Both cultures are fully realised, but the underwater mecca of Shioshishio, like a sunken Grecian city, is majestic in design and indicative of a society with a distinct past, flourishing present and a future every bit as uncertain as our own. Life on land is just as detailed, with the setting evoking contemporary Japan mixed in with the fantastical. Crucially, the setting looks used and lived in, and only adds to the sense that we’re watching a handful of a hundred stories play out.
Instead of coddling the viewer with exposition early on, A Lull in the Sea chucks you in at the deep end and drip feeds the details. In lesser hands, perhaps the series wouldn’t have had the same resonance or emotional impact, but screenwriter Mari Okada gradually introduces the many characters, making the viewer feel more a part of the protagonists’ tight knit group than a passive observer. There’s some blanket explanations, and the occasional need to stop and explain plot points, but by the half way point, their drama is your drama and their tears are your tears.
Hikari is on the cusp of manhood and dealing with the anger and excitement of adolescence, where every emotion is too big for your body. He’s not particularly attentive, but his unending love for his friends and family is meant well but misdirected. More than any of the other characters, he’s caught between the views of the older generation and the reality of being a middle schooler on land. It’s this generational divide that’s at the heart of the series and provides the narrative kick. Manaka, on the other hand, is easily embarrassed with a sheepish attitude that no doubt extends from so many humiliating experiences. It’s not that she’s awkward that curries so much pathos, but because she’s the lynchpin of the family unit and takes on their pain and failings. Her trajectory, even in this first curve, outshines any other in complexity and depth. She’s first introduced to land dweller Tsumugu Kihara after he accidentally catches her in a fishing net, sparking a Capulet/Montague romance (minus the underage sex and suicide, of course). Counterpointing her self-consciousness, he’s introspective and intuitive and fascinated with all things Shioshishio.
The slow burn plot is married with one of the most beautiful examples of animation. The characters are exquisitely rendered, but it’s the attention to background detail that sells the awe inspiring backdrops, whether it’s reflections, the glimmering ena or the undulating jelly fish that swim into frame. Even the English dub is up to snuff. Toshiya Shinohara’s direction coupled with the delicate acoustic score makes A Lull in the Sea a wondrous, unconventional and heart-warming journey. And that’s just the first half.
Special Features: Clean opening and ending / Bonus Episode 14 / Trailers
A LULL IN THE SEA PART 1 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: TOSHIYA SHINOHARA / SCREENPLAY: MARI OKADA / STARRING: NATSUKI HANAE, MAX MITTELMAN, KANA HANAZAWA, MICHELLE RUFF, AI KAYANO, BRIANNA KNICKERBOCKER / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 10TH