Thursday, 29 September 2011

Anime REVIEW: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water


Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is a 39 episode (and one movie) show that aired between 1990 and 1991. A joint venture between Toho and Gainax, it is notable for being based on a concept by Hayao Miyazaki (of Studio Ghibli fame) and directed by Hideaki Anno (Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion). The show is very loosely based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

Set in 1889, it tells the story of Nadia - a mysterious girl with unknown origins. While working as a circus acrobat, she meets young French inventor Jean Roque Raltique, who saves her from a trio of jewel thieves attempting to steal her 'blue water' pendant. On their travels to find Nadia's homeland, they meet the equally mysterious Captain Nemo and his advanced submarine, the Nautilus. The pair become caught in a battle between Nemo and the Neo-Atlantean forces, inhabitants of the lost city of Atlantis who seek to dominate the world. As the battle unfolds, Jean and Nadia are joined by new friends as they learn the secret of the blue water gem and Nadia's mysterious past.

Initially, the story is near perfect. Characters are introduced well and the plot is equal parts gripping, action packed, heart-warming and heartbreaking (the introduction of Marie, an orphaned 4 year old girl who is taken in by Jean and Nadia had me in tears). While obviously being based on Verne's famous book, it still has its own distinct originality and (until episode 23, but we'll get to that in a moment) sticks to the story excellently without straying off on any tangents.

The characters are all fantastic, with all the main characters having their own distinct back stories that usually tie in the main plot somehow. Two particular favourites of mine were Marie - who is perhaps my new favourite 'child' character from ANY anime I've seen, and the Grandis gang, who made an excellent transition from bumbling antagonists to true heroes and worthy role models to the three main children. It's true that Nadia is extremely annoying at times, but the element of mystery to her character (along with Nemo) is particularly strong and she manages to frequently bounce back in terms of interest. Gargoyle, the leader of the Neo Atlanteans, is fairly one dimensional but has a fantastic evil presence, and also has quite a lot of mystery behind him, given that you don't see his true face until the very last episode. Even the side characters have a good role in the series, with some playing an important part in one the Nadia's more tragic episodes.

The art is beautiful, blending latter-day Victorian style with Ghibli-esque scenery and character design. The submarines and ships are also well designed, fitting for a Jules Verne story but perhaps not looking too out of place in Anno's other works. Fans of the Macross franchise might also notice that Captain Nemo bares a striking resemblance to Global from Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

But when you get to episode 23, that's where it all begins to fall apart. Due to the show's popularity, Nadia was expanded beyond the original episode count, and since the budget was running low the animation was sourced out elsewhere and Anno, who was already working overtime, handed over the director's chair. And boy does it show. While the early episodes are well crafted, excellent pieces of storytelling, this "Lincoln Island" arc (where Jean, Nadia and Marie are stranded...the rest of the cast do not appear aside from the Grandis gang who rejoin towards the end of the arc) is the complete opposite. The art style is cheap and nasty, the characters lose most of the development they'd had over the last 22 episodes and the style is completely different - often resembling a cheap comedy with lame gags and simple stories. Its not just bad, its among the worst anime I've ever seen in my life. The arc has ONE important piece of information that drives the plot forward, but other than that watching these episodes is a complete waste of time.

Nadia returns to its former glory for its final four episodes, providing some brilliant action alongside stunning visuals and glorious science fiction (plus an ending that couldn't be any more perfect) but by then it's perhaps little too late, and the sour taste from the previous 12 episodes never really leaves. And let's not get started on the movie, the less said about that the better...

To summarise, Nadia is the most diverse anime in terms of quality I have ever watched. 2/3s of it are brilliant, while the middle third and movie are simply awful. And for that I can only give it an average mark out of 5 at the best. In Japan there exists a condensed version of Nadia called "The Story of Nautilus" which apparently cuts all of the filler from the show. While I have not investigated this further, I can only the imagine the show benefits from the extensive work it would need to give Nadia the true brilliance the majority of it deserves.

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