When I first started watching A Lull in the Sea when it started in Fall 2012 (known at the time only by its Japanese name, Nagi no Asukara, or its shorthand name NagiAsu), I was admittedly not too impressed by it. Sure, it looked nice, but the main characters, especially the lead male Hikari, annoyed me or were otherwise not too interesting, and the plot just seemed like your usual middle-school romantic drama with a side of “sea vs. land” drama to go with it. However, as the show went on, the story eventually revealed itself to be much deeper, and while I was not able to finish the show until just recently, I am definitely glad I did, because at the end the show had become something fantastic. If you are up for a thematic romantic drama where characters start out as immature but grow and improve throughout, NagiAsu is highly recommended.
The big theme that NagiAsu revolves around is “change”. The show starts off with a major change, as four childhood friends who live in the sea (more on that later) must now attend middle school on land; on top of that, one of the four, Manaka, meets a land-dwelling classmate, Tsumugu, and gets fascinated by him. This greatly annoys Hikari, who had always looked after Manaka and for some reason does not like how she is so interested in this new boy. As for the other two friends, Chisaki has held feelings for Hikari in secret, and in turn, Kaname for Chisaki. So far, it’s a very standard romantic “love polygon” setup.
Where things get more complicated is where Akari, Hikari’s older sister gets involved. Akari fell in love with a man from the surface, which is taboo among the sea people as the children of sea-land unions do not have the Ena that allows them to live underwater. Her boyfriend’s daughter from a previous marriage, Miuna, has her own reservations about the marriage, making the situation even more complicated. Hikari, being if nothing else a caring younger brother, starts trying to understand Akari’s feelings and eventually tries to get her marriage approved by all parties involved. This is ultimately what pushes him to grow out of being the immature brat he starts out as, as he learns to consider others’ feelings and channel his stubbornness and hot-headedness in positive ways.
All of this is still only the beginning of the changes that happen in this show, leading up to a major event at the halfway point that causes some significant shifts in the characters’ lives (which, among other things, complicates the love polygon situation tenfold). Here, the theme of change—or lack thereof—comes into full play. The name A Lull in the Sea becomes meaningful as it represents that which refuses to change: a sea that, in the second half, has become still and frozen over. This stands in contrast to the protagonists, who experience that change and must come to terms with it, whether they want it or not. While it is difficult to talk about this without mentioning major spoilers, suffice it to say that this theme of change is represented beautifully and poetically, with each character’s development strengthened in the process.
The concept of “sea people” is an interesting one in itself, one that has certainly been done before but comes up here in a way more developed than normal: the sea people have their own quirks in their way of life both in and above water, including their own “Sea God” that they worship (Christian viewers should be warned: said Sea God is far from a Christianlike deity and is more of a temperamental entity with its own feelings and backstory). That said, if you are expecting more of a fantastical, world-building approach to this sea world, you will probably be disappointed: for better or for worse, the fantastical aspects of the sea in this show serve a primarily allegorical role, to further emphasize the show’s theme of change, and the world is built and developed very little past what it needs to serve that purpose.
Ultimately, this show is a romantic drama at heart, and here lies the factor where your mileage may certainly vary. The show’s scriptwriter, Mari Okada, is rather well-known in the anime industry for her works on shows like Toradora, Hanasaku Iroha, and AnoHana, and for better or for worse, she specializes in melodrama: raw emotional outbursts and heavily dramatic situations designed to evoke strong emotional reactions in the audience. She is incredibly good at this, and it is a big reason why the aforementioned three shows are as popular as they are, but if you are not a fan of this sort of subtlety-free melodrama will probably not like NagiAsu, as her style is very much present here, too. Make no mistake, though; Okada does an incredible job in crafting these characters and their growth, which makes their dramatic outbursts all the more effective because of how they correspond with each characters’ development. As for the romances, they all play out in reasonable and interesting ways, with the final pairings all being ones I am happy with (again, your mileage may vary).
If there’s one part of this show that can be unequivocally praised, it is the show’s production values. P.A. Works consistently produces high-quality animation, and the result here is an absolutely gorgeous-looking show, especially in its portrayal of the underwater world. The visuals and animation really make this show come alive, and help make an already incredible show a true work of art. Watching the show on Blu-ray only makes the experience even more aesthetically enthralling.
NIS America gives this show yet another one of their well-crafted Premium Editions, including a beautiful chipboard artbox, a soundtrack CD, and an artbook that includes staff commentaries for the entire show. The Premium Edition is available for $144 on the NISA online store, where it comes with a bonus Ofunehiki flag, or on RightStuf for $135 (with no bonus item); for a full 26-episode series with an English dub and all these additional extras, it’s a worthwhile price, but if it is too expensive for you (or you do not have a Blu-ray player), you can get the show on standard-edition DVDs in two halves for $76 total on RightStuf, or you can stream the show on Crunchyroll.
This is the second anime from NIS America to feature an English dub, and while I watched the show subbed and do not consider myself anywhere near experienced enough with dubs to properly judge them, I did watch one episode dubbed and it sounded fine to me. A notable change in the script is in the nicknames the friends use for each other; whereas in the Japanese script Manaka called Hikari “Hii-kun”, in the dub she calls him “Hikki”, which, aside from reminding me of an antisocial loner from another show, works well for a dub. Again, I am not the best judge for this, but I think dub fans should like this release.
For Christians, the only really potentially objectionable aspect is the aforementioned presence of the Sea God. The sea does have its fair share of perils which constitutes all of the minimal “violence” in the show, and sexual content is also likewise effectively non-existent.
Overall, A Lull in the Sea is one of the best romantic dramas to come out recently. With strong character development and a story that takes a theme of change and portrays it beautifully, it is a show that is easy to recommend, and fits in very well with NIS America’s catalog alongside other great dramas like Toradora and AnoHana. Their high-quality release is easily worth every penny of its cost, too. While there are certainly ways the show could have been better, and while I would not quite call this show an outright masterpiece, this show is an incredible one and easily worth your time to check it out.
Review Score: A- (9/10)