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Based on a manga series by Project-118, the anime series A Lull in the Sea is the teen drama that just happens to be set in a fantasy world and the first 13 episodes have been released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK by MVM Entertainment.
A Lull in the Sea focuses on four students from a town on the seafloor, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki and Kaname, who have to transfer to a school on the surface. Over the course of the 13 episodes, the four teens have to adapt to their new surroundings on the surface, find out Hikari’s older sister has fallen in love with a single father, that an event under the sea will force all sea people to hibernate, and handle all their own romantic tensions.
The premise of A Lull in the Sea could easily have worked as a Studio Ghibli film. Like many Studio Ghibli films, A Lull in the Sea is a coming of age story that happens to have a fantasy element: films like My Neighbor Toroto and Arrietty come to mind. Because of this, A Lull in the Sea can appeal more toward a younger audience. There are the usual bits of swearing, but they are minor words like ‘damn’ and ‘crap’ and they are only used fleetingly.
A Lull in the Sea is a series that was big on huge emotional outbursts and there were plenty of avenues for this to happen. The five main teenagers are in the midst of a love pentagon: Hikari loves Manaka, Chisaki loves Hikari, Kaname loves Chisaki and Manaka falls for Tsumugu – a surface boy in their class. There is lots of humming and hawing about characters declaring their feeling or have an inner monologue about the group dynamic. This internal drama would easily appeal to a young female dynamic as the characters explore and expose their teenage angst.
During these 13 episodes Hikari and Manaka are the characters who grow and change the most. Hikari starts off as the hot-headed leader of the group who shouts to assert control and is too ready to fight: his first act in the series is to berate Manaka for wearing the wrong uniform and in the school he’s determined to not make any connections with his new classmates. Manaka is a highly emotional girl who breaks down into tears and shares a trait with many anime girls – she is too submissive. Both mature as the series progresses – Hikari becomes calmer and a more thoughtful leader and acts as a big brother figure to Miuna – the daughter of Akara’s boyfriend – whilst Manaka becomes less emotional and more tolerable to be around.
Chisaki has a major internal dilemma because she loves Hikari but knows he loves Manaka so refuses to act on her feelings. A typical teenage issue. Tsumugu is a decent, caring boy who wants to help out the sea teenagers and acts as a bridge between the sea and land people – which is why Manaka is attracted to him. Out of all the teens, Kaname is the blandest and forgettable, having little personality nor any real issues.
Beyond the teens, there is plenty of drama from Akari and her relationship with her new family and is willing to sacrifice going back to the sea for them. Akari is Hikari’s sister and helped raised the boy after their mother died. Miuna tries to drive Akari away because the young girl does not want to lose another mother figure and part of the reason why Hikari begins a friendship with her. This type of domestic drama that happens to have a fantasy setting could have worked in a Hayao Miyazaki film.
As well as the personal drama, there are also wider themes of prejudice and acceptance. The sea and land people distrust and discriminate against each other – especially the older generations and it’s up to the teens to try and unite the adults or at least get them to be civil. In the classroom there is hostility but it is quickly overcome and when the big threat of the series is revealed as it forces everyone’s hand. The apocalyptic event that threatens it leads the teens to have a dilemma, because they want to save their friends on the surface but also have to prepare for their hibernation.
The fantasy element also allows for some highly wrought moments – the best coming at the end of episode 7 and episode 13. They are charged moments – near life-and-death struggles – and the director and animators bring out every sinew of emotion.
The animation is of the highest quality – again an element that could have fitted in a Studio Ghibli film. There were great little details like the fish who swim with the citizens of the village and wind turbines slowly spinning in the background. The grand moments live up to that description like when Akari and Hikari attempt to leave the sea and the vassal of the sea god tries to stop them and the ceremony in episode 13 where the land and sea people unite in an attempt to appease the sea god that forces the sea people to hibernate.
A Lull in the Sea is a beautiful looking series that is big on emotional scenes and outbursts – even if it’s a little overbearing – but this is anime so it’s to be expected. It’s a series that combines fantasy and domestic drama, both under the sea and on the surface. A good first series for children aged 10 and above to get into.