If the success of an anime can be measured by its emotional impact, then the Mari Okada-penned Anohana: The Flower We Say That Day easily ranks among the medium’s best works. Alternating between life-affirming beauty and heart-shattering sorrow, the series tackled a subject that’s not often scrutinized in animation. Across the eleven episode series, we witnessed both the delight of a Game Boy-playing, casual afterschool club as well as the expression of grief as each protagonist deals with the death of a member. For many viewers, just hearing the opening strains of the anime’s ED, ~Kimi ga Kureta Mono~ 10 Years After is capable of opening tear ducts- with the theme evoking the series’ most salient moments.
A Lull in the Sea (Nagi no Asukara) is an adaptation of a manga rather than one of Okada’s original works and the twenty-six episode series doesn’t tug quite as forcefully on the heartstrings, but there’s still a poignancy that elevates the anime. Much like Anohana, gratification with A Lull in the Sea steams from watching the transform of each lead character, as they overcome their weaknesses and journey toward self-actualization. Yet another similarity to The Flower We Say That Day (as well as Okada’s upcoming The Anthem of the Heart) is the use of a time- skipping plot device, giving viewers a long-term perspective that’s ideal for exhibiting the growth of its characters.
We first meet A Lull in the Sea’s four lead protagonists at a point of transition, as a dwindling population has closed the quartet’s subaquatic school, forcing the characters to attend a land-based middle school. While most works would have merely ratcheted up the tensions between the Shioshishio’s sea villagers and the surface inhabitants, the anime is too smart for a simplistic, The Little Mermaid-like dichotomy, with characters and customs expressing difference but a mythology revealing a shared history and hinting at the inevitability of integration.
At first, each character handles the move to the new school differently, with the strong-willed, short-tempered Hikari Sakishima clashing with his new classmates, while his friends, the obedient Kaname Isaki and protective Chisaki Hiradaira do their best to embrace the move. When the perpetually indecisive Manaka Mukaido shows up on the first day wearing the uniform of the new school, Hikari passionately resists the attempt at assimilation, telling the naive character to change her attire. Regretfully, the trip back home lands her in the net of a wayward fishing vessel, where a young land dweller named Tsumugu Kihara comes to her rescue.
Naturally, relationships develop and drift around like sea kelp between the middle-schoolers. While some of the affections might seem like little more than a way to endow the anime with conventional relational “polygons”, these bonds also speak volumes about the social rules and each character’s personality. Gradually, the rationale for cultural customs are articulated, as plot points test tradition- ultimately leading to a mid-series cliffhanger which emerges from a swell of character attitude and action. Most rewarding is when parental prejudices begin to get broken down by the younger generation, providing A Lull in the Sea with a feeling of transformational satisfaction. Don’t be surprised if a viewing makes you long for the abandonment of real-world bigotries, after witnessing the emotional headway made by several characters.
Pleasingly, the gradual rejection of prejudice not the only symbolic theme in A Lull in the Sea. Climate change is another key topic, as an environmental catastrophe threatens the region and upending the fragile social fabric of the show’s cast. Here, calamity is mined for more than dramatic tension, allowing a number of the secondaries to weave their way into the series’ relational tapestry, providing a complexity that elevates the second half of Lull.
Despite all the of the anime’s virtues, there are a few transgressions that might vex viewers. Although the series’ fantastical elements transcend the “slice of life” category, the anime’s pacing recalls the oft-protracted pacing of the genre. This is most apparent during the first half of the series, when a certain deed is executed no less than three times. Likely, the anime’s upbeat conclusion, where a conspicuous lack of consequences and contentment abounds doesn’t quite match the tone of the previous twenty-five episodes. Ideally, there would be a hint of bittersweet in the finale.
Few will find any reason to criticize P.A. Works (Hanasaku Iroha, The Eccentric Family) production. Sumptuously drawn, colored, and framed A Lull in the Sea’s characters and two milieus are consistently stunning. From the snow-like salt and swimming fish that adorn the Shioshishio sea village to the environmental changes to the land, nearly every frame of the anime demonstrations the studio’s infatuation with vivid hues and meticulously drawn replications of nature. Likewise, the anime’s soundtrack is equally as adept, offering every from plaintive piano melodies, stirring guitar-driven number to an exceptionally lush OP.
Although NIS America has routinely pulled out all the stops with their premium editions, A Lull in the Sea represents a new benchmark for the publisher. Removing the shrinkwrap off the cardboard housing reveals a number of exquisite details- like the shimmering, embossed adornments at the top of the box. Peering inside the container, purchasers will find a two-CD soundtrack with sixty tracks, as well as the series spread out across an additional three Blu-ray disks. Rounding out the collection is a seventy-six page hardcover book, which offers design art, episode synopses, and even commentary from Toshiya Shinohara, the anime’s director.
Picture quality is unwaveringly attractive across the set, with no instances of visual impurities across the 615-minute series. Audio is presented in LPCM 2.0 stereo with either the original Japanese voice cast, or a largely competent English dub. Although the series’ $143.99 USD price tag might initially seem exorbitant, purchasers should know that this Premium Edition radiates quality, both in plot, packaging- as well as extras. Fans of poignant, fantastical storylines are urged to dive in at their earliest convenience.