Review of "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Blu-ray)"

published 06/09/2015 | GenerallyInterested
Member since : 15/07/2013
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Still snoozing.
Excellent
Pro Good old fasioned adventure ala Verne; more mature than you might expect
Cons Bit costly; occassionally a bit obvious
exceptional
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"Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water-Thrilling Old Fashioned Adventure"

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Blu-ray)

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Blu-ray)

Sing with me (though don’t sing the “of”) “The Secret of Blue Water”. Damn, you have a terrible singing voice


Yes, I know that I do thank you very much but that’s not the point of this review is it?


That is true, I shall thusly try and avoid making you digress, as…


…the important thing is this no doubt thrilling and exciting, even – ahem - potentially awe-inspiring review. It’s a review where it is difficult to know exactly where to start, though actually maybe it is best to start with:

“It was the year 1889…” Because most of the episodes of this series begin with those exact words, as it gives us a quick overview of what has happened in the story to date, the words spoken by one assumes a rather elderly gentleman. But more to the point you might be asking yourself what on earth is Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, well needless to say I’m not going to tell you what the titular “secret” is, that would be a very silly thing for me to do, but it’s the 39 part anime TV series that began in 1990 and finished in 1991. It wasn’t something I’d ever heard of before and was introduced to by one of those random Amazon recommendations, if memory serves. I suppose two things appealed to me, the first of which was that it had overtones of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, which people of my age may well remember with affection as that rather long and though aimed at children strangely intelligent animated Japanese-French coproduction (it seems historically the British have more affection for it than anyone else). Because yes this is an anime TV series and a somewhat more intelligent and more mature one than you might expect. The second thing that intrigued me was the fact that it was directed by Hideaki Anno, the director of the immensely popular Neon Genesis Evangeleon, an anime that on the surface looks horribly child friendly but is bloody, disturbing, frequently distressing and the product of a director mired in clinical depression, and into which he had poured all of his neuroses as an act of therapy. There’s also a third thing that is intriguing (I know I said two but this is post the fact) and that is because some of the ideas originate from director Hayao Miyazaki, who did have some very early involvement in trying to develop the series but eventually pulled out and the nature of the series changed but nevertheless Miyazaki used some of the concepts for his film Laputa: Castle in the Sky – which if I’m honest is quite probably his weakest film. As we’ll see Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water pulls from conventional myth and a series of fictional characters, which depending on your perspective may be derivative or lazy, though in the end actually it works.


What would work for me would be you getting on with things so please introduce the characters, a quick précis, too, if you please


Our characters are:


Nadia; an orphan; was a circus performer; owner of a Blue Water jewel
Jean; an inventor; lives with his aunt and uncle
Captain Nemo; the captain of the Nautilus
Marie
; a very young girl; recently an orphan under bloody circumstances
King; a baby lion; Nadia’s pet
Grandis; is chasing Nadia; was conned out of her fortune
Sanson; ex-chauffeur; Grandis’ minion; the brawn of the operation
Hanson; ex-mechanic; Grandis’ minion; the brains of the operation
Electra; Captain Nemo’s second-in-command
Gargoyle; a dastardly villain; wears a mask a lot
Emperor Neo; er, an Emperor
Ayerton; a sailor; a compulsive liar, mostly


In the year 1889 Jean is visiting Paris with his uncle, to enter a plane into a competition to see who can fly the furthest. Jean’s sea captain father is missing, assumed dead, killed by sea monsters apparently trawling the oceans. Whilst unloading the plane he spots Nadia and, entranced by her apparent exoticism, follows her up the Eiffel Tower. There Nadia is braced by Grandis, who is after a jewel in Nadia’s possession. Being of an acrobatic disposition, Nadia escapes. Later that day, Jean sees Nadia perform in the circus and helps her escape, after Grandis attempts to spirit Nadia away, telling the circus owner that she is Nadia’s mother. Jean and Nadia escape in the plane that Jean was going to enter into the competition. Returning to his home, Jean and Nadia find that Grandis has followed them and once again they are forced to flee, finding themselves at sea and picked up by an American naval fleet. Their plane repaired, they take to the air once more but find themselves hitting the sea there to be picked up by the enigmatic Captain Nemo in his remarkably technologically advanced submarine, the Nautilus. From there things get even riskier and their adventures more sensational…


So a proper high seas adventure, or perhaps a low seas adventure, but just a proper Victorian era adventure: lots of things happening, most things apparently implausible, a great belief in the possibilities of technology, all of that kind of good, fun adventure, Jules Verne type stuff


Absolutely so, and certainly there is belief in the limitless, wonderful potential of technology. It’s something you see a lot in Miyazaki’s films, the way in which he has an almost childlike glee and delight in thinking about how technology could have advanced, how it can take on fantastic sometimes magical elements, which almost brings to mind Arthur C Clarke’s assertion that any suitably advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. In his final film The Wind Rises Miyazaki of course brings it back to reality, with a real-life engineer. So understandably this is a series that requires a thorough suspension of disbelief and the need to be thoroughly charmed and share its almost child-like belief in the wondrousness of that which can wrought by our collective imagination. I found the series to be both charming and endearing, and I liked a lot of what they did with the characterisation. Some things in terms of plot elements are very obvious and telegraphed from about 10,000 miles away. It is something that could be irritating but I found it didn’t really matter. The elements of the formulaic in some ways added to the charm and sometimes where it deviates from them – or at least deviates in my experience – really works in its favour. Both Nadia and Jean are of course adolescents on the cusp of becoming adults, something that other characters comment upon across the whole series. Actually this is something I rather liked because Jean for one is entranced by technology, he’s fascinated by the Nautilus and the possibilities of it, he’s curious to the point that actually what he does puts people in danger, being still just enough of a child he cannot quite reason as an adult - yet. But why the series works is moments like this exist not just to put people in danger from the perspective of trying to move the plot along, but to make Jean realise that all of his actions have very definite repercussions; the same applies to Nadia who is appalled and horrified by any form of violence even if actually that violence may save or safeguard life. Both characters in many ways can tend to see things very black and white, and they have to learn to see the shades of grey as they evolve emotionally into adults. One of the nicest deviations is the fact that the character of Grandis and her two minions Sanson and Hanson, the lattermost who pilots their marvellously multifunctional and ludicrous vehicle the Gratan – it’s real name is actually Katherine – though start off as something of pantomime villains actually very quickly change and becomes allies of the two children. In fact all three of them become aligned to an individual character, the mechanic Hanson to Jean, the rather narcissistic Sanson to the bloodily orphaned Marie and rather ironically considering the beginning of the series Grandis to Nadia. If this sounds like a spoiler, it’s not because this deviation appears very early on in the series.

In many ways you can break the series down into a series of segments, the introduction in France, Jean and Nadia’s first trip in the Nautilus, their landing upon an island where they discover their enemies in all their destructive glory, back to the Nautilus, further isolation on a second island, etc and these can sometimes be imperfect. I found the first trip on the Nautilus to drag a little bit, mainly because the characterisation took centre stage and after a while the writers slightly ran out of things to say about each of the characters and the story became a bit too drawn out but thankfully that is quickly remediated. When Jean and Nadia are then sent back into the skies and find themselves on the island where they discover Marie, her parents having being executed on the road, everything picks up again, I think in part because we start to understand more about the villains of the piece. The villains are in many ways proper faceless villains, they all wear masks and only really the chief villain is somebody that we have any connection to, the strangely named Gargoyle. We, as well as Jean and Nadia, are shown the way in which our villains have remarkable power - they manage to destroy an island using their reproduction of the Tower of Babel. Again there is a fascination with technology, the enemies of the Nautilus and Nadia and Jean have tremendous powers, far outstripping anything that would have been available in the 1890s. Of course this is all explained and I won’t spoil the revelation though some watching this will probably guess it, not that it matters much if you do. Some people could see the fact that these villains are nothing more than a morass of faceless enemies could be a negative thing, but realistically it doesn’t matter because the story is mainly all about our heroes, and the way that their characters develop as much as the story is an old-fashioned adventure yarn that rattles along at a good pace. The film does weave all of our stories together reasonably neatly. There are connections between Nadia and the crew of the Nautilus, as well as our apparently faceless villains, who are connected to the Nautilus and Nemo, who are also interested in capturing Nadia’s blue water jewel just as Grandis is at the beginning of the story. Equally even though the series does break down into a series of exciting adventures (echoes of the writing of the Fantomas series of novels) each segment feels reasonably distinct and unique and is important for character development. For instance the second island upon which Nadia, Jean and Marie find themselves really helps to define the characters, especially those of the independent and wilful Nadia and the slightly uncomprehending and excitable Jean, rather than being a rehash of their first unexpected jaunt on an apparently desert island. Because of segments like this, both of our lead characters are endearingly drawn and there is genuine character development throughout. Both characters begin to mature, as they start to leave adolescence behind them. They recognise the need for responsibility and compromise and that wide-eyed idealism isn’t something that is practicable in the real world, as much as it may seem on the surface; like all things, it must be tempered because the world is not that simple. In many ways both characters begin quite dogmatically, and their dogmatism begins to dissipate. The same could be said for some of our adults, such as Nemo, though arguably some of the characters such as Nemo and also his second-in-command Electra, are perhaps a little bit pat and some of their relationships a little bit too obvious. But because the series really focuses mostly on Nadia and Jean it doesn’t really detract from the series too much, though perhaps it would have been satisfying if they could have been a little more original.

Also the series doesn’t necessarily shy away from the repercussions of violence; it’s not nice and clean and pretty and inoffensive and just exists to put our protagonists in peril. When Nadia and Jean first find Marie, she’s unconscious on the road; her parents are dead, practically ambushed and executed and so the series suddenly has to do deal with the fact that you have two adolescents having to try and tell a young and barely comprehending girl that are her parents have been murdered. It’s not a comfortable scene yet admittedly the series does fudge it a little bit, Marie is able to accept the death of her parents perhaps a little bit too quickly but again when looking at an adventure yarn it can only allow it’s characters to get bogged down emotionally for so long before it has to hurtle headlong into the plot again. The fact that there is a lot of character development in our younger characters, they move from adolescence to adulthood and some tackling of sexuality, means that the series though clearly aimed it the young uns is definitely trying to provide adults with just as much entertainment though not in the sly way of some more modern American animation but through themes that may go unnoticed.


So you’ve already mentioned that the story does drag at least once when first we find outselves upon the Nautilus, are there any other negatives?


For the most part not really. Though the series shows maturity in dealing with actions and consequences even if in many ways it has a childlike glimmer in its eyes as it tells its story, there are some imperfections. I was extremely disappointed in the way in which when Grandis and her two minions are put to work upon the Nautilus. When our ostensible villains find themselves being rescued by the crew of the submarine, Grandis is put to work in the kitchen. If felt rather anachronistic and sexist: send the woman into the kitchen. Grandis though entirely independent doesn’t seem too fussed about this either, which seems odd in terms of characterisation but just the concept that woman equals kitchen was rather repulsive and frustrating. Also it just seemed out of place in the series, because it’s certainly not one where the female characters take a passive role or anything like that so why it assumes that she gets banged into the kitchen I have no idea.

It’s not really a negative but some people may feel that the animation is a bit straightforward and simplistic by modern standards but personally I don’t see this as much of a drawback, mainly because the show is very well designed and when you step back and look at the artistic vision it’s actually quite impressive. Again remember this is the 39 episode piece of television, each a twenty-five reasonably quickly made episode rather than a two-hour big budget feature film. It avoids falling into the old budget saving trap of relying upon still images, something that TV series frequently can to reduce the need to animate a scene. Considering this is an adventure series at heart you do have scenes of combat and explosions and stuff and considering the additional cost in animating such scenes, it makes it all the more impressive that they tend to manage to avoid a lot of the still image problem, though they do make use of some of the old and sneaky techniques such as people covering their mouths with their hands, or perhaps a lapel blocking character’s lips, as they talk so that even though it may be a still image we not really aware of it being so, because it’s just part of what would be the camera angle. So this is all eminently forgivable and really the animation is actually very fluid. Some of the character design admittedly is not overly original; Jean being an inventor has a rather large pair of spectacles and of course has a slightly geeky appearance. Nadia herself being somewhat exotic and an acrobat is slightly skimpily dressed but not in a sexualised way. Thankfully we generally have a lack of any fan service. Phew. Grandis has big flaming red hair that signifies her rather passionate nature and the characters such as Nemo’s second-in-command, Electra, her hair tends to be tied back just as her emotions are kept tightly in check. Nemo’s face tends to be darkened and slightly hidden behind a rather bushy moustache, symbolising all those things that he refuses to say. The child Marie is of courses short, squat and has a wide bubbly face matching her personality and though these are all the little bit obvious none of them really matter, because again it is rather charming. Admittedly part of me is not quite so sure about the faceless villains, if only because masks aside some of their headgear is slightly reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, even if they don’t necessarily wear great big gowns underneath them. In some way the design of the villains reminds me of the rather anonymous men sent out to kill Mireille and Kirika years later in another anime series, Noir, where on the rooftops of Paris quite literally masked, faceless gunmen attempt rather desperately and fail miserably to kill our pair of heroines. There is a certain irony in their facelessness towards the very end of the series, but I won’t give the spoiler away.

It’s interesting that the director, Hideaki Anno didn’t feel like he had enough creative control over the series unlike his later work, Neon Genesis Evangeleon, which initially bombed, only to find success when it was moved into an adult timeslot, though Nadia: The Secret of Blue water does have some of the hallmarks of that series. Some of the images in the series have the same monstrous elements of NGE (though less horrific in some of their implications), as well as some similar hints of darkness. You do feel though that Anno is striving to try and imbue the series with the far more mature themes that were so successful in NGE. He keeps remaking it after all and for good reason. You notice how even some of the music by Shiro Sagisu is reminiscent of the rather more melodramatic elements of NGE; though otherwise there are some interesting musical motifs, such as when our faceless villains appear in their most destructive guises, especially rather grand airships, the booming music sounds like it could almost be trying to erupt into strains of Rule Britannia, which is interesting because it does play as if like a national anthem.


Thinking about music, why don’t you play us out


I enjoyed watching Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water, not only did I like the way in which it mingled myth and fiction with its original storytelling it was also a nicely structured adventure yarn. On one level it has something of a wide-eyed innocence about it yet at the very same time there lurks a slightly murky heart of darkness under the surface courtesy one thinks of the director, Anno. As the film strips away many of its layers and gives up some of its secrets, some of these will be reasonably obvious but some of them bring with them the enjoyment of the wondrous and the series as a whole embraces the possibilities of imagination as perhaps we may have seen the world ourselves as children, though it is never childish. It’s not a series that is ashamed of being out there to entertain and yes it has some clichés, and yes some of the connections between the characters and some of the elements of plot are predictable and at times a bit formulaic, yet the series has a certain gumption to it; it tends to unfurl in a very natural way and even if it does drag once, for the most part it flows along smoothly and is an awful lot of fun to watch. I did enjoy it immensely and I think if it had been aimed more solely at a children’s audience it would have been grating but because it had that more mature or edge to it, it meant that you could see how it could appeal to anybody of any age. Because of the connection to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea; you can see how the story could appeal to an individual who likes stories by authors such as Jules Verne, also those who enjoy and share some of the passion of Miyazaki. This series is interesting too because it has a slightly steampunk edge to it but without ever trying to be steampunk (thank gawd), somewhat before its time. Rather it uses technology based on myths and legends, as well as embracing the possibilities of it. I must admit I have something of a weakness for thrilling tales and at heart Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water is quite a thrilling tale.

So absolutely it is something that I would recommend. To everybody? Not necessarily but I think it may well appeal to the inner child of most people and as I say I can see how it could appeal to children of any age between about six and one hundred and six. I can’t say how good the English dub is because I only ever watched it with subtitles, never being a fan of English dubs; the voices tend to just feel wrong. The voice acting I thought was pretty much top-notch throughout, though in the best tradition of voice acting never seem to impinge too much upon one’s consciousness. The voices just seemed absolutely right for the characters. In terms of the Blu-ray itself, the release covers five discs and the transfer has been beautifully made. It draws out everything that is there in the colours and what detail there is, and because this is an adventure full of technology and excitement then that’s all the more important. For anybody interested in a huge array of extras then look somewhere else. Even though the final disc only has three episodes on it – and to put this into perspective the first disc has nine – I was thinking that it would probably have a panoply of potentially middlingly interesting stuff but actually it just has the usual trailers and clean opening and closing animation.

In terms of cost I find it interesting that it seems to me that anime released on blu-ray suddenly seems to have jumped up in price considerably just over the prices in the last few months. The blu-ray at the moment can cost you anywhere between £54 and about £40. Considering you have five discs you can argue that that’s not too much money because it will keep you entertained for quite some time but it does feel like quite a lot of dosh and if you’ve little cash then it’s a bit investment for something you might not like. Of course I got mine through lovefilm which was rather gratifying. But I would have to ask myself the question: would I buy it? And its current price no. I would be interested to re-watch it, to see if I enjoy it as much a second time but I would only be willing to pay something closer to the £30 mark. It’s true that the DVD is cheaper but I feel that the Blu-ray transfer, with its concomitant visual sharpness, is probably the way to go. Hopefully the price will drop because though you can see how the distribution company need to make their money back it does seem to me that they may be perhaps pricing themselves out of a large portion of the market and sometimes selling greater volumes at a lower price may mean that they make more money in the long run. But then I’m not in marketing so I could be talking complete blathering nonsense.

In short: fun, entertaining, surprisingly mature, mainly with pleasing character development and always played with wide-eyed wondrouness.


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Comments on this review

  • Chippytarka published 25/09/2015
    A wowzer if a review!x
  • mi_wa published 24/09/2015
    My friend likes this, but I don't think I'll watch an anime again...
  • Mistybrook published 12/09/2015
    E :) Will definitely have to check this out.
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Product Information : Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy

EAN: 5022366870542

Country Of Origin: Japan

Main Language: Japanese

Video Category: Anime

Director(s): Hideaki Anno

Studio: Manga Entertainment

Classification: 15 years and over

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Listed on Ciao since: 29/06/2015