Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water Complete Collection (Cert 15)
8 Discs DVD/ 5 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 1030 minutes approx.
That Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water is a forgotten classic for many anime fans is something new UK label Animatsu hope to rectify. Additional interest to some will be in part to the contributions on this project of two anime titans – Hideaki Anno, director of the seminal Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the guvnor himself Hayao Miyazaki!
In the 1970’s Toho approached Miyazaki to create a TV series for them and he drafted a story based loosely on the works of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days and 20,000 leagues Under The Sea. The series was never made but Toho retained the rights and in 1990 the revamped idea – retaining most of Miyazaki’s original story ideas – arrived, directed by Anno.
Spanning thirty-nine episodes, this epic steampunk adventure is set in 1889 and teenage inventor Jean Rocque Raltique, is in Paris with his uncle competing in a flying contest. Jean’s attention is distracted by a dark skinned girl with a lion cub passing by on a bicycle who he chases to the Eiffel Tower. The girl, Nadia, is confronted by the villainous Grandis Granva and her sidekicks, Sanson and Hanson, who want Nadia’s Blue Water crystal necklace.
Nadia and lion cub King escape, using the gymnastics which make her an attraction for a travelling circus. The sneaky Grandis buys Nadia’s contract from the circus owner, prompting Jean to mount a rescue operation. Jean vows to protect Nadia and take her to Africa where she believes she will learn the truth about Blue Water.
If your familiarity alarm is going off after reading that synopsis there is a very good reason for this – Miyazaki used elements of his original story in his film Laputa – Castle In The Sky, predating Nadia by three years. This explains why the first episode has a Ghibli-esque charm to it which gradually ebbs away as the series develops its own identity.
Miyazaki’s concept proves a solid launching pad for writers Hisao Ōkawa and Kaoru Umeno to devise their own story which occasionally mirrors Laputa. Elsewhere Anno’s trademark darkness and psychoanalysis of existence and being human creep into the proceedings, with a key revelation towards the end serving as an omen for the celebrated Evangelion saga. And while Anno also suffered from stress while making this series at least managed to finish this one!
Given plenty of room to breathe, the story takes many twists and turns yet never feels bloated or overcooked, at least for the most part (more on this later). With Jean’s flawed inventions being relied upon for travel and survival, he, along with Nadia and King ends up in a number of scrapes encountering friends and foes in some unusual places. Joining the trio under tragic circumstances is a four year-old girl Marie, orphaned when the show’s eventual main antagonist Gargoyle takes over the island she lived on.
Naturally Nadia’s Blue Water is the prize in Gargoyle’s eyes and after a change of heart from Grandis and co. the battle lines are drawn. However back-up comes in the form of the mysterious submarine known as the Nautilus and it’s grumpy, stern captain Nemo. Despite welcoming the group on board Nemo keeps his distance, leaving it to his second-in-command Electra to deal with the newcomers, but what are Nemo’s reasons for being so aloof?
Everything eventually falls into place but not all answers provide an immediate resolution which is the driving conceit behind this series. Unlike other shows were the cast drift along and happen upon the next situation, Nadia is chronological and most episodes are a direct continuation from the one before unless specified otherwise. This sense of continuity is very much welcome and refreshing when following the sprawling narrative.
Being a Steampunk show the audience is asked to suspend its disbelief on many fronts, not in the least the amount of technology featured being decades too advanced for the 1880s! Then again it would make for a dull experience if all they had as weapons were manually loaded, single round muskets instead of laser rockets, or wooden boats in place of nuclear submarines!
The script covers a lot of ground, from comedy to drama, sci-fi to philosophy, war to romance and shows a great depth of inventiveness and intelligence which keeps the audience engaged outside of the frequent action spots. However the twelve episode block of filler material known as the Island Arc is a glaring blemish on this show, which Anno did not direct. With Jean, Nadia, Marie and King stranded on an island a number of silly One Piece-esque standalone situations develop, which are largely pretty difficult to watch.
Not only is the content poor – save for episode 31 which does have a relevance to the canon material – the animation quality drops noticeably too, from what had hitherto been a fine looking show for one twenty-five years old. This HD remaster is otherwise very good, bringing out the colours and depth of the artwork, although a few specs and crackles appear occasionally, but one gets used to the overall quality very quickly.
It is also very much a product of its time. Early on Jean’s Aunt refuses to take Nadia in because of her skin colour; later on when they are accepted on board the Nautilus, Nadia and Grandis are recruited to the kitchen! Despite this however Nadia is a strong willed moral girl and quite a progressive thinker, refusing to eat fish and meat because of how they are caught. Don’t let her skimpy outfit fool you, she is no damsel in distress.
The age of Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water is irrelevant – this is deeply engaging, enjoyable, emotional intelligent and satisfying Steampunk action adventure that deserves to be resurrected and enjoyed by a new audience. If it wasn’t for the Island Arc however this would rate higher but the skip button is there for a reason.
A highly recommended and welcome blast from the past!
Japanese Language with English Subtitles
Disc 5 Only (Blu-ray):
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ****
Man In Black