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