Read or Die (OVA)

Read or Die (2001)

Other names tend to grace lists of ‘favourite/best studios’ more often, but maybe it’s easy to forget that Studio DEEN can certainly pull out all the stops too.

And Read or Die has some cracking action sequences indeed.

On that note, everything really did feel fluid and vivid to me, with scenes usually full of exciting near-misses. I was usually glued to the screen, partially due to the direction, but also since ‘The Paper’ is a less typical heroine when it comes to action leads.

Her ability to use paper as both protection and weapon was fascinating, and that’s another aspect I really enjoyed. Her fights were less about brute force and more problem-solving, in a way. And the anime really casts an unreservedly wide net for its historical villains and their powers too – more unconventional stuff that was most welcome, especially if you’ve seen a whole host of classic choices for weapons or powers.

Now, if you haven’t seen Read or Die (as I hadn’t until quite recently) and you’re getting a superhero vibe from that previous paragraph, then that’s not precisely inaccurate, but ‘secret agents with super-powers’ is probably better. Here and there, I was put in the mind of other action shows but rarely enough to pull me out of the storytelling.

I will note that at times, Yomiko sounds like a lost lamb, which you could argue is meant to link to her role as a ‘bookworm’, and it’s an interesting contradiction to her character. She’s pretty cool under pressure but kinda goes to pieces over books – something which is usually played for laughs, but the OVA does feature a certain book as a MacGuffin to kick things off too. So literature is not just a comedic element.

As is my way, I haven’t said much about the premise or plot, but it’s very much classic ‘save the world’ stuff but with fantastic animation and very few ‘stock’ characters or settings. There’s also a fun steampunk aesthetic – something else I loved a lot about Read or Die.

Decision time?

Well, if you want to see Mata Hari, Genjo Sanzo and Ludwig van Beethoven (among others), battling it out with secret agent heroes with inventive powers, in an easy to digest 3-part OVA, then this is worth finding.

5 Stars

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin)

Sands of Destruction (World Destruction: Sekai Bokumetsu no Rokunin) 2008

Anime adaptations of games seem generally fraught with risk in my mind – and yet I can’t actually think of a tonne that I’ve seen and disliked, and instead, one obvious success seems to come to mind whenever I do think of games and anime, Steins;Gate.

But I’ll get to Sands of Destruction now.

So, even if individual elements didn’t always feel top-notch, I definitely enjoyed the anime and like other reasonably episodic shows, I was able to watch an episode here and there between other titles and not miss a beat.

Production I.G must have faced a fair amount of restriction in terms of what they could do because the series had to be linked to the DS game, but I thought the humour usually worked and while the setting and storyline is very much ‘classic fantasy’ (with an oppressive society for the characters to rail against) that was certainly enough for me 🙂

There were a few surprises and the pacing of each story drew me along nicely – one stand out was the ‘Dr Elephant’ episode, but overall the scene-stealer was usually Toppy. A tiny, teddy-bear-looking, monologue-ing hero, he was pretty great, I reckon. Toppy also scored a lot of great lines and moments, and to my surprise, the character-affectation of adding ‘kuma’ to the end of every single sentence was not as annoying as I thought it would be.


At first it bugged me a bit.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed the non-human character design more than the human design for the most part, and I felt like I was craving a few extra threads from the main plot to appear earlier than they do, but maybe it’s a minor quibble. The animation wasn’t always knock-out stuff but nor was it poor – at all.

I believe that if the show’s style of humour works for you then that will be enough to lift other elements that will probably seem a little standard. If not, you might not enjoy Sands of Destruction that much.

3 Stars

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Kōtetsujō no Kabaneri) 2017

Action-packed and grisly at times (perhaps gratuitously so, and I understand that descriptor won’t match everyone’s opinion of course) this series is pretty fast-paced, building quickly to a finish that maybe could have been ‘bigger’ but was by no means a let-down, either.

In a way, the tagline writes itself and I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it used officially – but basically, if you can imagine zombies on a train then you’ve got it to some extent.

Obviously there’s a more to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress than that, but not as much as I’d like in terms of world-building and any wider context appearing in the story. To a small extent the film that followed mitigates that feeling but overall, I think this could have easily been 24 episodes with a lot more exploration of how the world came to be the dystopia it is shown to be in the series.

The settings usually had lots of detail.

Still, I’m always willing to give a chance to a story that isn’t an adaptation and knowing that Wit Studio would produce something that (at a minimum) looked impressive led me to give the show a shot after stumbling across the film on Netflix last year.

Okay, time to jump in to some dot points:

  • Yukina and also Kurusu were underused in the story, I reckon.
  • The villain was the ‘handsome evil’ type and he really was a piece of work – clearly pretty much everything about him was a lie used to manipulate others, some good characterisation there.
  • I enjoyed the conflicting idea of being trapped – but trapped in moving thing, so whenever a train was attacked by the kabane, there was a sense that flight was both happening but also kinda useless. Having said that, maybe too many zombies were ‘shamblers’ so not always very threatening.
  • I didn’t buy the viewer resentment toward Ikoma I think I remember reading. If you’ve seen this series you’ll know he’s a classic underdog so I was on board with him pretty quickly. Most of all, he was almost always right about pretty much everything, and had to suffer fools almost constantly.

On a related note, one great thing about being so far behind everyone else with new shows, is that I often miss both the hype and the naysayers. It seems that at least to some extent, Attack on Titan fanatics piled on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress a bit, considering it too similar or just a money-grab, somehow?

For me, the two shows are plenty different even with some clear similarities, and I think I’ve argued before a little on the important role of the cash-cow – without said cow, the more ‘risky’ or original shows just don’t get made. (And here I mean ‘original’ as compared to a show that is an adaptation of an existing manga etc).

Yep, he’s a villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress without being over the moon. If you’re a horror or dark fantasy fan (even a steampunk fan perhaps) you’ll probably find at least something to enjoy here, beyond the beautifully coloured art.

3.5 Stars

Hero shot 😀

At times, the show paused for what seem almost like glamour-shots, switching to a little extra detail while also adding an almost soft focus, as if they were setting up future stills for trading cards or other merch? There’s more than I’ve noted here of course, but I tried to snap a couple. (First is a better example).

The storyline is continued in a follow-up film that I actually abandoned last year, at the time knowing that I should probably watch the series first.

I definitely enjoyed the movie; it continued the main themes and struggles, advancing some character development too. I do wonder whether the relationship hindrances thrown up between Ikoma and Mumei were always natural?

Still, if you enjoyed the series you’ll like the film, I reckon.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – Nadia vs Atlantis

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990 / Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2001

I wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than I ended up being able to manage, but hopefully it still covers a bit of ground.

Partly that’s because I’ve ran out of time, partly because there’s a lot I could cover, and thirdly, I came across a lot of dead/partially functioning links that I expected to be able to draw from but couldn’t get much use out of – like this comparison. It’s missing the images but is still useful in terms of text, though it too, features broken links now. The internet is getting old, folks!

This debate has gone on since previews of Atlantis were released probably twenty years ago now, and since then I haven’t totally been able to come down on one side over the other… but more on that at the end – here’s a clue however; I think we’re all aware of Disney’s The Lion King and how they treated Kimba the White Lion.

So, basically, we have Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) where the latter shares many similarities in plot, setting and design but does differ in some ways. I think it’s also clear that both Nadia and Atlantis owe a lot to the works of Jules Verne.

On that note, here’s part of a handy table I found within a great article over at Anime News Network:

It’s longer in the article and I think it’s worth a visit, certainly for the full comparison table if nothing else.

The table clearly shows that both texts owe a serious debt to the books. However, a lot of the concerns aimed at Atlantis do rest on the visuals rather than just the storyline. I was unable to personally make the images that are scattered throughout this article, but the ones you see came from some of the things I’ve linked to or sometimes Pinterest, actually.

Now, some articles on this topic seem to come down to something like “Atlantis was clearly influenced by Nadia but not enough to say outright plagiarism” or simply say that “well yeah, but they’re both using Verne”.

Related to the idea that this controversy should probably include three texts and not two, I want to quickly bring up the notion of Idea vs Execution, because we know that intellectual property laws can only protect one and not the other. Of course, whether something is legally permissible and whether something ought to have been done is probably a different question.

There’s a position put forth by an academic* Marc Hairston that suggests certain extremely general mythological tropes would have influenced both film teams separately, which I found interesting. In his piece (scroll a bit) he addresses and refutes (perhaps) similarities between plot and ship and character design.

Here’s a quote from the article focusing on Jean for one:

Both Gainax and Disney put glasses on Jean and Milo as visual shorthand to make sure you knew from the start that this is a “smart” character. But it’s hardly original. Here’s a short list of other “smart” characters with glasses in animation: Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Busby Birdwell from the 1970s tv animated series Fantastic Voyage, Mac the Scottish engineer chicken in Chicken Run, Tombo from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Doc in Snow White (see how far back this is going?). So both Jean and Milo are the same character type, but that is hardly proof that Disney borrowed the idea from Nadia. They could just as easily have borrowed the idea from Mr. Peabody.

Sounds more than reasonable, right? Haiston also talks about the ‘midriff’ outfits of both Nadia and Kida both being ways to get some skin onscreen under PG restrictions, and further notes:

In any case if the Disney animators wanted to differentiate Princess Kida from the other characters who are all anglo or European, then the quickest visual shorthand is to make her dark-skinned (just as the Gainax did with Nadia).

Sounds like a similar move used with the ‘one character with red hair’ in an anime – obviously, the colour is code for ‘fiery’ or at the very least, lets the character stand out amongst the cast and any background visuals. It’s efficient shorthand.

He also mentions the magic gems – considering them to be basically “stock motif” which I think is pretty spot on. Still on the magical gemstones for a moment:

“Good energy” from a magic object is almost always portrayed as blue-white; “evil energy” from a magic object is almost always shown as reddish in color.

Something I believe we could all see across the history of pretty much all film and literature. This makes it harder to say Disney saw Nadia using a blue gem with blazing light and copied that moment for their film Atlantis, right?

Now, I want to note that Marc Hairston’s piece was written before the film Atlantis was actually released (as he freely admits), and I believe his thoughts were based on the preview only. So far, I haven’t found him writing on the film after having seen it.

When trying to demonstrate that one team has copied another team’s execution of an idea I think things become murky around information pertaining to motive and opportunity (that makes this sound like a crime show). On one hand, it’s all on the screen. On the other, when what’s on the screen can be argued to be close but not exactly the same… how do we discount the possibility of coincidence? Especially considering both texts ultimately share the same source, in Verne’s work.

One way to seek clarity on the issue seems to be attempting an interrogation of whether creators of Atlantis were in a certain place at a certain time and could be reasonably expected to have been exposed to the source text (Nadia here) or were fans of anime etc etc (I know that in the case of The Lion King there are accounts of Disney’s team that leave little doubt as to exactly what happened there).

So, first-hand accounts of the production or responses from the creators then? I wasn’t able to hunt down dozens of them:

Don Hahn, and Gary Trousdale, producer and co-director of the Disney movie, both expressed surprise when asked about the similarities during a recent interview. But during the same interview, Trousdale also identified himself as a fan of anime, as is fellow director Kirk Wise. For both of them, the works of Hayao Miyazaki (Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke) are a major influence in their own work.

Co-director Kirk Wise said:

“Never heard of NADIA till it was mentioned in [the rec.arts.disney.animation] newsgroup. Long after we’d finished production, I might add.”

Disney animation newsgroup

So, if we accept the not unreasonable idea that both texts use common tropes and motifs along with both being based on works of Jules Verne, then maybe there’s less of a case here…

But let’s now hear from Gainax – long quote, sorry:

Mr. Akai: When [Disney’s] Atlantis got released, NHK actually asked [Gainax] what exactly they thought…They were kind of puzzled because they are kind of a subsidiary and it was not like [Gainax] had any kind of decision making power. So they were mystified as to why NHK bothers asking them.
On the internet, there was a lot of talk about how Atlantis was so similar to Nadia. Of course, Disney says that they have never seen or heard of a series called Nadia. NHK came to Gainax because of this and asked them how they felt about this implication that Disney was plagiarizing the series. [Gainax] didn’t really have anything to say because they weren’t the parent corporation. It was not like they had any rights anyways.
Mr. Yamaga: We actually tried to get NHK to pick a fight with Disney, [Laughter] but even the National Television Network of Japan didn’t dare to mess with Disney and their lawyers. What we said to [NHK] was, this really had nothing to do with us but if it did we would definitely take them to court. Of course, it is all a lie. We actually did say that but we wouldn’t actually take [Disney] to court. We would be so terrified about what they would do to [NHK] in return that we wouldn’t dare.”

Seems pretty clear to me what Nadia’s team felt about the Disney film and again, visually, the similarities are many. Verne wasn’t always describing some of the things that occur in both film texts and so the question lingers in the minds of folks all over, I suspect.

Could Disney, well-aware of how they’d been caught out with The Lion King, have made sure that Atlantis was ‘different enough’ to Nadia to keep things ambiguous? Or at the least, not easy to litigate? That sounds like a conspiracy theory, I guess.

But then, as Gainax mentioned:


Even if individual creators on the project may not have set out to copy anything directly, for me, it really comes down to the fact that after The Lion King I don’t believe Disney are trustworthy.

And done! Nine posts on Nadia complete!

Thanks for reading them and I hope it made you curious about the show or at least, included some interesting stuff you may or may not have stumbled across before 🙂

*Marc Hairston is actually a space physicist, which is fascinating 🙂

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – Visual Analysis

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

I took far too many screencaps with these posts and so I thought I’d better to do something with a few of them!

Visual Analysis

Firstly, I thought I’d start with some random single shots:

From the prologue with that ‘hand-drawn’ look that sometimes appears elsewhere in the series (and maybe even with a line to simulate the fold in a book). Next is some nice framing for the kids in hiding, and then lighting interrupts the line of soldiers, Jean finally has someone to share his love of science with, and at the end of the block, Sanson in action.

Round two! I’m including this first shot here because I like the composition but it’s also nice that it removes the unnecessary Ayerton too. Next is just an example of some detail on the new Nautilus because I didn’t share much of the mechanical visuals during the other posts. Next, Gargoyle adding super-dramatic lighting to his super-casual pose and finally, a close-up of Nemo’s blue water – another thing I forgot to show much in the reviews.

Okay, perhaps kinda randomly, here’s a bit of a longer section on Gargoyle’s introduction:

I like the way the camera pans up his body since starting from the feet reminds me of the classic femme fatale introduction in film noir – but obviously that genre hardly owns the technique 😀

Instead, it’s a tension-building moment combined with a signal that this is an important character. It also seems to really highlight the way Gargoyle thinks of himself as being quite the dapper gent, really. And in a way he is – he fits the type of villain with excellent manners but is also an utter psychopath. I think it also suits his ego, to have that striking suit. And look how casually unflappable the blighter is, with that single-hand-in-pocket stance!

Of course, when the camera finally reaches his face you get his disturbing but fancier-than-my-subordinates mask too. His design is one of my favourites but I also really like Motomu Kiyokawa’s commanding performance (who some will recognise as Norman from The Big O or maybe Kozo from NGE.)

There’s a lot of Nemo in these sorts of two-shots across the series, ones that put him in the foreground while he converses with others, usually without turning – I feel like it’s done to reinforce that notion of him as the boss, and super-driven, someone who can barely even take his eyes off the goal.

And to stick with Captain Nemo a moment, the scene below is always funny for me – aside from a rare glimpse of him bereft of hat, Grandis has taken the time to tie a bow upon the meal she made for him 😀

Now, to finish this post before it turns into a monster, maybe a look at Camera and Power.

This is the sort of thing that happens a lot (in all film) and it’s a nice and simple but still really effective sequence, using different shots to show a power imbalance between characters. Again, I’m not highlighting anything groundbreaking or anything that you wouldn’t find elsewhere but I’m having fun at least 😀

Okay, to start it’s two establishing shots and both reveal the scale of the setting and the power of the one who owns it, which we know is Gargoyle. The wide shot shows one character at ease and one not – being tied to a chair hardly seems like fun, right?

Next, a pair of over-the-shoulder-shots (classic for dialogue) but since this is not a conversation between equals, the camera isn’t ‘neutral’ at all. Instead, it’s a high-angle shot that shows Nadia looking up, seeming smaller than Gargoyle (more so).

For the reverse they switch to a low-angle – and now we can see Gargoyle looking down on Nadia (or at least, he would if I’d taken the snapshot at the right moment!)

And there’s the basic sequence! Similar things can be found in films all over the world of course.

But to continue in this scene a moment, I noticed the camera switches to a close-up a little later on, but rather than doing so in order to show Nadia’s defiance here, we see the classic anime ‘shadowed face/hidden eyes’ pose, because she’s giving in to his demands and feels the requisite shame.

Gargoyle then walks away in this wide shot – one that is another high angle, showing once more the scale of what she’s up against, a force Nadia cannot challenge just yet. The long shadows I reckon are a nice little call back to her moment of distress from earlier.

And finally for this fairly self-indulgent post, here’s a shot from Marie’s point of view during one of her lessons aboard the Nautilus 🙂

Here, Marie becomes an unreliable narrator of course, which is part of what makes the scene funny.

Tomorrow or maybe the day after (as I’m feeling a little fatigued from writing blog posts) the Nadia/Atlantis piece at last.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Tartessos Arc, Episodes 35-39

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Seventh part – it’s a little longer than the last one, but hopefully not unbearably so, the way it might have been had I placed eps 1-39 in a single post 🙂

The Tartessos Arc – Episodes 35-39

A sigh of relief!

Finally, Anno is back at the helm and he really delivers with the conclusion. Here, Nadia’s heritage is realised at last and the steampunk aspects fall away to let the show head in to full ‘science-fiction’ mode, meeting the expectations that were established via little hints here and there in previous episodes.

It’s a really satisfying end to a series and a great palette-cleanser for what came before too.

Because what preceded this really felt like a betrayal on multiple levels – aimless, regressive and at times racist, I’d like to think none of that was part of Anno’s original vision.

But I’ll focus on the good stuff now.

In this final arc there are still a few twists and surprises during both the escalating ship-based battle between Nemo and Gargolye, and later when everyone is back on foot. Even the villain’s delusions reveal some interesting mythology and Christian themes that have also been hinted at from way back in the early episodes. (A fair few of these aspects will re-appear in similar or more refined ways during Neon Genesis too, years later.)

It’s hard for me to go into too many specifics here without spoiling all kinds of things in this post, but there’s a real tear-jerker moment (well, it was for me) in the ending too, so watch out if you decide give this series a shot and find yourself emotionally invested in the characters!

Visually, the animation quality is restored and monochrome/selective colour technique also returns for most of episode 35 – and it’s perfect to evoke a sense of both wonder and unease, and of course, the return of colour comes at the most dramatic moment in the episode. Elsewhere I really enjoyed the vague Egyptian look to some of the designs for certain characters, and the final, personal confrontation between the heroes and Gargoyle was pretty memorable too.

I know that I’ve saved most of my criticism for certain arcs, rather than aiming it at the overall story itself so far, but for me there wasn’t a whole lot that truly bothered me about Nadia.

Some folks don’t dig the pacing because there’s comedy, slice of life and a fair bit of time spent on characters especially during the episodic run, but again, I’m happy for those aspects to stick around. Maybe some viewers will find this anime (at least for a while) too ‘young’ though again, I can’t decide if Nadia is truly pitched at children.

Nadia herself can be hard work for some audiences because she is quite unreasonable at times, and takes a long time to open up. She has principals which I like but on the other hand, she can be awfully hard-line. And while Nadia is one of the first anime heroines of African heritage, which is pretty cool, at times it feels like the show spends too much time on her costuming and the requisite camera pans.*

[There’s a little spoiler in the next paragraph.]

More specifically to stay with these final episodes I’m not sure Nadia’s breakdown and suicide attempt is foreshadowed quite enough, and the ‘capital cities’ ultimatum-scene from Gargoyle and Nero seem a bit odd geographically.

Maybe some of the soundtrack isn’t always killer but the key pieces are memorable – especially Nadia’s theme and Nautilus-gou Oounabara Wo Yuku which are in the playlist below:

Without delving into any hints of that tired ‘sub vs dub’ debate I preferred the sub – though I believe my release included the ADV not Streamline dub. Both of these are interesting in that they use a range of accents to best evoke the multi-national Nautilus crew.

Here’s a quick comparison I found:

To focus on just one part of comparison, you’ll see that the Streamline dub has voices that feel more professional, reflected in Jean and Nadia, on the other, ADV instead chose to employ young (new?) actors for the leads. That definitely sounds more ‘right’ to my ear… however, the French accents are a little uneven across the series.

Thinking back a moment on some of this post I wonder if I’ve got too many criticisms aimed at Nadia’s character, but in some ways she’s a little passive. She doesn’t get to ‘fight back’ very often – but I will say that when backed into a corner, her defiance and desire to protect Jean is great. Related to this, Jean is more active in most ways and so sometimes it feels like it’s as much his story as hers.  

Nadia channeling a certain someone here

Other than those aspects (and a few other bits I didn’t get to here), Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is one of my favourite shows and I’m gonna call it a ‘classic’ even though I know that’s a very personal rating considering the real problems with those filler arcs.

Without them it’s something better.

Some of the Nautilis crew get new hairstyles when they ‘upgrade’ in these episodes.

If you’re a fan of Anno or Gainax then I think you’d like this series to some extent, perhaps if only to seek out all the Neon Genesis connections, otherwise if you dig old-school adventure with a share of darkness (though not unending by any means) then you’ll probably enjoy Nadia well enough, just please – remember to skip the majority of the Island Arc and the entire Africa Arc!

5 Stars

Two more posts to follow, if you can believe it!

One will be a bit of a write up on the Nadia/Atalantis issues and the other will be a visual analysis thing because I like doing them, basically. Not sure which will come first yet – but one of them lands tomorrow 😀  

*As some of you know I probably come across as reasonably unforgiving on some aspects of fan-service in my reviews, and while I don’t think Nadia is ever exploitative, the show certainly never strips the guys down to bathing suits or less.

The final episode includes a nice epilogue – though there’s a pairing of characters revealed with a fair age-difference that looks sketchy.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Africa Arc, Episodes 32-34

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Post number six now and the show is still very much in a bad way. In truth, I could have kept this together with the Island episodes but this arc is bad in similar and new ways. (It’s also a short post.)

The Africa Arc – Episodes 32-34

If I thought the Island Arc was bad first time around… well, wow.

The Africa Arc is easily worse.

Jam-packed full of poor stereotypes, straight-up racism and even more nonsensical storytelling and characterisation, I don’t think anyone anywhere at any time should bother with these episodes.

Keeping in line with the existing story so far – Nadia instantly falls in love with this Tarzan clone.
The village has a sacred object, folks… it’s a tin can.

A final cruel blow is landed with #34: ‘My Darling Nadia’, which is merely a clip show/advertisement for a soundtrack, where the characters sing awkwardly and there’s just these long pans across Nadia’s body during one of the songs? (Marie’s song is hard work in a different way).

An example of one of their idols.

Character models are still really on point, here too, as you can see below.

Now, like the last post I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out the flaws and there is nothing good here – but I will say that I don’t feel like aspects of blame should lay squarely on the Korean team (doubtless underpaid) nor precisely Gainax.

Instead, I think it’s NHK’s apparent greed. Asking Gainax to suddenly add a heap of extra episodes and (I’m fairly sure) offering no extra budget for this is typically cruel of a large corporation.

Having said that, someone actually wrote these episodes.

Skip these too.

Finally things will be back on track tomorrow with the Tartessos Arc – Episodes 35-39

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Island Arc, Episodes 23-31

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Time for post number five, where things really fall apart – though there is another sucker punch right around the corner!

The Island Arc – Episodes 23-31

Damn. Nadia was always animated but it was never a cartoon – until now.

And the conventions of cartoons have their place for sure, but that place is just not at episode 23 onward of this particular series. There’s almost nothing to like in this arc as it’s pretty much a long stretch of excruciating filler.

Admittedly, this shot is fun

Worse, it’s deeply regressive in terms of character development, as if the new team decided to trash every hard won moment of meaningful interaction that existed between the leads prior.

Aside from that bitter error (I don’t sound emotionally invested at all, huh?) the plot is mostly abandoned and a new Looney Tunes feel appears, where the laws of physics and other aspects of reality no longer matter.

Two ‘highlights’ of this new approach:

What happened? Well, in brief – when NHK realised it had a hit series, it ordered more episodes and since Gainax couldn’t handle that precisely (more on maybe why below) Nadia was handed off to a different studio with lower production budgets/values.

This isn’t the worst example (considering the disappearing limb moment elsewhere) but King and Nadia do look a bit ‘off’ here for example.

Direction was taken over by Shinji Higuchi who didn’t know what to do, it seems. At all. Either that or he was told to spin the wheels and just had no talent for comedy? Or maybe worse, according to this quote from an interview with Okada:

O: On Nadia, Anno didn’t direct the middle episodes, Shinji Higuchi did. And some episodes were directed in Korea–why, no one knows exactly. [LAUGHS] That’s real chaos, not good! What I mean to say is, controlled chaos–that’s good. Controlled chaos is where you’ve got all the staff in the same room, looking at each other. But on Nadia you had Higuchi saying, “Oh, I’ll surprise Anno”, hide, and change the screenplay! Screenplays and storyboards got changed when people went home, and the next morning, if no one could find the original, I authorized them to go ahead with the changes. No one can be a real director or a real scriptwriter in such a chaos situation. But on Gunbuster, that chaos was controlled, because we were all friends, and all working in the same place. But on Nadia, half our staff was Korean, living overseas. We never met them. No control.

A: Was Nadia the first Gainax film to have Korean animators?

O: No, we used Korean animators even on Gunbuster. But we had never before used a Korean director or animation director. It was real chaos, just like hell.

So, imagine working 18-hour days (can’t remember exactly where I saw that figure) and then having other team members hide your scripts as a prank(?), during an important and expensive run on a major tv network… sounds cool.

Gainax had also been suffering a lot of other internal strife around the time of taking on the project and more, it would cost them I think 80 million, a sum they wouldn’t recoup. Further, NHK and Toho were not offering any rights to the anime. Instead, Gainax would be permitted to make what became a successful video game – but it was not until Neon Genesis exploded that they would become financially stable.

In this context, and with the strict, punishing schedule of a television series, Anno reportedly suffered a breakdown, which is also generally considered to be a factor that eventually led to Evangelion.

But during Nadia’s production he was (also) unable to find a suitable ending at first… but once he had it and was back in the driver’s seat, he simply ignored all the rubbish on the island (and the Africa Arc too) and got back to ending the series, picking up with the same tension and (mostly) focused storytelling we’d seen prior.

Now, having spent heaps of this post ripping into these episodes and the behind-the-scenes stuff, there are a bare handful of interesting things that appear scattered throughout. As fans will know, episode 31 (and maybe 30 too) is considered worth watching for some context around the final arc, but I recommend skipping everything here if you’re going to watch Nadia.

To try and find a few positive notes – there are at least two worthwhile moments in the filler: we see some of Nadia’s childhood (and the source of her choice to become vegetarian) and also cut to Gargoyle’s ‘funeral’ for Nemo.

But again, these moments are fleeting and buried beneath meaningless or regressive filler and I don’t know that I’d recommended seeking them out. Instead, consider maybe watching #31 only.

And now, if you can believe it, things actually get worse before they get better…

Next up, the dreaded Africa Arc – Episodes 32-34.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – Beneath the Mask Arc, Episodes 20-22

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Onward to the fourth post now, with what is perhaps the second most important (if short) arc in the series.

Beneath the Mask Arc – Episodes 20-22

Here the characters begin to face their secrets and yet more of the shadows that have been brooding across the series rush to the fore – though Nadia does get darker still, later on. Now, I’m not trying to claim that this is a ‘disturbing’ anime, as it’s not so confronting as Neon Genesis Evangelion can be, but basically by now Nadia has pretty much abandoned the tone it established during the NHK episodes.

Gargoyle is always in control – that’s why he is often standing so casually

This mini arc also has perhaps one of the better cliff-hanger moments in an anime series – though to some extent I do partially spoil it four paras below.

Now, I am aware that just above I tried to convince you that Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water isn’t so troubled as Neon Genesis (and that’s still true) but we certainly see a different side to Electra in these episodes. Here, her simmering jealousy and feelings of abandonment spill over into an explosive confrontation with Nemo – and if you think through some of the implications to her breakdown you’ll know that she’s quite lost and maybe confused in some ways.

And it’s probably understandable, considering what we learn during her flashback – and here some of the more distinctive visual elements come into play. First, you’ll notice the that monochrome and selective colouring is really striking. So too, the ‘sketched’ look to the scenes, but perhaps most of all I really enjoyed the direction* as the narrative weaves in and out of past and present, yet retaining Electra and that muted palette as the anchor in both spaces.

As part of the context around the confrontation between Electra and Nemo, Gargoyle really has the Nautilus on the ropes in these episodes – thanks to poor Jean’s ‘mistake’ – which eventually leads to some great heroics from all the characters – especially the Grandis Gang, but eventually Captain Nemo has to take drastic measures to save his crew.

And here’s when that moment from Antarctica really comes back with a gut-punch, as Nemo seemingly sacrifices himself to save Jean and Nadia. And it’s her reactions here that twist the knife, as she seems about to acknowledge her feelings but still cannot… and suddenly the kids are adrift in the ocean without means to navigate or fight, and the episode ends and we have no idea what’s going to happen to everyone!

And it’s a perfect cliff-hanger and release of all the tension that had been building on and off for 20-odd episodes.

And then something happens behind the scenes to forever and deeply mar this fantastic series.

Here we have Sanson and Marie in the kinda odd comical moment in the arc.
An early glimpse of Nero, whose Atlantean look feels quite Egyptian, but is still really striking.

*I know I talk a lot about Anno at various times in these posts but I’d like to note that there were as many as twelve others who worked on storyboards for various episodes, and nineteen folks who directed episodes across Nadia’s run and so the visual style of the series cannot necessarily fall only upon one person’s shoulders here, though I’m not really able to differentiate, of course.

Tomorrow, the first of some hard yakka* with the Island Arc – Episodes 23-31.

(*Thought I’d add in some Australian slang – means “hard work”)

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) – The Nautilus Arc, Episodes 9-19

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia) 1990

Post number three now – this is the longer ‘arc’ as it were, and things are about to get quite episodic, as we head into the longest stretch of episodes before the quality vanishes for a while.

The Nautilus Arc – Episodes 9-19

Okay, I could have split this section into two groupings as it covers quite a large range of episodes but in the end I just… didn’t 😀

Anyway, here we have the biggest arc (and I use that term loosely I guess) of the series and the section that is most episodic. Gargoyle is still a threat, still someone Nemo and his crew are hunting, but smaller problems are met and solved too, maintaining that adventure feel. It’s also an important time for character development, which I’ll mention further down. (There’s also a spoiler during the ‘highlights’ section).

In terms of pacing, things slow down once more so that the audience can now get to know Nemo and his crew. This is a problem in the sense that it impacts the momentum that had been built up, but since I love episodic storytelling I’m kinda easy to please, I suspect 🙂

At first, the interpersonal conflict is perhaps mostly ‘teenage’ as Jean and Nadia continue their awkward (and generally cute) courtship, but hints of more troubling things to come are foreshadowed – chiefly the possible connection between Nemo and Nadia, but also what this might mean for Electra, who is more troubled than she seems at this point.

Aside from new inventions, sea mines, chases, sea creatures, nuclear leaks, underwater graveyards, a god-like whale and a fairly large dose of romantic comedy and rivalry, it’s this arc where more character development is introduced – not that it’s absent previously.

In this section there are a lot of plot threads happening at once but perhaps most important (other than the specifics around Gargoyle’s madness) is both Jean and Nadia’s relationship to each other, and to Captain Nemo. Nadia is always pushing Nemo away – usually through her fear or stubbornness, whereas Jean is drawn to the stern father-figure. And while Jean is helped by both Hanson and Sanson just as much, in terms of the coming-of-age stuff, it is Nemo who seems to have the bigger impact on the young genius.

Now, rather than put you through a breakdown of the sections within this section, I’ll try and mention just a few of my highlights from the arc:

A Stand Out Episode: #12 Grandis and Her First Love

I almost picked this one for Sanson’s outburst alone, poor guy.

But elsewhere it’s a nice change of pace from the (great) underwater tension of the sub, with that comical rivalry between Electra and Grandis taking the main stage. It also allows Jean and Nadia to bond, though of course Gainix couldn’t resist chucking in the old ‘accidental pervert’ trope.

At the end of Grandis and Her First Love however, Nadia’s vegetarianism makes an important return to the plot. Once again, her trust of adults (and Jean) is tested, setting things up for an even more dramatic – probably a melodramatic actually – ending to the following episode.

A Gripping Moment: Ensign Fait’s Death

I do wish more time had been taken with this storyline to build it up further by giving Jean and the viewer more time with Fait earlier.

Every time this scene gets to me – probably due to Noriko Hidaka’s performance, and I feel for the crew of the Nautilus, and especially Jean whose blind, even naive faith in technology and science is badly, badly shaken.

A Touching Moment: Nemo’s Tear

Captain Nemo takes the kids to the surface of Antarctica where they witness the aurora and Nemo is quite moved. Despite the tendency for his eyes/one eye to often remain hidden by the brim of his hat, Nadia catches a glimpse of a tear at this point. It shocks her and we get a softening in her attitude toward him – something which becomes perhaps more poignant only a few episodes later.

It’s an important moment for a character who can be kinda cruel at times – and so the audience needs to see those extra facets to her personality.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent a whole heap of time so far in these posts on the storytelling rather than the visuals – and yeah, maybe that’s a bit of an imbalance for an animated series but I do have a few notes here and there in captions at least 😉

And I will get there in more detail soon but I want to note now that the character designs of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and Shunji Suzuki really stand out for me, heaps of variety and they’re great at comical faces without (usually) going overboard. (I think most folks know that Nadia and Shinji from Neon Genesis are quite similar too.)

But obviously don’t go in to Nadia expecting modern animation blends with CGI etc – and that’s not to say it’s bad, but you will see a fair few pans across stills and other cost-saving techniques at play throughout. On the other hand, the colours are bright when they need to be and the action sequences always feel cut together nicely, compared to having tonnes of really dynamic camera movements for instance.

Expect a lot of these dramatic close-ups throughout the series 🙂

Okay, that’s probably enough for now – next time, Episodes 20-22 Beneath the Mask as I’m going to call that mini-arc.

As far as I can, tell this is the only female employee on Gargoyle’s evil henchman roster.
Maybe the phrasing is clumsy here from the kids – but this is the kind of utopia I think Nemo feels that he provides in the ship – maybe it’s paternalistic due his role, and I guess it’s a shame that vengeance is the thing that it takes to bring everyone together here.