ADV Films // 1989 // 500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // June 24th, 2004
Dive into the adventure of a lifetime!
One thing that can definitely be said about Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: Collection 1 is that you get lots of the show for your money. This set contains five DVDs with four episodes on each disc, as well as two soundtrack CDs. This is the first of two such collections, with approximately half of the series.
For those unfamiliar with Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, it is an anime show that was created by Gainax before they produced Neon Genesis Evangelion. It was first aired in Japan in 1989, making it one of the earliest anime series I have seen. It draws obvious inspiration from the early Studio Ghibli films, especially Castle in the Sky. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was also inspired by Jules Verne's 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it is never trapped by this inspiration. It has gone on to inspire a number of more recent projects, such as Disney's Atlantis. In fact, it's so similar to Atlantis that Disney should have gotten in trouble for making something this close without acknowledging its source.
Like Castle in the Sky, Nadia takes place around the turn of the century, and it focuses on the adventure of two youngsters brought into a conflict involving the fight for the technology of an ancient civilization. It also has villains who turn out to be okay when the real bad guys show up, exciting naval battles, and a glowing necklace that seems to be the key of the lost civilization. But now I am getting ahead of myself. I will try to do a plot summary without ruining too much:
* Disc One: The Adventure Begins
In this first disc, we meet Jean, a young boy who is entering an airplane contest in Paris with his uncle. Although he is only in his early teens, he has already shown great potential as a scientist and inventor. While preparing for the contest, a beautiful girl named Nadia catches his eye, and he follows after her. During their first meeting, Nadia attacked a woman (Grandis) and her two henchmen (Hanson and Sanson). Nadia, who is an orphaned circus performer (of course), manages to escape. When the evil trio shows up at the circus, Jean helps Nadia escape with his airplane and the adventure is on. The rest of the first disc involves Jean using his inventions, Nadia being impressed with how they work, them breaking down, then Nadia getting mad at Jean for screwing up. At the end of the disc, they are rescued by the crew of the Nautilus, the giant submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I did enjoy this first disc, as the characters were introduced quickly and there was a lot of light, entertaining serial adventure. I was also impressed by the way the makers of the show were willing to deal with the fact that Nadia is a black character in Europe, and the way that she is not welcomed by Jean's aunt because of her race. While the show hasn't continued an exploration of the whole issue, it may come to bear in the second collection.
* Disc Two: The Dark Kingdom
Just when Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson were really starting to get annoying, the real villains of the show are introduced. Jean and Nadia are released from the Nautilus on his repaired aircraft, and they are shot down on a mysterious island. It turns out that the island is run by Gargoyle and an army of masked men called the Neo-Atlanteans. For those keeping track, the legend of Atlantis has just been blended with the tale of the Nautilus, and there are numerous biblical allusions thrown in for good measure. Jean and Nadia come across a young child named Marie whose whole village has been murdered by the Neo-Atlanteans, and they are able to rescue her. However, they have no way to get off the island, and Nadia and Marie wind up being captured. Jean is forced to team up with Grandis (who happened to show up on this island as well) in order to rescue Nadia and stop the Neo-Atlanteans from destroying the world with their great weapon of power. The episodes on the second disc are quite a bit darker as Gargoyle is introduced.
* Disc Three: Aboard the Nautilus
The main characters find themselves aboard the Nautilus once again, but this time it is for longer than the short stay on the first disc. This is also where the show starts to falter a bit. Although the main plot arch is the pursuit of the ridiculously named "Garfish" by the Nautilus, the makers of the show seem much more interested in the relationships between various characters. The biggest of these is the thoroughly messed-up relationship between Jean and Nadia. Half of the time, they seem to be in love with each other; the other half of the time, they act like children who are too young to understand the concept of love. It's obviously meant to stall their coming together until the end of the show, but it gets pretty tiring awfully fast. The other love story is the triangle between Grandis, Captain Nemo, and his first mate, Electra. There is hardly any action on this volume, and the show suffers as a result. In the action scenes, the show does feel like it did at first, but these moments are too few and far between.
* Disc Four: Battleground
In this fourth volume, the Nautilus comes under attack from a variety of forces and needs to find a way to escape danger for long enough to be repaired and ready for further adventure. The naval battles between the Nautilus and its various enemies are fantastic. The developing relationships between the characters are less fantastic. By this point, Nadia is becoming increasingly annoying, and her continual tirades about various issues get repetitive and grating. This is also the volume of terrible scripting. In the most bizarre episode, Marie and Nadia both get a tropical flu that the doctor immediately recognizes as an illness that can only be cured by a plant that grows deep in a certain trench.
* Disc Five: Nemo's Fortress
The last volume of the series finds the Nautilus heading to its secret base. On the way, Jean works on yet another flying machine with the promise that he will take Nadia to Africa to uncover the secrets of her past. Before they arrive at the base, they are attacked by what appears to be a giant squid, creatively re-imagining the most famous event in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This turns out to be handled very differently, however, making it one of the greatest sequences in the show this far. Once they do arrive, the script crams in a whole bunch of explaining, which tries to encompass the whole of human history and places the future of the earth in Nadia's hands. Instead of ending at that point, which would have been a perfect spot to end this collection, they put one episode too many on the disc, which begins a new plot arch and ends in a cliffhanger that felt wrong for the break of a collection this large.
As I have already implied, there are a lot of both good and bad things about Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. While the show is focused on adventure, it is continually engaging and entertaining. It also tries to grapple with major issues, especially that of technology and the human responsibility. Captain Nemo is afraid that the technology that he uses will get into the hands of the rest of the world, and that it will cause terrible wars that will destroy humankind. There is an implication that the Atlanteans got a little too carried away with their technology, and that is what destroyed them in the end. The mission of the Nautilus to fight Gargoyle in secret is necessary in order to prevent the world from gaining too much technology too quickly. This theme is even more important considering that it takes place just a few years before World War I. The placement of this story in history is often alluded to, but it is never heavy-handed. The Tower of Babel that Gargoyle creates acts in much the same way as a nuclear weapon, a fact that cannot be ignored considering that the show was produced in Japan. When the characters come across the remains of Atlantis, they find glass that has been formed from the intense heat of the tower there, much like what happens to sand when a nuclear bomb goes off.
The show also tries to handle some other issues with less success. Nadia is a militant vegetarian, and goes on a huge rampage when her friends go hunting on an island. Considering that they are hunting for food, this whole issue gets a bit tired after an episode or two when she is still moaning about the sanctity of life, and how she would rather starve to death than kill an animal for food. She also kicks up a fuss when Nemo kills one of the Neo-Atlanteans in order to save her. In other words, she's a heroine that's self-righteous and whiny, who treats the characters around her quite poorly considering the number of times that she needs to be saved or rescued.
I already complained a bit about the relationship between Jean and Nadia. At some points, they seem to be so young that they don't even have a notion of love, and yet at other times they are obviously infatuated with each other. This isn't helped by the fact that everyone on board the ship is pushing them on. It's hard to nail down what age they are supposed to be. They act as if they are around twelve or thirteen, but then there are some (out of place) fan service scenes that would suggest Nadia is much older than that. I wish they would have delayed the love story between the two for longer, so that this rocky beginning stage of the relationship didn't have to go on for so long. With patience, though, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is an entertaining series that will impress fans of light adventure animation.
Although some elements of the story haven't aged that well, the technical quality of the animation still looks quite good. It's not as detailed as a recent show, but it is still more than watchable, and the battle scenes are still great. The show is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and the video transfer does a good enough job of capturing this 15-year-old animation.
The sound is also fairly solid. The Japanese track is quite good, for a stereo track, mixing the dialogue and music well. The subtitles are too florid at times, but it makes sense and is grammatically sound. The English track sounds just as good, although I have some complaints with the dub. It is not as literal as many translations are, and it features several terrible voice actors. Jean, I assume, is supposed to be French, but his accent sounds more like German sometimes. Some of the other voices are pretty dull to listen to, but I found I got more used to them over time.
The discs don't have any special features, but ADV has included two soundtrack CDs of the score. Considering when the show was produced, the soundtrack is quite good. It has a few too many '80s guitar riffs and drumbeats, but on the whole it fits well with the show. I can't really imagine wanting to listen to these albums separately, though, but fans of the series that love the score will find the CDs to be a welcome addition to the set.
Fans of the series that don't own it on DVD yet will be very pleased with this purchase. It's at a pretty low price point considering how much viewing you get out of it, so it may be worth a purchase for fans of animation in the mood for some good old fashioned adventure. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is a piece of animation history, but it doesn't belong in a museum.
Although Nadia is warned to be a little more respectful if she doesn't want to swim to shore, the crew of the Nautilus is free to continue their mission to protect the world from the Neo-Atlanteans. ADV is commended for their treatment of this classic show.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese, original language)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Soundtrack CDs