Nadia The Secret of Blue Water

Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water

As a lifelong fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion that is just young enough to have missed his chance to build a healthy collection of classic anime DVD releases from the home-media heydays, Nadia The Secret of Blue Water
is one of those “bucket list” anime that I am beyond excited to have finally gotten the chance to see for myself, thanks to the show recently being re-released on Blu-ray and streaming services like RetroCrush. Shockingly, I’ve managed to go my entire adult life without being spoiled on much of anything about this lesser-known predecessor to director Hideaki Anno‘s most famous of mecha masterpieces, other than the trivia of Evangelion‘s Shinji Ikari being more-or-less a gender-swapped (and more Japanese) version of Nadia‘s titular heroine, at least so far as the characters’ outward appearances go. I went into Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water expecting a fun science-fantasy romp that might perhaps hold some insights into the Gainax crew’s future artistic endeavors; little did I know that I would discover a wonderful, complex, and deeply ambitious (albeit deeply flawed) series that nearly manages to stand toe-to-toe with its much more famous older sibling.

What struck me the most about Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water, especially in its early episodes, was how much I could tell that this was clearly the work of Hideaki Annoand Co. spinning off from some original concept work done by Anno’s legendary mentor, Hayao Miyazaki. In addition to the techno-fantasy vibes that bring classics like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky to mind, Nadia and Jean themselves are dead ringers for the prototypical Miyazaki heroines and heroes, down to Nadia’s raw spunk and her inextricable connection to the natural world, along with Jean’s boundless curiosity and devotion to his lovely companion. Despite these superficial similarities to the works of one of the industry’s immortal titans, though, Nadia The Secret of Blue Water is also very clearly the work of the up-and-comers who would very soon go on to produce perhaps the single most famous and impactful anime of the last thirty years. I was astounded by how many visual and story beats that have been seared into my brain by Evangelion
originated first in Nadia. Nadia’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance is very different from Shinji Ikari’s in many ways, yet it shares so many core themes and epiphanies that I can now clearly see how Evangelion is a spiritual successor to Nadia, even if it didn’t turn out to be the literal sequel it was apparently intended to be.

Don’t get me wrong, though; Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water isn’t valuable merely because of its historical proximity to Evangelion. For the most part, this is a story that is entertaining, imaginative, and thrilling enough to stand perfectly well on its own two feet. I was enamored with Nadia and Jean from the moment we met them in Paris, France during their first adventure together, and I came to love nearly every single scoundrel and ally they met along the way. How Nadia
manages to fuse the characters and imagery from the classic works of Jules Verne with its brand of heady, science-fiction weirdness is just cool as hell. Shiro Sagisu‘s music is the one element of Nadia that I would argue is absolutely on par with the work he did for future Evangelion projects. Even the ridiculously cheesy English dub that ADV produced back in the day has a lot of goofy charm that I think adds to the experience of watching this blast from the past. Overall, I would be shocked if viewers who stick with Jean and Nadia until the very end don’t end up (mostly) adoring the time they spent with the show.

I say “mostly” because, unfortunately, it is time we discuss what I have discovered to be the giant, imposing elephant in the room that comes part and parcel with any discussion about this series. Infamously, NHK‘s request to extend the run of the series past its initial order, combined with Hideaki Anno‘s anxious exit from Nadia around the production of the show’s 22nd episode, led to the dreaded “Island” and “Africa” arcs. These runs, which go for around eight and three episodes, respectively, are…well, they’re pretty bad. Anno’s longtime collaborator Shinji Higuchi took over for this middle batch of episodes. While the Island Arc at least contains a couple of episodes relevant to the show’s overall plot (Episodes 30 and 31, specifically), most of these eleven episodes range from being forgettable filler to downright agonizing to sit through. The newly outsourced animation suffers from some major dips in quality; the writing and direction of the episodes become slipshod and amateurish; and the Africa Arc, in particular, devolves into the absolute laziest and most offensively stereotypical writing of the entire series.

(To be perfectly honest, this is one of the rare occasions where I might have to advise anyone lacking Herculean patience to skip most of the Island and Africa Arcs entirely. Seriously, once you get to Episode 22, jump ahead to episodes 30 and 31, and then bounce right over to the final five episodes starting with 35. Purists might object to my recommending that you gloss over a few minor character and plot developments they might consider worthwhile. Still, I do not believe you would lose anything indispensable by ejecting everything else from those arcs entirely from the story. In the process, you’ll save yourself a lot of cringing and anguished sighs of boredom.)

Thankfully, Anno’s return for the final run of Episodes 35-39 brings the series to a very satisfying and memorable conclusion. The whole experience of the show is so good that I cannot help but give the show my highest of recommendations, despite the glaring weaknesses of that unfortunate middle run of the series. Like every other masterpiece that Hideaki Anno
and his artists have produced, Nadia The Secret of Blue Water
is a wonderful, messy, profound, and occasionally infuriating work with ambitions that exceed the limited grasps of its creators. That makes me love this series all the more, though, since those imperfections are proof that the people who made it worked very hard to overcome their own faults and failures and craft a story worth remembering.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *