Nagi no Asukara Review
P.A. Works is known for delivering shows chock full of drama in a school setting; however, different from shows like Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, romance is the primary focus in Nagi no Asukara. Why does this matter? Because P.A. Works really nailed it on the head with the drama this time around, and romance might have been the reason why. Compared to other romances, Nagi no Asukara’s unique setting combined with its compelling cast of characters makes Nagi no Asukara a fresh entry into the established school romance genre.
Nagi no Asukara’s setting revolves around two worlds: the land above the sea and Shioshishio, the village under it. People who live on land are the same as normal humans, like us. The people living in Shioshishio however have an advantage. With a protective layer around them called “Ena,” the villagers of Shioshishio are able to live underwater while also being able to freely maneuver on land. The setting is completely unrealistic, yet at the same time, the relationships explored in the show feel completely genuine. Of course, the drama is exaggerated to the point of being completely artificial, but such exaggeration is a necessary evil to keep its audience enthralled; a tactic that worked well.
Of course, a setting combining two distinct worlds wouldn’t be complete without its own religion and lore, and Nagi no Asukara certainly delivers. The problem is that the religion and lore comes on too strong. Romances are supposed to be stories that are driven by the character’s emotions and actions, but in Nagi no Asukara, there are many times where the plot advances as a direct consequence of its religion and lore. Now I’m not saying that these events shouldn’t ever occur, but in Nagi no Asukara’s case, the plot advances so many times due to its mythology that you begin to question whether the show is about teenagers experiencing romance or high schoolers fighting against the supernatural. While it certainly can be both, the fact that the mythology is so forward in the show consequently adds many plot inconsistencies and leaves the watcher with numerous questions; it ultimately detracts from the romance, which is conclusively the prevailing factor. I’ll apologize in advance for being so vague, but as the plot and mythology are so closely tied together, I wouldn’t be able to provide a good example without spoiling the plot.
As for the romance itself, be prepared to draw one of the silliest relationship charts ever. A square? A pentagon? A hexagon? Unfortunately, things are just too complicated, and with seven main characters, it would be pretty much impossible to keep everything straight in your head. Yet somehow, I can keep all the relationships straight in my head. That’s where the Nagi no Asukara shines. Even while the plot advances and everything becomes more and more complicated, Nagi no Asukara doesn’t want you to forget that these are the main characters. Yet while it’s impressive that I’ve become attached to the characters to this point, there are still too many characters. While I can keep the relationships straight, it doesn’t mean I fully understand all the characters. Talking about specifics, the only characters I feel like I truly understood were Hikari, Chiasaki, and Miuna. I felt like these three characters were truly fully developed. While Manaka can be considered the most important character in the show, the fact that she was missing for a considerable amount of time made her feel distant, even more so when she begins to profoundly discuss love in the last episode, which felt completely uncharacteristic of her. The remaining characters, Kaname, Sayu, and Tsumugu felt distant for the majority of the show; it almost felt as if they were contrived solely to advance Chisaki’s character. Ultimately, a mix of developed and undeveloped characters crossed together as if they were all equally developed makes everything feel extremely complicated and messy.
And speaking of complicated and messy, let’s talk about the pacing. Before getting into details, Nagi no Asukara is divided into two major arcs. The second arc is a direct consequence to the events of the first arc, so as a result, they can’t really be considered separate entities. But back to the topic at hand: pacing. The first half of Nagi no Asukara threw a myriad of themes at the audience including themes such as racism, the death of family, parent-child relationships, romantic freedom, and tradition. With so many different things going on, everything felt frantic. Yet even still, the underlying plot barely moved an inch in the first half until it reached its pinnacle, which was unsatisfactorily ushered by the fantasy of Shioshishio’s mythology. As soon as the second half began, everything was reset. Essentially, all the themes from the first half instantly vanished and were replaced by new themes. Could Nagi no Asukara have been a 13 episode series? Probably not. But does it need 26? I’m sure it would have been fine in 24 or even something like 20 (I’m looking at you, NiseKoi), especially when the show essentially restarted. But that being said, I honestly can’t complain about the second half of the series. After being completely engrossed in the setting of Nagi no Asukara in the first half, the pacing really began to feel natural during the second.
P.A. Works does a fantastic job with animation as always, and this is certainly highlighted by the gorgeous underwater landscapes present in the show. Of course, the animation still falls short when animating crowds, and you still have a fair share of CG usage due to the vast amounts of water present in the show. Overall, there’s not much to comment on this subject. Expect fresh art and animation when watching this show due to its setting, but keep in mind that like all anime, Nagi no Asukara is still prone to CG, still frames, slide shows, and the works. It’s not ufotable, so don’t expect movie quality, and it’s not Shaft, so don’t expect any interesting artistic choices, but it’s still P.A. Works, so expect it to be good.
On the subject of P.A. Works, the music and sound in Nagi no Asukara is definitely up a notch from their usual work. Putting popular voice actors aside, the soundtrack is where the sound department really shines in Nagi no Asukara. While there might not be anything iconic or inspiring in its music, the eerie yet serene tracks really make you feel like you’re listening to the music of the sea. Of course, the tone of the music shifts to its opening and ending songs as well. For example, I found that the intro to the first ending song really captured the eeriness from the soundtrack, and fit the show’s drama perfectly, bringing a fantastic mix of curiosity, mystery, and sadness. And of course, how could I forget Miuna’s piercing yet poetic voice in the second opening song? Such a poetic start is greatly complimented by the second ending’s upbeat intro, which gives the audience a sense of apprehension and urgency. Overall, the music fits Nagi no Asukara beautifully; unfortunately, the soundtrack just isn’t memorable enough despite being so fitting. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a little disappointing to think that I won’t remember anything about the original soundtrack a few months or years from now.
I wish I could tell you more about Nagi no Asukara’s themes, and dig deeper into its plot, but I feel like I have already articulated the vast majority of my opinions, so any more would be unnecessary. A more in-depth analysis on Nagi no Asukara’s definition of love or Akira’s arc on star-crossed lovers might have been great points to cover, but I leave them to discuss another day.
So should you watch Nagi no Asukara? If you like romance and drama, it’s certainly a great addition to the genre. Personally, I grew very frustrated with the characters and themes as the show progressed, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience. Besides, you might have a different opinion about it, so give it a try, and remember, everyone deserves a chance at love.