Nagi no Asukara: lush, serene and visually calming.
I have to admit that I was very excited initially to start watching Nagi; the plot line seemed like the relatively cut and dry, star-crossed lovers kind of show, and the PV looked absolutely stunning. There came a point, however, where I just felt like I was waiting. Waiting for it to get better, waiting for something to happen, waiting for some of the characters to just stop being so gratingly irritating, while at the same time really enjoying and investing myself in several of the characters stories and idiosyncrasies. Before I let my words get away with me, I’ll start out with the plot.
The basic premise starts out quite simply; a very long time ago, humans lived in the sea but slowly began to migrate onto the land, until much of the ocean was left abandoned and bereft of life, save for a few underwater cities or villages. One of these villages resides deep under the water within an enclosed bay near a fishing village. Unfortunately for four of the five main characters, their school under the sea has closed down due to fewer and fewer students and they – Sakishima Hikari, Mukaido Manaka, Hiradaira Chisaki and Isaki Kaname – are forced to got to school on land and mingle with the land-dwellers they rarely encounter. From then on, it’s a whole load of romantic dramatics, love triangles-squares-oblongs and so on and so forth, and I’m not even exaggerating.
Hikari, voiced by Hanae Natsuki, is a typical teenage boy – he’s brash, cheeky but has such a heart of gold and he’s one of the characters I found myself identifying with time and time again. He works so hard not to be the person he is; to be more open and try harder and get past his indignation for the land-dwellers, no matter how much they insult him and his kind. He has a very strong sense of loyalty and patriotism to his home, Shioshioshio, which is under threat from its own inhabitants leaving the sea. He’s also extremely protective over his friends and defends them from his new classmates, which, to my complete and utter frustration, he is rarely if ever thanked for. I reckon I’m quite biased when it comes to Hikari, who’s experiencing unrequited love, a sister who’s in a serious relationship with a man on the surface and who could potentially be extradited from the sea, as well as his father who’s the head priest and thereby in charge of keeping his people tied to the sea. I truly feel like Hikari deserves just a little bit more understanding than he gets, because I think he’s got the truest heart out of all the characters in Nagi.
Chisaki, voiced by the lovely and talented Kayano Ai, is an absolute sweetheart. She’s soft-spoken, gentle, motherly, but with her own selfish faults that I think make her a very relatable yet complex character. During the first half of the series she’s in love with Hikari, and keeps it very close to her chest. I’d say that she’s the quietest and reserved of the group of four friends but I also think that apart from Kaname, she’s the most insightful, and, like a typical girl, overthinks everything. While I don’t personally care for the romance in this show, there was always something very sweet and honest – sometimes brutally so – about the various relationships she had with all the boys in the show and with Manaka, whom she loves dearly and with all her heart, but can’t help but feel envious of her closeness with Hikari. But the thing with Chisaki is that she’s so much more than a victim of unrequited love and she doesn’t let that get in the way of her friendship with any of them. I do have to admit that this second arc started out with something very beautiful and subtle between Chisaki and Tsumugu. I’m not sure whether they’re headed in the romantic direction – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they did – but it feels very familial and fond and silently affectionate, which is actually very refreshing considering the amount of drama this show piles on you.
Kaname, is voiced by a very gentle-voiced, lovely Osaka Ryota, and is one of those characters I wished the show developed more. His character is one of those very quiet, gentle ones, but there’s just something more that I can’t quite put my finger on. He’s definitely not as innocent or carefree as his demeanour presents and that’s something that I think I’ll really enjoy finding out as we get through the final arc. As you’ve probably guessed, Kaname’s held a torch for Chisaki for a long time and one can’t help but admire the amount of strength he has not to let any bitterness show when it’s so plainly obvious that she doesn’t love him back. He’s a very deep character who keeps his emotions to himself and sometimes I must admit that I’m not quite sure what he hides behind his serene smile and how much of a darkness lurks beneath his cool façade.
Tsumugu is voiced by Ishikawa Kaito, and he’s the surface-dwelling part of the group. He lives with his grandfather away from the city and the rest of his family. Though it’s not explicitly mentioned, he doesn’t get along well with his parents and loves his grandfather and the sea a great deal. You could say that he’s the antithesis of Manaka, in a way, where he longs to see the underwater city of his heritage. He’s a quiet, not-quite stoic boy but there’s almost a sense of altruism about him; he never refrains from helping a friend and is similar to Hikari in that respect. He’s probably the only character who hasn’t quite given his heart away but is at the core of the strange love-oblong this show has got going on. I like Tsumugu, I like him a lot because while he hasn’t got the most grasping personality, he’s got a heavy but gentle presence that I really think ties the group of main characters together and I do hope we get to explore more about him in this next arc. It also doesn’t hurt that he and Chisaki share a very sweet familial relationship, and my partiality towards him is clear on that note.
Finally the, I suppose, main-main character. Manaka, who is voiced by Hanazawa Kana and someone whom I really, really wanted to like but found myself getting absolutely frustrated with. Admittedly the reason I wanted to like her was because of Hanazawa, whose characters I usually like, and whose voice I find utterly adorable. But for reasons I will explain, I just could NOT get myself to like Manaka. She’s the baby of the group – nothing wrong with that; there’s always one. It’s her utter obliviousness, bordering on stupidity and selfishness that really irk me. I just feel like she has absolutely no sense of emotive response or compassion when it comes to characters who have shown her a heck of a lot of sympathy and encouragement and given her their strength and a shoulder to cry on. But I feel like she takes and doesn’t give back and her character hides behind this persona of altruism and adorableness when, in reality, she’s hardly self-sufficient or receptive to other’s feelings for her. There are moments, obviously, where she manages to creep her way out of her self-absorbed bubble of melodrama and show some true spirit but her character just feels very flat and one-dimensional and there’s an incredible lack of character development on her part. A part of me feels like I’m being unfair to her; and I probably am; any hope of restoration of her personality is blanketed by my utter irritation of a lot of things she’s done over the course of the show. In fact, the ending of the first arc, before the time-skip actually pleased me because of what it did to her. Whatever sort of redemption she has coming for the rest of the show are going to be an uphill climb from my perspective but if the creators of this otherwise gorgeous show can do that then I’ll be very impressed. On the other hand a lot of people have said how much they like Manaka so do feel free to ignore this verbal-vomit here.
Now that’s done, a very brief foray into the music. It’s lovely, for lack of a better word, and fits the show very well. The first ending in particular, Aqua Terrarium by Yanagi Nagi is very beautiful and whimsical sounding. Her voice is incredible and, as the title of the song my have implied, it sounds very aquatic. And speaking of aquatic, I must also praise the artists of Nagi for creating such lushly colourful and oceanic scenery, with a very soft and dewy play on light and its reflections and refractions through water. Everything from the colours on land to the colours of Shioshioshio are so pretty and opulent and that’s something that this show has really got right.
All in all, I’d give this show a 7/10. I have enjoyed many parts of it (mostly the parts that don’t feature Manaka) and the beginning of the second arc has made the rest of it all the more promising.