It turns out that posting a quick note about Nagi no Asukara before episode 13 Unreachable Fingertips [1]was a mistake.

Unreachable Fingertips is very much an episode that changes everything; the two week wait for the next episode is going to be tough.

This is the much more detailed review that Nagi no Asukara deserves, and one that contains many, many, spoilers.

The Setup

Nagi no Asukara is very much a fantasy, and needs to be accepted on those terms. Attempting to make it work as science fiction will break your suspension of disbelief so fast it will hurt.

In essence this is a Japan with a village called Shioshishio beneath the surface of the ocean. The humans born in this village have a magic coating on their skins called “ena” that enables them to breathe underwater whilst still being able to breathe normally on the surface as well [2].

The population of Shioshishio seems to be declining as their Junior High School has just closed down for want of students.

The relationships between Shioshishio and the neighboring surface village of Oshiooshi have become somewhat … strained. This is at least partly due to fights over the annual festival of the Ofunehiki which commemorates the sacrifice of a surface dweller to be the bride of the very real Sea God. The custom of the Ofunehiki is very much in decline, and blame is being readily assigned on both sides.

There are also environmental changes starting to be noticed, and that become more significant as the series progresses.

The Characters

Between the Sea and the Land opens the series with the four remaining students of Nami Junior High School being sent to Mihama Junior High School in Oshiooshi. The girls are Manaka and Chisaki, the boys are Hikari and Kaname.

The kids are not best pleased by this, and although Manaka is prepared to wear a brown Mihama uniform to fit in, Hikari insists that they wear the blue and white Nami uniforms instead [3].

These four have clearly been alone in their age group for a while, and the deep dynamics of childhood are starting to be tested by the romantic tensions of adolescence.

On the surface the students of Mihama are not particularly welcoming, with the exception of Tsumugu who is fascinated by the beauty of the ocean and of Shioshishio. Other students of Mihama remain nameless for a while until better relationships begin to be established.

Meanwhile there are two bratty grade schoolers Miuna and Sayu running about [4], and Hikari’s older sister Akari is working in a convenience store in Oshiooshi.

The Woven Plot Threads

Even as the characters are being established Nagi no Asakura sets up multiple plot threads that quickly weave together into a braid. Several of these are based on the Fantastic Racism that is almost intrinsic to the setup, another is a form of Fantastic Climate Change, and eventually binding them together is the attempt to appease the Sea God through a restored Ofunehiki ceremony.

I tried to separate these plot threads in an earlier draft but it isn’t really possible. The various story lines intersect too much and a problem in one often becomes (or inspires) the solution in another.

The key lies in the choices that the characters have to make in response:

  • Manaka can remain dependent and fragile, or develop the emotional strength to support and protect others
  • Hikari can hold on to his prejudices, or work for Akari’s happiness
  • Chisaki can try to hold to the past, or develop the honesty to express herself
  • Kaname can remain the silent one, or start to act openly

And on and on it goes. It isn’t just these four: Akari, Miuna, Sayu, and many of the other supporting characters are forced to face choices that shock them out of the status quo.

The choices are also often more complicated than the glib summaries I’ve given above, and the focus character for several episodes came as a surprise. It isn’t always Manaka or Hikari, this is much more of an ensemble cast than the opening or closing credits suggested.

The Ice Age to Come

In episode 9 Warmth You Do Not Know it is revealed that the world is changing, and will eventually freeze both the surface dwellers and the sea dwellers.

The ena provides a means for the population of Shioshishio to avoid the issue by hibernating until the world changes again. The initial plan is to simply do it without informing Oshiooshi of what is happening, or even why.

So in essence Shioshishio is adapting to Fantastic Climate Change but abandoning Oshiooshi to their fates [5].

The main characters rebel against this, and seek to pursue the Ofunehiki as a way of restoring enough power to the Sea God to prevent it.

The Heart of a Child

The sudden, rapid, build up to the Ofunehiki dominates the remaining episodes of part 1, but even this is used to drive the very personal stories of the characters.

Miuna is my favourite in this sequence as she transitions through the series from wanting Akari to:

  • Go away because Miuna resents Akari’s romance with Itaru; to
  • Stay, and expressing it clumsily, because Miuna really does love her “Aka-chan”; to
  • Go away and hibernate because then Miuna’s Aka-chan won’t die [6]; to
  • Stay whilst struggling to finally call Akari “Okasan” (Mother) during Unreachable Fingertips;

The key here is that Miuna is struggling with conflicting emotions that she’s simply not old enough to understand or handle. Miuna’s age manifests in her attempts to reduce the complicated pain in her heart to a simple answer: for Akari to go away or Akari to stay.

Alas the world just isn’t that simple, and this is what transforms Miuna from the bratty kid to one (among many) of the deeply sympathetic characters in Nagi no Asukara.

Many, even most, of the characters have strong developments over these episodes but Miuna is in many ways the most emblematic of the emotional conflicts going on [7].

Unreachable Fingertips

This episode is astonishing and delivers one of the best midseason cliff-hangers I’ve seen in a long time. It is also the episode that finally delivers the sacrifice implied by the end credits, and the full details still aren’t clear.

All the threads come together with a bang, and some surprises, that leave a number of fairly damaged characters to deal with the consequences. Somehow.

I will note that Uroko-sama [8] may not be the complete bastard that he appears [9], but I’m not going to say anything else about the Ofunehiki ceremony.

There’s a key visual for the second half available that suggests all sorts of things, click on the link at your peril.

The Verdict

Nagi no Asukara did risk getting me offside in the first episode or two with Manaka being such a crybaby. That never really changed, but the reasons for Manaka being a crybaby changed dramatically over the course of the first 13 episodes.

Combined with the other developments, and the surprisingly low levels of fanservice [10], Nagi no Asakura kept my attention until it developed into a star pick for Fall 2013.

As noted previously Nagi no Asukara is PA Work at its very pretty best, this is often a beautiful show to look at and will definitely be on a “Blu-Ray Only” list.

This is a series that, so far, improves even further on second viewing and is thoroughly recommended at the halfway point.

[1] Wikipedia renders this episode title as The Fingertips That Can’t Reach, Unreachable Fingertips is the translation shown on the title card on CrunchyRoll.

[2] So long as the ena doesn’t dry out completely. Things can get nasty when that happens.

[3] Although Nagi no Asakura can be fairly subtle sometimes, the uniform colours are not one of those times.

[4] Both have reasons to be bratty. Sayu’s defining characteristic is loyalty to Miuna, and Miuna is still grieving for her mother Miori and resenting Akari’s romance with her father Itaru.

[5] It is hard to see this as anything other than a comment on first world countries abandoning the developing world to the effects of anthropogenic global warming.

[6] This one nearly broke my heart. It was so convincingly done and so right for Miuna at the time. Sayu was doing something similar with Kaname, and for similar reasons.

[7] Although, arguably, by Unreachable Fingertips Chisaki is the character that most needs a hug.

[8] The local “Scale of the Sea God” who is part priest, and part something more.

[9] Uroko-sama is definitely up to something, but I don’t think it is evil or bad in the long term. I just don’t know what it is yet.

[10] Magic Skirts apply, and one comment in series lampshades how the ena prevents wet T-shirt effects by absorbing any available moisture in seconds.