This year has seen a lot of change. I started this blog and met a bunch of amazing people, but outside of my personal bubble the world has seen some pretty drastic shifts. At least we don’t have to deal with salt flakes falling from the sky.
Title: A Lull in the Sea (Nagi no Asukara)
Original airing: October 3, 2013 to April 3, 2014
Studio: P.A. Works
Duration: 23 mins per episode
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Drama, Slice of Life, School
Where I watched: Crunchyroll
Brief Synopsis and First Impressions
Long ago, all humans lived beneath the sea. However, some people preferred the surface and abandoned living underwater permanently. As a consequence, they were stripped of their god-given protection called “Ena” which allowed them to breathe underwater. Over time, the rift between the denizens of the sea and of the surface widened, although contact between the two peoples still existed.
Nagi no Asukara follows the story of Hikari Sakishima and Manaka Mukaido, along with their childhood friends Chisaki Hiradaira and Kaname Isaki, who are forced to leave the sea and attend a school on the surface. There, the group also meets Tsumugu Kihara, a fellow student and fisherman who loves the sea.
Hikari and his friends’ lives are bound to change as they have to deal with the deep-seated hatred and discrimination between the people of sea and of the surface, the storms in their personal lives, as well as an impending tempest which may spell doom for all who dwell on the surface.
When A Lull in the Sea director, Toshiya Shinohara, was asked how he would describe the series to someone, he stated “set in a world where humans live in the sea just as they do on land, it’s a youth romantic drama among the middle school kids from both worlds. What is it like to love someone?” [ANN interview].
The way Shinohara summed it up makes an interest point about Slice of Life narrative. While he was being more literal than I realized in his statement about “liv[ing] in the sea just as they do on land,” there is a thematic point there as well. No matter how fantastical the setting, the stories can still resonate with viewers by mirroring their own experiences. My experience at age 14 wasn’t quite as romantically involved as what these kids go through, but the idea is still there.
I had quite a few experiences with Slice of Life romance (Toradora!, Kokoro Connect, Orange, Pet Girl) during my challenge, but was looking forward to trying this one out. It had also come in at third place in my 2nd poll, so that certainly gave it some impetus. I would be ending my adventurous foray into Slice of Life this year with this series, so I had high hopes that it would be a strong entry in what proved to be an incredibly diverse genre.
A Lull in the Sea unfolds in a rural, coastal fishing village set in Japan. Just off the coast lies Shioshishio, an underwater village inhabited by ‘sea people.’ As the synopsis details, there was a time when all humans resided under the sea. As time passed, some grew curious of the surface and thus abandoned their underwater homes to live on dry land. As retribution, the sea god stripped them of their “Ena,” a protective layer of skin that allows them to breathe underwater. This created a divide between land dwellers and sea folk, since those who abandoned the sea no longer had the ability survive underwater.
While this relationship between the land and sea dwelling folk had become symbiotic, recent changes have exacerbated the repressed tension between factions. This concept of change is the theme around which the entire series revolves. The narrative begins with four friends, from the underwater village of Shioshishio, being integrated into a school on land in the fishing village of Oshiooshi. As a means of silent protest, the sea students wear their old school uniforms; serving to only further set them apart from their above ground classmates.
This period of adjustment is meant to signify the erroneous preconceived notions and discrimination against those deemed different. In the beginning, the four sea dwelling friends share varying levels of prejudice (ingrained in them by their elders) against the land folk. The sea people view land dwellers as traitors, threatening to bring extinction to their race through their desire to separate from the sea. In turn, those on the surface view the ‘sea creatures’ as an isolated, primitive society.
This significant period of adapting to unfamiliar classmates and surroundings becomes the focus of the first half of the season.The students attempt to bridge the cultural divide between them by preparing for the traditional Ofunehiki ceremony. This annual ritual, where a wooden effigy is sacrificed to the sea god, along with other commodities, had previously been banned due to disagreements between land and sea dwellers. After some initial wariness and hostility, on both sides, the children slowly begin to recognize the similarities between the two cultures.
This moral transition is a pivotal moment for the series. The realization that one race is not superior to another is meant to showcase self reflection and growth; a ‘coming of age’ moment for the characters, where their judgment is no longer being influenced by the distorted bigotry expressed by their parents. By analyzing the situation and formulating their opinions, the characters have taken a huge step towards maturing. This shift in perspective leads the narrative towards a clash between expanding wisdom and deep rooted prejudice.
As adolescence approaches, the characters struggle with more than just forming their own opinions. The once innocent, happy-go-lucky friends must confront budding feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and love. This results in a complex, emotional ‘love polygon’ (see characters) among the close knit group, with some land dwellers added for good measure. In the midst of the navigating though these precarious feelings though, a shocking mid-season twist alters the course of the narrative. This indescribable tragedy forces the characters to undergo a process of deep individual growth and development.
The strong focus on storytelling through the experiences and interactions of its characters make A Lull in the Sea a solid example of Slice of Life anime. Even as the series builds the world around them and pushes unexpected events in their direction, they are the ones driving the story’s direction and guiding the viewers’ focus. Despite the fantasy setting, the group of children that the series follows exhibit recognizable patterns and are understandable in their motives.
The youthful quartet from Shioshishio receive the majority of the focus for the first half as the series. As the first of these children the viewer meets, Hikari Sakishima is the most outspoken and hotheaded of the group. He is prone to loudly expressing his displeasure toward various things, with the usual target of his temper tantrums being the timid Manaka Mukaido, who he believes is helpless without his guidance. The reason for this is that she is a bit of a crybaby character who wants nothing more than for her friends to get along. Her meek nature gives way to a lack of confidence in her choices as she finds it difficult to speak her mind over Hikari. Their friend Chisaki Hiradaira is the kind and caring type, doing her best to look after the others, but often has to be the one to keep Hikari in check. Their bickering relationship is remarked upon by their other friend Kaname Isaki as one of a husband and wife, with Manaka as their child. Kaname himself seems to be full of such quips, but his laid back attitude clashes the least with the others.
Choosing to begin with such straightforward and defined characterization gives viewers an idea of what to expect, but also provides a false impression of how complex the relationships actually are. Though they initially appear to be stereotypes of characters found in many other slice of life drama, they express a range of emotions that give depth to their characters as the deal with the social, environmental, and physical changes that complicate their lives. An early encounter with the Tsumugu Kihara leads to Manaka being torn between wanting to grow closer to the reserved but kind land dweller and trying to placate Hikari’s displeasure over her friendliness. Though Tsumugu’s genuine kindness wins over even Hikari eventually, concerns over Manaka’s changing feelings cause Chisaki to worry that the way of life they have always known is about to change as well.
Convoluted romantic situations are standard fodder for anime, though not many seem to be so multi-directional as the ones you see in this series. Appreciation for the way in which the series explores these myriad relationships depends on individual interest, or patience, in the approach. The characters exhibit the typical reluctance to express themselves and secret romances, but that’s where the formulaic nature of ends. What makes the series interesting is that none of the relationships seem predictable, even when the characters appear sure about where their feelings lie.
One sided crushes and fear of disrupting an otherwise stable situation mean that even outright love confessions don’t always hit their mark. Misplaced frustration and jealousy over perceived interest play as much a part in their decisions as does the slow realization of their hearts’ true desires. Even when the characters seem set on a course of action, a sudden revelation makes them question themselves once again. It can be a maddening to follow and keep track of it all, but it’s a fitting display of the emotional roller-coaster that young people often go through.
There are many events that spur these characters to change, though most of their development revolves around their various relationships and how they are affected rather than the characters themselves. An apparent focus on Hikari and Manaka further slows down the rest of the story, pushing aside other character threads even when the series has the perfect opportunity to develop them. The narrative thought process behind doing this is understandable since most of the events unfold from their perspective, but it leads to an unbalanced preference toward their story when the series does an otherwise admirable job of fleshing out the thoughts and feelings of the other characters.
While romance takes the majority of the series focus, the rivalry between the Shioshishio and Oshiooshi villages crops up now and again. A large part of this has to do with the supporting cast in each location, as there is a significant adult presence for a show focused heavily on adolescent children. At the start of the series, the children’s opinions and feelings reflect that of their adult caretakers, with Hikari even echoing another villager’s complaint early on about Oshiooshi’s expanding fishing operations. The children’s exposure to one another’s way of life outside of these disputes, such as the shared school they now attend, ends up being the key to bridging these divides. It’s a small nod to the way discrimination is cured in real life, with people only opening up to new ways of thinking after interactions with each other broaden their horizons.
A quick look at P.A. Works list of titles will show a distinct commonality among them: high quality animation that has seen consistent improvement over time. The popularity of the anime they work on sees its ups and downs, with their most well known work also being their first big hit with Angel Beats! back in 2010. Even so they maintain their technical excellence, producing work that gets praised at the very least for the animation. They also have a talent for creating immersive environments, as they did in Another and Red Data Girl, that is apparent in the scenery for A Lull in the Sea as well.
The town of Oshiooshi makes for a convincing coastal fishing village. The dockside and ships bear the effects of constant exposure to water, with rust and other effects of wear from the saltwater environment evident along the ocean side. One very interesting facet of its design is the lack of extensive infrastructure, with an unfinished highway and half submerged rail lines running through the town. While the message is never explicitly conveyed, it’s as if the edge of the water represents humanity’s inability to move past the ‘primitive’ undersea society they left behind. Even the three-wheeled cars convey a sort of stagnation and lack of motivation to move toward progress.
The underwater portions of the series look like another world entirely, with the diffusing sunlight below the water’s surface giving way to the magical light that powers and illuminates the city beneath. Seaweed and other plans accompany trees and fish float about in schools the way a flock of birds might do so overland, setting the backdrop for the fully functional town they surround. The undersea village itself is modeled after the architecture found on the Cyclades islands in the Aegean sea, making effective use of blue and white hues to produce a tranquil cityscape.
Static pieces aside, animating a dynamic undersea environment is a daunting task, though the studio’s approach made it a little more manageable. To avoid the distracting effect of people and objects constantly floating about, liberties are taken with underwater physics to make it seem as if everything works nearly the same as it does on land. Sidewalks and stairs ground the characters as they move about, and while ocean currents sometimes simulate wind by causing hair and clothing to move, the characters are normally unaffected. Sticklers for physics are sure to find the lack of underwater realism (approaching Spongebob level) to be annoying, but the scenes were crafted this way deliberately to allow the many underwater scenes to place greater focus on the unfolding drama rather than the constantly shifting visuals [ANN].
Character designs and key visuals are more on the moe end of the spectrum of P.A. Works’ style, adding larger eyes and more expressive faces than what they did in their other title I reviewed this year: Red Data Girl. It’s a fitting choice, given how emotionally driven the characters are, that also highlights some of the visual distinctions between them. The best example is seen in the design of the sea dwellers, who are immediately recognizable by their blue eyes and eyebrows, yet otherwise as diverse as the humans on land.
The first OP, Lull-Soshite Bokura Wa (And Then We Are), could be easily disregarded as a generic JPop theme, attributable to any slice of life anime. Upon reading the English translation, however, the words are perfectly aligned with the first half of this series. ‘And Then We Are,’ refers to how, until this point, nothing has changed. Once the road ahead is embarked upon, “if we climb up this slope, the ordinary days will be different again.” The subtle meaning behind the lyrics, enhanced by the aesthetic visuals, make for a beautiful song. The second opening, ‘Ebb and Flow,’ carries a much more somber theme, fitting once more with the tonal shift of the series. The hauntingly beautiful lyrics are sung in a way that befits the heartache the characters struggle with during the second half of Lull.
While Aqua Terrarium is a standard, low-key ending theme, Nagi Yanagi’s soft, soothing voice fits well with the striking images of characters gently sinking beneath the water. Mitsuba no Musubime leaves much of the same impression as the first ending, though Nagi’s delicate sound again compliments the haunting, memorable images. Given that Nagi’s songs have been chosen as ending themes for other series including: Berserk, Black Bullet, and Waiting for Summer, it isn’t surprising that her voice serves to elevate the closing animation so well.
The soundtrack is a quiescent experience, filled with piano and string melodies simulating the sound of echoing underwater. Ofunehiki no Uta is an exception, with the melody being replaced with a traditional eastern orchestra reflective of Japanese culture. While none of the tracks are especially mesmerizing, listeners will appreciate the beautiful mix of soft instruments and accompanying Japanese vocals.
In a small moment of confusion, I thought only the English dub for A Lull in the Sea was available on Crunchyroll. I only found out later that the Japanese version is available also, but under the original title, Nagi No Asukara, so my preference for the dub was merely an accident this time. Manaka’s youthful exuberance was brought to life by established voice actress Michelle Ruff, who had a far more aggressive portrayal as Sinon in Sword Art Online II. Additionally, Michelle’s voice has been able to carry a series as Fujiko Mine in the self titled Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Fans of the Your lie in April dub may recognize Max Mittelman, the actor behind Kousei Arima. With his portrayal of Hikari requiring an abundance of emotion, it is fair to say he did an impressive job.
As I said before, I didn’t have the opportunity to watch much of the original Japanese version. With talented seiyuu like Ai Kayano (Menma in Anohana, Shiro in No Game No Life) to play Chisaki and Natsuke Hanae (Kanaki in Tokyo Ghoul, and also Kousei Arima in Your lie in April) to play Hikari, the quality of the subbed version is certainly top notch.
A Lull in the Sea is meant to be a romantic drama mixed with mythical elements. While it is without question visually stunning, the sensationalized emotions and story execution may not satisfy everyone. Mari Okada, the series composer, is known for adding melodramatic emotions to heighten a scene (Toradora!, Anohana, Pet Girl of Sakurasou). Her emphasis on dramatic situations and impassioned outbursts are designed to evoke strong emotional reactions from the audience. While I will argue that this is partially why the shows she contributes to are so popular, fans of more subtle character reactions should be wary.
Unfortunately this strong emphasis causes some of the more intricate elements of the narrative to be passed over; leading to a heavy amount of conflicts that lack meaningful resolutions. For example, the land and sea dwelling children decide to band together to prepare for the annual Ofunehiki ritual. This scene is meant to be a significant turning point in the story. So much so, that several episodes are dedicated to showing how the children overcome obstacles surrounding the ritual, with the adults refusing to help. Despite this, these episodes are much like treading water. The essential idea for what the story meant to capture is there, but for all the build up, little significant progress is made.
Another story telling tactic that is overused in this series is repetition. Similar situations and emotional conflicts are recycled, which leads to predictable reactions and outcomes. For example, fairly early in the series a preteen finds themselves drawn to an older student. The youthful girl is, naturally, perplexed and uncertain over her budding emotions. Halfway through the series, another adolescent struggles with her feelings (over a different elder peer) in a nearly identical way as her previously mentioned counterpart. Given this is a romantic drama, it isn’t surprising to witness such frequent plights over budding feelings. This is the only example, however, that I can detail without risk of spoilers. Keeping this in mind, viewers will notice this narrative strategy crop up a few times throughout the series. The one benefit of this method is that it allows the audience to draw parallels between characters by seeing how they react to the same situation. The use of rehashed situations, therefore, will likely not distract from the overall enjoyment of this series.
On a similar note, the cultural divide between land and sea dwellers is poorly represented in this series. As explained in the story, there was a time where all people resided under the sea. Over time, some grew curious about the world above and left the sea to live on the surface. Because of this, viewers should anticipate that land dwelling humans would evolve and adapt to their environment differently than their under sea ancestors. Both land and sea societies, however, remain practically the same. Their daily activities mirror one another, there are no language barriers, and aside from a few divergent beliefs, most everything remains the same. This series was meant to showcase two diverse cultures learning to accept and embrace one another’s differences. A few more contrasting points would have really driven home this idea.
All this aside, the most glaringly difficult problem is the lack of consideration given to the physics of the underwater world. The villagers beneath the sea complete tasks from eating to walking in the exact same way as their above sea counterparts. Bowls of soup stay filled, without being swept away by a current. Televisions are able to broadcast the news because, obviously, saltwater and electronics mix well together. If viewers can look past these liberties taken for story telling purposes, they won’t ruin the series. A little more thoughtful creativity for the underwater village, however, would have made for a much more believable story.
Despite these issues, A Lull in the Sea is still worth investing time in. It is a visually stunning fantasy, built to play on your emotions. As far as being a romantic drama, there is an abundance of confusing, yet exciting emotions being explored throughout this series. It also addresses a problem where most romance series are left with at least one open ended or non-committal relationship. Even with the romantic feelings of several characters being followed, this series wraps up all the loose ends in a nice, neat package. None of the threads are ignored simply because they are not part of the main romance(s) being followed. Needless to say, this story of growing up and dealing with change is well executed. While it may not manage to reach the same emotionally devastating level as Anohana, it is nonetheless an anime worth watching for anyone who enjoys romantic coming of age tales.
Summary and Recommendations
A Lull in the Sea is a story about change, meant to confront the prejudices of two villages that co-exist on the shore and beneath the sea. This coming of age tale explores childhood friendships and how those close ties are tested when new interactions and ideas challenge the way we think.
The plot takes a bit of time to develop, with the first half exploring the struggle that the four undersea children go through in adjusting to their new school. Old racial and societal prejudices on both sides clash with new ways the younger generation begin to see each other.
A great deal of time is spent on familiarizing viewers with the various relationships between the characters. This involves a complex love polygon that drives much of the characters’ actions and dictates how they are affected by the drastic changes that occur.
With P.A. Works in charge of the animation, you’re guaranteed some visually stunning scenes, much like its predecessors, Red Data Girl and Angel Beats! Likewise, the music chosen to accompany this series is hauntingly beautiful and reminiscent of echoing waves.
Enjoyment of A Lull in the Sea will ultimately vary from person to person. Some have found the series to be just the right amount of drama, romance, and humor. Others argue that many of the situations feel contrived for the purpose of quickly driving the story forward. Still, most anime fans should find something worth appreciating in this series.
Watch if you:
Like romantic, emotionally driven themes
Enjoy coming of age tales
Appreciate visually stunning anime
Don’t watch if you:
Expect the fantasy element to be prominent
Get annoyed by multiple romance threads
Dislike melodramatic character reactions
A good series in most respects that could have been great with the right focus. My rating is 3.5 out of 5 Hikaris.
One of the things that I found fascinating about watching more Slice of Life this year was its ability to convey societal norms in a way that shows more focused on another theme tend to gloss over. Understanding where a character comes from and what social and cultural practices guide their actions plays an important part in being able to enjoy watching their everyday lives play out in the way SoL series show.
Some anime are able to do this seamlessly. Usagi Drop showed a number of practices and stigmas that centered around family life and children in particular. Without going into great detail about each one, viewers could naturally see how they influenced Daikichi’s experience in raising Rin. These distinctly Japanese customs helped viewers get a better understanding of the environment they lived in by showing how the characters themselves were involved. Even series that aren’t set in reality can greatly enhance the immersion by making an effort to flesh out the cultural background. Moribito put a great deal of exposition behind the various cultural beliefs associated with the story, but in return was able to weave them through the narrative in an elegant way and make it feel that much more authentic.
A Lull in the Sea held great promise in this regard, setting up a the mythical tale about humans leaving the sea to form the basis of the rivalry between the two peoples. The stories about the sea god and their significance to the Ofunehiki festival were used to great effect to show the why the children’s efforts toward the ceremony were significant. The story was also vital to the series’ conclusion, but in both cases the culture was merely used to drive the plot instead of the characters themselves.
Had there been more actual cultural definition to the land and sea peoples, in terms of beliefs and practices that influenced their daily life, this aspect might have come across in a more organic way. The thematic importance of showing how alike the people were certainly isn’t lost on me, but if the story is written in such a way that the setting can simply be swapped out for another, then it loses whatever quality makes it unique. In the end, Shinohara’s quote about the essence of the story shows that these characters are exactly like regular people, with the fantasy setting being almost incidental.
Need another dip into this series? Check out these articles from other great bloggers:
My Review of A Lull in the Sea by Fullmetal Narcissist
Another comprehensive review that goes into great detail about what makes the series brilliant in the first half, and where it falls short in the second. Slight spoilers for the latter half.
A Lull in the Sea by MAK2.0
A post about what makes the series interesting and the issues with the romance element.
ANIME MUST WATCH: Nagi no Asukara by KKSparrow
An explanation of what’s great about the series from someone who enjoyed it. Worth a read, along with his other reviews.
For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.