Title: Nagi no Asukara
Genre: Drama, Romance
Summary: The series centers around two middle school friends, the indecisive crybaby Manaka Mukaido and Hikari Sakishima, who has looked after her since they were children.
Review: It’s rare for me to like a romance anime due to my jaded, old age. Especially one that takes place in middle school. However, Nagi no Asukara did a great job of creating an anime revolving around adult themes despite the age group of the main characters. It realized that love isn’t everything, and sometimes you have to set aside your differences to focus on the big picture. Matched with some stellar artwork and soundtrack the anime tapped my emotions throughout most of its running. Unfortunately it didn’t have the perfect formula for character development to really pull me in.
The artwork for Nagi no Asukara was up there as some of the best art of recent years. I remember my jaw dropping at the site of the underwater village Shioshishio (even the name was fun to say). Everything about it was magical; the rays of sun reflecting off the sea salt, the colorful fish swimming between the buildings, and the vast openness that was the sea. Throughout the series I was taken back by the number of mural-esque backgrounds and fluid body motions. The characters themselves played a large part in my praise for Nagi no Asukara’s artwork. The first thing anyone would notice were the bright blue eyes and sparkling skin of the citizens of Shioshishio. They were not only pretty to look at, but a constant reminder of where the characters came from, the sea. The series didn’t only focus deep blow the water’s surface; it painted a magnificent skyline that would reflect the water’s blue in the morning and covered the sky in colors during sunset. If it weren’t for the absolutely brilliant artwork of P.A. Works I wouldn’t have found this anime nearly as entertaining as I did.
The story is where many drama romance anime come to fall for me. I nearly dropped this anime at the get-go because the characters were all still in middle school. I’ve grown too old to be dealing with the stereotypical squabble of kids, irritating me to no end. It wasn’t until a few episodes in that I realized the anime wasn’t going to spend all its time battling out the obvious emotions of the characters, and instead delved much deeper into social issues such as racism and religion. Despite being primarily a romance anime I was overjoyed by the fact that not every second was devoted to the characters’ romantic interests. It made me realize that even kids can get a grasp of the situation, and that the world doesn’t revolve around them. By placing their feelings on the bench for a while during the hell-storm of things about to happen I saw the characters are people, not as kids. This was essential for people of all age groups to enjoy this anime.
Hikari was the main reason I stuck with the show till the end. Despite his age he was the perfect mix of childhood ambition and adult maturity. He was the reason I saw this series as a coming to age story more than anything; it wasn’t as though he started off the perfect lead, but he grew into it. It was something the series did absolutely perfectly for all of the male leads. Each one of them showed a signs off maturity by learning lessons by what was happening around them. Whether it was realizing not everyone was bad just because their different ethnicity or beliefs, or that not everything can work out exactly as you planned, the males of Nagi no Asakura always got something out of their experiences. I was happy to know that they didn’t bottle up their feelings, or kept silent in fear of rejection. In fact, I was applauding that the series didn’t rely on dramatic confessions or picture perfect moments for someone to express themselves. It made the series more realistic, and more importantly gave it a sense of “the story goes on”. That not everything was built up for that one moment, but rather the relationship as a whole. You may have noticed that I was constantly saying male leads as I explained the positives of Nagi no Asakura. Sad to say the thing that brought this anime down for me, and made it feel like it was dragging on were the females.
As a disclaimer I want to remind everyone that I’m an adult male, and that much of this stems from the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the female cast. From the beginning I noticed that the two females Chisaki and Manaka fell under the stereotypes of brooding love interest, and the blissfully ignorant child respectively. During any times of confrontation both of them seemed to seize up and try to brush all the conflict under the rug. Unlike everyone else in the series they seemed to avoid reality. At first it was Manaka who I had the biggest problem with until I tried to take a walk in her shoes. From the beginning she was the biggest advocate of wanting everything to remain the same, turning away anything that may sway such a notion. For that I could see where she was coming from, and understood some of her actions. Chisaki on the other hand seemed to be an emotional rollercoaster who couldn’t quite figure out what she wanted despite showing confidence in her feelings. The two younger actresses Sayu and Miuna at first were well introduced characters, representing the childhood innocence of friendship and family. However, they soon turned into a forced entanglement in the web of romance. My only belief is that they were used to soften the blow for some of the characters’ rejections.
Thankfully not everything about the female characters were bad as they were matched with an all-star cast of voice actors and actresses. The amount of new and old talent circling this series is rather surprising. VAs like Megumi Han, Kana Hanazawa, Kaito Ishikawa, and Ai Kayano is reason enough to watch this series. Of course it wasn’t just the voice actors that made the soundtrack so great. Nagi no Asukara had great openings and endings as well. The entire OST consists of over an hour of recording, each song having its own little charm. I actually wrote this review while listening to it in the background.
Final statements: There were a lot of things that this series did right and for that I give it a high priority watch. It has a lot of feels and character development. Although I don’t consider it to be in my top romances of all time, I need to give credit that it definitely stands out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this from beginning to end and I hope you do as well.