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 pay more attention to it than others and PA Works is certainly one of those. With a strong design sense about them in their adaptations over the years, the announcement for A Lull in the Sea definitely had me interested in seeing what they would produce. 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 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 a 1960s/70s 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 who have had their school close down since the population has kind of stagnated there. They’re now having to go up to 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 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.
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 their 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 has 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 anime shows don’t do, simply because it does change so many things, is 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 of 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.