Nagi no Asukara
After their school close down, four middle school kids are moved to another school nearby. They face a bit of a hard start of the school year, mostly because the four kids -- Chisaki Hiradaira, Kaname Isaki, Manaka Mukaido and Hikari Sakishima -- belong to a race of people who live under the sea, and the relationship between the sea dwellers and the land people aren't the best these days.
It was the gorgeous scenery that initially drew me towards this show. I have an innate weakness towards scenery porn, and if there's one thing Nagi no Asukara delivers on, then this would definitely be it.
And almost immediately off the bat, the show very nearly sabotages the hell out of its premise. Our four main characters are a part of an undersea race. It actually took me a while to realize it, because the opening scene shows one of the main lead cooking breakfast and then bringing it into the family living room, where a TV can be seen playing the local news. The only clue that something was a bit out of the ordinary was the presence of a blue flame in a cage, which seems to double as a heat and light source. This didn't get any easier to digest once said main character headed outside to prepare for school, in which he runs outside to a fully functional city with schools of fish seemingly flying in the air.
Except it wasn't air. The kids are literally living in the nearby ocean, where they are able to breathe, talk and both run on the ground and swim through the water at will, part of that thanks to a special skin referred to as "ena". The "ena" is a gift from the sea god, long lost and now only represented by a character in the show, Uroko-sama. He's known as a scale from said sea god, whom controls the sacred fire (the aforementioned blue flame) and is a bit of a pervert and a layabout.
Said detachment of normalcy for land-dwellers and the somewhat chaotic sense of the opening episodes was thankfully easy enough to get used to, but mostly because they were replaced by another problem; the main characters, or at least what I assume is the main couple, Hikari and Manaka. Manaka is a relatively naive and innocent girl whose personality feels more manufactured to be adored than anything else, and a tool to drive the plot more than a character by herself. And Hikari is just a brat with some serious anger management problems, whose involvement in the love triangle does nothing to improve his mood. In fact, he's such a raging asshole during some of the opening episodes that his change of heart kind of feels unnatural and sort of scripted, but even beyond that, he's prone to attacking people based on his own absurdly biased (and often wrong) assumptions, and even beyond that, his scenes of shouting at the girls for just about anything aren't much fun to watch.
You could say that relationships are the core element in Nagi no Asukara. And not only the relationship between the characters themselves, but also the relationship between the people of the sea and the land dwellers, which, as I mentioned, isn't the best these days. This is mostly driven by a wall between the two races; the land dwellers does of course need equipment if they are to travel beneath the waves for any significant length of time, while sea people who spend too long on land are in danger of having their ena dry off and crumble. Because of this, relationships formed between land dwellers and the sea people are frowned upon, though mostly by the sea people, because children born between people of the sea and people of the land do not have ena, and therefor become a part of the people of the land.
One thing that's very nice about Nagi no Asukara is that it's a very complex show. Early on, a relationship between Hikari's sister Akari and a man from the land is cemented as undesired by the people of the sea. It might sound like an issue of racism at first, but the problem is that any relationship combination between sea and land people will lead to their children also being land dwellers, and the residents of Shioshishio faces the very real danger of depopulation. The problem with all this is that the solution; denying women the ability to choose, or to even talk with men living on land, is of course out of the question. There is more to this problem than that, but revealing it would be spoilerish, so I'll leave it to you whether you want to check it out for yourselves.
Nagi no Asukara is also in possession of one of the most complicated love maps I've ever seen in anything, even breathing down School Rumble's neck. Most of the characters are in love with someone else, and the whole thing doesn't just form a conga line as seen in shows like Waiting for Summer and Please Teacher; it actually spreads out like a fishing net, appropriately enough, and I'm not even going to try to make sense of it here.
The main problem I have with this show's exploits in the field of romance, however, is that it wants to drama it up as much as it can get away with, and then some more. The characters in the show seems mostly unwilling to actually sit down and talk until after at least one temper has flared or one of the people in the show has martyred themselves to kingdom come, and this happens every single time romance is brought up in any shape or form, even with the relationship I liked the best in the whole show; Akari's and that other guy's. Also, I recommend NOT making a drinking game out of the whole "you're running away" thing, because I don't think 911 will appreciate all the alcohol poisoning-related phone calls. I'm not saying Nagi no Asukara's exploits into the world of romance are immature, but they do seem a bit too scripted for me to take this seriously as slice-of-life.
Now, I mentioned scenery porn earlier, and let me just repeat that; SCENERY PORN! The show is goddamned gorgeous, both on land and in the sea. The damnedest part is that the animation is pretty good too; I may be one of the worst swimmers in the world, but aside from the curious way the people below the sea can just run around underwater as if underwater friction wasn't a thing, everything looks great. The water looks both realistic and well-made, if maybe a bit unnaturally clear at all times. The undersea area is teeming with life, and there are also some interesting and gorgeous natural phenomenons showing up a couple of times at key points. The character designs are following the whole MOE aspect a bit too much -- I think this is one case where I would have preferred a more natural character design, like the one you see in Samurai Flamenco -- but it doesn't hurt the show too much either way.
As frustrating as it is to watch this thing unfold on a romantic level, Nagi no Asukara is a fairly interesting show to watch. Its list of topics, while mostly centered between the relationship of two kinds of people, is diverse enough to remain interesting, even throwing in a time skip during the middle to shuffle the character progress around some. Normally, I'd balk at stuff like this, because there's nothing more frustrating than watching a romance being artificially lengthened by people who are unable to sit down and talk, but I can deal with it here because of the bigger picture; the people involved. Not characters, but people. Shows tend to forget too often that lives often involve more people than whoever is listed among the main cast. And as such, I will recommend this show.
The romantic drama may or may not drive you up the walls, but the rest is worth staying for. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There isn't really a whole lot in the ways of violence or fanservice in this show, so it's perfectly safe for most young-uns, but story elements can and will fly straight over the heads of children. It's best suited for teenagers and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Nagi no Asukara © 2013 P.A. Works, Nagi no Asukara Production Committee.
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