Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hanasaku Iroha ended up becoming one of my favorite slice of life anime, as the 2011 series was able to present an interesting cast of characters and throw them into some love triangles and an attempt to save a long running hot springs in. Since that finished airing, writer Mari Okeda has continued to be behind a number of different anime, but Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea is the first she has done with P.A. Works since Hanasaku Iroha. While it has a very different setting and overall feel, quite a few of the story elements will feel familiar as this is another slice of life/love triangle with a good deal of drama and impending doom added into the mix. Unfortunately, Nagi-Asu gets bogged down by some of its characters and the continued reliance on the love triangle, wasting some of the intriguing elements of its setting in the process.

The storyline immediately caught my interest, as it is set in a world where people live underwater on the ocean floor alongside those on the surface. Aside from the fact that they have Ena, which makes their skin sparkly and allows them to breathe underwater, those who live in the sea look like normal people and behave in a similar manner. As the series begins, the number of younger people in the underwater village of Shioshishio has declined significantly and as a result the local school has been closed. Four friends, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname, have been forced to attend school on the surface and integration has not been easy as there is a considerable amount of tension between the two societies. There is also talk of impending doom, as Uroko-sama, the deity type entity that is a scale of the Sea God and watches Shioshishio, warns of impending calamity on the surface.

I was drawn in by the early episodes, as the idea of an entire society living underwater that resemble normal humans and their attempt to integrate into surface society was very intriguing. Early on this was used to the show’s advantage, as the four main characters encountered prejudice and assumptions from their classmates and had to find ways to overcome it. During this time viewers are introduced to the love triangle in the series, as in typical anime fashion it seemed like everyone was in love with someone else and none of them were the same person. Although there are characters in Nagi-Asu that are likeable, I have to admit that they aren’t really that distinguishable from so many of the other leading characters from other romance/slice of life anime. Hikari’s the loud mouthed, fairly immature male lead that has a tendency to get himself in trouble by speaking his mind, while Manaka is the energetic and fairly naïve female lead. Chisaki and Kaname are both much quieter but are fairly typical for your average middle/high schooler in this type of series. Once they’re on the surface the four meet Tsumugu, one of the few surface dwellers who is highly interested in the village on the ocean floor. He’s very quiet and laid back compared to Hikari, and immediately becomes a rival of sorts for the love of Manaka.

Aside from these main cast members, there are a slew of other characters from underwater and the surface who have a role to play. The first half of Nagi-Asu splits its time between exploring the love triangle and utilizing the tension between the surface and underwater citizens to head in a different direction. There’s also a good deal of emphasis on impending doom on the surface, and it’s said that when this occurs those in the sea will simply hibernate and awaken once everything is over. While the characters didn’t quite hook me from the beginning like they did for Hanasaku Iroha, I was drawn in by the setting and the conflicts between the two villages as they seemed to do a good job of portraying some of the differences and tensions between different ethnic groups that occur in real life.

As you spend more time with Nagi-Asu, the characters do showcase some growth though and move beyond being simple stereotypes of the anime world. That’s not to say that they all become characters that viewers are going to remember years from now, but Hikari did become more likeable as the series progressed and some of the other cast member seemed less one-dimensional by the end. However, at around the halfway point a major event happens, and it’s not something I’m going to spoil as it caught me by surprise when I was watching. After this occurs, a lot of the cast goes through major changes and the surface world seems like it is closer to major issues that could affect most of the people living there. It seemed like things would ramp up at this point, and the focus would shift more towards the relationship between the surface and the sea.

Instead, what ended up occurring was an even larger love triangle where characters that were only part of the supporting cast ended up thrust into the spotlight. Nagi-Asu spends a bit too much time going for the played out anime love triangle, where too much of the plot happens because of simple misunderstandings that then cause additional drama. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy watching it, as this particular genre is still one of my preferred types of anime, but considering the unique setting it often felt like the story was neglecting the elements that would have helped the show to stand out in favor of the standard middle/high school romance and drama. There were several moments where Nagi-Asu did hit that level of emotion and drama that I like so much, but the way that the love triangle dragged out towards the end did start to get frustrating.

P.A. Works has had a knack for some eye dropping series over the years, and Nagi-Asu is no different. There are a number of backdrops that are stunning, and any time that the series decides to head to Shioshishio there are plenty of small details in the underwater environment that will catch your attention. In my opinion P.A. Works has become like Kyoto Animation in regards to the quality of their animation from one series to the next, and the consistently breathtaking backdrops was a reason for me to keep coming back to this one even when it was frustrating. The characters all have nice designs as well and had a more realistic look to them, keeping with P.A. Works’ trend of utilizing character designs that are closer to real people and don’t go for the crazy exaggeration and chibi’s that are typical for anime. Overall, I haven’t seen a series yet from this studio that wasn’t visually impressive and it’s clear they put a lot of attention to detail into everything they work on.

Nagi-Asu uses two intro and ending themes, split between the two halves. Both of the intro songs are by Ray while both endings are sung by Nagi Yanagi, and it was interesting to see how they matched the overall tone of the series. The songs from the first half are a bit more upbeat and fit with the sense of discovery and wonder as viewers are introduced to the underwater village, while the second half songs reflect the emphasis on drama and sadder moments. The music that is chosen sometimes seems like such a small detail, but all four tracks did stick with me after I had finished watching. As for the voice acting, there’s a decent mix of voice actors/actresses that are fairly newer and have only been in a handful of series and others that people should recognize from other anime. P.A. Works has a tendency to use some of the same voices in what they animate, and I did notice some familiar ones. How much you like the acting in this one depends on whether you can connect with the characters or not, but I did feel that the casting fit the personalities and didn’t notice any major issues.

Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea isn’t a bad anime by any means, but it is one that fails to fully capitalize on the unique elements it initially presents. You would think that a series all about humans that are capable of living on the ocean floor would focus on that distinguishable factor a bit more, but it spends a bit too much time on the school love triangle and the characters aren’t quite strong enough to make that work. I wouldn’t be opposed to going through it again and see if I feel differently (and I most likely will once NIS America does a home video release), but for now Nagi-Asu seems more like a slightly above average viewing rather than the consistently top notch Hanasaku Iroha.

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