Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990
There’s valid debate as to whether Nadia of the Mysterious Seas should actually be considered a classic or not and I understand the trepidation. There are some serious flaws resulting from a troubled production that I think would prevent the majority of folks from giving this anime that honorific.
However, I do think of the series as a classic, but then I’m a fan. (Having said that, I’m pretty aware of the problems too.)
This time around I’ve decided to split my review/discussion into seven posts (of varying lengths) that represent some of the show’s ‘arcs’ as I see them. I’ve named each arc but in a non-consistent way, partly to tie in with how fans tend to discuss certain parts of the series, but also to signal some tonal shifts, production changes or storytelling movements – and finally, ever my dream, I’m breaking it all up to make my posts shorter 😀
Here’s the lay of the land for the Nadia-themed posts:
There will be spoilers in these posts – though not many big ones like ‘specific details on exactly how the series wraps up’. I’ll try to put a little warning in at times, but there will be spots where I have to discuss certain events (again, not the ending).
Not sure when I’ll start posting – have just got to deal with the tiny detail of going through 39 episodes for images 😀
So, this was just a fleeting but fun meme doing the rounds on Twitter the other day but I didn’t end up posting there because I was too slow but also because the platform is rather ‘cramped’ when it comes to sharing reasons behind your choices 😀
And so, here’s that meme – the bare list first and then a few thoughts to go with it:
Anime I hate:I have no pithy answer here – so I’ll start with a nice ‘N/A‘
Anime I think is overrated:Anything
that has 200+ episodes
Anime I think is underrated: Mushi-Shi
Anime I love:Nadia
Secret of Blue Water
Anime I secretly love:Steins;Gate
Favourite anime of all time:Cowboy Bebop
Firstly, I don’t have much to report on the ‘anime I hate’ section because anything I haven’t enjoyed enough to continue watching… I didn’t continue watching, and so don’t have that much to say. I did do a short ‘Abandoned’ post a while back but I didn’t care enough to hate any of those shows, that’s for sure.
For the second item on the list I imagine you can guess the kinds of shows that I don’t have time for (literally and figuratively). If I’m feeling a bit grumpy I might even adjust that number to 100+ and yeah, I’m sure if I looked I’d find some exceptions quite easily… but for me, the risk to reward ratio is way off. More, the way a story ends is so, so important and obviously I hope, a show that eventually becomes more of a cash-cow* than an endeavour to tell a story, tends to dip sharply in quality all too soon and worse, fails to actually have an ending at all.
Now, in some ways calling Mushi-Shi ‘underrated’ might be a bit inaccurate as it’s highly regarded really, but certainly it tops few All-Time lists out there. I love Ginko, Yuto Nakano’s performance too and all the folktales woven throughout the episodic narrative. There’s a sombreness to the show too, which can even bring me down a little at times. Still, it’s my clear pick for the third item on the list.
For the ‘anime I love’ slot there are dozens of shows I could have included but today I went with Gainax’s lesser-known precursor to Neon Genesis – namely: Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water. No doubt I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for both the Adventure genre and Coming of Age stories too. I’m also sure at least a few anime fans are aware that Nadia has more than a few very obvious and painful filler episodes – but I’m able to both overlook and skip them. Eventually, I’ll do an episode/arc-based review on the series but for now, I’ll say that the slow reveal of the true darkness of some characters and the drip-feed of truth when it comes to their world really balances nicely against the optimism and determination of the young heroes.
‘Secretly’ isn’t quite right here but I chose Steins;Gate simply because I haven’t reviewed it yet (though I will sooner or later) so that’s as close as I could manage to a ‘secret’ show I love, I guess – though if I can come up with something that fits the implied criteria of embarrassing I’ll update this list 😀 In any event, Steins;Gate can really put you through the wringer – it’s got time-travel, drama, comedy and romance, all pluses!
And finally! I have to go with what some may well consider a boring choice here and go with Cowboy Bebop… mostly due to all the reasons in this post (and more reasons I haven’t got around to sharing yet!).
Update: Forgot to do this yesterday:
*Cash-cows serve that secondary purpose (financial security being the main) even if they become dull shows, because the money they earn a studio can then be used to produce works that are still great but might not appeal as widely, and also might not have ever been made without that income.
I think you could argue that some classics hold their status by virtue of reaching certain storytelling spaces early, by being perhaps more influential rather than brilliant in their own right.
I’d argue that the 1988 OVA adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga fits that mold pretty neatly, since so many tropes, settings and ideas have carried forth well into the present, yet the film itself has its limitations.
Of course, the Appleseed manga is probably more key in terms of the influence I’m talking about (and obviously Akira before it) but the OVA is still part of the storytelling tradition that puts certain conventions and characters into the fore.
And while there’s certainly cyberpunk elements re: technology, rebellion in oppressive societies and augmentation, the film reads more like a Hollywood action blockbuster if you strip away those typical cyberpunk or science-fiction elements.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, that’s part of the fun for me when I watch it – it’s not unlike Lethal Weapon set in the 22nd Century!
for me, what can I say represents Appleseed’s
Maybe the ‘time-capsule’ aspects – that ‘old-school’ anime character design which was usually a little rounder of face, with visible noses and sharper use of shadow, along with what I consider the wider, more generalised US influence – the big hair, 1980s workout-costuming, a montage sequence and a saxophone and light synth-soundtrack.
Add to that robotics, guns and explosions and a clear, linear ‘police-hunt-terrorists’ storyline and you’ve got Appleseed. Even Briareos and Deunan have a bit of a buddy-cop dynamic going on – though any such character interactions/development (or exploration of the social system in Olympus) tend to take a back seat to the action and tech. (There’s bits of humour here and there too but again, it’s not the focus either).
In fact, another joy for me tends to be seeing how the future is imagined both in terms of how society is organised and how technology might evolve – and Appleseed has both fascinating ideas and amusing moments common to a lot of 80s and 90s cyberpunk: especially when it comes to the office settings or communication technology.
Here, computers are massive, police still print on paper and phones have only reached ‘video’ and yet military tech and cybernetics are light years ahead. Audiences probably appreciate a good deal of familiar things in future-settings though, and predicting the future must be so, so very difficult. I tend to think speculative fiction writers do get it right pretty often too.
Where the OVA suffers in my opinion is due to some truly clunky dialogue and the missed opportunities to reveal more detail about the world and characters, something a series might have solved, but the movie still packs a lot into its runtime and I tend to prefer it over say, the 2004 adaptation, though nostalgia clearly plays into that feeling.
If you’re curious about the film’s place in the timeline of cyberpunk or maybe Shirow’s work in general, then you’ll probably pick up a few familiar themes and ideas – I remember feeling like the multi-leg tank was a clear precursor to GITS’s spider tank.
And speaking of that robot design and influence, I think some Boomer designs from Bubblegum Crisis might be a nod to Landmates and other robots in Appleseed, which is the kind of detail I tend to enjoy noticing because it reminds me just how interconnected storytelling tends to be!
Before the success of Gunbuster and then Nadia (the profits of which I believe were devoured by NHK anyway) or Neon Genesis, Gainax was nearly buried by the poor (compared to its budget) financial performance of a film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa) 1987
Obviously, if you’re familiar with anime in general or the roots of Gainax specifically, you’ll be aware of this cult classic and it’s extremely high production values.
If you’re not, one glance at the cover and title – and knowing the studio’s other work around the late 1980s – will have you thinking, cool, space battles and action! Well, the film is actually a lot closer to a drama based on the space race of the 1950s. That and the personal journey of a kinda dead-eyed ‘hero’ whose apathy is not only a character flaw but a real chore to watch, as I found out last year when I finally saw Wings.
Does that mean it’s not worth watching? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you’re looking for, of course. If you want a dull, even cruel male lead who eventually gains a spine and some purpose during the course of the film, then yeah this might be worth a look.
I had trouble with his emptiness, his bizarre choice of sexual assault at one point and cruelty towards children but Shiro maybe has a soul, I guess.
The film itself is again, really beautifully animated and on a par or exceeds the work of most other major studios of the day and of course, it holds up today.
There’s also a really impressive level of detail on the settings and establishing an ‘otherworldly yet familiar’ look to the places. The pacing is slower, as befitting a drama, and that’s not a problem, and the few action sequences throughout are definitely exciting, especially the assassination attempt, but overall the film left me feeling somewhat cold.
When I finished Wings of Honnêamise I was glad to have seen it but I doubt I’ll recommend it very often, despite its stunning visuals and attention to detail.