In the late 19th Century, sailing ships were sunk one after another...I decided to spend one more week in the Victorian Era. I am technically stepping off-topic for the Readers & Book Lovers Group, because this week's topic is an animated TV series rather than a novel. On the other hand, this series drew a lot of its inspiration from the works of Jules Verne; and it was a really good series. I mentioned it a couple times in my Polls during these past few weeks, and I wanted to discuss it some more.
The title of the show is Fushigi no Umi no Nadia (Nadia of the Mysterious Seas), but it carried the English title "Secret of Blue Water", and that how American fans often refer to it.
Anime legend Hayao Miyazaki worked on the original concept in the 1970s, an adventure loosely based on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues to be called "Around the World Under the Sea"; but the project was shelved and he recycled many of the ideas for the series in his movie, Laputa (english title: Castle in the Sky). Years later, the animation studio Gainax created a series based on the Miyazaki outline which aired on Japanese television in 1990-91.
The the series is set in 1889 and central characters are two children named Jean and Nadia. Jean Roque Raltigue is a youthful inventor, cheerful, outgoing and optomistic, with an interest in flying machines. The series starts with him entering an airplane of his own invention in a competition at the Paris Exposition.
There he meets Nadia, a mysterious dark-skinned girl with a white lion cub. Nadia performs as an animal trainer and acrobat in a circus. She is an orphan who never knew her family. She tends to be bitter and suspicious and has a sharp temper, but Jean wins her trust when he helps her escape from a gang of jewel theives out to steal the mystic jewel, the Blue Water of the title, which Nadia wears around her neck.
The thieves are led by Seniorita Grandis, a vain, self-centered woman with flaming red hair and a temper to match. She is assisted by Sanson, a smooth self-professed lady-killer with impressive strength, and Hanson, an engineer who built a transforming all-terrain vehicle called the Gratan (short for "Grandis' Tank"; Grandis calls the vehicle "Katherine").
In fleeing the Grandis Trio, Nadia and Jean become invovled with the hunt for a sea monster which is sinking ships. Having spent nearly two months reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it is not to difficult to see where this is going. And the two wind up on board the Nautilus. But Nemo is not resposible for the sinkings. There is another sub out there commanded by a figure named Gargoyle.
Gargoyle is the mastermind behind Neo-Atlantis, the last remnants of the great Atlantean Empire; and he wishes to use the ancient Atlantean super-technology to subjugate the world. He has constructed a tower made of the same material as Nadia's gem which is a source of tremendous power. Nemo, we learn, was the king of the last remaining Atlantean colony, which was destroyed by Gargoyle in his quest for power. Now Nemo uses the Nautilus hoping to stop Gargoyle's mad plot.
In the process, the Grandis Trio wind up joining the side of the good guys; we learn more about Nemo's past; Jean builds more inventions, some of which actually work; and Nadia learns something of her own connection to Atlantis.
The series is overall good, but uneven in places. The first twenty episodes are excellent, cumulating in a battle between Nemo and Gargoyle in which the Nautilus is destroyed and Nadia and Jean are launched away in an escape pod. The next several episodes are weaker, with poorer plot and animation. They are essentially filler episodes requested by the network because of the show'd popularity. The final five episodes, however brings back Nemo with a new Nautilus to battle Gargoyle's greatest plot of all in a climax that brings them to the very edge of space.
The series mines several of Verne's books for plot elements. Most obviously, Nemo and the Nautilus are taken from 20,000 Leagues. The episodes of the lengthy filler sequence, often called the "Island Episodes" by fans, owe their inspiration to The Mysterious Island; and later on a couple episodes recall Five Weeks in A Balloon.
The series also has references to other anime series. King, Nadia's white lion cub, is a shout-out to Kimba the White Lion, and Nemo's character design resembles Captain Gloval from Super Dimension Fortress Macross/ROBOTECH.
And elements from Nadia seem to have turned up in Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire; but that is surely coincidence because Disney never steals from Japanese cartoons, right Simba?
There is also an underlying theme of racism running through the series. When Jean first befriends Nadia and takes her home with him, his aunt refuses to let her into the house because of her dark skin. Nemo also has dark skin, and in some of the earliest character design sketches both characters are shown to be African, although the producers ultimately decided to give them traditional manga-style hair. Gargoyle and his minions wear masks with Klansman-like pointed hoods; and Gargoyle believes the Atlanteans to be superior to humans. Although he himself is Atlantean, Nemo rejects Gargoyle's racist dogma.
Nadia is available in the US in a couple forms. In the early '90s, Carl Macek's Streamline Pictures dubbed the first eight episodes. Later on ADV films purchased the rights and did a re-dub of the entire series. A movie version of Nadia, set a few years after the end of the series, was was also released, but isn't that good.
I'll be the first to admit that the series has only the vaguest connection to the plot of Verne's novel; but Nadia has engaging characters, delightful steampunk design and an exciting, suspenseful plot. I like to think Verne would have approved.