Director: Toshiya Shinohara
Writer: Mari Okada
Composer: Yoshiaki Dewa
Starring: Max Mittelman, Michelle Ruff, Brianna Knickerbocker, Bryce Papenbrook, Chris Hackney, Xanthe Huynh, Sarah Anne Williams
Distributor: NIS America
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
A Lull in the Sea (Japanese: Nagi no Asukara) is a 2013 original anime series produced by P.A. Works. Since its inception, the series has spawned both a manga adaptation and a 4-koma adaptation.
The series was released in America on June 30, 2015 by NIS America in both premium Blu-ray and standard DVD editions. The premium edition features a premium box with a two-disc soundtrack and a hardcover artbook, which contains character info, episode guides, text commentary, prop designs, and full-color background art and art settings. This is also one of the few NIS America anime to receive an English dub, which is what this review will cover.
Long ago, all of humanity lived in the sea until some humans, desiring to live on the land, abandoned their watery home (and the gift of Ena, which allowed them to breathe and survive underwater in the first place), creating a divide between the surface dwellers and the ocean dwellers, while also angering the sea god. It is in this reality that our story takes place, where sea dwellers (and childhood friends) Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname are forced to attend middle school on the surface after their school in the sea closes down. Eventually, they befriend a classmate by the name of Tsumugu.
The story takes place in two arcs. The first finds the main characters being confronted by a world of new emotions and an expanding worldview, as they deal with long-held prejudices from both land and sea while trying their hardest to get everyone to work together for the Ofunehiki–a festival meant to appease the sea god. The second arc takes place five years later, after the turbulent affairs of the Ofunehiki, where the characters have to deal with a changed world, as well as changes to some of their friends.
A large part of the story revolves around the sea god, who seems to be sovereign over the people of the sea and even the land. Some of the following are specific occurrences of content related to the sea god and the rituals involved: a flashback to Hikari’s mom’s funeral shows Uroko reading something about the sea god; Uroko is able to put curses on people; the sea god seems to communicate to Uroko through the sacred fire; Hikari’s dad is shown praying before the sacred fire; the “sea god” becomes weak from lack of prayer; the sea god is shown to actually exist; the sea god is said to have died and become part of the sea
1 “p*ss”, 3 “cr*p”, 21 “h*ll”, 6 “d*mn”, 13 “d*mn it”, 2 “*ss”, 2 “p*ssed”, 3 “h*ck”, 9 “j**z”, 1 “b*stard”
Manaka is shown swimming naked (the detail is Barbie doll-esque); a woman is shown holding a baby and both are naked—again, Barbie doll-esque detail; a boy takes his shirt off; Chisaki is shown in her bra; the boys and girls are shown in their school swimsuits; an advertisement on a jewelry store wall shows a topless mermaid (her hand and hair cover the majority of her breasts); a picture shows Miuna’s dad in swimming shorts (he is shirtless); the second opening (episode 14 onward) shows a naked Manaka lying on the ocean floor in a fetal position; Tsumugu’s grandfather is shown shirtless; Hikari shows up naked on land (you see his bare butt); Tsumugu walks in on Chisaki and she is shown in her bra (she is shown in her bra in follow-up shots); Hikari takes his pants off and is shown in his shirt and boxers; Kaname is shown walking in the street naked (you see his bare butt); Kaname is shown in his boxers and shirtless; Manaka is shown curled up naked, but her arms and legs cover anything inappropriate.
Chisaki puts on her old school uniform and is shown undressing, although we only see her bare stomach and then her silhouette through the screen—a part of her bra is also shown as she struggles to zip the dress; Miuna is shown in the bath, although her hands and the water obscure any “private” parts; episode 26 preview shows a naked girl standing on the shore (you cannot see anything inappropriate); many people are shown swimming naked (Barbie doll level nudity); a woman is shown standing naked on the shore.
Uroko drinks sake, Hikari’s dad drinks sake; the people of Shioshishio have a feast where the adults are shown drinking and one is shown drunk; Chisaki appears to be drinking alcohol and appears to be drunk, although it is revealed that Tsumugu is giving her non-alcoholic wine.
A little girl kicks Hikari in the leg; Hikari grabs a guy by the shirt; Hikari pushes a man down and begins punching him; an old man throws Hikari to the ground; Hikari tackles Tsumugu and the two wrestle; a boy shoves Manaka; Hikari throws himself into two boys; Hikari grabs a man by the front of his shirt; a boy tackles Hikari and knocks him through a door; Miuna kicks Hikari in the back of the leg; Hikari pulls on Saya’s cheeks; two men butt heads; a man grabs another by the shirt; Hikari is knocked into the ofunehiki; Hikari makes Manaka’s knees buckle; Manaka knocks Hikari to the ground; Saya headutts Hikari’s father and Miuna shoves flowers in his face.
The sea god creates several whirlpools and begins pulling in people, capsizing boats, and destroying pillars; Hikari grabs Tsumugu by the front of his shirt; Chisaki whacks Hikari; Akira bites Hikari; Hikari runs into Sayu and knocks her down; Hikari tries to attack Okoro; Hikari tries to attack Tsumugu, falls to the ground, and ultimately has his arm pulled behind his back by Tsumugu
Hikari hurts his toe and it bleeds; Tsumugu’s grandfather is shown with blood on his hand
Uroko encourages lying; the sea people have a superstition about telling your secrets to a sea slug and finding out your future; the kids work on a statue for a sacrifice ritual; Uroko makes perverted comments; Miuna asks Hikari if he’s a lolicon; a girl wants to touch Chisaki’s breasts; Akita “kanchos” Chisaki (he shoves his fingers up her butt); Tsumugu suggests bribing Uroko with porn mags; Sayu is shown putting a porn magazine into a tube as bait (although nothing particularly inappropriate can be seen on the pages); Uroko makes a comment that Miuna has a “womanly scent”; Akira kanchos Manaka
One of the themes dealt with early on is the prejudice against the people of the sea marrying the people of the land. Believe it or not, there are some Christians that believe it is wrong to marry someone of a different race. The prejudice against people of the different locales marrying each other could be looked at as a way to discuss this issue, and Hikari’s change of heart in regards to the issue in his world could be looked at as symbolic of how Christian viewpoints should change on the subject of interracial marriage.
While not inherently a Christian perspective, the show could prove a valuable tool for parents to watch with their preteens and teenagers, as it deals with themes of growing up and change. While obviously a show with fantastical elements, the general plot of the show deals with preteens/teens who have to deal with changes to their worldviews and relationships, which could be used to spark conversations between parents and their children about what the children are experiencing in school or elsewhere. Also, the conflict between the sea peoples’ worldview and what Hikari ultimately accepts as “right” could be used as a way to discuss what the world views as “right” and what God says is right.
The most important thing to realize about A Lull in the Sea is that, while it does have a central plot, it is ultimately a character-based show.
While the characters work together to build a Lady Fujoshi statue for the Ofunehiki festival (which serves as the primary plot point for the first half of the series), this endeavor really serves to show the characters growing in their relationships with each other, as well as with the world around them. For example, Hikari starts out as very loyal to the sea and very hostile to the people of the land, going so far as to return insult for insult on his first day of middle school on land. When he finds that his sister is dating a man from the land, he is initially against it, even desiring to break them up. As time goes on, though, he begins to accept and even support their relationship, going so far as to abandon his home for a time.
If there is one criticism that can be given, it’s that this particular development seems to happen considerably fast, given Hikari’s staunch nationalism that pervades his character at first. His eyes are described as being “like the sea,” though, which could be used as an explanation for his quickly changing stance (just as the sea is unsteady and subject to quick change, so could Hikari’s views be).
Unlike many anime in the romance genre, A Lull in the Sea handles the shifting emotions of middle school kids in a way that is likely more accurate to the turbulent emotions that rage inside their young bodies. Prior to attending school on land, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname are an extremely tight group of friends. Upon their trip to the land, Manaka is quickly acquainted with a boy from the land named Tsumugu, who begins to grow close to the group. As Manaka begins to develop feelings for Tsumugu, Hikari is ultimately forced to recognize how he truly feels about Manaka (whom he had been quite harsh to in the past). This ultimately sets off a chain reaction of various characters acknowledging their feelings for others, which inevitably puts certain strains on these long bonds of friendship. The tension formed between the characters is thick without being melodramatic.
As the series progresses to the second arc (where there is a five year time skip) the emotional turmoil on the characters grows even stronger. Not only do the characters have to deal with the fact that there is now a five year age gap between some of them, but two supporting characters from the first arc are brought in as main characters, with their own sets of emotional ties to the original cast to boot. What is most noteworthy about the second half of the series is how well the viewer can connect to how the characters must feel with just a little thought. The fact of the matter is that two of the main characters continued to age while the others went into a hibernation, so when those who hibernated awaken they find that there is now a five year gap between them. It is truly gut-wrenching to try and imagine how that must feel from the perspectives of those who haven’t aged. There is also ample effort provided to show the confusion and the strain placed upon those who were asleep for five years. Again, this is done without being melodramatic or annoying.
The writers’ ability to balance the humor and drama of the show is truly exceptional, as the humor never seems to overshadow the dramatic elements (or feel out of place), yet the dramatic elements are never so overwhelming that the viewer becomes frustrated. It is also worth noting how well the overall story ties back into the legend of the sea god and the Lady Fujoshi that is toyed out over the course of the series. In fact, everything seems to tie together fairly well in this show, with no (or very few) events feeling as if they do not have some impact on the greater scheme of the show and the development of the characters.
If there is one negative comment that can be made about the show as a whole, it’s the seeming neglect of Kaname’s character. While he is certainly present in both arcs of the series, his character feels underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the main cast. While Hikari, Manaka, and Chisaki are all shown dealing with their emotions (whether towards events or towards those they are in love with), Kaname feels like he is more on the outskirts, playing the role of cheerleader or moral support instead of being a main character. He is the last one to make his feelings towards one of the main female characters known, and unlike the other characters, the effects of those feelings are not explored, at least not until the second arc of the show.
His biggest role in the first half is probably forcing Hikari to tell Manaka how he feels about her. Oddly enough, this all serves to make the viewer more sympathetic to Kaname, and one can’t help but feel heartbroken for him as he falls helplessly into the sea after helping the girl he loves save the guy who would ultimately become her lover (this is at the end of the first arc). When Kaname does finally express his feelings in the second arc (particularly that he had no one waiting for him, which he finds to be wrong), it is almost a breath of fresh air, as if he has finally gotten what he has been denied throughout the series.
The above description of Kaname’s treatment as a character ironically goes towards supporting how well done the show is from an emotional standpoint. Even someone who might as well have been a background character can manage to grip the heart of viewers and make them relieved when he finally gets his moment in the sun. A Lull in the Sea proves itself a well-written show with compelling characters and a gripping coming-of-age story.
Now while that is all well and good, what about the presentation? Well, in a word, A Lull in the Sea is beautiful. The artwork is simply gorgeous, especially in the underwater world of Shioshishio. It is simply outstanding to see the abundance of sea life that is animated around the town. While more visual cues could have been used to emphasize the fact that the characters are underwater (occasional visual distortion from the water, for example), there are other elements that are added to take advantage of this unique setting. While the characters appear to prefer walking underwater, they still swim at times, and one scene shows Hikari easily hopping to the second floor of Manaka’s house, which would not be possible out of the water.
Even the animation above water is well done. The series doesn’t appear to be set in any particular time period, although the technology appears to be less advanced than what we currently have (there are no cell phones, for example), and instead uses its own approach toward certain technological advancement. While buildings, ships, roads, and the like retain their typical designs, vehicles have their own unique appearance in this world. In this way, the show manages to be creative in its design elements without deviating from its ability to be relatable.
The show also nails the vocal dubbing for its characters. Each of the voice actors or actresses does a fantastic job of portraying his or her character, with only minor complaints (a few of Tsumugu’s lines in one episode feel a bit flat; although given his general lack of emotion it is easy to see how such a mistake could be made). Of course, those preferring subtitled anime have the option of switching to that format, but even if you are typically not a fan of dubbed anime, you should at least give the dub here a try. You may just be pleasantly surprised.
Generally speaking, I usually do not take notice of the music in a show (outside of the intro/outro music), so while I cannot comment about how the music operated within the show itself, I can definitively say that the music did not distract me from what was happening in the show as a whole, which suggests that the music did its job of enhancing and supporting the on-screen events. As for the music itself, I did take time to listen to one of the OSTs, and the music for the show is simply beautiful. Whether you take note of the music within the show itself or not, it is definitely worth listening to outside of the show, as the compositions are simply wonderful. The vast majority of the soundtrack is quite relaxing to listen to, with plenty of acoustic guitar and/or piano driven songs to offer.
Everything about A Lull in the Sea is simply phenomenal. From the emotionally-driven story to the stunning visuals, outstanding dub, and beautiful music, everything in the show simply excels and comes together to create an anime masterpiece that, sadly, many people will probably never see.
While many anime are created simply to promote a manga or light novel, A Lull in the Sea’s existence as an original anime means that it was a purely unique experience. The potential discussions that could arise from the show further serve to make it worth checking out, especially for parents with teenagers or teenagers who are going through life’s changes themselves. Of course, there is plenty to enjoy here for the general anime fan, as well. All-in-all, if you consider yourself to be a fan of anime, then you owe it to yourself to watch A Lull in the Sea.
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The Bottom Line
I remember my sister urging me to watch this. I watched a little bit with her, and it was interesting, just not my type.