In 1889, the world is on the pinnacle of great discoveries in technology. In mankind's grasp for the future, a sinister foe known only as Gargoyle, obsessed with restoring the former Atlantean empire to the glory it once held, begins his plans to take over the world. Nadia, with the help of a young inventor, Jean Roque Lartigue, and Captain Nemo of the submarine Nautilus, must fight to save the world from Gargoyle and Neo-Atlantis. Based on the Novel '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' by Jules Verne.
Story: Nadia, the Secret of Blue Water is supposedly based on the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The truth of the matter is, the plot elements shared by the two can pretty much be counted on one hand. The two stories are practically unconnected. But that's alright. The plot crafted for Nadia "based on" Jules Verne's is actually quite good by its own right. It offers both awesomely epic action and touching emotionality and handles both wonderfully. There are a few nicely executed twists thrown in as well.
Of course, no review of Nadia can get around a certain arc in the middle. Episodes 23-34
are directed by a replacement director. The twelve "filler" episodes, in my opinion, aren't horrible, but they ARE horribly mediocre in comparison to the rest. For those twelve episodes (episodes 30 and 31 excepted), the plot comes to a stand still. Life on a deserted island simply doesn't compare to the excitement of the main plot. However, that's not actually the worst part of it. I wouldn't have minded so much if it hadn't also distorted the characterization to a nigh-insulting level. More on that later.
So would you be better off skipping the island and Africa arcs? While they have their moments, in my opinion, the answer is yes. The experience would probably be enhanced if you left them out. The director felt only episodes worth keeping from those twelve were 30 and 31 and I'm inclined to agree. Those two are good and should be watched. You won't lose anything by watching the rest unless you're remarkably touchy, but you won't really gain anything either.
Art: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's character designs are as nice as ever, and the animation is generally good. Emotions are portrayed nicely and the complicated technological wonders and battles are quite nuanced and pretty. However, the series IS 20 years old and looking its age.
As for the supposed iffishness in part of the animation during the filler arc, I can't say I noticed it. It did, however, suddenly become somewhat more cartoonish than previously (like a character running off a cliff and only falling when he noticed it...) It wasn't very fitting, in my opinion.
Sound: The sound of Nadia is good but not notable. I watched the subbed version and the voices were fine. They suited their characters and the performances were good, as far as I can tell. Nothing much to say on this. In any case, the soundtrack was composed by Shirou Sagisu, so you know its good. The action-comedy parts and the epic struggle for the fate of the world are both handled nicely, but Sagisu's tracks for the bittersweet scenes really shine. I can safely say the score greatly enhances the emotions of the last episodes, especially the ending.
Character: Nadia's characters are, in a word, great. The leads and supporting cast are all very well developed, but even the minor bit parts aren't left as two-dimensional ciphers. The relationships between them are very carefully crafted and actually change believably over time and with new revelations. I personally rooted for Nadia and Jean's romance.
Especially noteworthy is Gargoyle, who is, in truth, a world-class villain and one of the best I've seen in anime. He appears in only about a third of the episodes, but comes off as a true menace who you really learn to hate by the end.
The worst offense of the filler arc is probably the messing with characterization. Nadia herself is by far the worst victim of this. While she has a canonically difficult personality, the the filler arc upgrades this to "annoying bitch". Every flash of likability is negated by another act of irritating stupidity. Especially retarded is her falling in love with some random African kid - a huge slap in the face of the love story that forms the core of the whole series. Thankfully, this and most everything else that happens in the island and Africa arcs is pretty much ignored later on.
Enjoyment: While one can certainly like Nadia solely for its artistic competence, it's also damn good fun. It's been a while since I watched a series as engrossing as Nadia. It's humorous moments are amusing and its sad moments are ridiculously touching. I've rarely come as close to crying while watching an anime as during the ending of Nadia. The characters are likable and easy to get into. The series doesn't take itself seriously all the time, but when it does, so do you.
Overall: Nadia, the Secret of Blue Water isn't nearly as well-regarded as it should be. I saw a bit of it as a child on television, and expected to at least nostalgically like it when I rewatched it. Instead, the series forced its way into my Top 10 list. It's an undervalued classic that most people have not heard of and possibly never will because of its age. Do yourself a favor and watch it. And you wouldn't be doing yourself a disservice if you only watched episodes 1-22, 30, 31, 35-39.
In the mid 1970's, prior to obtaining his well-deserved status as Japan's greatest animator ever, a young Hayao Miyazaki was hired by Japanese movie giant Toho to develop ideas for TV series. One of these concepts was "Around the World Under the Sea", based on Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," in which two orphan children pursued by villains team up with Captain Nemo and his mighty submarine, the Nautilus. Although it was never produced, Toho nonetheless kept the rights to the story outline. Miyazaki would reuse elements from his original concept in later projects of his, most notably the terrific action-adventure Castle in
the Sky. Ten years later, in the mid-1980's, animation studio Gainax was commissioned to produce an original Anime series to be broadcast on television network NHK. Under the direction of a brilliant but angst-ridden artist known as Hideaki Anno, the studio selected Miyazaki's concept, and crafted an engaging story set in a steampunk 1889 France, with interesting characters, amazing animation (for its time), and a mixture of comedy, romance, mystery, and drama. The result was Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, which has since become a worldwide fan favorite.
The story begins at a Paris World Exposition Fair where Jean, a nerdy but charming and instantly lovable inventor boy of fourteen, becomes smitten with a pretty, dark-skinned girl his own age. The girl, known as Nadia, is an unhappy circus acrobat with no clue about her past other than a jeweled necklace she wears. After rescuing her from a trio of comic bandits (the Grandis Gang) Jean earns Nadia's trust. The two set off on an even bigger adventure to find Nadia's birthplace, which supposedly lies in Africa. Along the way, they have run-ins with a supercharged submarine commanded by the mysterious Captain Nemo and his pretty but overprotective first officer Electra as well as a shadowy cult of Nazi-like masked soldiers known as Neo-Atlanteans led by the misanthropic, sinister Gargoyle, who wants Nadia's pendant at any cost. In the course of their around-the-world adventure, Jean and Nadia adopt an orphaned little girl, Marie, who senses that her new guardians will become more than just close friends. Although Nadia's explosive temper poses problems, Jean's patience and loyalty keeps their relationship afloat, and her growing love for the boy gradually transforms her as a person.
Nadia has all the makings of a classic series: a well-rounded cast of characters, unforgettable sequences, and a long, involving action adventure. There is a distinctive "Miyazaki-esque" style to the visual designs of the leads, yet only Jean seems to emerge as a Miyazaki creation. Which is arguably what makes him the most lovable character in the whole show. It's easy to see why Nadia finds herself falling for him--who wouldn't want to be with a boy as intelligent, genuinely compassionate, and impossibly generous as Jean? While he does display clumsiness in terms of social graces around the opposite sex, it only makes him all the more appealing as a character. Nadia herself, by contrast, is not always lovable. In addition to having serious anger management issues, she also has unbending and irrational principles about killing, eating meat, or trusting grown-ups. She does, however, display courage and, as mentioned, finds herself growing to care for Jean. Actually, Anno has said that he created Jean and Nadia based on his "light" and "dark" sides. Shiro Sagisu's music is sometimes bland, although some of the later tracks, notably the Neo-Atlantis themes, are memorable. The opening and ending theme songs as sung by Miho Morikawa are also enjoyable.
For all its assets, however, Nadia suffers from one fatal flaw that prevents it from being the classic it aims to be--it doesn't always stay afloat throughout its 39-episode count. The first twenty-two episodes are old-fashioned adventure at its best, with humor, young love, traumatic situations which involve death, and compelling, engrossing mysteries as we learn about Nadia, the Nautilus, and the Atlanteans. The production values in these episodes show their age at times, but frankly, they still exude detail and clarity for an early '90s series. In episodes 23-34, however, it devolves into a painfully dull, unengaging, haphazard, incoherent Saturday morning cartoon, with warped characterizations, and even worse scenarios totally devoid of imagination or credibility. Simultaneously, the animation takes a hit in these dozen episodes, with some episodes looking downright sloppy or dreadfully cartoonish. (In all fairness, these dreadful half-hours weren't supposed to have existed; distributor NHK requested that they be made after the show became a smash hit in Japan.) In the final five episodes Nadia does recover in terms of artistry and storytelling, delivering a satisfying finale, but it's hard to compensate for the damage that has been done. Simply put, the show would have been far better if it were eleven episodes shorter.
For their part, however, ADV Films deserves a shout-out for their work on bringing this series to American audiences. The visual and aural transfers are competently done, but it's their translation that really shines. The English dub, provided by Austin-based Monster Island studios, is notable for casting three actual children in the roles of Jean, Nadia, and Marie--Nathan Parsons (12), Meg Bauman (14), and Margaret Cassidy (11), respectively. For inexperienced youngsters, all three do exceptional jobs, and are amply supported by a similarly entertaining cast of adults, particularly Sarah Richardson, Corey Gagne, Martin Blacker (as the Grandis Gang) as well as Jennifer Stuart (Electra). Ev Lunning Jr. (Nemo) and David Jones (Gargoyle)'s performances do take a bit longer to find their groove, but when they do, they really shine. This dub has taken a lot of undeserved flak from critics who have made the mistake of writing it off on account of the sometimes uneven accents (Jean's admittingly shaky French dialect in particular takes some getting used to; although Parsons does improve on it as the show goes on). Despite that and the occasional trepidatious moment in the opening episodes, the end result is still a spirited, energetic, emotionally charged dub that really brings its characters to life. It is most certainly a very commendable effort that deserved better recognition than what it was accorded for back in 2001 and even today.
The ADV dub is not the only English track of Nadia to exist. In the 1990's Streamline Pictures attempted a release of the show. Interestingly, the head of Streamline, Carl Macek, did express interest in paring down the much maligned filler arc. As his version only got about as far as eight episodes, we probably never may know how it would have turned out. Having said that, though, I don't think the Streamline dub compares favorably to the ADV version. Wendee Lee and Ardwright Chamberlain are both very credible actors, but both are miscast as Nadia and Jean and unfortunately underwhelm. Jeff Winkless is a bit less stiff than Ev as Nemo, but even then his turn isn't anything amazing. I did like Edie Mirman as Electra (she ties with Stuart) and the Grandis gang doesn't sound too bad, but on the whole I prefer the ADV dub. It strikes me as the better of the two by far.
Out of curiosity, I did sample a few episodes of the Japanese version. Although some voices are solid (Nemo, Gargoyle, and Sanson), I felt rather indifferent about the others. Marie's voice is the weakest of the bunch; no offense to the late Yuko Mizutani, but I feel Margaret Cassidy does a far better job of bringing out this little girl's innocence as opposed to Yuko's high-pitched shrieking. Likewise, despite Yoshino Takamori and Noriko Hidaka's solid turns as Jean and Nadia I found myself preferring Bauman and Parsons, if mainly because both characters are supposed to be children. It just feels more natural to hear them voiced by actors of the appropriate age. Despite insistence from some long-in-the-tooth fans that this show should only be appreciated in its native language track, I don't consider either version better or worse, only different. Whichever one you prefer is a matter of personal preference.
Is Nadia a complete waste of time? Not at all; as mentioned, the characters are fully-realized, and for twenty-two episodes and the final five, the show does indeed deliver an entertaining, consistently engaging adventure story with just the right amount of heart, humor, and drama. It's just too bad that it goes downhill in the second half (despite delivering a phenomenal conclusion). Otherwise, this series would truly be worthy of the praise it receives as one of the greats. The best way to appreciate Nadia is to view episodes 1-22, then 31 (the only "filler" episode to have any genuine plot development), and finally 35-39. It will provide for a much more pleasing experience.
Nadia is a strange and interesting series to talk about. From its reception, you’d find a show that can go from fun to nauseating and amazing to terrible at the drop of a hat after a magnificent early run. From the title and the premise, this show sounds like a wonderfully charming time. It creates this sense of trepidation as to whether you should watch the show, as while there is a lot of joy to be had, some may deem the lengthy yet temporary drop in quality not worth sitting through even for the ⅔ of the show that is worth cherishing.
Allow me to
state that for all intents and purposes, now only is this show worth watching, but that a majority of it is some of the most charming and pleasant anime out there. Beyond the main antagonists and Nadia herself, every major character has a distinct level of whimsy and chemistry that make you want nothing more than to join them on their exploits. Absolute standouts include Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson, who apart from wonderful child character Marie, have the loudest and most animated personalities of the entire cast. Even the Nautilus crew manages to be wonderful despite the majority of them being tertiary characters. Along with the pluckiness of Jean, it becomes a glorious treat seeing their frantic exploits, and a blow to the heart to see them in tragedy.
This is another of Nadia’s defining strengths, and indeed something that Gainax is known for: its ability to elegantly tiptoe between charming fun and soul-crushing despair. The directing tends to compliment the scenes of sorrow magnificently, courtesy of the legendary Hideaki Anno and even the not-so-legendary Shinji Higuchi when the time calls for it every now and then in Anno’s absence later on. The visuals on display are generally wonderful, with fantastic character designs from Grandis, to Gargoyle, to the iconic design of Nadia and all her wonderful clothes. Each design adds a distinct personality to these characters no matter what they wear, which is yet another of this studio’s most notable strengths. The animation is so vibrant, kinetic, and fluid that chase sequences and all other major action sequences are a sight for sore eyes.
All of this is accompanied perfectly by the wonderful score composed by legendary Evangelion and Bleach composer Shiro Sagisu. Apart from the wonderful opening and ending themes, Sagisu composed a fantastic repertoire for this show. It goes from the heartwarming Ashita e, Hope, and Love of Tomorrow, to the gloriously imposing tracks of Neo Atlantis and Gargoyle, the melancholic tunes of Tragedy and Requiem, and the bombastic fun of The Evil Trio and All Purpose Submarine. While not all of these songs are extremely memorable, and even some of the ones listed here aren’t as fantastic as others, the OST is still a real treat forged by a master of his craft.
It all blends to create a work that feels as natural and whimsical as anime can be. All of this truly sounds like a wonderful time that no one should pass up, and it is...until the dreaded island arc assaults you like Gargoyle’s ships do to the Nautilus. For whatever production-issue related reason this arc had to go the way it did, there’s no getting around it: this arc sucks! A whopping 12 episodes that have humor that doesn’t fit with the show, several moments where characters are derailed or contradictory for either cheap gags and convenience like Marie in episode 25, King in episode 26, and Nadia in several portions of this arc. Other time, it’s done because the director and screenwriter of this portion of the show seemingly have no idea what to do with them like with Hanson and Sanson. The visuals take a hit as well, with episodes that have the character models seeming off at all times, several moments where there’s a looping image for at least half a minute, and several clip shows. To be fair, the earlier half had some problems with looping footage as well, and two problems that permeate the entire show are hoe the blatant and sometimes incomplete the looping footage is, and how the visuals sometimes get jittery. The island arc sadly does this issue even worse, and had far fewer scenes if interesting direction than what came before or after said portion of the show. It has a hard time finding that delicate tone balance that Gainax is known for as well, and it goes on for far longer than it has any right to. Lastly, while Nadia was certainly a tough character to put up with, her flippant hot and cold personality and more abrasive attitudes towards her peers about anything -especially the killing and consumption of animals- at least made consistent sense. While this arc does flesh out how she got this mindset, it also has her contradict herself constantly for no good reason other than a sheer mishandling of a tricky character that happens to be the focal point of this entire show. It's a truly loathesome experience fromm beginning to end. There’s more I want to say about this arc but I’ll save that it another time.
It’s not like the show picks up that much past this point. The final episodes are an absolute mess with glaring holes and moments of characters missing easy opportunities and making obviously wrong decisions, sloppy writing that feels like it assumes that the island arc answered important questions and connected pieces of its narrative to this final stretch better than it actually did. Even the power of willpower is used here, and it’s as cheesy as you’d expect. Character inconsistency also finds itself present within this stretch as well, and as intimidating as the villains are, even this portion of the show fails to make them anything but one-note pretentious “humans are our troubled servants so we must rule over them with an iron fist” characters and puppets. Characters such as Jean find themselves absolutely useless as well, and the final moments of this show are astronomically ridiculous for a variety of damning spoiler-related reasons that range from narratively nonsensical to character-shattering.
It’s honestly sad what happened here. Several of the early episodes were wonderful in nearly every way, and even the final episodes managed to instill a sense of scale and raw fun. The vibrant and epically fluid animation led to some brilliant sequences that make this show feel like it would be an absolute classic. It’s just that the show truly started fumbling in terms of its narrative halfway through and then dropped nearly every ball for roughly a third of its run before just becoming a fun yet total mess towards the end. With a bit of retooling and tons of cutting, the dreaded island arc could still be as wonderful as what came before it, and with that same level of retooling, the final episodes could have avoided being as messy as they ended up being while giving more characters a purpose. Regardless, despite how tumultuous the voyage ended up being, it’s still one I’d thoroughly recommend, if only with a few caveats.
Jean Raltique is a 14 year old, wide eyed inventor living in 1890’s France. He and his uncle are participating in the Birdman Rally, an event that wouldn’t actually be established until 1970’s England, but we’ll be gracious and ignore that fact. He falls in love at first sight with an exotic looking circus performer named Nadia, who wants to return to the place of her birth, which... Due to her dark skin... she believes to be Africa. They’re attacked by a trio of jewel thieves, and are chased all the way back to Jean’s house, where he smoothly offers to
fly her all the way to her home. Another encounter with their aggravators leaves them stranded out at sea in a floating plane wreck, until they(and their pursuers) are picked up by a futuristic submarine named The Nautilus. Grand adventure and intriguing mystery await the five of them as they begin their journey to find Nadia’s birthplace and unlock the secrets of the strange blue jewel that she possesses, in a story that was inspired by two of Jules Vernes’ most famous works, and the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki himself!
Well, I say that, but this series wasn’t actually made by Miyazaki... It was his idea, but after some initial financial controversy, the project was picked up by Studio Gainax, a rising animation studio who recently changed their name from Daikon in order to pursue more high profile titles. After already having a successful movie and OVA series under their belt, Gainax decided to take Nadia as their first televised series, and it was highly successful... to a fault, even, but we’ll get to that later.
Right from the first few minutes of episode 1, Nadia shows you exactly what it’s animation style is going to be. We’re shown a few frozen panning shots of people enjoying themselves at a science fair, immediately followed up by the impressive CG effect of an electricity machine. This is indicative of a well allocated budget, where the bulk of the production money will be spent giving motion to scenes that need it the most, while leaving other shots... Not all of which will be as unimportant as these opening ones... High and dry. Thankfully, the budget is managed well enough that those opening shots are the exception rather than the rule, and for the most part, this show does look very good.
While it may look cheap and dated, in terms of it’s visual style, keep in mind that Nadia came out back in 1991, when an anime couldn’t look expensive without actually being expensive, due to the limits of the technology of the time... High frame rate, Miyazaki quality productions were a rare treat, and the lesser spectacles were given a lot more leeway than they are today. Having said that, as cheap as Nadia can occasionally look, there are a ton of moments in the series that look like they could have come straight out of Ghibli itself... The visual of Nadia daringly leaping down from the Eiffel Tower to protect her sacred jewel is only a small taste of this, and it will in no way be the last.
While most of the character designs may seem generic at first, they grow on you more and more as the characters in question develop throughout the story, and their backstories begin to become unraveled. There are only two designs that really stand out right from the start... One of them is Gargoyle and his sinister cult of Neo Atlanteans, the true villains of the series whose actions are unfortunately wrapped in spoilers too heavy to discuss. The second one is Nadia’s, as she’s wearing what has to be one of the most iconic outfits in Studio Gainax’s long history. It works very will with the backstory of her being an acrobat and a utility performer at a circus, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, the reason this design has endured for over twenty years in peoples’ memories is because of how revealing it is. I’m not going to say this is necessarily a bad thing, as I know that women should wear whatever they want to without feeling ashamed, but it does feel kind of strange when you consider that Nadia was wearing a normal looking european dress when we were first introduced to her, implying that that’s how she likes to dress when she’s off the clock... But for the rest of the series, she seems to prefer skin baring clothing so much that she’ll tear entire pieces off of any other outfit that’s handed to her. Again, this wouldn’t bother me if it felt like her decision, and not just that of a horny animator.
But that’s not the only thing about her that’s made her such a fixture of Gainax’s history... She’s also, in general, a very likeable and dynamic character. She’s cautious around new people... Who wouldn’t be, after working in the circus for so long... But she’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt after she becomes more comfortable with them. Her convictions and principals are also a very strong part of her character. She’s a pacifist, who’s adamantly against the idea of people killing each other for any reason, and while this belief isn’t portrayed as strongly as it was in Trigun and Fullmetal Alchemist, she also takes it a step further by being a strict vegetarian... Yes, she believes that animals and people should both be spared from the wrath of greedy humans, and she’s not afraid to act on those beliefs, even when it may cost her the good graces of her peers. She can be difficult because of this, but she never seems to cross into the territory of becoming unreasonable, at least not until... We’ll get to that later.
Oh, and her baby albino lion has giant balls. Because... Yeah, courage, and stuff. He's awesome.
Jean isn’t really as complex as his nimble crush, but that’s not to say he’s some bland self-insert character, either... The darker tones of the series take their toll on his happy-go-lucky outlook, maturing him just like the rest of the cast. He also has a very distinct personality, even if other personalities sometimes overshadow his in the story. He’s very open about his feelings for Nadia, that visibly develop from infatuation to actual interpersonal romantic interest throughout the course of the series. He’s very passionate about technology, and not just about his own inventions, but about the technology of the anachronistic Nautilus submarine, as well. He’s fascinated by Nadia and the Nautilus, and will take any given opportunity to learn as much as possible about both, as they respectively become the inspiration and the basis for his future inventions, since only a flying machine can take Nadia to the faraway land she yearns for. But just because he’s an inventor doesn’t mean he can just whip up deus ex machina devices whenever he needs them... Unlike that Mary-Sue technology-bender from Big Hero Six, Jean’s inventions are consistent with his familiarity of technology and the materials available at the time, at least until... Once again, we’ll get to that later.
Surprisingly, those two aren’t always the most likeable characters in the cast(YES I KNOW I’M GETTING TO THAT). I mentioned before that the three villains who attacked Nadia for her jewel go through a heavy amount of development and reveals, and I wasn’t kidding about that... They have a backstory that will redeem their actions almost immediately after you hear it. The motivation that led them to the Nautilus changes soon after they take up residence in it, which is a refreshing development compared to the Team Rocket baddies that they almost certainly inspired. They become more and more relatable as time goes on, and there are points when their roles in the story become even more interesting than that of our two main heroes... In fact, after one of them pulls off the daring rescue of a young orphan girl named Marie from a Giant Enemy Crab, I could see him instantly becoming a fan favorite.
And the English dub, well... It’s not the worst I’ve ever heard, by far, but it’s also not really up to par with the time period in which it was released. It was initially dubbed by Streamline Pictures, and if you’re familiar with their work on films like Vampire Hunter D and Wicked city, then you’d probably guess that Nadia is one of their better dubs... But you'd be wrong, and being worse than those two titles is saying a lot. The dub was picked up by ADV films after Streamline put out the first eight episodes, and ADV completely redubbed them, producing much better results... Mediocre results, yes, but they’re still much better than the awful Streamline dub. While the ADV version isn’t bad by any means, the only actor that really merits any praise is Meg Bauman in the role of Nadia, who puts forth a much more sincere performance than voice acting heavyweight Wendee Lee. Actually, that seems to be a common theme of this dub... A cast full of unknowns who would mostly go on to have very brief careers in the industry did a much better job than a dub full of respected talents and recognized mainstays.
It is worth mentioning, though, that Nathan Parsons has gone on to have a moderately successful live action career. Most recently, he played the role of James in True Blood, which I guess is an interesting bit of trivia.
Aside from her, this is a dub that has to grow on you in order to be enjoyed... There are several characters sporting foreign accents that are fake-sounding, inconsistent and half-committal, with the worst offender being Nathan Parsons in the lead role of Jean. His attempt at a french accent replaces all of the ‘th’ sounds with ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds, but aside from that, he barely inflects when he should. Sanson’s upper-crust accent sounds irritatingly like James from Pokemon(Which makes sense because Grandis sounds like Jessie and Hanson sounds like Meowth, and I don’t think any of this was accidental), and in the role of Elektra, Jennifer Stuart focuses so hard on perfecting her British accent that she barely emotes in the process. As I said before, it’s not a bad dub, and all the performances do grow on you after a while, but unless you’re a hard core dub fan like I am, there’s really no reason to switch the Japanese version off.
So, when I started watching this series, I didn't know whether or not I’d be able to review it, and I had Mahoromatic on standby just in case. The problem was, of course, that there wasn’t really anything to talk about. It just felt like a really, really well made action adventure/title. It wasn’t terribly deep, but it was well written, wonderfully paced, and it was able to handle a large, diverse cast while showing respect to all of their differences in background. There were clashes between the beliefs and ideals of our main characters, especially where Nadia was involved, and there was an admirable level of ambiguity in regards to who was right and who was wrong. All in all, I didn’t really have anything interesting to say about it, and I was fully ready to review something else... Until IT happened. It, which I’ve been putting off until this point in the review. It, which if you’ve seen the series, you know exactly what It is.
See, as the series was airing, it was earning very high ratings... And deservedly so, all things considered. Because of this, the network got greedy and hired an entirely new director to extend Nadia’s 26 episode run into a 39 episode run, adding in 12 episodes of filler material just to pad their precious success’s run time. If you ask any Nadia fans to talk about the series, this story arc will inevitably be one of the first things they bring up, as it’s believed to be the single worst thing about the series. And having seen it for myself, I can say that this assessment is... Completely accurate.
After some spoiler events occur, Nadia, Jean, Marie and Nadia’s lion cub King wind up stranded on a mysterious island, with no clue where they are, and no hope of summoning any of the ships that they keep seeing out in the distance. And I’ll say right off the bat that this idea, in and of itself, wasn’t a bad one. There are a ton of ways this development could have been a great opportunity to further the depth of the series... But it wasn’t that at all. It’s boring, it drags the pace of the series down to a dead crawl, and it does everything in it’s power to rape, dismember and display the remains of everything that was good about the show up until that point. The animation quality also tanks, looking uglier and cheaper than it ever did before. No joke... This show has worse filler material than Naruto and Bleach combined.
To be fair, I’m not actually bothered by the fact that this filler arc screws up the original material. Representing somebody elses work can be an extremely tough thing to do, and I don’t think anybody should ever be vilified for failing to do so. What bothers me is the outright contempt that the new director, Shinji Higuchi, had for the original material. You see warning signs right from his first episode, which I believe was 23, when the four children of the series are riding a jettisoned mini-sub to reach the mysterious island. The sub starts to flood, and Jean drinks all the leaking water, blowing up balloon-like as though he were a freaking Looney Toon, despite the entire series up until that point featuring no such cartoon physics whatsoever. He then spews the water back up, which in retrospect is pretty good metaphor for the way Higuchi barfed up the rest of Blue Water.
Higuchi proclaims early on, loudly and proudly, that he has no respect for the themes and characters that have been unfortunately entrusted to him. It also becomes clear all too quickly through his treatment of Nadia that he doesn’t possess a very high level of respect or understanding for women or vegetarians, either. Immediately after setting foot on land, Nadia turns her back on the very idea that her companions may have to eat meat to survive for an extended period of time, as the canned food they brought over with the mini-sub won’t last them very long. Instead of working this out with him rationally, she dashes off into the jungle like a monkey and goes feral, which ultimately culminates with her stealing his food cans and crushing them under rocks, despite the fact that the island is clearly shown to be covered with fruit bearing trees. I’m not a vegetarian myself... Far from it, as the partial pizza I just deposited in my fridge will tell you... But when I hear Nadia saying things like “I’ll go a week without food and water to prove that I’m a better survivor than you!” it even offends ME.
That’s not to say Jean is a whole lot better, though... With Nadia reaching levels of likeability that make Asuka Langly Soryu look like Belldandy, Jean is left to fill out the role of ‘smug white male,’ a role that would be more subtly played by Seth McFarlane. It’s Jean’s job in this story arc to be right about everything, sigh and shake his head whenever that angry woman-thing yells at him for no reason, and whip up inventions from the giant piles of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that the island has to offer him in terms of material.
And the relationship building that happens between the two is the absolute worst of it. I don’t consider this much of a spoiler, because it has nothing to do with the plot or ending, so I’m going to describe the moments that begin their relationship in detail... This is going to be a rough patch, so brace yourself.
Nadia finds an old, moldy can of spinach. She eats it... Because it looks so much more appealing than any of the plants on the island... And it gives her a fever. Not a stomach-ache, but a fever. She winds up sick in bed with Jean going out to fetch herbal medicine for her... for the second time in the series, I might add. But he winds up finding a patch of drug mushrooms, which knock him out, so Marie has to drag him back to the tent. Later, Nadia wakes up, completely fine, despite receiving no medical care of any kind, and is told by Marie that Jean tried to help her. She kisses his unconscious lips, and all of a sudden, her attitude completely changes towards him... All because he tried to nurse her back to health. Like a fucking pet.
Oh, and later, after they finally share a consensual kiss under the stars, she blows up at him for not remembering the kiss she gave him WHILE HE WAS UNCONSCIOUS.
In other words, this director has boiled women down to petulant pet dogs... They bark at you for everything, can’t understand or care about your feelings, and they’ll love you forever if you help them while they’re sick or otherwise vulnerable. Puke. Well, at least the relationship development doesn’t wind up mattering, because after they escape the island on a popped balloon that never runs out of air and wind up in Africa, she falls head over heels in love with some sexy African guy, which gives her a new reason to hate Jean. Like a dog finding a new crotch to smell. Oh, and then there's an episode of music videos.
I wish I could just look past this story arc and consider it non-canon, like so many other people do, but I just can’t. The show does eventually get better, with the animation and writing returning to their former glory around episode 35, but that 12 episode stretch is just unbelievably awful. I’ve heard people say you should skip most of those episodes, taking the entire viewing experience down to episodes 1-22, 30-31, and 35-39, and while that would successfully cut out all the awful, it doesn’t really improve the experience, it just makes it confusing. If you follow this list while watching the series for the first time, you’ll wonder about the things happening in those episodes, like ‘when did this character come back,’ ‘how did these characters come to this point,’ and ‘was that material really as bad as I was told?" Sorry, but those episodes aren’t self contained, and the only way to know how much of an improvement the abridging of the series would be, you’d have to have watched it all the way through at least once... And by that time, the damage is already done, to both the viewer and the series.
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water has been available on VHS in the past, but is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sentai filmworks. Both sets are available online for quite a bit of money, but at the time of this writing, you can find them as part of the Rightstuf.com holiday sale for 30-40 dollars a piece. The collection 1 and 2 DVD sets that were put out a few years ago are available for fairly cheap on Ebay, and you could say the same about the individually released DVDs that ADV put out in the early 2000s. There’s also a series of video games that have never been released stateside, and a movie that I haven’t actually watched yet... Although I’ve heard some not-too-flattering things about it. At least I know that it’s a sequel, and not just one of those BS cash grab retellings.
I really wanted to give Nadia a high score. I really, truly did. If it wasn’t for that filler arc, I’d be calling it one of my favorites of all time with no problem at all. Without them, Nadia is an exciting adventure title that never slows down or panders to the viewer, offering romance, wonder, and new surprises at every turn. There’s some sexism at play, but it’s largely innocent, and hits both genders about equally, never turning into straight up misogyny until the dreaded filler arc. If my initial introduction to this series had been to the episode list that many fans... And even the original director himself... considers superior, I may have given this show a 7, but that sadly wasn’t the case. I can watch it without those episodes, but I can’t review it without those episodes, which is why I’m going to give Nadia: Secret of Blue Water a 5/10.
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