Director: Toshiya Shinohara
Writer: Mari Okada
Animation Studios: P.A. Works
Version Watched: Subbed
You have to admit that when you watch anime often you see a lot of ideas being recycled. I mean, at least 60%* of all series these days seem to be high school slice of life comedies plus/minus romance, if not more. That means that I get really excited when something new gets thrown into the mix and this time around that’s Nagi no Asukara. While some may accuse it of making use of the usual tropes, it has so many more unique themes and concepts to offer than I’ve been seeing lately and I really enjoyed it overall. I happily and heartily recommend it.
Many generations ago mankind left the oceans for the surface, though a portion of seadwellers refused to leave their ancestral home. In modern times Shioshishio isn’t your average town, but Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki and Kaname have lived there all their lives. They and the others residing there have a special lining to their skin called Ena which allows them to breathe and live entirely underwater. When the town’s school is closed down the four friends are forced to take to the surface for their education and are soon exposed to the tensions between those beneath the waves and those who have left them behind. They’ll have to find where they fit into things on the surface, making new friends quickly, but at the same time they need to make sure of how they feel about each other. Meanwhile the God of the Sea, creator of all life, finds his power dwindling as he is forgotten by those leaving the sea for the surface. Without his presence, there’s no telling what will happen to the Earth itself.
While you may not see them, that summary alone alludes to three or four features that you simply don’t come across in anime very often and I assure you that each one is portrayed beautifully. Life in the underwater village Shioshishio looks fantastically normal in Nagi no Asukara yet at the same time is fascinating because of how bizarre it is to us as viewers. The relationships between surface dwellers and sea people, both old and young, are so very believable. The struggle of an isolated community to keep its young people from leaving, and the effects that struggle has on the village’s interactions with others, make so much sense. Then finally, on either side of these legitimate, worldly concerns sit the feelings and actions of individuals placed next to the ethereal yet important spiritual balance that gradually gets overlooked. There’s a lot of conflict in this show that alternates between overtly staring you in the face and bubbling away below the surface, and one of things I love about how it all fits together is that, much of the time, you really can’t blame anyone. There’s no good or evil here, so much as different people arguing from different points of view. After going through all of that, there’s still one major twist that you’ll have to watch the show to find out about.
With all of that airy-fairy thematical stuff floating around I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Nagi no Asukara’s main focus is on the relationships between its characters. Love triangles and other shapes abound, forcing viewers to give a damn about the feelings of each individual. If I had to make a complaint here it would be that some of the plot developments in the area feel a little forced, though that’s an impression that has only come to me since finishing the series; I wouldn’t call it something that affected my overall enjoyment of the show. There’s a lot of emotion swirling around that you really can’t help but get caught up in, which is another one of my hallmarks of a good story. If I had to make a second complaint it would be that some of the characters are a little bit shallow and don’t have much going for them to differentiate them from generic slice of life rom-com girl B (or generic slice of life rom-com best friend A) (or generic slice of life rom-com rival love interest C). I don’t want to name names, Chisaki, Kaname and Tsumugu; it’s just worth noting that there aren’t really any characters that will stick in your mind for years afterwards, even if the series uses them well.
Nagi no Asukara’s wonderful visuals mean that it looks and feels fantastic. Beyond the art itself, the design of Shioshishio and its surface counterpart fit perfectly. Fish and coral are abundant below while above the effects of the salt air above rust any exposed metal, giving each setting its own character and depth. Underwater shots always offer an opportunity to wow an audience, which P.A. Works seems to have picked up on pretty quickly. The background music fits the overall feel of the series and its themes though I’m not sure I would call it memorable, and as always the voice acting is spot-on.
Summary – Nagi no Asukara is unique, novel and entertaining. The plot itself, the themes surrounding it and character relationships within it drive an experience that doesn’t get boring from beginning to end. If I really wanted to I could complain about shallow characters and contrived interactions, but in a series that I really enjoyed that could only be called nit-picking. Great visual design and animation quality adds to the series to earn it an emphatic Geek Clinic recommendation.
Score: 9/10 – Great
*Note: Statistics 100% fabricated.