Nadia: Secret of Blue Water Anime Review
Fushigi no Umi no Nadia
Nadia of the Mysterious Sea
US Release By
39 25-minutes episodes
1990-04-15 - 1991-03-16
The year is 1889, the height of the Industrial Age. Young inventor Jean arrives in Paris to participate in the glider competition, full of hope for his new design. There he meets, and falls in love with, a young circus acrobat named Nadia. As he turns on the Old World charm (without much success) a gang of international jewel thieves, Senorita Grandis and her lackeys Sanson and Hanson, strike. Their goal: the mysterious gem that Nadia owns, a jewel with unexplained powers known only as the Blue Water. The chase takes them all over the city, from the Eiffel Tower to the skies of Paris, and beyond. Far, far beyond. As Jean and Nadia take flight from their rapidly multiplying enemies, a global conspiracy unfolds. At its center is the enigmatic organization Neo Atlantis, a militaristic group armed with super advanced technology bent on world domination. Fortunately, Jean and Nadia have a very powerful ally: The Invincible Submarine Nautilus and its mysterious Captain, Nemo.
Gainax and Hideaki Anno. Say those two names to any anime fan and they'll most probably reply: "Oh, the guys behind Evangelion?" But before the megahit Evangelion, they were known for the gem known as "Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water." It was so popular in Japan that its leading character, the eponymous Nadia, unseated Nausicaa (of Nasusicaa of the Valley of Wind fame) as most popular anime character in polls conducted by Animage. No mean feat that. However, this masterpiece went totally under the radar in most western countries, the reason being that its license was picked up by the dying Streamline Pictures. They only managed to release 8 episodes before they went down, tying up the license for many years to come. Fortunately, the license has been picked up again by ADV and Nadia finally has an (official) English language release.
A little preamble first. Nadia claims to be based on Jules Verne's famous book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The term should be "loosely based" or even "very loosely based." Both book and anime are set in the late 19th century, they both have a submarine called Nautilus and a Captain Nemo who is fond of playing depressing baroque pieces on his pipe organ. Oh, and they both mention Atlantis. That's basically it. But they do get the Steampunk atmosphere right. For those not familiar with the term, it's a science fiction genre where technology is a fantastical extension of steam-era technology. Steam-powered mecha if you will.
So what about the anime itself? Well, in my opinion, Nadia is probably one of the greatest adventure animes out there. The productions that it most resembles are Miyazaki's "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" and "Future Boy Conan." Using a baseball analogy, to be even in the same league as those two classics is something, but Nadia not only achieves that, it's also in the same friggin' ballpark. All the elements are there: boy and girl getting chased by all manner of fantastical machinery, facing down an enemy with a vast technological edge with nothing but their wits, and ultimately getting help from a ragtag band of reformed criminals and noble rebels. Doing a little research I wasn't surprised to find out that Nadia was the result of using some "leftover ideas" from the aforementioned animes. Heck, they even credit Miyazaki with the original concept. Now that's quite a pedigree.
Adventure is the name of the game here, and few do it better than Nadia. Our hapless heroes get chased by a wide array of great-looking mechanical wonders, everything from transforming tanks to bomb barraging blimps to sophisticated sea stalking submarines. And that's just at the beginning. When you have that kind of hardware duking it out you know there will be plenty of things going boom in amusing ways, which they do. Nadia is chock-full of great action sequences. If you know anything about Gainax, you know they make sweet action sequences, and they do top-notch mechanical designs. The action is relentless and takes place in all theaters; land, sea, air, and even, eventually, space.
It's not just mindless action, either. Nadia backs up all the eye candy with a solid story full of wonderful characters. Grandis and gang may start off like the clichéd bumbling villains, but they soon show their true colors as entertaining rogues with hearts of gold when they face the real bad guys. There are very few villains in animedom as awe-inspiring as the Neo Atlanteans and their fiendishly evil leader Gargoyle. But the true stars of the show are, of course, Nadia and Jean. The two are almost complete polar opposites. Where Nadia is the cynical, bad-tempered and anti-social loner who has great mistrust towards technology, Jean is the optimistic, cheerful and trusting extrovert genius inventor. The two characters play extremely well off each other and it's a real joy watching them grow as they learn Valuable Lessons in Life™ from each other and come to grips with the awkward blossoming feelings they have for each other. In the process they become more filled-out characters in a very believable way and at a comfortable pace.
While it definitely has plenty of humor (ranging from the usual romantic comedy thing to all-out sight gags), the story does occasionally spend time exploring its more serious side. The major theme is the morality of war and science, and the responsibility attached to technology that can be used to great effect both peacefully and violently. The other theme is existentialist dread (it is Hideaki Anno after all), especially when it comes to Nadia coming out of her sheltered shell into the real world and all the horrors that entails. While Nadia has its share of talking head scenes, monologues and biblical references, they are far from common and never as heavy-handed as its sister production Evangelion.
Nadia and Evangelion also share the same character designer and musical talent. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's designs in Nadia are, however, a lot more colorful and upbeat, as is expected. They are also excellently animated, going through everything from dodging death squads to getting beat up by angry girls in nice crisp detail with very little looping in sight. And watch out for an homage to a very famous space ship captain from Macross/Robotech (where Anno worked as an animator early in his career) and other bits of otaku paraphernalia.
But where Nadia really outshines its better-known sibling is in Shiro Sagisu's music, which is more varied than Evangelion's. While it of course has the requisite sweeping classical themes for those epic moments, it also sports manically upbeat jazzy compositions for the equally manic action sequences and sentimental piano interludes when the characters are feeling especially introspective or romantic. Nadia's soundtrack is definitely one of its greater draws and goes hand-in-hand with the story, helping to set the perfect mood.
However, Nadia is far from perfect. For one thing it's a TV production and shares many of the foibles of the fast-and-dirty production style of TV land. Gainax's tendency to go over budget didn't help either. At one point in the series (about two thirds in) NHK decided that Nadia was so successful that they needed more episodes. So, the overworked Gainax wrote a string of eight or so filler episodes that are largely done for comic relief, and outsourced the animation work. The result is a break in the rhythm of the series, with mediocre animation to boot. One moment our heroes are escaping from death by massive explosions, and the next they are handling the terrors of hallucinogenic mushrooms and jealous lion cubs. It even has one of those dreaded "recap episodes" which mostly consists of the characters having flashbacks to earlier episodes, a little trick to produce a practically free episode by recycling old animation. All is not lost however; while the action is suspended and replaced by visual gags, Gainax does take the opportunity to let the characters grow further, especially Nadia and Jean, without the burden of saving the world on their heads. And for those missing the action, fear not. Once the filler is over, it's back to action-adventure land for a very explosive and memorable epilogue that lasts several episodes.
Nadia might not be as well known as Gainax's other works, but it definitely deserves to be. ADV did a good job bringing Nadia to DVD land, though it would've been complete if they had included the Omake episodes that are, so far, only available on the Japanese Laser Discs (remember those things?). So, if you're looking for a good action/adventure romp with a good dose of humor and romance that pushes all the right buttons, then you can't go wrong by picking up "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water." Think of it as the Big One that Got Away.
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Notes and Trivia
There is a sequel, the movie Nadia of the Mysterious Seas; it was badly received and made without participation of the original crew. It is also available from ADV.
US DVD Review
ADV's bilingual DVD release is solid if not particularly flashy; it includes a clean video transfer that looks about as good as could be expected given the older source material, audio in both Japanese and English, and soft subtitles. There isn't much in the way of special features, but the only production value complaint is that the opening and endings have had the original text replaced with English, and during the process of doing so the color seems to have shifted noticeably, making the intro look a little pale. Originally available on ten 4-episode discs (plus an eleventh with the movie), this was re-released later compiled into two much more reasonably-priced box sets.
Some violence and nudity; 16-up.
Violence: 2 - Plenty of people get killed on screen and off, but without much gore.
Nudity: 3 - Apart from the skimpy outfits and panty flashes, there are plenty of nude scenes for all the leading ladies. Hey, it's Gainax.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Kissing-level romance between the two leads.
Language: 1 - Nothing that stands out.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Nadia: Yoshino Takamori
Jean: Noriko Hidaka
Marie: Yûko Mizutani
Hanson/King: Toshiharu Sakurai
Captain Nemo: Akio Ohtsuka
Electra: Kikuko Inoue
Grandis: Kumiko Takizawa
Sanson: Kenyuu Horiuchi
Gargoyle: Motomu Kiyokawa
Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi (eps 23-39)
Scenario: Kaoru Umeno
Storyboard: Masa Yuki, Takeshi Mori, Yuuji Kawara
Music: Shiro Sagisu
Original Concept: Hayao Miyazaki
Character Design: Shunji Suzuki, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Art director: Masanori Kikuchi
Animation director: Masahiko Ohta, Nobuaki Nagano, Shunji Suzuki, Tadashi Hiramatsu
Mecha design: Hideaki Anno, Shoichi Masuo
Available in North America from ADV on two bilingual box sets; I'm not sure if these are still in print from Section23 or if there's just stock still available, but they're easy to find. The same content was previously available from ADV on 10 individual DVD volumes. Prior to that part of the series was available on dubbed VHS from Streamline.