From the New World; First Impressions of Coppelion and Nagi no Asukara

Nagi no Asukara - 01 [720p]_Oct 5, 2013 9.20.43 PM

Talk about a set of brilliant sceneries! Fall season has begun with a kick as we explore fascinating new settings and dynamic worlds that stretch the boundaries of our imagination.

Starting off with Coppelion, the show which features genetically modified schoolgirls spending 25 minutes of the time walking through beautiful and detailed apocalyptic scenery. An interesting contrast to the action-packed PV that was shown only weeks ago, this first episode really caught my attention and my breath with the display of blues, greens and whites as our trio trekked their way through a ghost city, looking for saviors.  I can understand how Coppelion might have bored or even confused others – directed by the same studio that made the action packed K, Coppelion is incredibly low key and tame – but there is something magical about it all the same.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but watching this episode was similar to the experience of playing Journey and Fallout. Fallout is a game where you, the player, are forced to explore a similar post-apocalyptic world, traveling from town to town, stumbling upon situations where they are forced to make a grave choice. There are hostile opponents as well that engage you first, but for the most part, the beauty of Fallout is that you are given the power of choice, and how you use it ultimately decides how you end the game. There are moments of beauty and horror in the world of Fallout, and you experience it all turn by turn by turn. In the same way, Coppelion strikes me as more of a journey tale than one that pivots itself around platter-served reaction. It is a show about girls who defy their own fate – that is, to be nothing but “Puppets” pioneered by the government – and become their own individuals by reacting to the environment rather than being a part of it.

Fuck the rules.

This is aesthetically embodied by how the girls stand out from the background with thick outlines; another visual experience that took me back to when I played Journey, an aesthetically gorgeous game where you play a wordless character who travels through various environments. It may sound boring, but the experience is unique because instead of relying on a story or guide, Journey is freeform; you simply walk through beautiful settings and admire everything around you.  Coppelion is the same – we may not have a solid idea of the characters or the history just yet, but what we have been given is some lovely atmosphere that’s fleshed out enough to grip me of its own accord. Whether the show will continue down this line of thought or not is yet to be seen, but I’m definitely going to keep watching and see what kind of experience the show will offer me next!

Nagi no Asukara is a little different. The vibes I got from this P.A Works (a hard shift back into its more traditional form with the end of Uchouten Kazoku)  series is a mix between melodramatic slice of life and character drama, with a touch of Shinsekai Yori in the middle. While we have some similarities  - Hikari is obviously a very tsundere version of Satoru, and Tsumugu is the quiet Shun – for the most part, Nagi seems to be a story about relationships and romantic drama, whereas Shinsekai was focused equally on character as well as a sci fi plot. There’s also some similarity regarding different species and animosity between the two as well, considering how our main cast is the one bestowed with the ability to live underwater while the “others” are regular human beings. And lastly, there seems to be some kind of hint of a large, world shattering event the show is pointing towards, ignited by the first time Manaki and Tsumugu meet.

As expected of P.A Works, the scenery is gorgeous in Nagi no Asukara, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves in the mystic underwater world.

The Little Mermaid – only prettier.

Yes, I think that some parts of Nagi no Asukara are forced. The characters aren’t as interesting as the ones in Shinsekai nor are they as original or real (Masaki’s got the personality of a doormat) but I do think there’s a subtle beauty in their relationships and how that is parallel to the social conflict that exists between the people of the water and the people of the land. Of course Hikari’s irritation with Tsumugu is due to jealousy, but I think there’s also a really fascinating undercurrent of sociocultural barriers. How can one who has lived all his life under the sea expect to understand a commoner whose father hunts the fish that the people of the sea treasure? How can one expect to come to terms with a population of people who threaten the very existence of the environment and home that these kids grew up in? Not only is that a problem, but considering that the people of the water have their own deity who is frustated with the current situation, and it’s plain as day that there would be some animosity between the two groups. The surface people are incredibly normal and while we’re bound to side with them (as we’re normal ourselves) we are also submerged into the beautiful world of the sea, and the show does a good job of making us feel torn between the two groups.  The history of these peoples and their tension are delicious materials for social commentary and while I keep telling myself this is P.A Works, I can’t help but be intrigued by how this will be explored further on.

There are obviously hints of isolation and anger amongst the crowds, even in children.

There’s also the love triangle (rectangle?? pentagon???) that exists between the main characters. Hikari obviously loves Masaki, Masaki is intrigued by Tsumugu (who may like her later on), Chisaki loves Hikari but understands his affection for Masaki, and her only supporter, Kaname, may be in love with her.  There are melodramatic bits to this as I said before, but for the most part it’s mixed in well with the world building as these children are exposed to bullying and stereotyping from both sides of the world. Masaki is cursed by a god for disrespecting him, but she is also bullied by the schoolgirls on the land for having beautiful skin that allows her to live underwater. In that sense, the bonds these children share are even more important because they literally connect our understanding of the world underwater and the world on the surface. They balance the two out with their shared experiences, and I think that’s something worth continuing watching for.

If this is truly written by the famous hit and miss writer Mari Okada, then I can only hope that Nagi no Asukara falls into her former group rather than the latter. She’s done some great writing here and there with Red Garden, Hurou Musuko, Fujiko Mine to iu Onnaand Toradora, but there have also been missteps, which makes me worried for the future of Nagi. That said, I have loved most of her works with  P.A Works series like Hanasaku Iroha so I think she definitely has the potential to make this something far more wondrous and fascinating than the usual Red Data Girl or Tari Tari.  With a full two cour  in order, I hope that Nagi no Asukara lives up to my expectations - Uchouten Kazoku was a wonderful series, and I want P.A Works to continue that trend of imaginative and breathtaking shows with Nagi.

Further reactions from the writers of Isn’t it Electrifying may be contributed below this point. Check back for updates!

wendeego: You have to admire GoHands for rescuing the anime adaptation of Coppelion from the scrap heap. Previously greenlighted for adaptation in 2010, the show was put on indefinite hold after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. But director Shingo Suzuki (known for directing last year’s K, also known as the most anime anime to ever anime also known as Charles Barkley: Shut Up and Anime Gaiden) took a risk, and now the series has been brought to the screen with the sole compromise being that the true cause of its apocalypse (nuclear devastation) remains unsaid. Seen in that light, the fact that our heroes are schoolgirls rather than, you know, us is almost a relief, an element of fantasy that may be enough to make palatable what I’m sure many Japanese might see as all-too-real.

One of the things that most struck me about GoHands’s work on was that while the series would frequently make terrible, basic mistakes, it was overflowing with brilliantly imagined details you’d imagine coming from a much better work. Yes, the show was a mess of pretty boys fighting each other in the midst of a convoluted system of magic involving body-swapping, psychic powers and the Dresden firebombings, but there were also the hilarious cleaning robots, the frequently on-point comedy, a plot with foreshadowing carefully and logically laid out from the very beginning and a cast of characters that you eventually came to give a damn about. Neko, in particular–the naked cat girl who in any other show you might imagine would be badly treated and objectified–turned out to be one of the most empathetic and likable characters in the whole thing, and the series gave her plenty to do. By the end of the series it was unclear whether it was a “success” per se, but I definitely wanted to see what the studio could pull off with better writing. Coppelion, for better or worse, is the clear answer to this question.

From the first episode, the series is far less laden with action than you would expect from the trailers. Three high school girls wander a post-apocalyptic landscape, searching for life at the behest of the school that employs (perhaps owns?) them. The premise is ridiculous, but it’s the details that really sell the thing: the girls are high school age because they were presumably grown after the disaster, the girl who eats a lot does so out of the fear of no longer being human, all three continue to watch daily reports on radioactivity on the news even as their leader repeatedly says “that no longer applies to us.” Similarly a great deal of love is obviously invested into the post-apocalyptic city landscapes through which the three of them wander. As usual, though, the episode makes some highly questionable decisions: not only is Copellion supercharged on color filters but the characters are given hyper-thick black outlines that are seemingly inconsistent. People have made the argument that the cast’s character designs just don’t match with the backgrounds, and while I don’t quite agree I think you could certainly make that argument.

That said: for what it’s worth, Coppelion makes for a promising start to what I’ve heard is a damn good story. I have no idea how GoHands intends to compress a presumably great amount of material into only thirteen episodes (and fit the fight scenes from the trailers in there on top of that) but I’m definitely up for seeing them try. These guys aren’t perfect but they definitely have the guts and (maybe) the talent.

I would say something about Nagi no Asukara but I didn’t even make it through the first episode! The world-building was fascinating and the visuals solid, but what I saw of the characters marked them to me as stock anime cliches and I have suspicions the plot will be quick to go down the rabbit hole of melodrama typical of much of Okada’s work. That said, there’s certainly room here for growth, and always the chance that I just didn’t treat this series fairly. If you loved Okada’s work on AnoHana and the stuff she’s written alongside PA Works, then Nagi no Asukara looks to tread similar territory…with the addition of a fascinating hook. I’ll be waiting for confirmation on whether this series actually goes somewhere worthwhile, but feel free to go ahead if this kind of thing is up your alley. At the very least, the aesthetics are (typically) gorgeous.

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5 responses to “From the New World; First Impressions of Coppelion and Nagi no Asukara

  1. (Psst, the girl from Nagi no asukara is Manaka, not aisaki. ^^;; “Manaka” as in “between the sea and the land” most likely.)

    I thought my mind was playing tricks when I was getting Shinsekai yori vibes from this show right from the promo images+setting, so it’s good to know I’m not the only one. ^^;; Maybe that’s why I’m watching?

    I’m not impressed with the show so far, the animation is pretty but the character designs are meh (at least the girls don’t look as creepy as in the manga/the original designs), the characters are walking tropes, and I can already see that I’m going to hate the relationship drama part of the story. And while the world setting has some interesting elements, there’s a significant chance that the story will be driven by overblown melodrama instead of actually intelligent characterization and storytelling.

    Still, there’s something about it that tells me to stick with it. Perhaps it’s the trainwreck effect, perhaps the show will actually do something interesting and unexpected. I hope for the latter.

    • Oops, fixed that! Thanks for pointing it out.

      Honestly what caught my attention was how SSY-ish the show felt, and while I think the romantic aspects of the show will be melodramatic (this is P.A works after all) I might enjoy it if it doesn’t overwhelm other parts of the story? While Nagi no Asukara looks like a character drama, I think it has potential to flesh out its characters to the point where their interactions don’t come off as forced. I do like the cast presented, I just think I could grow on them a little more in time. The worldbuilding is amazing and I really, really, REALLY pray that they continue expanding on it while focusing on the characters at the same time. I know it’s a bit too much to ask for, but like you said – there’s just something about it that interests me, so I’m sticking along for the ride in the hopes that we could get another good P.A Works this year!

  2. “series is a mix between melodramatic slice of life and character drama, with a touch of Shinsekai Yori” You know I also got the weirdest From the New World vibes when I saw the promo images for Nagi, although I think it’s because Minaki and Marie just look rather similar. In any case, what struck me most about the first episode was something you didn’t bring up, the huge difference in colors between the uniforms of the sea kids (teal-blue and white) versus the land dwellers (orange and tan and brown with only a little bit of white showing). I remember that the backgrounds for the seas areas were also rather blue dominated so I bet that if you look at the backgrounds of the land areas they’re probably rather brown dominated to continue the trend, I love it when anime does little things like that.

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