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Television has always borrowed heavily from literature. Doctor Who is a prime example, but this penchant is not confined to the western world, and the influential Hayao Miyazaki, particularly, has been taken by the world of nineteenth century Europe with its baroque fading beauty and innocence, prior to the horrors of the First World War.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water Complete Collection (1990 – 1991) takes more than a leaf out of Jules Verne’s, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to create a fairly short animated series which ran for thirty-nine episodes. The show is presented on an eight disc DVD set. The extras are perfunctory at best with only a couple of adverts and clean credit sequences. Audio is clean but restricted to an English dub or the original Japanese cast with burned-in English subtitles.
Although the concept is attributed to Miyazaki, containing many of his tropes, such as having young children as the main characters and an interest in nature and the sometimes organic nature of technology, the actual show was directed by Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cutie Honey), the show was written by Hisao Ōkawa and Kaoru Umeno. Whilst Miyazaki undoubtedly provided some of the more prosaic elements of the show, the underlining sense of darkness and dread are typically Anno.
The story opens with a chance meeting between Jean, a young French inventor and amnesiac Nadia, a mystery girl who wears a blue jewel around her neck. There meeting is precipitated by Nadia being chased by the nefarious Grandis and his erstwhile partners in crime, Sanson and Hanson, who mean to deprive Nadia of her jewelled pendant. The pair are eventually rescued by Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, setting off a train of events within which Nadia discovers her own origins, the secret of the blue stone and grows ever closer to Jean.
The show has an uneven tempo, the first set of episodes contain the bulk of Jean and Nadia getting to know each other, whilst trying to stay out of the clutches of Grandis. The show then goes into a lull with the couple stranded on a desert island before picking up again for the face-off between Nemo and the Neo-Atlantians, who require the jewel in their bid for world domination.
Given the age of the show, the release has come out looking pretty good, there are the odd blemishes, but nothing which will spoil your overall enjoyment; many are not noticeable unless you’re looking. Character design is very forward thinking for the time the show was made and is more in tune with the animated films of the time than the television shows.
There is much to like about the show, the slow middle section notwithstanding. The nineteenth century setting gives an early steampunk vibe, providing a background for an old style adventure story. The overall show has heart and you’ll find yourself drawn to both the story and the characters. The only downside is the English dub track which can be a little variable in quality at times, so make sure to check out the superior Japanese original.
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