Review: Nagi no Asukara (A Lull in the Sea)

I’m sure we’ve all had this happen: you experience something (i.e. a movie, a TV show, an anime, a video game) and whenever you think back to it after finishing it, you just think about how great it was or how much fun you had during it. When you decide to come back to it for the second time, especially when showing it to a friend, the thought comes into your mind “This isn’t as great as I remember it being”. Maybe the art wasn’t as amazing. Or the writing wasn’t as stellar. Or, worse, it wasn’t as fun this time around. You had it built up in your mind as something better, more awesome, or even just smarter than it really was.

Nagi no Asukara is a show I watched week by week, episode by episode, as it aired (hence, I know it better by its Japanese name, rather than the English name it ended up getting). I was hooked from the moment I saw the PV on Crunchyroll. It was pretty fun, being a part of the forums, the comments, seeing people react with you as you’re watching this show. It left a really positive impression in my mind. I rewatched it, in two bulk sessions, recently, and, well… I can’t really say the same again.

An Introduction

In this alternate-universe, we see two villages tucked away in some area of Japan. The first is Shioshishio (say that five times fast), a sizeable village of people who live underwater. Yes, like fish people; they look exactly like humans though, except they have a special layer over their skin called Ena (which allows them to breathe underwater and swim super-well). The other is Shioshishio’s sister town, Ooshioshi, which is above the land and is filled with people, many of whom have never seen the underside of the water surface.

The story centers around five (well, seven) kids. Manaka, Hikari, Chisaki, and Kaname are four best friends who have known each other since childhood, and together find themselves having to go above the water to attend middle school there (as Shioshishio’s middle school closed). At Ooshioshi’s middle school, they meet Tsumugu, a boy who lives on the land but loves the sea and everything below the surface. They also cross paths with two younger girls, Sayu and Miuna, who seem to hate anything related to the sea people.

A rift exists between the sea village and the land village. Each year, they together perform a festival called the Ofunehiki, where they offer sacrifices (usually just wood carvings nowadays) to the Sea God. However, this year, neither village wants to do it, blaming the other village as the reason why. While there’s yelling and name calling on either side, our protagonists get caught in the middle, for better and for worse. As well, though, there’s underlying emotions with these seven too, as they try to navigate through their own feelings, and figuring out how to confess their love…

The Plot and Characters

One of the first issues of mine with this show was something that popped up early on in the series. Hikari, the character that the show likes to follow the most, is, well, kind of a jerk. He’s angry, aggressive, sometimes arrogant, mercurial, and likes to be in charge; he’s closest to Manaka, who’s more of an airhead, and he likes to boss her around, yelling at her if she does the slightest thing wrong. His jerk-ish-ness put me off for the first few episodes of the show, although the plot picked up later on and kind of swept the issue under the rug.

And yeah, the show starts off a bit on the slow side. When showing it to friends, they seemed bored by the first few episodes, not really seeing what the point of any of it was, but slowly, but they got more interested by the time episode 9 finished. A lot of the show’s more dramatic points were in the latter half of the series, from episode 14 and onward. It’s not to say that the first 8 episodes aren’t dramatic, as there are some big moments, but even the show’s biggest moments won’t necessarily get people sucked in, as they sometimes do feel melodramatic.

The writing for this series, as much as I love it, is less than stellar. After the first episode, all conversations exist only in service to the main plot, or the ensuing love-hexagon (as triangle is not nearly enough to describe it). In episode 23, for example, we see Miuna and an angry Sayu, walking down the street having a discussion. After Hikari comes by to say something, Sayu suddenly goes “oh, I have homework to do, see you!” and leaves the other two to continue on the plot. It felt like Sayu artificially said that line simply because the writers didn’t want her present in the next scene. I wish the characters spent more time talking about anything not tying directly into these key things, as it would help to give them the depth and roundness that they really seem to lack at times. I do wish the story took even more of an advantage of the setting too, with the two different worlds (the sea village and the land village) coming together in this way.

Although the issues with the Ofunehiki drive the plot forward a lot of the time in the first half of the series, the second half sees more time focused on the love-hexagon, as people try to figure out their feelings and decide (or not decide) to confess their feelings to one another. All of the main cast, frankly, feel and sound immature at times, resorting to hiding from each other and talking around people rather than confronting issues directly. All of a sudden in the last two episodes, though, they all act like they’ve learned something important, when really all that’s happened is their issues finally came to light after so long.

The character that saw the most growth, though, is Chisaki (and in more ways than one). All she ever wanted was to see her group of friends stay together and be happy; she doesn’t want anything to change. She does come to realize that she has to allow change by the end of the series, but one would’ve thought she’d realize that earlier, given a key thing that happens to her in the middle of the series (although, really, a whole bunch of stuff happens to her). Tsumugu does seem to grow and become more mature when you’d expect him to, though, although he did feel really mature from the very start. Out of all the characters, Chisaki was my favorite.

So what do I love about this series? The premise is pretty cool. And it does pose some pretty interesting ideas, especially some stuff shown in the last three episodes of the series. And all in all, it still has some entertainment value. Once you get past the slow beginning, the show has a decent amount to throw at you. I can’t guarantee it’ll keep you hooked, but those who stay will witness some pretty enjoyable moments. Unfortunately, I just can’t guarantee super deep, quality writing.

The Atmosphere

If this were made by any animation studio other than PA Works, the results wouldn’t turn out nearly as well as it does here. The colors blue and white, unsurprisingly, dominate the art here, with a lot of the buildings and architecture using that blue accent. There’s also some brown wood colors too, which helps bring some well-needed warmth into the right scenes and places. All in all, the background art is astonishingly pretty, even on PA Works’ off days. One does wonder if maybe they were a bit too heavy with making everything seem old and worn, though.

For the character designs, they were generally pretty good, but not “oh my goodness look at this!” great. I really liked the uniform designs that Manaka and Chisaki wore; the white dresses just looked good (if not a bit short). In fact, I’d say those two characters, overall, looked the best. The designs of Hikari and Kaname were not bad either, although I kind of disliked Kaname’s hair color. I could care less about the uniform designs that we see most of the other characters wear, as the orange, brown, and white just felt weird. Having all the sea people have blue eyes seemed a bit odd to me, but it’s nothing something I really thought about until I noticed it later on. I liked the subtle change of drawing the characters with blue lines when they were underwater, though.

The character animation seems clean, standard, just fine. If more exaggeration or expressiveness was used in some spots, I think the show would be better for it. On top of that, it’s obvious that action scenes are not a strong suit of this show’s animators. A key example is a scene in the latter half where Hikari knocks Sayu over. It shows a flash of images, going too quickly for us to even think about, and then Hikari running off into the distance. We would’ve never known that he knocked her over if it weren’t for the sound effect used, and the fact that Sayu was shown knocked onto the sidewalk afterwards, yelling at him. This series doesn’t really have much in the way of action anyway, but the moments where it tries to do action and fails definitely leaves a bit of a stain on its otherwise quality appearance.

I liked the voice work for this show in Japanese, although, admittedly, I’m used to the Japanese side a bit more (having watched it as it was airing). Ai Kayano and Hana Kanazawa have some shining moments of their own as Chisaki and Manaka respectively, but I wish Tsumugu, voiced by Kaito Ishikawa, sounded less monotone to begin with. The English side isn’t bad either; I particularly like Michelle Ruff as Manaka, but dislike Max Mittelman as Hikari (and Chris Niosi as Uroko-sama). I wish they used a more boy-ish voice for Hikari. Honestly, though, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with either language you go with. Luckily, this is one of those shows where Crunchyroll does have both the dubbed and subbed version (although the Dub uses the English name, and the Sub uses the Japanese name).

The background music sounded pretty good; it won’t be the most memorable music you’ve ever listened to in an anime, but I can recall a few songs as I sit here and write this. It was perhaps a bit generic when the dramatic strings showed up, during more tense music, but I loved the piano pieces when they were present. I also love both of the opening and ending songs a lot, and I wish NIS America brought the full versions of the songs over when they brought the soundtrack.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Nagi no Asukara, also known as A Lull in the Sea, unfortunately suffers from some less-than-stellar writing, only showing its characters being caught up in the issues of the plot or their own crushes. While seeing this play out as a big love story between a bunch of characters was fine, I wish they took more advantage of the setting and premise they set up here. It’s a nice start though, and still provides some entertainment. The art looks wonderful, and the music was pretty nice as well. I can tell you that I don’t regret buying the premium edition box set of this anime.

At its core, this is a drama show. Those who like drama will feel right at home here; seriously, I don’t need to add another word to that thought. The drama and romance has a decent amount of twists and turns, and the sea people versus land people thing is an added bonus. Those wanting more of a show that handle more mature situations or with well-rounded characters will probably not find what you’re looking for here. Trying it out for a few episodes should tell you more than enough as to whether you want to continue it or not, but do keep in mind that it does pick up later on.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ great art, interesting premise, Chisaki (and Manaka to a lesser extent)
— subpar writing is focused only on main plot and romances, doesn’t really take full advantage of setting, action scenes done pretty terribly

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