Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990
Following on from this introduction post I thought I’d start things today – and let’s see if I can post more about this classic adventure show over the next seven or eight days straight!
The NHK Arc – Episodes 1-4
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water starts out very firmly in ‘children’s cartoon’ territory in some ways. NHK* was reportedly still sending scripts to Anno Hideaki during this time and so there’s definitely a family friendly vibe, with slapstick and a bit of fast and loose stuff when it comes to physics (though nothing like the infamous ‘Island Arc’).
More importantly, many of the characters are established in these episodes, and the MacGuffin too – or so it seems. Of course, the Blue Water itself is actually far more than a MacGuffin, but for now no-one in the story really knows why, not Nadia herself nor those pursuing her.
Firstly, we meet the super-curious Jean, a young scientist who wants to fly and more, to find his missing father. When he arrives at the 1889 Paris World Exposition he encounters a mysterious girl who works as an acrobat in a circus… and is quickly pulled in to her flight from the city, when a trio of comical villains try to steal her glowing blue pendant.
What follows for the first few episodes is a cycle of close calls as the Grandis Gang close in on Jean and Nadia during their escape, an escape which is usually aided by Jean’s wonderful (if at times unreliable) machinery. (It’s generally these aspects that, for now, carry the steampunk feel.)
Now, if you’re getting some vague Laputa: Castle in the Sky-era Miyazaki vibes from my description then you’ll be gratified to know that ‘Nadia’ was pitched to Toho by Miyazaki as “Around the World in 80 Days in Captain Nemo’s Submarine” during the mid-1970s. Apologies of course if this is old news, as I suspect it will be to Nadia fans who stumble across these posts.
Of course, Miyazaki didn’t end up in the director’s chair but eventually, a fair few years later, Anno Hideaki did and while I’m not sure how much exactly he inserted into these early episodes (compared to what NHK expected him to shoot), it wasn’t all the thrill of setting out on an adventure, though that is still definitely the main focus of the first few episodes.
Also appearing in this arc, usually only briefly, are perhaps a few things more uncommon to the idea of a fun, kids adventure story: namely vegetarianism, racism and maybe even some push-back against the idea of American Imperialism. I haven’t been able to research all of that well but I do think Nadia is at least one of the first anime characters to be firmly vegetarian, which is interesting in and of itself, but also remains an important character trait during the show.
Elsewhere we see the racism of Jean’s aunt, who refuses to take in Nadia based on her skin colour. While racial harmony (or the lack of) is not a theme that the show refers to often, it is present and Jean of course, being not only infatuated with Nadia, but also a young chap of principles, chooses to protect her without help from his family.
During these episodes Jean and Nadia get the chance to share their fears and dreams and find common ground. Nadia’s extreme (but understandable) distrust of adults clearly helps her come to trust Jean quickly, even with her tsundere personality making his life a little harder – but Jean takes it all good-naturedly, bringing a real optimism to the episodes and the whole series.
Eventually, the kids are chased into the very ocean where they end up being saved by and taken aboard the magnificent Nautilus, courtesy of the taciturn Captain Nemo and Electra, his mysterious First Officer.
Here, Jean freaks out with excitement about all the wonderful new technology and though they are attacked by a ‘sea monster’ while aboard, the kids are soon sent on their way once more – toward what is commonly known as Marie’s Island where the tone of Nadia takes a fairly sharp turn away from ‘kids show’.
*I believe that NHK, as Japan’s public broadcaster, was generally considered ‘all ages’ for at least some of its programming?
* Another note – re: the Laputa/Nadia aspects, there’s one episode of Nadia here that will clearly evoke the earlier film, both in palette and sometimes composition, but tonally they’re different takes on a similar moment and I only pulled a few shots here.
And I’d say it’s clearly a direct homage too.
The Gainax team were obviously well-aware that Miyazaki pitched the idea and their love of fan-service is kinda legendary, so if Captain Nemo can bring both Superdimension Fortress Macross/Space Battleship Yamato to mind, then why not a nod to Laputa Castle in the Sky with the morning after Jean rescues Nadia/Pazu rescues Sheeta?
Okay! Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow for the Growing Darkness Arc – where I’ll do my best to tackle episodes 5-8!