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.