What They Say:
Long ago, humans lived in the sea. However, some humans defied the Sea God and moved to the land, creating the division that now exists between Shioshishio, the Sea Village, and Oshiooshi, the village of the land. Now, four middle school students from the Sea Village, Manaka Mukaido, Hikari Sakishima, Chisaki Hiradaira, and Kaname Isaki must attend Mihama Middle School on the surface. While getting used to their new lives, these four and their new friend from the surface, Tsumugu Kihara, learn how true bonds of love and friendship can overcome any separation.
The audio presentation for this series is done with the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language adaptation, both of which are done in the uncompressed PCM form. The series is one that while it does have its couple of big moments along the way, it’s not a show that’s going to impress in a bombastic kind of way. Where it does impress is with the small sounds, the incidental moments, and the score itself as it weaves itself in and out of the storyline. Sometimes the best mixes are the ones you don’t even hear in a way as it elevates everything and that’s certainly true here, but it also knows how to swell things in the right way, bringing the whole experience up as it works a strong forward soundstage to make the series engaging with the way the characters talk across it while the smaller sounds and the music enhances it. A really strong mix overall and one that makes out better with both being uncompressed.
Originally airing in the fall of 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-six episode series is spread across three discs with a nine/nine/eight format, giving it a solid amount of space to work with. Animated by PA Works, the series is an utter visual delight across the board and the transfer has to do it justice. With some very rich colors, very detailed backgrounds and some very fluid animation sequences which naturally involves a lot of water, the end result here is one of the most striking looking series I’ve seen. A good portion of that is just owed to the overall design of it, but the transfer brings it to life in such a great way on a big screen set that you realize that a standard definition version would not do it any justice at all and would likely detract from the experience. Here, colors are beautiful and solid, the detail is definitely making it all the more appealing on repeat viewings to sift through and there’s pretty much nothing to find fault with here as it represents the show beautifully.
While I do still miss the longer and thinner premium box sets, NIS America has once again put together a fantastic box set here. The heavy chipboard box is a big one to hold everything that it comes with and it looks beautiful while doing it. The two main panels provide some good pieces for the cast to shine with one taking place under the sea and one while on top of the sea so that we get a good mix of characters with some beautiful design work and fantastic colors. The spine is kept simple with the English language logo but it’s done with a white background and blue text, the text of which is embossed. That carries to the top with a great under the sea visual from the tradition and folklore of the series which just makes it all the more appealing. Small details sometimes make the biggest impact. The bottom of the box provides the basics of what’s inside in terms of the disc authoring and encoding, even to the point of breaking down the discs and what each one is.
Inside the box we get four clear DVD sized keepcases where three of them hold the Blu-ray discs of the show and the fourth contains the two soundtracks. The cases for the show are very appealing with the white backgrounds to it while the foreground has different pairings of the cast as they stand in shallow water or lay about in it. With some beautiful color design and a trend towards simplicity, it stands out perfectly. The back covers are all different pieces of artwork used to promote the series with large visuals of the landscape while the characters populate it in a smaller way, present but not the dominant aspect. It also breaks down the episodes by number and title and with what extras are included with that particular disc. Each case also has more character artwork on the reverse side which gives you lots of choices. The soundtrack case goes with some good images from the show itself under the sea as well as a few framing elements in the blues and whites that works well. The back cover adds more landscape visuals from aboveground while breaking down the extensive track listing for each of the discs. It’s a lot of stuff but it’s done in a very clean way. Inside this case we get a good little booklet with English and Japanese lyrics for fans and more background artwork as the reverse side.
Last but by no means least, we get the wonderful sixty-four page full color art book. With a great image of some of the characters on the cover, we get all the details that you want from something like this. Twenty plus pages on character designs and finalized images, pages of commentary on the individual episodes and then a lot of gorgeous background and setting pages that gives you a chance to really just soak up the beautiful design work done for this series. What really takes this book the extra mile though is the additional commentary associated with various episodes that have the creative team going into detail about certain choices and meaning. It’s worth investing the time in reading and then rewatching some of those episodes for it all to click perfectly.
While there’s a lot to like about the character designs for this series, I’m glad the menus focused on the background pieces. Using those to set the mood and atmosphere of each disc and going into the show works exceptionally well and provides that rare time where you want to just soak it up. I wish they had been able to set up an extra where we had a background screen saver using all the artwork from this series with the backgrounds. The navigation is kept simple with blue bubbles that are placed either along the bottom or the sides where all the standard access points are available. It all loads quickly and easily, though still a touch frustrating that you can’t loop around in the menu nor that when you use the episode selection during playback in the pop-up menu it doesn’t show you which episode you’re on as opposed to highlighting the first episode of the set.
The on disc extras for this series are fairly straightforward as we get the couple of clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as the original Japanese promos for the show.
When animation studios work on original projects, there’s usually a good bit of anticipation to see what they can do when freed from having to focus on strictly adapting in order to please fans. Naturally, some studios get paid more attention for it than others and PA Works is certainly one of those. With a strong design sense about them in their adaptations so far, seeing what this one would produce definitely left me curious when it was first announced, though I missed out on the simulcast. With Mari Okada writing the overall concept for it and directed by Toshiya Shinohara, what we get is a twenty-six episode series that may play familiar in some ways but also pushes forward in some beautiful, haunting and saddening ways. The advantage for those in watching it weekly was that you got to soak up those individual experiences. Watching this over two days in marathon form left me seeing the larger themes playing out and a quicker resolution, but one that was no less painful.
The series gives us a curious world where humanity started under the sea originally, at least according to the tales told, and over time a growing number began to move out of the sea to live on land. That’s given rise to a larger and more active population out there, though because they left they were unable to return underwater where those that live there breathe freely thanks to their Ena that protects them. They’re able to spend time on land, but have to refresh periodically and often spend only a few hours or most of a day before returning. There’s a bit more of an older feeling to those under the sea in the village of Shishiosho that we spend time in, but they take advantage of some of what those on land have creative, such as televisions and other minor things.
Those in the village of Oshio have a bit of 1960’s/70’s kind of technological and cultural feeling, though things are a bit further along when we see the bigger city areas from time to time. Contrasting those places on land with the underwater is intriguing alone, especially with the way light plays through the water, the schools of fish swimming through and the movements of the characters. But it’s best to not try and place too much logic on aspects, simply due to limitations in animation and time. The truth is that both sides have some utterly beautiful designs to them and this feels like a fully realized alternate world that you want to explore every nook and cranny of.
Within this framework, we’re introduced to a group of four middle school students from Shioshisio that have had their school close down since the population has kind of stagnated there. They’re now having to go up to the middle school on the surface, which is something new for everyone all around at that age level. For the middle school students, we get them talking about the fishy smell, the wetness and the weirdness of it all, while within the group that we get to know, the ostensible leader of it with Hikari is generally against surface dwellers. What keeps him somewhat in control is that Manaka is really interested in them and even has a love at first sight kind of moment on their first day going to school there. Hikari is totally in love with her, but she’s oblivious and he’s afraid to change everything by revealing it to her. To complicate matters, their friend Chisaki is smitten herself with Hikari while Kaname is in love with Chisaki. All of them are keeping these kinds of things secret and it’s the underlying tension of the show, which resolves itself in different ways at different stages.
From a superficial point of view, it is essentially a middle school romance/drama series with some interesting trappings. But it’s also a show that works those trappings and characters in a really engaging way with the supporting cast that comes up and explorations of how Shioshishio works with traditions and some of the larger elements going on. One of the big plot points that comes along involves Uroko, a scale of the Sea God that fell off during events ages ago when the balance of how the surface and those from below interacted with each other. He provides the fire the works under the sea from God to its residents, dispenses some wisdom and some curses along the way, and adds a mildly perverted bit of fun as well. With his being the word of the Sea God, he pushes the maintaining of traditions but also reveals that significant changes are ahead for the people, with the end of the world coming – both above and below. That plays some really neat aspects overall and Uroko is carefully used rather than overplayed.
It also helps that with the supporting cast we get some really engaging characters, such as Hikari’s older sister Akari who ends up in a relationship with a widowed man from the surface. Should she choose him, she’d be banished from returning to the village and that provides its own obvious complications. We get to see some others that made this choice as well, and some that were impacted by it through love on both sides. There’s a lot of exploration of different configurations of relationships here in the context of the two “species” in a sense and how love pushes them to do things that will hurt them, but still provide them with something so deep and meaningful that they can’t resist. Manaka’s interest in the fellow classmate Tsumugu is a key part of it all, since as it turns we see Hikari jealous but wanting her to be happy, Tsumugu nice but not deeply interested, and then his own interest shifting to Chisaki, which obviously has its own complications. All while everyone is pursuing their own interests and trying to ensure they all stay together and that things don’t change within the core group. Oh, and that whole story element where everyone from Shioshishio have to go into hibernation for an undetermined length of time in order to preserve their culture from the impending end of the world.
One of the things that a lot of shows don’t do, simply because it does change so many things, are time jumps. These are things that I’ve loved when they happen since my first anime was with Macross, as you get to change things and actually make some progress in so many ways. This show utilizes that method around the halfway point and it allows them to explore some really good things by removing most of the main cast and focusing on just a few of those uninvolved in the hibernation event. That provides a great view at what’s changed since the view is limited to them, but it also allows the two that do live through that period to be able to grow in ways that are unlike the rest of the core cast. And it takes some younger characters that you didn’t pay much mind to in the first half and it changes their stories dramatically, painfully so in the case of one of them. And being able to do that amid all the other storylines just shows how layered and interesting the series is as it balances all of it.
A Lull in the Sea, or Nagi no Asukara as it was originally known, is the kind of series where you can write pages and pages about the interactions, meanings and choices that exist here before even getting into the world building that’s going on. That the series manages to make it so engaging, so grounded and fully realized, in the time that it does really says a lot. There’s a true beauty to this work that should stand the test of time in a way a lot of shows don’t and it’s a series that merits a repeat viewing yearly in order to soak up more of it and immerse yourself into this world. While the loves and lives of middle school students can be draining or uninteresting a lot of the time, there are shows like this one where it elevates it to something far more interesting and engaging. This is a beautiful show from start to finish that’s more fully realized through the release here with the discs and packaging. Fans of the show know the magic of it and it’s worth every investment to have it as a part of your collection.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Original Japanese Trailers, original CD soundtracks and a 76-page full color hardcover art book with character info, an episode guide, text commentary, prop designs, and full background art and art settings.
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: June 30th, 2015
Running Time: 615 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.