The theme of love appears in almost every story, poem, legend, film, song and here, anime. There are many types of love – the love between friends, the love between family, the love of a community; the kind of love that is unconditional, the kind of love that is unrequited. I recently finished Nagi no Asakura and it’s been a really really long time since a show has really hit home for me. By no means does the show give a new interpretation of love, nor does it try to explain this abstract concept of love between people. However, it is the type of show that aims to bring out the rawest parts of human nature when we are driven by such a thing called love.
I don’t give full ratings often. In fact, it almost never happens. This full rating that I am giving Nagi no Asakura is a cumulation of a number of things I look for when I review anime – plot and themes, story execution, character design and development, soundtrack in conjunction with mood and finally, animation. Prior to writing this review I have only just finished the series. I have not looked at any other reviews or fan discussions. These are purely my thoughts of the series after its conclusion. Some people might see the immediate review written after the completion of the series might be biased but for me, these thoughts are currently clearly in the forefront of my mind in my opinion, they are my stark honest opinions and critiques.
The story of Nagi no Asakura begins in a village named Shioshishio where the Sea People live. In fact, humans all originated from the sea. It’s only in the passing of time have certain sea people decided to abandon the ocean for life on land. For centuries, mankind has been living in harmony with the sea people. The main characters are Hikari Sakishima, Manaka Mukaido, Chisaki Hiradaira and Kaname Isaki, four childhood friends who become enrolled in school on land when their underwater school shuts down. When children of the land meet children of the sea, their hearts become unknowingly changed and inextricably linked.
Storytelling and Animation
Animation and storytelling are, in my opinion, inseparable aspects especially when it comes to anime. This is largely prominent in Nagi no Asakura which is why I decided to combine both sections. P.A. Works did a stunning job with the art for Nagi no Asakura and I cannot stress enough how essential it was for the animation to look as flawless as it did because the story would not have touched viewers so poignantly if it were not for the effortlessly gorgeous animation to draw out the most emotionally-charged and heartbreaking themes.
I honestly did not feel that there was any filler to Nagi no Asakura. No piece of dialogue wasted and even when you think the characters are simply doing regular high school activities, these quiet and mediocre day-to-day activities become some of the most cherished moments of the show because of the emotional roller-coaster that you see the characters go through. Some people disliked the chain of unrequited love that took place for most of the series but to simply look at the dynamics of the romantic elements merely as an awkward love hexagon seems to miss the point of the show.
“But really, I was wrong. It’s just like you said before, ‘If you didn’t love anyone, you wouldn’t have to be sad.’ When one finds love, another is brought pain. If there is no choice but to make someone suffer… If that’s what love really brings… then being able to love someone is the worst!” – Hikari
I found this quote and moment to be one of the strongest and deepest parts of the show’s dialogue and served to drive that point about love STRAIGHT HOME. Love makes us feel so many things and every kind of love changes us irrevocably but love can hurt. So much. And yet, we can’t help but love. It’s what humans do. The legend of the Sea God and the Lady of the Sea perfectly framed the romance sideplot between each of the main characters. The storytelling was just so flawlessly executed to draw out the strongest and most resilient aspects of human beings.
This is probably one of the biggest “make it or break it” aspects for me as a reviewer. How well does the plot draw out larger themes? Are there even any themes? Is there an ultimate point to the story and is there an end lesson that all the characters and viewers must learn by the end of the series? Nagi no Asakura fulfills each and every one of these questions with a steady and adamant, “Yes.” The point of the series is not to simply tell a coming of age and love triangle kind of story. Rather, having two worlds to begin with, sets up larger conflicts – and by conflicts, I mean the ones that are large sweeping forces that characters have almost no control over. These conflicts and gradually teased out and resolved as the series progresses and include the dichotomy between the sea people and land dwellers, pre-determinism versus free will, selfish versus unconditioinal love and isolationism versus interventionism.
There is so much you FEEL in Nagi no Asakura and it’s because each and every single character was so realistic and relatable that you cry when they cry and you feel joy as they find happiness. Initially, each of the characters seem to come off as almost two-dimensional clichéd tropes. You have your headstrong and stubborn hero, your clumsy and often unconfident heroine, the heroine’s mature and caring best friend always watching over her, and the hero’s quite but steadfast best friend who often understands his friends’ emotions better than his own.
You have probably found yourself in either one character’s shoes or you’ve been in all of them. Are you the best friend who crushes on her childhood friend? The quiet one who watches his crush pursue an unrequited love? Or the one who tries to suppress her feelings for the sake of keeping the status quo?
“I don’t want to believe it’s useless, or that you shouldn’t love anyone.” – Hikari
Hikari’s character is headstrong, stubborn, outspoken and confident. His strongest point is that he is persistent and his weakest point is that he is oblivious to the emotions of others. In other words, he doesn’t empathize well with others but for those who are close to him, he’s willing to go miles to protect them. Much of the large shifts in plot are instigated by Hikari because of his persistence.
“When I first left the sea and felt the rays of the sun on land, I was thrilled… But it was because the sea was there that I was able to long for the land.” – Manaka
Manaka’s character represents everything refreshing, pure and innocent about love and friendship. She’s always trying her best for her friends and loved ones. She is naïve to the point of sacrificing herself to save a loved one and its her positive enthusiasm and never-give-up attitude that draws you to her.
To be honest, it’s not the main pair of characters that intrigued me the most. Rather, it was the supporting characters who grew, changed and matured the most. It is almost impossible to hate any of the characters because we have honestly all been in their situations. Sure, we’re not struggling with our Ena drying up or sea people infiltrating our classrooms, but the feelings and all… well, you know what I mean.
“I was so worried that everyone had changed… but… it was me… who had changed.” – Chisaki
If you’ve ever fallen for your best guy friend, but are forced to watch him pursue a different girl, you have been in Chisaki’s shoes. Now you have two choices, 1) confess to your best guy friend or 2) squash your feelings because you know they will never be reciprocated. Chisaki is the watchful kind of girl who goes for option 2 because she is so afraid of change. Her character drew out all the insecurities we have about changing, growing up and growing apart because change is scary, it always is, so perhaps it is better to swallow or uncomfortable feelings of mediocre happiness rather than taking the leap of faith to pursue individual happiness. Chisaki is also selfless. At one point in the story, she feels she shouldn’t deserve happiness if her beloved friends have not found happiness themselves. But sometimes, we come to a point where we need to accept our own changes and strive to meet our own needs and grow as people SO that we can help our friends find their happiness. I’m happy with who Chisaki ended up with because only he (his name shall remain unmentioned because NO SPOILERS), has the unwavering confidence necessary to push Chisaki outside her comfort zone to accept change and allow herself to feel happiness.
“I thought nobody was waiting for me… to come back…” – Kaname
Perhaps Kaname got the worst end of the stick when it comes to love. He loves a girl who loves his best friend who will never love the girl back. It’s all headed downhill from there, but Kaname is such an empathetic and undersanding character. He is so opposite from the Hikari who will constantly work to win over the girl he loves. Rather, Kaname is happy with watching his loved ones from the distant. This in turn isolates him and as much as he puts on a happy smile, he’s always the loneliest of the group. His character is resolved with the realization that there’s more to who he is than his group of friends. He is the type of person who is always worrying about others that he in turn desperately needs someone to care for him and give him his happily ever after.
CHARACTER SPOILERS BELOW!! (SCROLL QUICKLY TOWARDS SOUND AND MUSIC!!)
“It hurts. My love for Hikari is in pain. It’s getting worse and worse. When it gets absolutely unbearable to the point where I want to scream, will I… ever be able to give up? – Miuna
Miuna initially starts off a few years younger than the others but after a time skip she catches up in age. She is probably my first or second most favourite character from the show because I personally found her the most relatable, as painful as it was to watch her go through her love troubles and reflect on my own history. Miuna embodies unconditional love. She loves Hikari to the extent that she loves all that he loves – the sea, the people of Shioshishio and even Manaka. Miuna is willing to sacrifice her life to bring back Manaka’s feelings for Hikari even if it means potential death or endless slumber at the bottom of the ocean. She’s lived with this unrequited love for more than five years and she still endures.
“I’ve… I’ve always been watching you. I’ve… I’ve always had eyes for you. I’ve been waiting for so long. Because of you, I worked hard. Just so I could match up to you so I wouldn’t be treated like a child by you.” – Sayu
At first I was annoyed with the kid that Sayu started out as by after the time skip, I came to really love her as a character. Sayu’s love is honest and fresh. She doesn’t see why Kaname should put on a happy face for Chisaki despite how Chisaki will never reciprocate Kaname’s feelings. Nor does she understand why Miuna struggles with indecision when it comes to help or not to help Hikari save Manaka. Sayu is probably the most straightforward character in the series who is motivated by her love to improve and strive for more. In a series like Nagi no Asakura, you need a character like that to remind the most wishy-washy and indecisive unconfident characters, to MAN UP, take charge and strive for your dreams.
(END OF SPOILERS)
Sound and Music
ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. I loved it… from the moment I heard the opening song to the pieces of score that jumped out at me in the emotional aspects. Each and every track is perfectly paired with each scene. There is a song for every mood and every feeling, every emotion and every character. It just will. The music will make you cry. No words.
Who should watch this show?
This depends. It not only depends on your genre taste of drama, fantasy and slice of life. But it also depends on who much you’ll care about the themes of Nagi no Asukara. If you’re in for the pretty fantasy animation and handful of action scenes, don’t watch this show. But if you’re looking for a show that will make you think about things like change and reflect on things like love and friendship then you should definitely watch this show. If you’re looking for a rapid fast-paced series, this is perhaps not the show for you. The points in the story that significantly progress the show forward are spread out through the twenty-six episodes but each and every one of them is memorable and the show.
Last (Random) Thoughts
I could not find a show to fill the emotional void of Clannad… until now. Arguably, I loved this show more than Clannad. Yes, my inner selves would argue with each other whether Clannad is better or Nagi no Asukara is better.
I almost never cry for anime. I will tear up for about ten seconds and that’s usually the extent of my feels. If tears are rolling down my cheeks, that is a HUGE deal. I cried in some part of Nagi no Asukara.
I have probably become a diehard fan of Nagi no Asukara. It not only satisfied what I look for as a reviewer but also my personal tastes…
I know I’ve been praising Nagi no Asukara all throughout my review. If there was anything that didn’t sit well with me was the slow pacing. The pacing was slow but appropriate and they never wasted any time. Personally I am just not use to slow pacing but because it was so well executed I can accept it in Nagi no Asukara. Plus, there are only three-four parts I can pick out with actual slow story pace. Other slice of life aspects and high school scenes I found enjoyable.
There will not be a season two. Don’t even go there because that ending wrapped up every single remaining thread of plot, reconciled every characters, all the feels and presented it to us in spectacular animation, tender music and heartbreaking closing dialogue.
What are you pondering today?