episode thirteen. She takes the place of Akari at the Ofunehiki because Akari has people on the surface who need her. Those people being Akari’s now husband Itaru and her step daughter. But Manaka does not seem to think of anyone who might need her(such as Hikari or her friend Chisaki) or of her own life in the process. While what she did was noble it resulted in rather dire consequences for herself. In doing this she also for fills her wish of going somewhere her friends can not protect her. Have doubts? Well the next example comes from the second half when we learn she has been in love with Hikari all along but never told him. Why? Because she didn’t want to hurt her friend Chisaki.

Does Manaka grow past this and learn that to put your own needs first is an act of self care? Well not really. In the climax of the series Minua saves her from the sea. Instead of learning to put herself first Manaka instead reflects on how the sea she loves so much can also be destructive and cruel. Nothing is said about her sacrificing her happiness so other people can be happy. Seems like a bit of a wasted chance. Yes learning that something you love like the Sea can also have a dark side is important but she could have learned more. Perhaps Manaka could have saved herself rather then being saved by someone else again. In doing so she would learn about both the dark side of the sea and caring for her own feelings not just others. In doing so she found that she was able to protect herself. I will give her character development a 5/10.

Kaname: Starts out with a similar situation to Hikari, he is in love with his childhood friend Chisaki but it seems that his feelings are not returned. Except unlike with Hikari his feelings really are not returned. Kaname does tell Chisaki that he loves her but soon seems to realize that if Chisaki doesn’t end up with Hikari that she will end up with Tsumuga. Like his rival Kaname is a very hard character to read. But unlike Tsumuga who is a stoic Kaname hides his feelings behind a smile and being mature. Before the characters fall asleep he tries to get the other characters to admit their feelings for one another. Which backfires horrible. Showing that is not as mature as he might think. He is also someone with a ruthless streak when he considers not saving Tsumuga. He decides not to go through with it because he wants to impress Chisaki. It may have been that he was trying to hurt Tsumuga by saying this but it defiantly makes it much harder to empathize with a main character.

Despite his jealously however Kaname eventually does accept the fact that Chisaki does not love him and even works to bring her and Tsumuga together. By playing the phone as he puts it. After this he is crashed by the fact that the girl he always had eyes for was always looking elsewhere. But it is here he is finally confronted by Sayu who flat out tells him to stop feeling sorry from himself because he is guilty of the very same thing himself. Kaname tells Sayu that he is happy that someone one the surface was waiting on him to come back. He resolves to stop seeing her as that child he knew from five years ago but as a girl his own age. Despite his attempts to be more grown up then he is ultimately he does not age for five years. In the end he has to let go of Chisaki who is happy with someone else. But there is hope for change and a happy ending with Sayu. Kaname grows up because he learns to move on from his first love to someone else. Over all I give his character development a 9/10.

Chisaki: Chisaki also receives a lot of growth in the series and her situation is very similar to that of Hikari’s. She dislikes change. But her dislike is more specific, she dislikes the change in herself. Through out the first half she does not want her and her friends to sleep for fear that things will change between them. As it happens she ends being the only one not to fall asleep. For the next five years she grows up without her friends or family. She is taken in by Tsumuga and his grandfather. After five years the first of those hibernating returns. On hearing that Hikari is back Chisaki initially avoids meeting him. Because she is afraid that he has stayed the same but she has changed. She didn’t want to change, she wanted to stay the same and her friends to stay the same.

But that’s not what happened on meeting Hikari again he says she hasn’t changed after all but she does not agree. She is no longer a child but is the only one of her friends from the sea to have turned into an adult. She has left school and become a student nurse. Chisaki’s main inner conflict is that she is still holing onto her feelings for Hikari to maintain she is still the same person she was five years ago. But even that is changed because she is now in love with Tsumuga. For the finale she has to finally come to terms with having changed herself. This comes when she finally admits that she is in love with Tsumuga. Overall her character development is on the same level as Hikari giving her a 10/10.

Tsumuga: Okay I’ve got to be honest I really do like this character but we know so little about him. Tsumuga is a stoic, quiet and intelligent. His grandfather is an exile from the Sea and Tsumuga loves the sea. This brings about him leaving his parents to live with his grandfather. His parents hate the sea and this has put a strain on their relationship. But that is all we learn about his family. The series never tells us why his parents hate the sea so much. There is only one brief scene with his mother were we learn it is him who holds a grudge against her. But for what exactly because she hates the sea? For something she did? Both? He left his parents home at age nine to live with his grandfather and be near the sea. First off why was his grandfather living on the surface? Was it because he fell for a surface woman and was exiled? We don’t know because we never meet Tsumuga’s grandmother who is presumably dead. Why does Tsumuga’s parents hate the sea? We don’t know. These are important pieces of backstory and they are never addressed. Tsumuga never makes amends with his parents or at least reach a resolution with them.

His relationship with Chisaki has a lot of development and is handled well perhaps better then most other relationships in the series. They spend five years together, living together, going to school together etc. This gives their relationship a solid foundation. It builds on when he first began to feel for her romantically back when they were younger. He becomes an important character in that his studies in Oceanography and this helps resolve the plot. But beyond this there is nothing more he is very much a stoic and it is hard to read his emotions. We don’t really see him change as a person or learn anything new despite there being plenty of material to work with. What if for example his grandmother died from drowning causing his mother to hate the sea? This would take her far away from the sea and bitter against her father. What if Tsumuga could have helped breach that gap with his mother and grandfather? But alas we don’t see any of this and we don’t see Tsumugu grow as a person without it. Sadly this give him only a 4/10.

Miuna: Okay so this character for the first half is only a secondary character really but she grows in importance through out the series until she takes over as P.O.V in the last stretch. The first half deals with her having to accept Akira as her stepmother after the death of her birth mother. This is the only time the show addresses the idea of loving someone in a sense that is not romantic. Overall it is handled rather well with Hikari helping Miuna accept Akira. By the second half Miuna is in love with Hikari and she also has a boy from her class in love with her. Yet another triangle. Miuna struggles to adjust to the fact that she and Hikari are the same age once he wakes up.

However her biggest struggle comes when Manaka is found. Manaka does not awake up after being brought to the surface. Miuna begins to fear she does not want Manaka to wake up. Later she worries that she does not want Manaka to gain her ability to love back. Why? Because Miuna and Manaka both love Hikari. This becomes even more complicated when Miuna learns that Manaka love Hikari. But ultimately she pushes past such feelings and becomes the one to save Manaka from the sea. Miuna almost becomes the next sacrifice but this is subverted in the end.

Miuna has to learn to accept that Hikara does not love her in the way she wants but that loving someone means accepting the pain as well as good. Ultimately loving someone is worth it.  At the end Miuna is the only character who is not with her love interest but this is implied to not last for long as the boy who liked her before still does. I give her character development a 10/10.

Sayu: Finally there is Sayu who starts off similar to Miuna as one of the secondary characters who grows in importance. Her first instance of importance in the story is when she destroys the first Ofunehiki. For this she is heavily reprimanded by Kaname who says he will never forgive her because she wronged Hikari. However he changes once he see her regret his sincere. From then on Sayu was in love with Kaname despite the fact he only ever had eyes for Chisaka. Through out the first half of the anime he never looks at her because she is only a kid to him. However after he has been hibernating for five years she is now the same age as him. But he still only has eyes for Chisaka.

Sayu for her part has never stopped loving Kaname and resolves not to be with any of the other boys in her village. When he returns though and finally accepts that Chisaka will never love him Sayu finally confronts him and tells him her feelings. While he doesn’t return them straight away he says he will start to see not as kid but a girl his own age. Unlike characters such as Chisaki and Hikari, Sayu wanted to change. She wanted to be a girl the same age as Kaname and to have him acknowledge her as such. Which she eventually succeeds in doing. She has grown up and matured in the five years and is no longer that petty little girl she was. One thing I especially liked about about Sayu’s character is that she is the only one of two the girls to out right tell her loved one her feelings (the other one being Chisaka who confessed to Hikari). Hikari learns because of the sea, and Tsumugu works it out himself. But Sayu up front tells Kaname how she feels. This was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the other characters. For this I give her character about a 10/10.

Overall count for character: 8/10

Voice Acting: Nothing in the Japanese voice acting in particular stood out to me. The characters sounded like they should taking into account things like gender and age. I can’t really be a fair judge though because of the language barrier. I watched the English dub after watching the subbed and found it to be a treat. I found the voice acting really suited the characters. The only thing that made me pause was that Hikari sounds a tad bit deeper then I would expect of someone his age but I suppose he is of the age of his voice dropping so it’s not too much of stretch. If there a character that really sounds too old it’s Tsumugu. One thing I did like was how after the time skip people’s voices had changed-rather then just being the kid voices then had before. I would give the voice acting 7/10.

Theme: According to the director the theme of the series is ‘What is it like to love another person?’ The overwhelming focus here is on romantic love. While we do see an example with parental love with Miuna having to accept and love her new stepmother Akari that is about it. There are no example asking what is like to love someone as a sibling for example. Also for a story focusing on love and overwhelming romantic love why are there no same-sex relationships in this series. Seriously with the amount of heterosexual love triangles and confessions it wouldn’t have hurt to have at least one instance of two characters of the same sex have romantic feelings for each other. Also without the large amount of screen time the romance got some other story lines could have been added in. Such as Tsumugu’s relationship with his parents. Or it could have gone on world building and giving is more details on the salt flake snow and the disaster coming. Instead we get a large focus on Akria’s and Itaru’s romance which was well done but they are not main characters. In the end though the show does answer this question. That loving someone can bring with great pain as well as great joy. That the good and the bad must be accepted with each other so I would give this a 7/10.

Overall Story score and thoughts: Overall score 7.8/10. While some things are left unexplored or could have been developed more the anime is certainly a brilliant story. It is recommended especially if you enjoy fantasy, romance and beautiful animation. If you like under water stories or stories about mer people you will enjoy this. Even though the mer folk here are defiantly not your standard half human half fish types.

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