First Impression – Nagi no Asukara

Land Meets Water in Love

spring13-highwIt 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?

きれい… (Kirei….)

The undersea town

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

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?

Manaka and Land Children

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).

Bright but battered

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.

A chance meeting

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

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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.


Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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45 Responses to “First Impression – Nagi no Asukara”

  1. Irenesharda says:

    I’m of two minds about this series. I really like the storyline and some of the characters and the world that was created. I love a good fantasy especially ones that involve the sea. (The Little Mermaid is in my top 5 Disney movies) However, this show still has it’s problems.

    Most of the kids are interesting, well except for Tsumugu who I find so two-dimensional and boring I feel like I might never like him. Seriously, the guy is like an even more silent version of young Sasuke, and is saying that the horrid fish on a girl’s knee is supposed to be beautiful, supposed to be charming? No. It’s not cute, it’s ugly and embarrassing. And that tacked on “you are too” was so eye-rollingly bad, I actually wanted to gag. Hikari is not much better, as he’s the other extreme of being too loud and too domineering and he can’t seem to figure our if he wants to be anti-humans or just doesn’t care.

    Anyway, most of this show looks really nice and I like the whole mythology, however this fantasy world did make a fatal flaw: It couldn’t make half of my brain turn off…

    I am a scientist by trade and I am trained to think logically and clinically. However, I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi and when a world shows a consistency and charm to it that can thoroughly entertain me, I can turn that logical part of my brain off, and just enjoy the ride. Nagi no Asukara’s world has the charm, but it lacks in the consistency, and just when I’m about to get into it, something jars me and my logical side wakes up and says “that doesn’t make sense” or “that’s not how water works”.
    For instance the fact that these sea people can walk underwater just as easily as people do on land. At first, it was a little weird because thoughts of buoyancy and currents kept coming to mind, but I began to accept it as the fantasy and magic of the show. And then…suddenly they could jump up and swim? And then my brain started yelling at me about the density of water vs. air, and the fact that sometimes there’s air bubbles and then there isn’t, and it took me quite a bit to calm that part of me down again. If this keeps up, I’m going to have a hard time continuing to watch this show.

    Anyway, the animation is beautiful and I’m hoping the story and characters picks up a bit. Weirdly, my favorite character was none of the kids, but actually the demigod priest who gives spirit fire or whatever to the sea people and watches over them to make sure they don’t do anything stupid. I’m wondering how the myth of the sea god will factor into the story and the fact that the humans are thinking of going against tradition. Since it’s obvious that the sea god has an actual presence among the people, I don’t know if it will be a smart move to do away with a tradition that he set up in the first place.

    Anyway, I will be sticking with this for at least the first few episodes, and will hope the fantasy world becomes more consistent and the characters more fleshed out.

    I give this a 7/10.

    • BlackBriar says:

      With what’s already shown here, this is definitely the kind of show that would test a scientist’s patience. You already saw the human experimentations from Gargantia, so, as a scientist, how did that sit with you?

      • Irenesharda says:

        I was okay with the concept, even though I kept saying to myself that this isn’t how “evolution” works, it was really just incredible, intense and advanced genetic engineering.

        As for the act of the human experimentation act itself, I was totally against it. There is a reason that scientists have to go through a lot of review boards and red tape in order to use human subjects. And while I enjoy the discovery and curiosity that science brings, I can never place it before my own morals. I felt there was absolutely no need to change humans biologically in order to survive in space, when more time and energy should go towards those in the physics and engineering fields to build better ships and space environments for people to travel in.

    • skylion says:

      La La La

      • Irenesharda says:

        I’m trying, I really am! They’re just not making it easy on me. 🙁

    • Highway says:

      Heh, again we are opposites. I find it interesting you can love Titan with the crimes against science (gravity chief among them) that had, but then balk at this which I find a far more obvious fantasy story. I was able to quickly get past the buoyancy (since we don’t know how people control their buoyancy), and the electricity underwater and even the spirit fire. And the only bubbles I recall seeing were when Hikari ‘skidded’ on the pavement, which wasn’t too bad.

      I think we haven’t really gotten to know Tsumugu yet. It is only the first episode, but I found him more interesting in contrast to Hikari, who just acted like a jerk throughout. I also liked Chisaki’s character, torn as she is with her feelings.

      • Irenesharda says:

        I think Chisaki and Kaname will need to be fleshed out more, right now they’re just background (especially Kaname), and I hope Chisaki just doesn’t become the unrequited love character that is constantly pining for the guy, even if she knows nothing will come of it.

        I was okay with spirit fire. It’s magic I get that, and they somehow have electricity underwater or at least some magic that makes it work. I can get that too. However,the thing with their only being bubbles at the one time, is what pulls me out again. The fact that they can walk totally weighted down with no water resistance is one thing, but to then suddenly swim which is dependent on the weightlessness of water and you having to push against it, would make the water have to change properties mid-scene. That’s what jars me.

        With Titan, I can get behind the fact that this is some fantasy world that created biological weapons in the form of Titans and can use magic chemistry science to disobey the laws of matter, energy, etc. because it was consistent. They didn’t suddenly try to push in real science and mix it in with their “magic” that makes this particular world work.

        One of my favorite movies is The Little Mermaid, and this is mostly because I really love the underwater world they created. While that also has sea people living in the ocean, that movie never pulled me out, because it was consistent. When the mer-people move, they show air bubbles all the time, when they are in one spot, you can see the water and currents within suspend their hair and cause it to waver. They kind of have to hover in one spot, in a sort of suspended swimming motion like fish do, and they show that the water indeed is not the same as the air above and has a totally different quality to it. I can completely buy that fantasy world because it makes itself consistent and obeys its own laws in which it has set itself. Nagi no Asukara didn’t do that.

        • Highway says:

          To me, there was little fantasy in Titan, certainly not enough to explain away gravity (and miles of cable in teeny spools).

          I think that Nagi no Asukara is internally consistent enough, but perhaps you’re applying some other show’s rules to it. The bubbles at only one time felt consistent with cavitation, crushing the air out of solution due to pressure, since that was really the only dynamic move underwater. And that was better than if they had had all sorts of bubbles all over the place for me. It’s not like fish create bubbles.

          • Irenesharda says:

            I think of the “science” that governs the maneuver gear, to be the same “science” that governs superheros. All of them can do it, so I don’t question it in that world. In superhero world, Spider-man can do the same thing, but they give a quasi-plausible explanation as to why he can. (magic science!)

            If they move and create bubbles in one spot, they should do it throughout when they run or change direction, stuff like that. I know it’s a nitpick, but I feel the world is so close to getting there, that I feel they should have tried just a little bit harder. However, this is a two-cour series and they will have time to flesh this world out more. I don’t know how the plot itself will stand up if we’re just going to have a children’s romance triangle as the main plotline the entire time. It feels like it could get old soon, especially since as of this point I really don’t care for either boy. I hope they go more into the politics of this world, as well as the relationship between the land and sea peoples and the prejudices that both sides show.

            • Highway says:

              Well, it takes an excessive amount of force to create cavitation. That’s why it only happened in that one instance. You wouldn’t want to do it all the time (just like propellers are designed to never cavitate within their designed range of operation), because it’s very rough on the material. I thought it akin to having shoes that squeak or leave marks.

              This is the point where I put my faith in the producers, that they have a story that they can fill out 26 episodes with. Okada Mari is not new at this, and she’s done multiple 2-cour shows, so I think we’re in pretty good hands.

            • Irenesharda says:

              But if you go by that logic then then water is even more inconsistent in its properties, especially since pressure, gravity, and force seems to have no effect on this environment.

              You know what, I’ve got it! This world is an alien planet similar to Earth, except it has magical properties and magic oceans ruled by Poseidon god thing. There! Now it will make sense in my brain as long as I keep these facts in mind. 🙂

  2. sadakups says:

    So much Spongebob logic being applied in this show.

  3. belatkuro says:

    Guys, guys, this is an important question.
    How do they go to the bathroom?

    Ehem, anyways.
    I’ve read the first 2 chapters of the manga which covered the first episode so I knew more or less what is in store for the show.
    As usual, PA Works does scenery porn quite well. Though with the many shows they’ve done with this quality, I’ve only liked 2 of them, and one of them breaks away from this with its different and unique style. Scenery porn isn’t quite enough for me.
    Character design is the usual blob by Buriki which is acceptable I guess.
    As for the story, Okada Mari is pretty mixed. I’m expecting lots of drama and lots of complicated character relationships with this. Though the popular consensus is that this show feels a bit NTR with fishknee falling for land dude and angry fishboy feeling so jealous.

    Nevertheless, I’m still going in with a positive view of things from the way the first episode went, which is pretty solid, real-world physics aside(fire underwater!).
    Whatever Okada Mari cooks up with this is sure to shake up some discussions. Looking forward to this show.

    • Liza says:

      How do they go to the bathroom?

      One of the mysteries of their underwater lives right here…

      Do they even take baths too? 0_o Does their house have a bathroom!?

      • skylion says:

        So second floor houses have stairs?

        • Highway says:

          Speaking from the standpoint of moving things around, you’d still want to have a structure you can use as leverage to move things up to a second floor. It’s not always just yourself or something small you’re trying to get up there.

    • BlackBriar says:

      Another question is: What do they drink? They’re always surrounded by water.

      • Irenesharda says:

        That is weird since you see them drinking tea. How does the tea stay in the pot? Is it magic tea? Are they just drinking hot sea water. How does food stay put? Why doesn’t it just float away? How do they make soup and hot pots? Sigh…*waves suspension of disbelief flag once again*

        • Liza says:

          And these are the true questions of this show and not who everyone ends up with…

    • Highway says:

      My characters in World of Warcraft never go to the bathroom either…

      The feel I really get from this show is more of a ‘Country Mouse / City Mouse’ kind of story. No matter that they’ve nearly grown up side-by-side and have equivalent technologies, the land people definitely feel more sophisticated and worldly, leaving Manaka and Hikari feeling like bumpkins. The relationship between Hikari and Manaka even feels like that kind of “Well, of course she’s going to marry me, who else is there in this town?” And then she finds the city-slicker in Tsumugu, who really does seem like a charmer. I’m worried that they’re going to put in some bad character traits for him just so he’s not Mr Perfect.

  4. BlackBriar says:

    This is a 2 cour series? Funny, I usually pride myself on assuming which ones are 1 or 2 cours after thinking about the synopsis for the series. I was wrong with Golden Time as well. P.A Works still hard at work. Their animations are top notch.

    Anyway, this anime just brought in a whole new concept. I must have been half asleep because I didn’t realize the people were underwater until I saw the groups of fish and that kid starting to swim in what looked like mid-air to get to school. I kind of can work with fire being underwater. The fact there are underwater volcanoes in real life makes it easier to tolerate. Surely that’s the first of many things we’re going to see defy the laws of physics.

    Some say all life started with the sea so I’m curious as to what exactly some of the people in the past did to make themselves adaptable only to land. Personally, it’s quite a benefit if you can walk both worlds because you’d never have to be forced to choose just one.

    I’m intrigued with setting and want to know more about the mysteries surrounding the village so I’m definitely inclined to keep watching. My hopes are that the story doesn’t become dull along the way.

    • Highway says:

      There’s also torch welding underwater, but that’s not really what the spirit fire is. I realize they took liberties with aspects of the undersea world, but it didn’t really bother me at all, like I got over it in Valvrave pretty quickly.

      The problem with being a sea person is that you are yoked to the sea. It’s some of a benefit, but also a curse (and not a fishknee curse). You definitely get the feeling that the sea people are behind in their technological development, with things that they have because of the land people’s efforts.

    • Irenesharda says:

      I don’t think the spirit fire is the same as real fire so I can kind of buy that. And weirdly I thought the same as you when I watched the PV, I thought everything was happening on land, and then I saw scenes of fish swimming in midair, and even then I thought it was some sort of dream sequence or they were on an alien world. It wasn’t until I read the summary, that I realize that the world I was seeing was supposed to be underwater.

      Weirdly there are times that the water deflects and distorts the light of the sun like it’s supposed to, but then there are other times when they look as if they are still on land, and somehow the sunlight can reach that deeply into the ocean, and illuminates the exact same way that it does on land. And so people look like they’re on land, except there are fish swimming around in midair.

  5. skylion says:

    One of my early favorites. Okada Mari and PA Works is such a winning combination. I’m surprised I’ve missed True Tears all this time.

    Yep, Spongebob logic. That TV should have exploded a long time ago.

    • BlackBriar says:

      Yep, Spongebob logic. That TV should have exploded a long time ago.

      If it was going to, it would have done so a long time ago. That show has been around since 1999, and I was 8 years old at the time. Its insane popularity is its saving grace.

    • Highway says:

      It’s easy enough to make a TV that works fine underwater. 🙂

      I only watched True Tears a few months ago, after being worried that it would be too sad. There were parts of it that were sad, but overall it was a very enjoyable show to watch.

      • Irenesharda says:

        I simply thought that the TVs all ran on spirit magic rather than electricity. Or at least some form of magic underwater electricity.

  6. Liza says:

    I fell in love with this show immediately. I can tell that there’s going to be a lot of drama in the group happening in the future and I welcome it. XD I’m already on the ManakaXTsumugu ship. Hikari’s brashness gets on my nerves a lot but I can tell he’s a good kid.

    • Highway says:

      I’m on the Manaka x Tsumugu ship as well, because that also leaves Hikari for Chisaki, if he can get over himself. That’s kind of different from the way I wanted the conga line to go in Ano Natsu, where while I didn’t mind Kanna much, I was much happier to see Kaito end up with Ichika and Tetsurou end up with Mio, even if it left Kanna out in the cold. Plus, Kanna x Remon was a much more interesting ship.

  7. d-LaN says:

    Never bring in real world logic to anime. it just doesn’t work.

    Guys…… Can we calm down and just enjoy the love whateverangle?

  8. EdBunny says:

    I’m the opposite. I liked Hikari and thought he was portrayed pretty all right. He’s a 2nd grade middle school. At that time, boys don’t know their feelings. He knows he likes Manaka, but doesn’t know how to show it. He doesn’t understand the concept of loving something to be able to set it free. He’s not sure about his feelings, etc. Personally he’s a lot better than Mr. Silent and Boring. And this is one of those rare cases where I want the “domineering” boy to get the girl. But that’s because even though he doesn’t know how to show it very well, Hikari really likes Manaka and is just jealous. His fears and his jealously take over. Everyone is at fault once in their lifetime of creating a toxic relationship simply by not letting someone go and discover themselves and be their own person.

    • Highway says:

      It’s still really early, but I don’t know if I’d characterize Tsumugu as silent and boring just yet. He’s quiet for sure, but he could also be reacting well to Manaka, who is quite understandably freaking out about her feelings for him. By being calm and thoughtful and quiet, he’s giving her time and space to understand, as opposed to Hikari who amps up every situation with his temper.

      Sure, Hikari is inexperienced, but we can also see that it’s not just Manaka that gets his blood boiling. He’s also short and cross with Akari, the concerned citizens, and his father. He’s definitely an angry young man. But as much slack as we can give him or justify, it still makes him annoying, and turns off other people.

    • Irenesharda says:

      Actually I agree with you, if you judge Hikari as a kid rather than an older teen or adult, I can understand why he’s so brash and hot-headed. And I do like him more than Tsurugu who I not only find uninteresting and boring (it’s like he’s trying to be emo but doesn’t know how) and those incredible corny lines about her Manaka’s fish knee being beautiful and so on, really turned me off to him. I mean, he finds an injured girl in the woods and he doesn’t bother to ask for help, or go find her friends, he just takes her home like an injured bird or turtle and thankfully his grandfather tells him to put her in salt water before she dried out. He has done nothing to make me like him much other than be a kind of cute boy that Manaka forms a crush on simply because he’s different from what she’s used to.

      If I had to choose ships, I’d have Hikari x Manaka though I would have to wait till all the others are fleshed out to see who else I would pair with who.

  9. EdBunny says:

    Welp, my post was eaten. And I wrote something really big. Let me see, what was I saying. Oh right. I’m the opposite I like Hikari. In one of these cases, I actually want Hikari and Manaka to get together. I know it won’t happen. But seriously. He’s a 2nd grade middle schooler. Do you seriously think he’s going to understand every emotion he has? Or understand love? Or understand the concept that if you love something to let it go? We all at least once in our lives have made the mistake of creating a toxic relationship simply because we didn’t know how to let go. Hikari tries, he just wants to protect her, and he just wants to keep her safe. He could, but he doesn’t know how. He’s a lot better than Mr. Silent middle schooler with no personality.

    • Irenesharda says:

      Oh, you’ve met our resident text glutton, Spammy. Don’t worry, most of the time he’ll spit it back out eventually. I write some of the longest comments on here, and I only think I’ve lost one (surprisingly it was actually one of my really short ones). So if you don’t see your post at first, 99% of the time Spammy has it and he’ll give it back eventually.

  10. Sumairii says:

    At the risk of beating the dead horse, let me say that I’m not concerned about every other unrealistic aspect of the show because first of all, you have sea-people who can live and breathe under water.

  11. Soliia says:

    My gosh, the visuals are amazing! And the setting and premise are really interesting. I don’t know how I’m gonna feel about the story though. I just really hate love triangles/squares/pentagons and if the show focuses too much on that aspect, I really might not like it. I also don’t like Hikari at the moment, but there is room for him to grow. For now though, I’m on the Manaka x Tsumugu ship.

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