Nagi no Asukara
Episode 1 – In Between the Sea and the Land | Episode 2 – The Chilly Desert
Nagi no Asukara has emerged to become one of the most intriguing shows this season, mixing slice of life and love triangles with an underwater premise. I mentioned it in my Fall 2013 Picks but it’s a bizarre idea, something you’d expect to only work in a Disney movie but here it is, gorgeously animated by P.A. Works. A world where all humans once lived in the sea but are now divided between the new land-dwellers and the old-timers who still live under the ocean.
The word “divided” isn’t really appropriate here because, despite the distrust, the sea people still come out onto the land and even attend school on the surface. They can’t stay out for too long, however, as their special skin called “Ena” begins to break if they don’t return to the water. Which is a bad thing, because the Ena is what allows them to live and breathe underwater.
The plot focuses on a group of friends from the sea; Hikari Sakishima, Manaka Mukaido, Kaname Isaki and Chisaki Hiradaira. Hikari is the main character of the show and unfortunately one of the most unlikeable so far. The guy is obsessed with keeping his childhood friend Manaka safe, to the point where all he does is yell at everyone. Throughout the first episode I don’t think I saw him smile once or talk normally to his friends. But that’s the kind of personality the show is trying to convey, brash and dishonest with his feelings.
The story begins with our friends attending their new school on the surface, and it isn’t before long that a love triangle is hinted upon. Manaka starts taking notice of a boy from the surface, Tsumugu Kihara, who awkwardly reeled Manaka up in a fishing net earlier on. We learn that the sea people are descendants of a sacrifice (Ofunehiki) that was sent to the Sea God by a drift boat.
The sea denizens regularly pay tribute to Uroko-sama, a so-called Scale of the Sea God, who supplies them with Sacred Fire and watches over them. Manaka arrives with Hikari to refill some fire and brings Uroko-sama a stew, which is planted into his face shortly after he tries to harass Manaka. Insulting Uroko-sama isn’t without consquences as Manaka is cursed with a fish head sticking out of her knee the next day. Interestingly, we see a dead fish turn upside down right after the shrine scene. Could this be a premonition?
Hikari is the only one who knows about Manaka’s fish, to which she is OK with him knowing. This reassures Hikari about his close relationship with her. Manaka is already way too shy of a girl, and when her classmates poke fun at her and laugh at a farting noise her knee makes, she runs away. Lost and dehydrated with her Ena flaking off in the process, she collapses. While everyone’s panicking and trying to find her (Hikari most of all), it is Tsumugu (the surface kid Manaka admires) who finds her unconscious and looks after her. Here is when things get complicated. Tsumugu harbours a reserved fascination for sea people and calls not only the fish on her knee beautiful, but her skin too.
Once Manaka is fit to go back home, she is reunited with Hikari who isn’t too happy about her special time with Tsumugu. He notices they’re already on a first-name basis and that she wasn’t hiding her fish from him. You can bet that Hikari is noticing the warning signs by now. Someone else has found Manaka, and he’s just a little bit further away from her now. She doesn’t notice his troubles, however, and continues treating Hikari as her precious childhood friend.
Kaname and Chisaki are more interesting for me at this stage, because they seem close yet it feels like both are looking at something further away. Chisaki observes Hikari and Manaka from a distance, and might even like Hikari herself. When Manaka is lost during Episode 1 Kaname points out that without Manaka, Chisaki has a chance with Hikari. Kaname is even more mysterious because he just feels pragmatic and is always aware of what’s going on without giving himself away. He may have feelings for Chisaki, but he’s doing a damn good job of hiding them.
Episode 2 begins with that awkward fish leaving Manaka’s knee, but she’s not too happy about it considering it was a special link between her and Tsumugu who thought it was beautiful. Uroko-sama refuses to curse her again despite Manaka’s efforts to insult him. Funnily enough she still ties the bandage over he knee, pretending the fish is still there to Tsumugu! Meanwhile Hikari continues to be a rude idiot to everyone, even to Manaka.
The group of friends all volunteer to do an Ofunehiki, an offering to the Sea God, after Tsumugu puts his hand up. Tsumugu explains that since his family are fishermen, he owes the sea an offering. Even Hikari is moved by Tsumugu’s admiration of the Village of the Sea, he can’t deny the guy’s nice attitude. He’s brought back to reality the next instance once he sees Manaka’s glowing face, reminding him that he’s losing her with every day to Tsumugu.
The biggest agenda in Episode 2 is Hikari’s sister dating a surface person, who is seen by the group of friends kissing someone. We find out that anyone who betrays the Sea Village by running off with someone from the surface is banished forever, losing their Ena skin and ability to live underwater. Akari’s situation is pretty significant because it rings alarm bells regarding Manaka and her crush on Tsumugu.
We also get a rare moment between Chisaki and Kaname, who always seem to be together yet pay more attention to Hikari and Manaka. Chisaki reveals that she wants to stay in the village forever together with her friends. Interestingly, in a bit of a “huh?” moment, Kaname says that it was Manaka who took the first step out of the ocean. I think he meant that she was the first one out of the group who was curious enough to step out of the water first.
Manaka has been calling Tsumugu by his first name all this time because she simply didn’t know his surname. Now that she finds out it’s Kihara, she trys calling him but Hikari still isn’t pleased. Chisaki begins to wonder if Manaka really does love Tsumugu, and her thoughts wander to Kaname saying how she will be next to Hikari if Manaka were to disappear. Which is a horrible thing to say and consider, actually. After talking to Tsumugu who seems to be concerned about Manaka’s fish (which isn’t there anymore), Chisaki becomes sad and thinks to herself that he shouldn’t be so nice to Manaka anymore. It can only bring ill fortune, it seems.
The episode ends no happier, as Akari is discovered by the village elders of her secret love affair. It’s a bigger problem than first thought because she is the daughter of the Chief Priest. Hikari and Akari’s father then says with a troubled heart that he will handle the situation. We head onwards into uncertainty, and I can only hope things somehow work out among the complicated relationships in Nagi no Asukara.
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