The ‘90s were a golden age of anime, from Dragon Ball Z and Ghost in the Shell to Cowboy Bebop and beyond, it was a time when anime well and truly went global. Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water tends to get forgotten about when fans get misty eyed and nostalgic, but with this five-disc Blu-ray set, it’s about time that changed.
Perhaps more than any other series, Nadia has a perfect pedigree, based on a short story by Hayao Miyazaki, itself very loosely based on Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and co-directed by Neon Genesis Evangelion mastermind Hideaki Anno. It uses the Verne story as a springboard to tell the tale of an alternate 1889, where Gargoyle, a sinister and industrious villain, strives to restore the Atlantean empire to dominance over humanity.
Jean Ratlique is a gifted and goofy whiz kid, tinkering at inventions which all inevitable fail. After saving circus performer Nadia from testy red head Senorita Grandis Granva and her two goons, the inventor Hanson and dandy Sanson, they go on a long mysterious journey to uncover the secret of the strange blue gem that hangs around Nadia’s neck: the blue water. Orbiting the centre of their journey is Captain Nemo and his submarine The Nautilus, making for a vivid take on the source material.
The animation is very in keeping with the Studio Ghibli style, who had really hit their stride by the early ‘90s. It might not be up to the same scrupulous standard, and the quality does fluctuate throughout, but there is an acute attention to detail, especially given the impressive roster of machinery and the scope of the story’s ambition. It might be at odds with today’s animation, though it’s a style fondly remembered, and memorably brought back to life in series like Gurren Lagann.
Alternating between dubs is a good idea, and gives you an insight into western attitudes to anime at the time. Many of the English voices either don’t fit their characters or mewl through terrible French accents. But other performances including Nadia (Meg Bauman) and Nemo (Ev Lunning) are fairly strong. To get the most out of the series, stick to the Japanese dub. But in whatever language, the soundtrack is superb and energetic, utilising cool jazz pieces, ominous synth and playful, jangly pop ballads.
Episode 22, Electra the Traitor, is the series highlight; a gut-wrenching and emotionally-charged peak. While the plot twists are easy to predict, it doesn’t soften their impact. But Nadia is a series of halves, and after this highpoint the character development wanes, the plot loses steam and the filler sets in. Episode 34, My Darling Nadia, is the dull apotheosis, made up of clip shows and musical numbers. It isn’t until the next episode that things start to pick up again. Once back on top form, it makes for a resonating and satisfying end. With some serious cuts, it could well be one of the greats.
Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, is about adolescence and adulthood, the gulf between and the transition from one to the other. It chronicles the friction between science and nature, of technology and faith in a hugely influential, effortlessly funny series, with archetype setting and dynamic characters on a memorable and poignant journey. It’s a near essential series that frequently goes unexpected places, taking a genuine intellectual look at ethics and philosophy. While the lack of real extras might make the £50 price tag steep, it’s a must have.
Special Features: Opening and closing animation / TV spot / Trailers
INFO: NADIA: THE SECRET OF THE BLUE WATER – COMPLETE COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: NORIKA HIDAKA, KENYUU HORIUCH, YOSHINO TAKAMORI, AKIO OHTSUKA, MEG BAUMAN, EV LUNNING, NATHAN PARSONS / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 22ND