The beauty of the undersea village draws Tsumugu in
Nagi no Asukara is an early candidate vying for my top show of the season (even if it’s two-cour). The second episode wasn’t a let up in either the beautiful art or the romantic drama. So let’s see what went on.
Hikari’s usual face, and Manaka just doesn’t know what to do
Manaka isn’t sure what she’s feeling, but she’s pretty sure that she likes it. So much so that she’s willing to try to anger Lord Uroko again to get her cursed fish knee back, and wrap it and pretend that it’s still there when that doesn’t work. But she still doesn’t get why Hikari is so grumpy about it, even as she tries to not do things that make Hikari mad. But she’s also still really interested in Tsumugu, and the show gives a really good feel at how conflicted she is.
But this is how she looks at Tsumugu
It also does more to make Tsumugu more of a person, and show how much he cares about both the world he lives in and the town of Shioshishio. He’s the only person who’s willing to help make the Boatdrift Ceremony happen, and he’s also able to explain why he is interested: having looked down from the surface and heard singing from undersea, he finds beauty in that world, just as he found beauty in Manaka’s curse and Manaka herself. But you get the impression that he’s not doing it just because of Manaka, but because he really feels that he wants to do what he can for the umiko (and thanks to their teacher for that name, I really like it).
Hikari doesn’t really yell at the grade schoolers… much
Conversely, Hikari is pushed more into the ‘angry dumb kid’ role. While I understand and think we need to allow for the narcissism of youth, at some point when you’re being an angry idiot, and all your friends are telling you you’re being an angry idiot, maybe you should listen to them. And just because you don’t understand how you feel doesn’t mean that your friends and others can’t understand it. You’re not the first person to have those feelings, and sometimes the separation from the turmoil that other people have is instructive. But instead of reflecting at all on it, Hikari just tries to blunder through, yelling at Manaka, yelling at Chisaki, bristling at everything as he feels like the life he was constructing falls apart with nothing he can do about it.
Hikari pushes Manaka over the edge
Akari’s forbidden romance
The other main theme this episode is the status of cross-surface relationships, with Manaka thinking about Tsumugu and with the discovery that Akari is seeing a boy from the surface. And rather than people turning their back on the village, as Hikari thought, or it not being a big deal, as Manaka thought, the ‘rules’ of the village say that being with people from the surface is forbidden. And the punishment for breaking this rule is apparently banishment from the village thereafter. Not enough to even be lenient and let them try which way of life they prefer, the middle-aged men of the village seem ready to banish Akari immediately.
Akari looks defeated
And if I’m looking for reason #1 why Shioshishio is failing, as it obviously is, this is certainly a good candidate. This is provincialism at its worst, an unnecessary limiting condition that ensures a drain from the village that won’t be corrected, but will only spiral into the collapse of the village. If you make your land inhospitable to outsiders, then you can’t replenish loss. At this point we don’t know what the offspring of land and sea people are, whether they are strictly land humans or have a chance to be sea people, and maybe there’s some basis for this rule in the outcome of that. And maybe people who leave the sea lose their Ena, the protective coating which allows them to breathe in the air, and their ability to return to the water, although it seemed much more life or death for Manaka when she was out of the water too long.
If this is how Hikari views Manaka, no wonder he’s afraid of losing her
Even if there is no permanent change, and those who leave would have to spend the night in the pool or something, that would still be workable for a couple. But if a route to welcoming those who leave is closed, then those people will turn their backs on the village that has turned its back on them. What would they owe to people who would deny them love, especially for small-minded and petty reasons like the continued existence of a small village (and yes, I consider forcing people to stay in a dying village “small-minded and petty”).
Kaname and Chii discussing their future
Another nice episode, this one seemed able to focus more on the characters, which will hopefully get some of the people who had their immersion ruined by mechanics more into the story. The story of the girl who always chased behind being the one who takes the first big step is compelling, and the politics of Shioshishio are going to play a part. I can understand the flailing in desperation that would cause people to try to enact a law like that, but it takes reflection and insight to realize that banning things that people want to do does not work. If they want their village to rebound, an iffy proposition, they need to find a way to be more welcoming (and who knows if this just mirrors Japan’s current population issues, or if it’s intended as a metaphorical reference to them).