Nadia: Secret of Blue Water
Review by Daniel Huddleston:
"The Secret of Blue Water," a TV show produced by Gainax ("Wings of Honneamise," "Aim for the Top! Gunbuster"), is frequently described as a series "based" on Jules Verne's novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Actually, the series seems to be a sequel, designed as an answer to the many dangling questions left at the end of Verne's novel. In "20,000 Leagues," a French scientist, his assistant, and a tough sailor fall into the hands of the mysterious Captain Nemo, who sails the seven seas in his remarkable submarine, the Nautilus. Bits and pieces of information about Nemo come to light throughout the book -- that he has rejected all government authority, that his racial status is difficult to determine, that he knows where sunken Atlantis is, and that he is hunting a man whom he blames for the death of his wife. That's really all we've learned by the end of the book, when the Nautilus and Nemo are sucked beneath the waves in a powerful whirlpool, lost to an uncertain fate.
"20,000 Leagues" takes place during 1867. The Secret of Blue Water begins in 1889. "Sea monsters" still plague shipping, and the world still doesn't know about Nemo. Enter Jean Coq de Raltigue, a young boy living in France whose father was lost at sea to the sea monsters. Jean has shown an amazing aptitude for mechanics, and his father has left him with a house and some money to indulge his desire to invent new gadgets.
Volume 1-- The Adventure Begins
As the story opens, Jean is visiting Paris with his uncle to compete in the World's Fair flying machine exhibition. But he's sidetracked from his contest when he meets a beautiful dark-skinned, blue-eyed girl named Nadia, who's in the possession of a jeweled pendant called the Blue Water. As soon as Jean introduces himself, a trio of British thieves appears and attempts to steal her pendant. When Nadia escapes with her pet lion cub (through some remarkable feats of acrobatics), Jean and the thieves both deduce that she must be a circus performer.
Following her to the circus, Jean manages to rescue Nadia from the three comical villains and earn her grudging trust. After a battle of the flying machines, Jean, Nadia and King escape up the Seine in a boat, and soon arrive at Jean's aunt's home in Le Havre. But Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson (the three British lowlifes) are still in pursuit, and Jean and Nadia's race for freedom will eventually lead them into dealings with the U.S. Navy and with Captain Nemo himself.
Saying much more would spoil the pure delight of this exciting story. The first tape contains the first four episodes, edited into one movie-length feature. As a bonus, the original Japanese opening and closing credits are presented at the end (though no song translations are given). As expected with Gainax, the animation is very good, even on a television budget, and the sheer imagination that went into the 19th century mechanical design is a wonder to behold.
As for the English dubbing -- I liked it! While your mileage may vary on the faux French accents, I found them charming (though I do wish the Nautilus's engineer hadn't tried to sound like Scotty).
Volume 2-- The Island Adventure
After the adventures that begin the series, Jean and Nadia have embarked on a journey to Africa. Nadia wants to see what she hopes is her homeland (she grew up in the circus, and knows nothing of her origins), and Jean wants to search for his father, whom he believes is still alive. But Jean's aeroplane (yes, you heard me correctly) is shot down over a mysterious island, which is inhabited by an army of white-masked soldiers. We soon learn that their leader is a man called Gargoyle -- the head of a deadly secret society known as Neo-Atlantis. The Neo-Atlanteans have enslaved the people who live on the island and are using their labor to maintain a thermoelectric power plant.
Gargoyle has discovered the lost science of ancient Atlantis, and his secret army is building a death ray with which they intend to hold the world hostage. The weapon is powered by an "Artificial Olyarchon" -- a giant slab of crystal which resembles -- and reacts in the presence of -- the Blue Water.
Soon Grandis & Co. wander onto the scene and are captured. Lady Grandis says that Gargoyle is unreasonable to hold them as prisoners, because they had been trying to steal the Blue Water for a large sum of reward money -- apparently posted by Gargoyle himself.
Meanwhile, Jean and Nadia discover what happens to villagers who try to leave the island. A family of three is discovered in the middle of a lonely stretch of road, shot dead. Nadia, however, discovers that the mother had shielded her little girl with her body. Jean and Nadia take little Marie away before she wakes up, and do their best to take care of her.
Volume 2 represents a darkening of tone for the series, which at first seems more funny and lighthearted. A number of scenes may be troublesome for small children, although they are usually handled tastefully. For example, in one scene Marie recounts her memories of being chased by soldiers ("bad men with scary faces"), right up to the moment of her parents' murder. Another villager is shot dead as he attempts to swim to safety. The Neo-Atlanteans all wear scary masks, and small children may be frightened by them. Later, Gargoyle shoots one of his own soldiers, then tells Nadia that lying is a sin, and that her lie (about where she'd hidden the Blue Water) had cost that man his life. Then he points the gun at Marie, and says "Strange how the innocent must often pay for our sins." He employs other examples of Biblical language, calling his death ray the "Tower of Babel" and even claiming that Atlantean science has made him a god.
What else? The circus outfit that Nadia wears throughout the series is a little skimpy, and Jean gets caught staring a couple of times. This usually results in a slap in the face. Probably the most wrenching scene is when Nadia tells Marie that her parents have gone to Heaven, and Marie says that she wants to go too and be with them. Jean and Nadia then have to explain death to someone too young to understand. Marie breaks into a heartrending sob when she realizes that her parents won't be coming back.
But elements that may be minuses can also be pluses. Issues of racism and death are dealt with honestly and tactfully, without bludgeoning the viewer with social messages. When Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson escape from their cells, they soon encounter Jean and agree to cooperate against the greater evil. The villains of the first tape seem to be developing consciences in the second.
Also, I'd almost go so far as to say these videos are educational, since quite a few of the conversations concern science and inventing. For example, watching these videos one might learn why hydrofoils allow boats to travel faster, and why the weight of passengers must be considered when building airplanes and escalators. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if this story encourages some children's interest in building and inventing.
So how did Gargoyle discover the secrets of Atlantis? Will Jean and Nadia ever find their respective parents? And what will become of Marie? Are Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson not so bad after all? Who is Captain Nemo, and what is his connection to the Neo-Atlanteans?
Alas, we may never know. The biggest drawback to "Secret of Blue Water" is that its U.S. release was ended after these eight episodes. In the closing scenes of "The Island Adventure" the story arc does come to an ending of sorts, but if you can't escape the feeling that the story's just beginning, you're right. In Japan, the show ran for 39 episodes -- a giant, complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Here's hoping that Streamline Video one day sees fit to complete it.
Note: The eight episodes on these tapes were previously released as "Nadia" on eight 30-minute tapes. Also, you may want to fast-forward through the previews, since some of the most disturbing imagery on the tapes are in the promos for other Streamline Video releases.
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