Anime Reviews: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Though it has its problems, Nadia is a loving homage to the works of Jules Verne and to the classic adventure anime the folks at GAINAX grew up with.
Title: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water a.k.a. Fushigi no Umi no Nadia a.k.a. Nadia of the Mysterious Seas
Production: GAINAX / Toho / Group TAC
Series Length: 39 episodes
Air Dates: 4/15/1990 to 3/16/1991
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, partial nudity)
Summary: Jean Roque Raltique is a boy who loves inventing new things, and so he works with his uncle to make cutting-edge machines (well, cutting-edge for late 19th century). In this case, Jean and his uncle are finishing up their flying machine, the first in history, to display at the World's Fair. In the hours before their machine is to be displayed, Jean is distracted by a beautiful girl riding by on a bicycle, and with teenage hormones doing the steering, he decides to follow her. The girl is a runaway circus performer named Nadia, who, along with her silver lion cub, King, is on the run from both her employer and a group of thieves called the Grandis Gang, who seem awfully interested in both Nadia and her mysterious blue pendant...
The Good: Good old-fashioned fun adventure story is an homage to both Jules Verne and classic anime of the 70s and 80s; fun characters; deliciously 90s music
The Bad: Art and animation are wildly inconsistent; the abysmal African Island filler arc
The Ugly: When you violently curse out GAINAX for having some fixation with naked 14-year-old girls as the FBI agents shove you into the back of the van
GAINAX seems to pop up a lot lately. I wonder why. Well, whatever the reason, here we have Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, an anime I barely knew existed until I saw AMV Hell 4 use clips from the show in a parody of Lost and I decided to take a look. Boy, am I glad to see that GAINAX's unusual tradition of objectifying teenage girls is a long-standing one! But, unlike some anime where the fanservice is the only reason it exists (I'm looking at you, Najica Blitz Tactics), Nadia at least has a lot more going for it.
First of all, this is a fun series to watch if you're a fan of Hayao Miyazaki films. While the man wasn't directly involved with the final version of the series, he was the one who pitched the idea back in the 70s when he was starting out (later using some of those ideas in Castle in the Sky). It wasn't until the late 80s that Miyazaki told the folks at GAINAX about this TV series he wanted to make, and offered his notes and ideas to them. With that in mind, if you spot something in the series that seems to mirror either Castle in the Sky or any other Studio Ghibli production, now you know why. Flying machines, goofy evil gangs, and hidden ancient civilizations? No, no, must be coincidence.
Another huge influence you'll notice right away is the works of Jules Verne. Nadia pays homage to many of his stories, but the initial plotline is a dead ringer for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," with the appearance of the Nautilus and the mysterious Captain Nemo. If you love this stuff like I do, then I've already won you over. Nadia is for you. Go watch it.
But for those unfamiliar with the works of Jules Verne (shame on you!), there's another prominent influence that might pique your interest: old-school anime of the 70s and 80s. As I touched upon in my egregiously-long Evangelion review, the folks at GAINAX were huge fanboys and wanted to make their own anime in that style. Explaining some of those influences in detail would involve grievous spoilers, but what I can say is that Nadia follows the old ways of anime, where all you really needed was an adventure story with an evil-as-balls villain who just loves being evil. Is it simplistic? Yeah. Is it fun? You'd better believe it.
The scope of a story, though, can only be as wide as the scope of its characters. And man, do we have a wide array of different characters. Our main crew comprises of Nadia, the mysterious girl of unknown origin who finds the way people treat animals to be disgusting; Jean, the brilliant young inventor who loves reading manuals and books of science, but like many shy teenage boys, can't talk to girls well; King, Nadia's lion cub, who serves as the Team Pet and gets jealous when Nadia pays attention to Jean; and finally Mari, a cheerful and charismatic young girl orphaned by an attack on her city by the series' main villain. And then there's the Grandis Gang, who are essentially the Team Rocket of the show. They are comprised of Sanson, a dashing man who boasts some big muscles and lots of bravado; Hanson, the gang's mechanic and inventor of their Gratan battle tank; and finally Grandis herself, a greedy aristocratic woman who lives for the finer things in life, and wants her hands on Nadia's big, shiny, blue necklace.
I can't get to everyone, but we also have Captain Nemo, as well as the crew of the Nautilus, the nefarious Gargoyle and his evil organization, and the various other characters we meet along the way. I liked most of them, and they have their moments, and nearly all of them contribute something to the story, giving it an epic feel.
One last thing before we delve into the negatives: the music. Finding clips of the soundtrack is fairly difficult, so just take my word for it when I say this: it's the work of Shiro Sagisu, the same guy behind Evangelion and Kare Kano, so you know it's gotta be good, though it more resembles the latter rather than the former. What I can show you, however, are the spectacular opening theme, "Blue Water," and the strangely-nostalgic ending theme, "Yes! I Will!," both performed by Miho Morikawa. I hope she won some sort of award, because these themes are fantastic.
But now, we gotta talk about the bad stuff. First off, the art and animation just can't seem to decide on a single look and feel. Sometimes the artwork is appealing and "normal," while other times, it's very rubbery and bouncy-looking, with proportions going all wrong and faces turning into blotchy messes. And then there's the animation, which is sometimes smooth and GAINAX-y (though more Gurren Lagann and less Evangelion), and then other times, it's jerky and cheap and cartoony, and not even the good kind of cartoony.
Okay, so sometimes the show looks weird, but that's not so bad. At least they don't spend an entire third of the series on pointless, unfunny, low-budget, out-of-character filler episodes, right? Right?! Spoilers: Yes they did. While episodes 30 through 34 have some relation to the main story (and that's being generous), 23 through 29 have no business existing at all. I've already said enough to bring back bad memories, but let's just put it this way: the only highlight of these episodes is that Nadia wears less clothing than usual.
That's right, folks. The only highlight of one-third of the entire series is that its underage female protagonist is consistently more naked than usual. Pay no attention to those police sirens you may be hearing. It's the guy next door they're after.
But hey, with the magic of the internet, you can skip that filler garbage and continue with the story as the studio originally planned! As I've mentioned before, if you're a fan of Jules Verne or anime of the 70s/80s, or if you're a fan of adventure anime, or maybe you're just looking for something similar to the works of Hayao Miyazaki (not necessarily in quality, but in story), then Nadia is the anime for you. As long as you overlook the bumpy animation and the horrific filler episodes, then you'll be in for some good old-fashioned fun.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is the perfect anime for fans who want a more carefree action/adventure story, despite its animation issues and painfully unnecessary filler episodes.