The struggles of youth against the harsh reality of the adult world set against an engaging old school backdrop.
What They Say:
The World’s Fair, Paris, 1889. A young inventor crosses paths with an enigmatic girl and her pet lion. Suddenly they find themselves pursued by villainous trio intent upon stealing the magical Blue Water. Thus begins an epic adventure inspired by Jules Verne’s masterpiece 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Join Nadia and Jean as they travel the high seas in search of Nadia’s homeland and her past, their only clue the mysterious jewel Nadia wears. Can they unravel the Secret of the Blue Water before it is too late?
Contains episodes 1-39.
The audio presentation for this release is solid as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language track, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. While the show is closing in on its twenty-fifth anniversary, it holds up very well here as it uses the forward soundstage well to enhance the tale. The action sequences go nicely big as warranted and there’s some fun directionality to be had both with the simpler and more comical elements and the bigger action elements. The music provides for some swirling moments and very warm and engaging opening and closing sequences, but it’s dialogue where things tend to count more. The result we get here is a very good one where it captures the feel of the original well, providing placement where necessary and generally coming across in a very clean and problem free way, which isn’t always possible when you start going back so many years. While it’s not standout title in terms of mixing or design, it serves the material well and is quite properly represented here.
Originally airing in 1990 and 1991, the transfer for this thirty-nine episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s spread across five discs with nine episodes on each of the first four discs and three on the final, which is also where the handful of extras reside. The series really is quite striking here at times as it has some truly beautiful moments that benefit well from the high definition presentation and sourcing that was done in Japan. With the traditional animation on film that we get here, details are really appealing to delve into since there’s so many intricate moments at times with the technology side of it and with some of the characters as well. Colors are solid throughout with the appropriate feel of grain for it that doesn’t descend into problems with noise or breakup. The infamous island episodes are a bit weaker in animation and that shows through here, including a few scenes that are softer than others, but by and large this set is just the best the series has looked at home and is an absolute delight.
Coming off of the VHS releases initially, which were a real treat, and then the ten volume DVD run, the packaging for this release is a mixed bag in a way. The downside is that I do admit to loving the heft of those original releases, the amount of artwork you got and the design. The positive here is the compactness of space, the absolutely beautiful artwork we get and the fact that it does work well with the blue case. The case itself is slightly thicker than normal, but not one that goes above and beyond, as it has the hinges inside to hold the five discs. The front cover gives us a beautiful illustration piece of Nadia and jean together with so many little trademark bits of the show and it has such a polish to it, so much little detail to it, that it just makes me grin when I look at it. It feels like the kind of cover a very respected show like this should have. The back cover works this feeling just as well while using shots from the show and some very smooth character artwork in the middle of the main pair under the Blue Water necklace. With some very good blues for the background design, the upper quadrant gives us the premise against a properly framed black background that gives it a little extra class. The shots from the show are pretty well chosen and we get a clean listing of the episode count, disc count and what extras there are. It’s rounded out by the usual production credits segment, which uses the same background as the border from the VHS and DVD releases, while also filling in all the technical aspects in a clear and easy to read format. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release has a generally standard flow to it but it does change up from disc to disc with some of the layout elements. They’re all steeped in different shades of deep blue for the most part where we get an ocean feeling to some of the backgrounds depending on the size and orientation of the artwork piece that’s being used as the centerpiece. These pieces are classic bits of artwork that were used years ago and have a lot of pop and detail to them and a great sense of color design that makes them lively when appropriate and foreboding in some of the others. With a clean and simple logo included, each menu is one that really sets the tone nicely and leaves you wanting to take some time to admire it, something a lot of menus don’t have you feeling. The right side has the navigation strip of episodes by number in title with orange and white against black that fits surprisingly well. It’s very easy to navigate and doubles well as the pop-up menu during regular playback.
Considering the age of the show, I didn’t have much hope in the way of extras and that’s pretty much the case here. We do get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as some of the original promos and TV spots for the show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With loose ties to the Jules Verne book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water is a series that largely showed anime fans where Gainax would go as a studio for years to come. Not that they knew it at the time, but with works like Wings of Honneamise out there and this, you could see something special with their approach to story, reworking materials already in existence and pushing boundaries forward a bit in how it challenges its characters, especially young children in difficult situations. And how, as adults, we view those kids in these situations and can be frustrated with them while not acknowledging their experiences, the time it took place in and other social context cues. But we also get a show that is for the most part a pretty great little adventure story with epic scale to it that is slowly revealed. And now we get it it in luscious high definition.
Taking place in 1889, we’re at that period in time where there’s a lot of revolution going on with technology as it’s becoming an important part in how the world is changing, largely in terms of transportation. The initial introduction is to bring us Jean, a fourteen year old French inventor who loves the idea of flight and has built his own magnificent craft to show off at the international fair. Seeing what we do of the others, it’s clear that he’s in a league of his own with what he can create and he has a bright future ahead of him. But his future is taking a huge detour here as while preparing for his turn in the lengthy queue of attempts going on, he ends up coming across a beautiful and exotic young woman named Nadia, a circus performer who hails from Africa that has found herself ready to leave everything and find her way to the home she never knew. Along with her pint sized lion friend named King, she’s a child lost with no true family of her own and a protected view of how the world works since she was largely kept to performing, something that she grew very wary and weary of over the years.
While Jean is admiring of her, what thrusts the two of them together is that it turns out that Nadia is suddenly being chased by a group that wants the mysterious Blue Water gem she wears as a necklace, the only thing from her heritage that she has. The group that’s after her is the Grandis Gang, lead by the beautiful and spunky Grandis Granva who sees the gem as a step towards a better life. We get a lot of her background later in the show and these opening moments make a lot more sense when that hits, making her a more compelling character when added with other growth that happens. She’s ably aided by Hanson and Sanson, two people who worked for her family where Hanson is a technical genius himself, albeit not to Jean’s level, while Sanson is the strength and manliness that helps them survive a number of situations as they travel the world.
The whole chase aspect that dominates the early episodes are light and fun in a way because we see the kind of outlandish things that Hanson builds and we get to know the main characters here pretty well as Jean and Nadia are working together, but have very different worldviews. Jean is all about technology to move mankind forward but Nadia is more of a naturalist and a vegan, which causes plenty of issues along the way because she has quite the superior attitude about it. Not that Jean isn’t superior about his technological prowess, but there’s a certain venom that Nadia applies to her words about it that does not paint her well. With all of this working a fairly standard routine, it’s fun to watch them on the run, getting to know each other and having some quirky silliness with King, since he’s a pretty understanding and amusing little lion character.
Where the show takes a fascinating turn, and heads into the Jules Verne aspect, is when while on the run, they get caught up in much larger events involving a superior technology submarine named the Nautilus that’s engaged in a war with a massive force known as Gargoyle that’s bent on world domination. Gargoyle is seemingly descended from Atlantis and uses the technology of a world from twelve thousand years prior, which provides for some great pieces of equipment that come up that totally don’t fit the time period and make for some lush detail revealed on the part of the animators. Gargoyle has a great faceless look with interesting uniforms while wearing masks and having a singular leader that is intent on taking down the Nautilus. While they are a thorn in his side, there’s also a personal issue there as the captain of the Nautilus, Nemo, has ties to Gargoyle and devastating events from thirteen years prior that set Nemo on his course for war against Gargoyle.
Having Jean, Nadia and the Grandis Gang caught up in all of it, they’re unwilling participants to a degree, but the types like Jean and Hanson are just too intrigued to stay away and Grandis sees Nemo as a potential husband. IT also doesn’t hurt that the first officer is a beautiful blonde named Electra that catches a few eyes as well. There’s tensions that happen, but a lot of the show really begins to work through the larger battle that’s being fought, Nadia’s connection to it and the discovery of what Atlantis was really all about. Which makes some fascinating story connections as there’s so much past to work with, so many interesting futuristic technologies to grapple with and the incongruity of placing it all in 1889.
With thirty nine episodes to work with, the series does largely space itself well with what it wants to do, teasing out the Gargoyle storyline, some of the character connections, past revelations and the whole Atlantean aspect as well. Unfortunately, the show is infamous for the “island arc” that runs about ten episodes starting in the early twenties which puts Jean, Nadia, King and four year old Marie on an island where they go through all sorts of issues. It’s padding to be sure, though the Red Noah episode offers some very strong plot pieces for the larger narrative, but it’s also kind of destructive to the characters. Yes, the animation is done by the B-team and it has a lot of goofy material. But it also gives us Nadia and Jean going at it with their established positions about the world and their view of it, largely with Nadia being really recalcitrant in a lot of ways, making for some head against a wall kind of moments. I really like Nadia overall, but she hasn’t hit that grow up and face reality phase in some regards during this arc and we only get the first real glimmers of it towards the end. The arc is easy to ignore overall, though I found it less problematic while marathoning it, but it’s not one of the highlights of the series and does drag down the overall work.
That said, if you do skip the episodes or take the long view of things, this series really is something special. So much of what Gainax does here in terms of story story structure, the youth character aspects and challenges they face within themselves while coping with the world and the kind of animation they provide you can see the way it was a guidepost for how they’d proceed. The smoothness of so many scenes with the technology really impressed even all these years later and the style of certain things remained a trademark piece of their design sensibilities. With the series being nudged along in its original concept by Hayao Miyazaki and then letting Hideaki Anno serve as the overall director, it’s an interesting meshing of talents and thought that takes on its own life and really moves forward. Not easily, not smoothly at times, but it provides a run that has managed to be just as interesting now as it was when it first debuted in 1990 and when I first saw it in 2001.
For me, Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water most assuredly stands the test of time so far. The series has its flaws to be sure, but as a whole and with the core work itself, it’s a hugely engaging show that wants to go big, achieves it in many ways but feels like they were still unsure in some regards how to pull it off. There’s a lot of different things going on here and it’s the kind of series that’s, sacrilege to say, begging for a proper cable network live action adaptation in order to explore more of the themes in a deeper and more engaging way. I really enjoyed this show the first time around at four episodes every six weeks or so, but marathoning it over the course of three days gives you a somewhat different perspective. With this Blu-ray release, we get a striking show in with the animation quality, the detail and the fluidity of many scenes. It’s a fantastic package in total and one that looks great from top to bottom. For fans of the show, it may not have a big, flashy Japanese style box with tons of bells and whistles, but it delivers a hundred percent in terms of content and presentation. Highly recommended.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Japanese Promos, TV Spots
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: B0
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Running Time: 975 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.