For a while now, I haven’t watched anything from Mari Okada for a while mostly because the first two episodes of AKB0048 left a very bad taste in my mouth back in 2012 (to be fair, I haven’t watched the Hanasaku Iroha Movie nor Sakurasou either). To me, I feel that her strengths lies in coming of age, love triangle romance and melodrama types of shows, which is one of the reasons why many people liked Ano Hana, Hanasaku Iroha (despite its flaws) and True Tears as the drama is not necessarily clear-cut and the complex character development. Not only that, she is one of the prolific female Anime directors in an industry that is male dominated.
With that, will Nagi no Asukara live up to the likes of the big three? Maybe. (Image Source)
The story focuses on four remaining students from the sea village: Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki and Kaname having to go to a middle school on the surface after their former middle school got closed down. Initially, they are discriminated by their classmates, but Manaka quickly becomes friends with Tsumugu when he accidently catches her, thus causing Hikari to become jealous. As time goes on, Hikari and company eventually becomes friendly with their classmates and people who lives on land and eventually decides to do the Ofunehiki festival against the Sea God’s will since the sea people are preparing for hibernation due to salt flake snow occurring on the surface. With Manaka sacrificing herself to save Akari (Hikari’s older sister) while Hikari and Kaname is deemed missing after the accident, how will Chisaki cope with being the only one left on the surface? Also, what is the mystery behind the sea-god’s sorrow over the girl he once loved?
When I started watching this show, I had some mixed feelings mostly because of Hikari. I know that many people used to hate him because he was obnoxious for acting like a bully and a total jerk. While I didn’t like him in the beginning, his character eventually grew on me when he finds out that Akari loves someone from surface and realizes that one cannot force someone not to love someone because it’s forbidden after managing to cheer up Miuna. In the second half, his character development from the first paves the way of finding the truth behind the tragic fairytale of the sea-god taking away the maiden’s ability to love to ultimately save Manaka from a horrible fate with the help from his friends and family.
The second half feels more plot driven as the love triangle melodrama comes in full swing. We eventually see this with Chisaki from the start of second half as she is living with Tsumugu and begins to have some romantic feelings for him, but still chooses to hang on her childhood crush instead of moving on. We also see the same from Miuna and Kaname shortly after, but they eventually accepted fate before Chisaki did towards the end of the show. Still, I felt that the second half serves more as an allegory showing the foolishness of the Sea God by taking the maiden’s ability to love without realizing her true feelings in fear of disrupting the status quo through Hikari trying to recover Manaka’s feeling to love. If that was the case, I wonder why did the Sea God go through the trouble of freezing everything just because he felt remorseful over falling in love with a woman who came from the surface? To me, the vagueness is perhaps the only weak aspect of the show.
While Nagi no Asukara is not a flawless masterpiece, I still think it’s one of the best shows Mari Okada have done since Ano Hana despite not being nearly as melodramatic. The overall presentation was definitely gorgeous and very eye-catching, especially with how PA Works depicts the sea village to make it look like an actual place. While there is not much in regards to actual plot, it doesn’t need to as it combines the love-triangle aspect from True Tears with the melodrama from Ano Hana. For this reason, it’s a show that I can easily recommend for people to watch.
Overall Rating: 9.4/10, A, Masterpiece