ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 29th September 2015, by David West

A Lull In The Sea

“Under the sea, under the sea, darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.” Yes, the immortal words of Sebastian the crab in The Little Mermaid. There’s a lesson there for us all. Once upon a time everyone lived under the sea, watched over by the Sea God. But some humans chose to leave the ocean behind and went to live up on dry land, creating a rift between the two groups. Now, after their school beneath the waves has been forced to close due to a deluge of Saltflake Snow, four teens from the subaquatic village of Shioshishio have to transfer to a class on the surface in the fishing community of Oshioshi. Hikari, Manaka, Chisake and Kaname struggle to get along with their new schoolmates while grappling with their own complicated feelings for each other at the same time.

A Lull In The Sea is first and foremost a romantic melodrama. The fantasy scenario about the disparate communities provides a colourful backdrop for a tale of teen heartache, but director Toshiya Shinohara and writer Mari Okada show remarkably little interest in world building. The people of the sea don’t have gills or any special physical traits to allow them to live under the water. Instead, they are sustained by a magical substance called Ena which is bestowed by the Sea God and passed from generation to generation. Details on how this functions are thin on the ground, which would be more readily passed over if the series made any attempt to create a sense of these characters actually living in a watery environment. Instead the only sign that they’re under the sea and not on land is the fish that occasionally swim into frame. Nothing floats, people serve tea and soup, they have house plants, televisions, electricity, and even read newspapers all while underwater. How does any of that work?

The direction never creates any sense of the characters moving through a substance denser than air, or of their clothes and hair reacting to currents around them. In one scene the kids play on a swing set, which makes no sense at all if they are submerged. Given that the scenario posits a split between the land dwellers and people of the sea, there is similarly no conception of separate cultures existing in the two groups. They share the same language, clothing and customs. Surely two separate communities would develop their own identities, particularly when relations between the pair are often antagonistic? In terms of world building A Lull In The Sea makes Spongebob Squarepants look like Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Instead, the focus is squarely on the tangled love lives of the characters who are rendered with more care and thought than their salty village. Kaname has a crush on Chisaki, who is sweet on Hikari, who is smitten with Manaka who likes Tsumugu, a boy from the surface. Kaname is the least developed of the bunch, often on the sidelines of the story, while much of the energy is devoted to Hikari and Manaka. She’s the archetypal moe girl, drawn with huge, doe-like eyes. She’s also very, very prone to bursting into tears.

Where action shows always throw a fight into every episode, A Lull In The Sea has at least one scene in each instalment where someone, usually Manaka, breaks into floods of tears and / or storms out of a room. It’s no wonder Shioshishio is having a problem with the level of salt in the water with Manaka weeping so profusely. Sometimes it threatens to become ridiculous – particularly when even a simple shopping trip to the mall involves an emotional outburst. For heaven’s sake, this is why we can’t have nice things, Manaka.

Hikari is the headstrong, hot blooded teen who has a tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. He’s certainly passionate, but he’s not an easy character to warm to. Halfway through the series there is a five year jump forwards in time and briefly the centre of attention shifts to Chisake and Tsugumu – which makes a welcome change, as they are less prone to histrionics. The time leap is the result of the residents of Shioshishio facing the wrath of the Sea God, who is still all bent out of shape after his love affair with a human girl ended badly in the distant past. Someone needs to let go and move on, mate.

There’s an important subplot involving Hikari’s sister Akari who has fallen for a surface dweller, to the considerable disapproval of their father, who happens to be the local priest of the Sea God in Shioshishio. The split between sea and surface touches on issues of Japanese isolationism and it’s a shame those ideas aren’t explored more fully. On the plus side, it makes a refreshing change to see a working class community like the fisherman of Oshioshi at the centre of an anime series and that adds some grit to the tale.

The design and animation are very strong. It’s a beautiful show to look at, boasting very detailed backgrounds and smooth movement from P.A. Works. The name might not be familiar – the company lacks the high profile of BONES or Production I.G – but P.A. Works has a good pedigree with productions including the horror anime Another and the feature Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva. The soundtrack in A Lull Of The Sea supports the melodramatic mood, full of sad pianos picking out mournful melodies.

There are tears before bedtime. And tears after bedtime. And tears before breakfast. As REM knew, everybody hurts sometime and there’s no shortage of angst and heartache to go around here. A Lull In The Sea can be shrill, but the visuals are beautiful in this coming of age melodrama about a group of childhood friends stumbling into adolescence.
SCORE: 3/5
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