So! I was stunned to learn that Netflix is creating a series for Spriggan and that it’s due next year.
I think you could argue that it suits their action/sci-fi-heavy anime catalouge, but I guess I’m still surprised that Spriggan, which seems kinda ‘forgotten’ maybe, would be picked. In any event, I’m definitely looking forward to it because I think there’s room to expand the story, as compared to this 1998 film adaptation of Hiroshi Takashige’s manga.
And this is most certainly a film for action fans.
Spriggan is packed full of blistering, superhero-style battles and action sequences (even a touch of DBZ in there at times) and before you (maybe) groan at the idea of another schoolkid with unrealistic abilities, Spriggan does address that seeming oddity.
To very quickly talk premise: the story features two powerful groups vying for control over a world-altering artefact, with young hero Yu taking the lead as the top agent tasked with preventing misuse of said artefact.
For Studio 4°C this is quite opposite in tone etc to a latter film like Children of the Sea (which is the most recent comparative text I’ve seen) but the same level of care and attention to detail appears onscreen, with some cracking action sequences, as I mentioned above. Among the best I’ve seen in any anime.
Now, most folks seem to have problems with the story, and it does take a backseat to the action but it’s not like the plot is wildly swinging from one idea to another. Instead, maybe it’s just that a few important things (like Yu’s past, perhaps) don’t get a whole lot of screentime.
Katsuhiro Otomo was involved as a supervisor, and maybe you might then think of Akira in superficial ways (mind powers and sci-fi in general) but Spriggan is definitely closer to an American action film, fast-paced, violent and even far-fetched.
I watched Children of the Sea a little while ago, and afterwards I stuck with the aquatic-theme for a couple more films. One of those movies was Ride Your Wave* while the other was obviously Weathering With You, which I’ll write about now 😀
I’m also going to kick off the post with something different compared to my usual review structure, and share this from director Makoto Shinkai:
“I thought, ‘Should I make my next film so that I don’t anger more people, or should I make a movie that angers them further?’ And I chose the latter.”
Here, he’s talking about Weathering with You as per a quote that appears in this Variety article, and I was really interested in the context around that statement… but I’ll actually come back to it later. I guess I’m raising it now to frame the idea that Weathering with You is maybe more reactionary than a lot of his previous work – and that’s probably not a surprise, considering the enormous success of Your Name.
If you haven’t come across Weathering with You yet, it’s a teen drama/romance-fantasy told in a wonderfully ‘saturated’ way, and I didn’t really mean for that to be a pun.
I guess what I mean is that Shinkai’s fascination with and also his devotion to water, light and colour certainly continues: everything looks so beautiful, whether it’s CGI or traditional animation. In fact, you could argue that it’s crushingly beautiful, and the detail – the atmosphere, the way you really sink into the setting, it’s all quite dream-like in a way.
[Spoilers from here on] For me, the visual elements are enough to compensate for what seemed like a slightly less cohesive story overall. Something about it didn’t quite pull together as neatly as say, Your Name (or his older films) and I wonder if I needed just a few more scraps of info re: what main character Hodaka was running from, for one. Feeling suffocated by a place – I buy that 100%, but maybe just a little more on specifics at home?
I also craved some extra follow-up on a few threads by the end and I’m not sure Hina turning her back on all technology for three years feels right? Related, would Hodaka not have attempted to contact her in some way (and vice-a-versa)?
Apologies, but I’m going to jump around again as I want to mention some other things that I enjoyed, before eventually circling back to Shinkai’s quote.
Firstly, I thought it was fun to see Mitsuha and Taki from Your Name – they don’t show up in flashy, attention-grabbing cameos, it’s far more low-key and maybe somewhat connected to the Variety quote above.
Suga and Natsumi were actually my fav characters in Weathering with You, especially Natsumi and her motorcycle, but in contrast, one of the more serious moments I enjoyed was when poor Hodaka is making his earnest promises in the hotel. Moments like that in the film, when you’re young and your conviction is stronger than your ability to make things happen, I thought were nicely done.
For some reason I’ve ended up reviewing Weathering with You before Your Name. And while the order of reviews hardly matters, I think it’s hard not to compare Weathering with You to his older work – either as a progression or a reaction.
I’ll try to expand on that – when I think about colour and tone here, it seems there’s a growing warmth clear to Weathering with You and Your Name, especially visible in the extra moments of levity and hope that I see onscreen, but which don’t appear as often in prior works perhaps.
For instance, The Garden of Words and The Place Promised in Our Early Days are obviously still beautifully coloured, but they feel more melancholy overall. (And certainly Children Who Chase Lost Voices strikes me so).
…or maybe I’m remembering the colours wrong?
In any event, I’m finally getting closer to that quote (I promise) with a note about the ending first. Here’s a quick summation of the film’s conclusion:
After Hina chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Tokyo from drowning, Hodaka fights his way above the clouds to see her, eventually bringing her home. With her return comes rain that, over the next three years, displaces millions (maybe kills folks too?), and changes the entire city. Hina seems to have been praying, trying to stop it – maybe the whole time – whereas Hodaka reflects that change is inevitable. After this, the two get a personally uplifting reunion.
Now, what I haven’t been able to decide is whether the ending is nudging us toward letting him off the hook re: taking responsibility for changes to the city and all the displaced people? Because there is a bit of time spent on that reflection, time that I took as Hodaka justifying his choice to himself (and maybe us too) via words that others had offered.
Obviously, it’s not so simple – because Hina deserves life too; and it’s a rotten choice he’s faced with.
Doubtless we’re meant to tackle the theme and decide for ourselves, what should Hodaka have done? (Even Suga goes back on his bitter wish).
And perhaps, if real life is about meeting challenges (and not being able to ‘magic’ them all away) then does the ending constitute a bit of authorial messaging? I think it’s clear that Shinkai wanted to bring attention to rising sea levels, and so what seems like a sad ending is probably the only way Weathering with You could have concluded.
So, thinking of Shinkai’s quote and his desire to anger people again – I wonder if this overt message at the end is two things: a sincere concern about climate change, but also a reaction to some criticism aimed at Your Name, where folks** didn’t like the idea of a natural disaster used for entertainment?
Because here is an even bigger natural disaster that is also used in the plot of a teen romance, and maybe within that choice, there’s some hope that in such a popular film, a lot of people will pay attention to the problem being raised… almost like a gauntlet being thrown down?
Ultimately, I hate to drift too far toward autobiographical criticism, nor assign motive to someone else’s work, but in this case I feel like there’s room – especially with that quote and having a little bit of context around Your Name.
Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie (Supēsu Adobenchā Kobura) (1982)
Space Adventure Cobra was another gap in my anime viewing history and I’m glad that I’ve now seen the film, as it was fascinating to experience so much psychedelia within a post-Star Wars, action-adventure Space Opera.
There’s also a bit of the horniness common to Bond films present, and what I considered a dash of Lupin, yet if I go too far with the comparisons I’ll probably do the characters a bit of a disservice.
If any of that sounds like your thing, then let me add that you’ll also encounter aliens, laser-arms, spaceships, mystical powers, fun cheesy names like ‘Crystal Boy’ and even snow-boarding rebels facing off against a powerful Pirate Guild 🙂
In a way, it comes across as a wild grab-bag of stuff… or even a somewhat stoned version of the Pulp genres, but I certainly didn’t find that any reason to stop watching. It was heaps of fun, something that maybe I forget to gravitate toward sometimes. Or perhaps I’m just easy to please when it comes to my fiction?
But while I do think I’m fairly forgiving, for me it all works, at least in part due to the pacing.
Space Adventure Cobra is not a short movie, and it covers a lot of ground (or space, I guess I should say) but does so at a fair clip, which keeps you watching. Due to that pacing I didn’t always get enough time to really interrogate some of the things I saw, I just accepted that everything fit together in the universe and found myself instead wondering, just how far could bravado take Cobra on his quest to save the beautiful Royal Sisters and escape the Pirate Guild?
This isn’t all to claim that the adaptation lacks flaws for me… but I haven’t read Buichi Terasawa’s manga, so I can’t focus on differences/omissions there. Instead, I’ll note that the animation can swing from lovely to quite uneven and I don’t know if the psychedelic-naked-chick-montages do much beyond establish a tone (or that retro aesthetic) but otherwise, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that characterisation takes a back seat to action in terms of balance.
Should you check out this classic?
If like me, you’ve always been curious, then yeah. Because while there are parts of Space Adventure Cobra that will feel quite derivative, to contrast that, I think the inventive side of the film compliments the action-adventure feel and so maybe you’ll find plenty to enjoy after all, especially if you can watch it as a product of its time.*
*Part of me really dislikes that term, but it’s fairly apt here I guess.
Over at Iridium Eye Reviews a little while back I was talking with Curtis about A Tree of Palme and he described it as an ‘avant-garde anime Pinocchio’ and I reckon that’s a spot-on description of the film, so I’d like to borrow it!
I finally had the chance to see this one late last year and it was compelling. It’s a complex story and deserves a more detailed write up than I’m going to manage, but it’s also not without some flaws for me.
But! I want to nudge those off to the side for a bit and get back to what I enjoyed – first and foremost, the art and the way it fed the world-building was fantastic. It’s a mostly sombre palette with lots of shadow and blues but there’s still variety. The animation is detailed and fluid and character designs stand out too, which is most welcome in a story with a big cast.
Probably no surprise from me here, but I’d have loved more world-building detail! On the other hand, it would have been tough to fit much more into an already long movie, which has a fairly epic storyline.
The music too was moving, from the orchestral to the more sparsely arranged moments. Above all, I think I remember the Theremin most. There’s a piece below that generally signals the atmosphere of the film – and atmosphere in A Tree of Palme is indeed its own character; I think the music fits the narrative and visuals in a way that adds to the fantastical and unnerving setting.
A Tree of Palme was directed by Takashi Nakamura, who was behind (among other things) the excellent ‘Chicken Man and Red Neck’ from Robot Carnival. If you’ve seen that short you might get a vague feel for the storytelling tone, which can be frenetic and even jumpy – that’s not instantly a problem either, but here I wanted a little more of a conventional narrative at times.
And I’m not sure I even should desire that as a viewer, because the non-linear and multi-part structure is part of what makes this film memorable.
Pushing back against that thought is the feeling that some of the sharp cuts between competing storylines don’t give me enough of either thread or character. Overall, Palme’s quest to become human seems too quickly absorbed into the far bigger story at play, which appears as a vague mythology, for one example. At other moments I wanted a bit more context around some of the competing interests in the movie too*.
Finally, I had a bit of trouble warming to Palme himself – now, I’m only one viewer so you certainly don’t have to take my word for it but in my mind, he’s more of an antagonist than hero. Part of my reasoning there is that he is powerfully selfish – or, if I were being kind, driven.
There’s a key moment in the latter half that’s really important in terms of showing onscreen growth, of showing that this is a robot struggling to figure out how to be human, but far earlier we’re shown something that soured me on him right away.
In the film’s opening we witness Palme’s cold dismissal of his creator, for what seems to be years at a time. The wooden/mechanical robot is meant to be grief-stricken to the point of shutting-down completely, and his single-minded desire to find his missing mother often turns him into a problem for those around him, especially Popo.
Now, what is clear to me despite what I’ve mentioned above, is that a big part of my problem is that I’m clearly projecting my expectations of human behaviour onto a robot, and that’s not going to fly. So whether you feel Palme is a selfish machine or a troubled character given human characteristics by the narrative, might fluctuate and change as the film goes on.
Still, I’d recommend this if you’re interested in long fantasy epics and great production values in anime – but not if you’re looking for a lean narrative more in line with a Disney adaptation, because A Tree of Palme is certainly far more challenging!
* Related to this, I think I would have enjoyed the story just as much or more if it had actually been told completely from Koram’s POV.
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.
“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.
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!
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 🙂
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) 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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) 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
*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”)