Remember those scenes in Studio Ghibli's PONYO where the ocean rose up and was full of fish that just soared around the underwater village? Picture that village, but populated with humans--complete with adorable tweens figuring out this "growing up" thing--and you've basically got NAGI NO ASUKARA.
The story follows five seafolk children (not merfolk, mind you, as they don't have a fish half) who have to transfer to an above water school when their's closes. On the land they face prejudice and ignorance, though they aren't above those qualities themselves. They also wrestle with budding romantic feelings, some of which reach across their different worlds.
For a coming of age story, this show is delightfully surreal. Your brain struggles to reconcile how these people cook underwater, with fire no less, and how they have superhuman jumping abilities (hint: they just swim!). The super-saturated color palette emphasizes the tropical fish that constantly swim by in the underwater town, which is surprisingly indistinguishable from the surface town; or perhaps it's the other way around, since in this world the landfolk are an offshoot of the seafolk.
The sweetness boarders on syrupy, but the emotions on display feel genuine. While it's not devoid of archetypes - - the bishi-yet-lecherous mystic Uroko is particularly loathsome and sends some screwed up messages - - the ensemble of child characters are more complicated then they let on, even if they dip into cliché now and then. If you're in the mood for something sweet and fantastical this show's for you, but if you don't get the occasional hankering for puppy love stories you should just keep swimming.
Watch this episode, “In Between the Sea and the Land” here and decide for yourself, then read our comments on other anime pilots from the Fall 2013 season below...
Matt Murphy is a freelance nerd who has contributed to many nerd websites. You can reach him by going to where the light meets the shadow, by sending out zeta-brainwaves or by following him on Twitter @Murphix.