Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Fushigi no Umi no Nadia)

  • TV Show
  • PG-13
  • By Hideaki Anno 
  • Reviewed by Anonymous

The following are out of 5

Racial Representation: 4

LGBTQ+ Representation: 0

Disability Representation: 1

Body Size Representation: 3

Gender Representation: 4

Socioeconomic Representation: 3

Mental Health Representation: 4

Religious Representation: 2

Own Voice: The writer and director, Hideaki Anno, has first hand experience dealing with mental illness and depression, but is not part of a minority or marginalized group in his home country of Japan.

**Contains spoilers**

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, or Fushigi no Umi no Nadia (Nadia of the Mysterious Seas) was an anime loosely based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea helmed by writer and director Hideaki Anno which aired from 1990 to 1991 on the NHK network in Japan. It tells the story of a young circus acrobat in late 19th century Europe named Nadia who dreams of returning to her homeland (which she believes to be located somewhere in Africa). She encounters a young inventor named Jean Rocque Raltique, and together the two set off on a perilous adventure to discover her origins. Lead by her mysterious magical necklace, the duo encounter meet many new friends along the way such the dastardly Grandis Gang, find themselves becoming crewmates on a mysterious submarine called the Nautilus, and are pursued for by an evil organization who seek Nadia’s necklace the Blue Water for their own vile ends.

As a show, Nadia addresses race in a rather complex manner for an anime from the 1990s. In the show, Nadia has grown up facing persecution for her dark complexion in 19th century Europe, and has suffered mistreatment as an indentured worker in her circus troupe. The racism of the 19th century is addressed head on in several episodes of the series where Nadia herself is turned away refuge by her companion Jean’s aunt who believes her to be thief and a vagabond solely on the basis of her skin color. The persecution has shaped Nadia’s world view and has led her to self-isolate and trend towards mistrusting others, especially adults. This anxiety over feeling othered for her distinct appearance amplifies later in the series when Nadia discovers that she is of Atlantean descent (in this show a race of humanoid aliens), and this fear is later extracted by the show’s villains who try to convince her to join their side and enslave humanity by playing into her past discrimination as a dark skinned girl in a European setting, and attempting to convince her that her alienation would only worsen should the world know that she’s not even human. Nadia however remains undeterred when the villains proposition her as by the end of the series she has grown to find a surrogate family through Jean and the rest of the cast who embrace and love her for who she is, and don’t judge her by her appearance or origins.

The series also tackles a wide array of female representation, with women holding positions of power and authority in the show such as the Nautilus’ second in command Electra and the leader of the Grandis Gang, Grandis Granva. There is quite a good deal of talk related to romance towards male suitors between the female characters in the series which at times can feel like the show overly focuses on the topic, but this is hardly the only facet of the female characters in this series. They’re motivated by revenge and the desire for blood such as in the case of Electra who lost her entire family to the series’ villainous organization, they seek the comfort of wealth and security to replace the upper class comfort stolen from them as a youth such as in the case of Grandis, and they seek feel like they belong in a world where they do not look like or feel at home with the people and society they inhabit such as with Nadia herself.

Mental health remains a crucial topic for Nadia’s character development. Her years of alienation have left her feeling unloved and alone in the world, causing her to fall into bouts of depression and lash out at any perceived slight even if unintentional. Nadia’s mental health in particular takes a toll after she discovers herself to be an Atlantean instead of human. She learns that she is the last of a long dynasty of Atlantean rulers (including direct relatives of hers) that have left a history of bloodshed, war, and subjugation; and begins to internalize this as a fault within herself believing that she too contains the capacity to be a tyrant. This eventually culminates with Jean and her newfound family confirming that regardless of her origins or lineage, the only person who can define Nadia’s worth is herself and she learns to value her worth free from the constrictions placed upon her by bigots or weight of her lineage.

The show touches on other themes as well. Nadia’s socioeconomic upbringing as a poor indentured circus worker plays into her cagey behavior towards others she feels look down upon her. The show also has a couple of examples of diverse body types primarily in the Grandis Gang member of Hanson who is overweight, but this element of his character is mostly uncommented on and he is treated as an equal member of the team. Nadia herself has Christian leanings, and although this is not in and of itself a minority religion, her beliefs which emphasize a value of all living things to the point she considers herself a vegetarian and a pacifist a contrasted as radical in the 19th century setting of the series. There is one character that could perhaps be considered disabled, the Atlantean Emperor Neo whose body was remade into that of a cyborg following a deadly explosion. However this goes noticeably under explored in the series.

I’d love to end my discussion here, but I feel obliged to be honest about this series’ imperfections. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is 39 episodes in length, but it was not always intended to be so. Midway through the show’s development, the NHK network ordered an additional run of episodes due to the series popularity. As a result, production of many episodes midway through the series was rushed and helmed by a different team of staff not under writer/director Hideaki Anno’s wing. Episode 23-29 and 32-34 are of a noticeably lower quality than the rest of the series as a result. Episodes 32-34 in particular flanderize the characters to an insulting degree and introduce minor one-off characters who are portrayed with racial stereotypes that were often depressingly common in anime of the late 80s and early 90s. Episodes 32-34 are of basically no consequence to the story and can be wholly skipped without missing anything. But the existence of these episodes remain an absolute shame because at its best Nadia remains a striking piece of representation for minorities, women, and those with mental health in classic anime, and even knowing that the episodes are skippable doesn’t change the fact that it somewhat hurts Nadia’s thematic resonance which is why I’ve given the show’s racial representation a 4 as opposed to a 5.

Nadia is a series that due a troubled production is often at odds with itself, but the core of the show is always in the right place. Aside from a few troubled episodes (that read as close to non-canon as they possibly could given how little the material in those episodes interact with the series), the show is a fantastic piece of representation and a adventure series and character piece. I implore anyone who hasn’t seen this series to give it a watch for themselves. (Episodes 23-29 are a slog but I wouldn’t skip them unless you really can’t stand them as they do contain some minor but important continuity. Skip episodes 32-34. They offer nothing of value.)

Sources:

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