Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.” – Psalms 107: 23-24. 

There are many loose anime and manga adaptations of works from outside of Japan: there are anime adaptations of Shakespeare; Osamu Tezuka created a version of the classic Russian novel Crime and Punishment; more recently there has been Magi, based on the Arabian Nights; and there are countless versions of Alice in Wonderland. This series is a loose adaptation one of the works of Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. It is also important for being the first TV series made by Gainax.

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water begins with 1889 Paris Exhibition, where young inventor Jean Rocque Raltique and his uncle are entering a competition to make a heavier-than-air flying machine. Jean is highly scientifically minded, although he is very much alone in the world following the death of his father at sea, which has been blamed on “sea monsters”.

While preparing for the contest, Jean spots a very attractive African girl (accompanied by a lion cub) who is wearing a large, magical blue jewel as a pendant on a necklace, which seems to flash when the girl is in danger. Jean follows the girl, whose name is Nadia and whose pet lion is named King. Jean discovers that Nadia is being shadowed by a comical Italian villain named Grandis Granva, and her two henchmen Sanson and Hanson, who want Nadia’s gem, known as the “Blue Water, but Nadia can easily escape them due to her training as a circus acrobat.

However, Nadia is eventually caught, with Jean coming to the rescue, thanks to his genius. The two are followed by Grandis to Jean’s home in Le Havre and eventually escape on a working flying machine that takes them far out to sea. They are picked up by an American ship, but this itself is attacked by the sea monsters. Jean and Nadia however soon discover that these monsters are in fact man-made submarines, with one of these being the “Nautilus” led by Captain Nemo. 

Jean uses new-found knowledge on the Nautilus to repair his aircraft, and plans to takes Nadia to Africa in the hope that together they can find her true origins of which she has no knowledge. On the way, his plane is shot down, forcing him to crash-land on an island which has been taken over a mysterious organisation called Neo Atlantis, whose heavily-armed members all wear masks and pointed hoods. Their leader, Lord Gargoyle, has enslaved the local population. The only person Jean, Nadia and King find who has escaped death or capture is a young girl called Marie.

Jean, Nadia and King try to protect Marie, but their plan soon fails and Marie is kidnapped. Thus the trio have to venture deeper into the island, uncovering terrifying secrets and the shock discovery that Grandis and her cronies have also been kidnapped by Neo Atlantis. Fortunately they are helped once again by Captain Nemo and the Nautilus. As a result Jean, Nadia, King, Marie, Grandis, Hanson and Sanson all unite with Nemo and his crew to tackle their true enemy, in a battle that has great implications for all life on Earth, and in a struggle that dates back millions of years. 

Now before going any further, it should be pointed out that, as has been reported, this release got delayed due to production issues, and the preview copy I received was of the original, uncorrected version. The problems in question concerned brief moments of poor animation quality in some of the later episodes, the quality dipping to VHS levels of pre-digital restoration. However, hopefully these issues have now been corrected during the delay.

Probably the most notable aspect of Nadia is that this was Gainax’s first TV series. While Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was the very first project, Nadia was arguably their first successful project. The former did not break even at the box office until seven years after it was made, while the latter was deliberately designed to be a mainstream hit from the off and it worked. Mind you, considering it was originally based on an idea created back in the 1970s by future Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps it is not surprising it became a hit (what Miyazaki worked on would eventually form parts of other works including Laputa: Castle in the Sky). 

The next notable aspect is the role of the characters. The title character of Nadia is notable partly because she is one of the few black characters in a leading role in an anime, but also because of her strong stance against animal cruelty. She is against anyone killing anything, animals and humans, and her commitment to vegetarianism is practically militant. Nadia has to be the Morrissey of anime characters. At times her militant vegetarianism gets so annoying, however, that part of you wants to throw a sausage at your TV screen to see if she would storm off in a fit of anger.

However, her character is also rather endearing. It becomes clear that the relationship between her and Jean becomes stronger and more romantic as the series continues and you want them to both fall in love with each other. There are also the traumatic pasts of both characters with both of them being orphans: Nadia ends up in the circus while Jean lives with his uncle and aunt. You could compare these missing parent/child relationships to those in Gainax’s next TV series: Neon Genesis Evangelion, where the EVA pilots are all children whose mothers are dead.

It is not just the central relationship between Jean and Marie that is noteworthy. Jean becomes friends with Hanson because they both have a love of science; Grandis ends up falling in love with Captain Nemo; and Sanson ends up becoming a father-figure to Marie. The fact that the comic baddies at the start of the series end up becoming heroes could be comparable to another Gainax series: Gurren Lagann, where the characters of Viral and Lordgenome end up helping Simon in the second half of the story.

Something else worth mentioning is that at times the show is rather cartoony, in the western sense of the term. For example: there are all kinds of old-fashioned gags, such as Jean running briefly in mid-air before comically falling from a great height and creating a man-shaped hole in the ground; or Jean hitting his head and little birds tweet and fly around him while he is dazed and confused. This sounds like a criticism, but, in fact, these comic moments are very funny. However, Nadia does not just make you laugh, there are also moments of great sadness. This series is something of an emotional rollercoaster to use a cliche, and all the better for it. Nadia really is a great watch, and it contains a fair number of surprises, including the fact that in the dub the American voice actors actually give Jean a French accent. 

If there are any criticisms, it would be that for such a large collection (39 episodes) there are not many extras. There is only textless opening and closing, and some promotional material. Also, there are times during the middle of the series where the plot tends to drag a bit.

However, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is a great series. Not just important for establishing the name of Gainax, but also for its wonderful characters and plot.

10 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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