Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
(Fushigi no umi no Nadia) (1990-1991)
Directed by Hideaki Anno

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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In Paris in the year 1889, Nadia, a teenaged girl working as an acrobat in a circus, meets Jean, a boy her own age who happens to be a brilliant inventor, and the two become embroiled in a complex series of adventures resulting from the efforts of various persons to acquire the Blue Water, a strange jewel Nadia wears on a necklace.

Hideaki Anno's thirty-nine part animated television series Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is a flawed but charming and exciting adventure. The quality of the animation is extremely uneven. The story told is occasionally flawed, and there are a number of less than successful attempts at humor. Despite these weaknesses, the series is filled with such a number of engaging characters and thrilling incidents that it is genuinely enjoyable.

In fact, the program's characters are, perhaps, its single most appealing element. Nadia herself is at once both charming and trying. Like many young persons, she is deeply concerned with ethics but is far from being without faults herself. She is often difficult, frequently complains, and has trouble trusting others, but her shortcomings make her a far more appealing and interesting person than she would have been without them. Jean too is nicely realized. He is likeable, adventurous, intelligent, and open minded, but, like Nadia, he is not perfect. He frequently fails to understand the emotions and motives of those around him and is often more concerned with his inventions than he is with others' feelings. Admittedly, none of the other characters in the program are as appealing or as interesting as are Nadia and Jean, but most do contribute positively to it, either because they are likeable or because they are villainous.

What is more, much of the series is also genuinely exhilarating, being filled with a variety of dangerous adventures and journeys to strange and marvelous places. Travelling in airplanes, balloons, a futuristic submarine, and even spaceships, Jean and Nadia visit the island headquarters of a sinister, mysterious organization, a hidden base under Antarctica, deep ravines beneath the ocean, the ruins of Atlantis, an abandoned Atlantean city in the heart of Africa, and more. About midway through the program, however, a number of the characters are stranded on a deserted island and their journeys cease. While the series does then lose some of its sense of adventure and becomes more focused on either developing its characters' personalities or placing them in comic situations, Nadia remains both engaging and charming. Fortunately, this change of impetus does not lead to the director's forgetting his original narrative, and, near the program's conclusion, after the protagonists have escaped the island, he once again arouses a potent sense of adventure. In fact, some of the series' most exciting moments occur in the last few episodes.

Throughout these permutations of the story, Jean and Nadia's burgeoning romantic feelings for one another are explored, and watching their love develop is a real pleasure. The director presents the viewer with numerous awkward moments during which the two have difficulty expressing their feelings or are unsure about how they should act towards one another. The majority of these incidents are well handled and help the viewer to empathize with the characters. Similarly, the moments of innocent sexuality which Anno has included help to evoke the fears and fascinations adolescents have about the bodies of persons of the opposite gender and so allow the viewer to engage with Jean and Nadia. All of these elements and events contribute to the program's appeal.

Sadly, the quality of the animation used in Nadia varies considerably. Many scenes are nicely, even beautifully done, but many suddenly shift to animation of a very inferior quality and then, just as abruptly, revert back to the earlier, better style. Similarly, some of the character designs are excellent, but others are dreadful. Nadia herself is among the most attractive characters I have seen in any animated work. She is absolutely darling. Jean, although well drawn, appears to have been lifted from a Studio Ghibli film and then injected with a little additional saccharine. Some of the other characters, as Grandis, a jewel thief who originally pursues Nadia to acquire the Blue Water, but who later befriends her, are not nearly as well realized and resemble the poorly drawn characters common to children's animated television programs.

Nadia is, unfortunately, additionally burdened by a number of absurd elements. King, Nadia's pet lion cub, for example, eventually becomes a real distraction. His excessive cuteness and irritatingly anthropomorphic behaviors, which, at various times, include carrying a bag of his belongings tied to a pole, walking on his hind legs, and writing a goodbye note in lion script, intrude into the narrative and greatly detract from its quality. While he is, almost certainly, the series' greatest weakness, there are a number of others. Most of these are a result of the inclusion of elements common to children's cartoons, as humorous sound effects and inane efforts at comedy, which intermittently lower the quality of the series to that of such a work.

Despite the presence of such faults, Nadia is, nevertheless, an enjoyable, even delightful program.

Review by Keith Allen

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