Nagi no Asukara is set in a world where long ago, human civilization lived on the ocean floor. However, there were humans who wanted to live above the surface and moved to land, and this created a separation between the humans. The series focuses on four middle school students who live in the ocean named Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname. Because their middle school shut down, they must attend a school on land. During the first episode, Manaka met Tsumugu, one of their new classmates. He’s from a family of fishermen and has an interest in the underwater village.
Since this episode focuses so much on the characters and their interactions between each other, I’m going to tackle this piece by talking about the various characters instead of going in chronological order.
At the beginning of the episode, Manaka wakes up and looks down at the fish in her knee, which was a curse she was inflicted with after angering Uroko-sama, the lazy leader of their village who kind of looks like a punk. The fish looks up at her, says it’ll see her later, and swims away. She has a flashback of Tsumugu telling her the fish in her knee was pretty; afterward, Manaka looks rather sad. Later, she visits Uroko-sama and tries to anger him again so he will curse her again; unfortunately for Manaka, her plan fails. Between these first two scenes alone, the audience can already tell that Manaka is interested in Tsumugu.
At school, Manaka approaches Tsumugu to thank him for helping her yesterday. When he asks how the fish in her knee is doing, she looks down at a cloth that she has covering her knee and fibs to Tsumugu. He asks about the fish again later in the episode, and she lies about it then, too. It’s obvious that Manaka is afraid that Tsumugu won’t be interested in her anymore if he finds out the fish is gone, which is more evidence of Manaka’s feelings for Tsumugu.
]At the end of the episode, Manaka begs Uroko-sama to curse her again, and he begins questioning her why. From what Uroko-sama says, it appears that he may know more of what’s happening than he’s letting on. Perhaps his lazy demeanor is a front that he puts on in front of others?
Hikari, meanwhile, is having troubles accepting how close Manaka and Tsumugu seem to be getting. He laments a couple of times during the episode that he doesn’t understand his feelings, but it’s obvious to the audience that Hikari is interested in Manaka. The two of them get into a couple of arguments over the course of the episode, and this only confuses Hikari more. Hikari also struggles with his opinions on Tsumugu, especially after he and the other underwater kids work together with Tsumugu on a project. While Hikari does still come across as a jerk at times, his behavior is very believable for a teenage boy, especially when you factor in the confusion and the various conflicted feelings that he has.
Chisaki has been a mutual friend of Manaka and Hikari since they were young children. It was made very clear in the first episode that she’s in love with Hikari, but she hasn’t said anything. She feels conflicted, because she can tell how Hikari feels about Manaka. Unfortunately, her confusion is only increased after she sees how Manaka feels about Tsumugu. At one point in the episode, Chisaki says to herself, “Please don’t be so kind to Manaka anymore. Manaka has Hikari.”
Hikari’s older sister, Akari, also becomes an important character in this episode. When heading home from school, Hikari and his friends see Akari kiss a guy from the surface before she returns home. After seeing this, Manaka and Chisaki comment how Akari is almost old enough to get married, and Hikari argues that it wouldn’t work if she married someone from the surface and that she would end up returning to the village. Kaname tells them that if she did marry someone from the surface, she would never be able to come back, because she would be banished from the village. The others protest, and Manaka argues that it’s not fair and that people should love who they want to love. This ended up being a trigger for one of Hikari and Manaka’s arguments.
Near the end of the episode, Akari’s relationship with the guy from the surface is discovered, and the audience gets to see how angry some people in the village become after finding out about it. Hikari and Manaka are both there at the time this happens.
I’m glad I decided to go into this episode not worrying about my “willing suspension of disbelief” so I could focus on the actual storytelling. After having such a lukewarm response to the first episode, I was actually rather impressed with this one. There was a lot of focus on relationships in this episode, and I also saw some noticeable character development for both Hikari and Manaka throughout this episode. Perhaps the old saying about not judging a book by its cover applies here?
The biggest thing that left an impression on me, though, is the storyline concerning Akari. Before this element was introduced, I found myself rooting for Manaka and Tsugumu to get together. However, after learning what happens if one of the ocean dwellers is in a relationship with a surface dweller, I found myself feeling conflicted about it. I definitely felt sorry for Manaka, because she’s going to have to make a choice at some point in the series whether or not to follow her heart and face the potential consequences, or to deny her feelings for Tsumugu so she can stay in her village.
I’m glad I decided to watch a second episode in order to give Nagi no Asukara another chance. It turns out that it’s a series that you really need to watch more than one episode of in order to truly get a feel for the story that it’s going to try to tell. Could this end up being a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, or will it become something else?
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