Land Meets Water in Love
It seems that every season, PA Works brings us another anime (besides Another anime) which is anchored by their usual gorgeous visuals. The problem in some people’s minds is that their stories don’t always meet the standard that their art sets. Their latest offering is Nagi no Asukara, a 2-cour series from the pen of Okada Mari, herself a polarizing figure in anime, at the helm. So how is this one starting out?
Starting off with this is just wow
The first thing about Nagi no Asukara that everyone is going to notice is that it’s gorgeous. Just absolutely beautiful. The setting of the story in the twin worlds of under sea and on land is a perfect setting for PA Works animators, and the mixing of the beautiful skies that I think are their trademarks with the richness of the undersea world is a feast for the eyes. It may seem a little random, but I never lost that little frisson at seeing a cute little fish swim across the scene. The overall look of both the land and sea villages has an authentic weathered look of so many seaside towns, with the solid primary colors of rich blues and greens showing a significant amount of wear. The lighting is used to great effect throughout, bright sunlight streaming through the water, rich golden hues at sunset, distinct pools of light from the streetlights.
Light and Dark
The character designs by Buriki recall his earlier works of Haganai and especially Denpa Onna, and fit in well with the feel of the show. The simplistic blue and white sailor-style uniforms of the children from the sea village contrast with the basic but still more complicated brown and white shirts and vests of the land children, and this reinforces the perceived divide between the seemingly simple sea village children and their apparently more worldly classmates.
Different Worlds? Or Are They?
Inspecting differences, and making a statement about who’s in charge
The basic premise of the show is that there are humans who live underwater, perhaps from the ancestors of humans who live on land, or perhaps the descendants of land humans who were sacrificed to the sea gods. These humans have gills, but can also spend time out of the water thanks to a special skin coating that protects them (and has the not-unwelcome side effect of making them sparkly). Due to dwindling population in the sea village, the 2nd year middle schoolers are being sent to school in the land school, combining their classes. Creating a bit of ‘us vs. them’, the sea children continue to wear their old uniforms, and of course, they have to get back to the sea before their protective layer cracks and falls off, so there’s a self-segregating action there as well. And of course, all of the middle schoolers act like middle schoolers, having their own groups and pecking orders. But it’s not just the middle schoolers that have that mentality, as there’s quite a bit of distrust and hazy boundaries between the adults, with designated fishing areas (conveniently ignored) and expected ceremonies, as well as impending natural environment changes (it’s hinted that the salt concentration is going up, and becoming a problem).
Hikari has a bit too much attitude
But in this setting, what we’re really looking at are coming of age and self-discovery stories. The three main characters are sea dwellers Hikari (played by Hanae Natsuki, Wien from Tari Tari), a generally nice but quick-tempered boy with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and Manaka (HanaKana) and land dweller Tsumugu (Ishikawa Kaito, Ledo from Gargantia), a quiet son of a fisherman in the same class. And the tension is coming from a crush-at-first-sight between Manaka and Tsumugu (when the latter fishes her up in a net), which leaves childhood friend Hikari wondering if he will lose Manaka. To me, the biggest problem of the show is Hikari, whose brusque manner and short fuse overshadow his caring for Manaka. He expects that things will just continue as they are, with Manaka just following him for a life together, but the introduction of Tsumugu has thrown a wrench into that.
Manaka and Tsumugu
For her part, Manaka really has a cute crush on Tsumugu, but this causes her trouble when she panics and runs away from everyone in embarrassment because of a cursed fish on her knee. Lost in the forest past her land time, she collapses and is saved by Tsumugu, who brings her home and puts her in the tub with some salt (I would have thought it better to take her to the actual ocean, but ok). And here we find out that Tsumugu seems to have at least some feelings for Manaka, describing both the fish on her knee and she herself as beautiful.
Kaname and Chisaki help search for Manaka
But that’s not all we’ve got as far as love entanglements, as among the other two sea children, Chisaki (Kayano Ai) realizes that she’s always second in Hikari’s eyes to Manaka, even though she also loves Manaka like a sister. And Kaname doesn’t seem to be in love with anyone, but I don’t think it’s too farfetched to think that he’s carrying a torch for Chisaki, making this a full-cast Love Conga Line worthy of Ano Natsu de Matteru.
More Tsumugu and Manaka
I’m a sucker for PA Works shows, completely in the tank for whatever they put out. And while there’s disagreement on the success of their storytelling sometimes (like Tari Tari or Red Data Girl, both of which I enjoyed) there are definitely times when they get it right (like with Uchouten Kazoku). And with them teaming up with Okada Mari again, whose been in this same Series Composition position for five shows I remember fondly including both True Tears and Hanasaku Iroha with PA Works, I’m really looking forward to seeing this show. This first episode was beautiful, and I like the romance setup that they’ve got going. I’m sure there will be tribulations through these two cours, but I’m pretty excited about it.