'"'Are you adventurers? Are you prepared to climb the blue waterfall named The Perilous? Do you seek the truth of the legend that lies therein? If you do, then you must first find me."''
— Opening narration.
Set in 1889 and extremely loosely based on Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water tells the story of Nadia, a girl who's trying to find out about her past, Jean, a boy who wants to build a flying machine, and the Blue Water, a mysterious gem of Nadia's with strange powers. Their world is home to two shadowy groups in conflict: Neo-Atlantis, who want to rule the world, and the crew of the submarine Nautilus, who have sworn to oppose Neo-Atlantis. These two plots are not unconnected...This series originally aired starting in 1990 on NHK — Japanese public broadcasting (the Japanese equivalent of BBC). Carl Macek's Streamline Pictures released a VHS of the first eight episodes. Years later, ADV translated and released the entire 39-episode TV series as well as the maligned, mostly forgotten movie sequel on DVD.(Entry originally written by Rob Kelk for The Anime Primer, and used with permission of the author.)Just for the record, this series was the one that gave Hideaki Anno his first Animage Grand Prix before penning out his biggest masterpiece, Neon Genesis Evangelion... and possibly, the reason NGE is such a mindscrew. It has been purported that the stress of working on a tight schedule, on a series over which he had almost no creative control was a key factor in precipitating Anno into a four-year-long bout of depression from which he emerged just before (some say while) doing Eva.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water provides examples of:
Accidental Pervert: As a teenage boy, Jean is constantly fighting his hormones to avoid looking at Nadia's...ahem...blossoming figure, particularly when she ends up showing more than usual.
Adorkable: Jean, definitely. Nadia's English voice actress has said she would date someone like him "in a heartbeat." Hanson, too, once he switches sides.
Ambiguously Brown: invoked and discussed within the story itself. Nadia's brown skin, straight hair, green eyes, and "stateless" anime heroine looks are all in marked contrast to the rest of the crew who all have recognizably ethnic features. Most characters only have a vague idea she might be African... or Indian... (Turns out she's Atlantean.)
Anachronism Stew: Most of the non-Atlantean technology seems more appropriate to 1910 or even 1920 than 1889.
Also done very effectively in Episode 35, where merely 3/4 of the exploration of the ruins of Tartessos are entirely in black and white, with only the blue light from Nadia's Blue Water being the sole source of color.
During all twelve episodes of the island/Africa arc, the animation both takes a dive in quality and resembles a cut rate Looney Tunes cartoon. (These were produced by other studios in Japan and Korea.)
Babies Ever After: The title character (Nadia, married to Jean), the narrator ( Sanson of the Terrible Trio, married to a much younger lady the now grown-up Marie ), and the most "complex" character ( Electra). Hanson, the other half of the team, has kids but we don't see them (or his wife for that matter). Grandis (the boss of the trio), notably is still single, and loving it.
Barbie Doll Anatomy: Back and forth. An early scene of Sanson and Jean peeping on Grandis and Nadia changing includes a quick peek of Nadia's nipples, but the episodes where Red Noah explains Nadia's origins has her gone full Barbie-doll. Unusually, King the lion cub has a rather prominent scrotum, but no visible sheath. Played straight in the movie.
Batman Gambit: Gargoyle lures Nemo into a trap using himself as bait. He knows Nemo will do anything to follow him and so leads The Captain to a cavern which he blocks off with mines.
It's also a Xanatos Gambit: If Nemo does nothing he will eventually starve, but if he tries to remove the mines with conventional means they will detonate. Also because of the shifting tides, the mines will go off eventually. Even if Nemo somehow survives the mines and escapes, Gargoyle can observe how his experimental mines will work in the field and save the data for later.
Beach Episode: Repeatedly. Most of Grandis' backstory can only be explained when she is in a hot tub or on a beach.
Broken Bird - Nadia, due to her personal experiences with adults; particularly her circus ringmaster at the beginning of the series. This causes her to distrust adults and people in general, believing they either want to use her or simply want the Blue Water she possesses. Thankfully, she gets better with help from Jean, Grandis, and the Nautilus crew.
Electra and Captain Nemo also qualify, albeit for entirely different reasons.
Canon Discontinuity: When the show returns in Episode 35 after the infamous island/Africa arc, it all but neglects the events that happened in them (save episodes 30 & 31), suggesting they were never intended to be part of the plot.
Hideaki Anno is even said to have been dissatisfied with the final result of the TV show, and as a matter of fact has made a shorter, more streamlined compilation called "The Nautilus Story", which all but eliminates the filler arc and concentrates on the struggle between Nemo and Gargoyle (some scenes in the more pivotal episodes are cut as well). (This version, clocking in at approximately six hours, was only released in Japan on video and laserdisc.) In fact, this release was as close as Anno came to doing a remake of the show theatrically.
The Captain: How much bigger a Captain do you need than Captain Nemo?
Charles Atlas Super Power: Sanson breaks out of prison by bending the bars. Later he stops the punch from a mecha twice his size. Both were bare handed.
Later in the island arc, she almost drowns while clinging to Nemo's cabin, and shows no gratitude to Jean and Marie for saving her life (she wanted to be rescued instead by her "real friends", the animals and the fish in the sea and doesn't like that they've caught fish.) Marie, of all people, calls Nadia out on her stubbornness: "What do you expect us to do?! Do you want us to starve to death instead of catching some fish?! I think those fish understand that more than you!"
Crucified Hero Shot: While Gargoyle's prisoners, Nadia finds herself tied to a cross. (Marie and King dangle below her on a rod.) Later happens to the Grandis Gang when they are captured by Gargoyle.
In the Africa arc, Grandis' ex-fiancee ties King to a cross and threatens to nail him to it unless a ransom is paid.
Dastardly Whiplash: Grandis' ex-fiancee in the infamous Africa arc. Or rather, his portrayal as one, which is enough to make one wonder why Grandis fell for him in the first place - or even falls for him again after the latter destroyed her life!
Death by Irony: Electra is electrocuted (although she did not die). Jean, the boy that loves to fly, falls (he gets better). Finally, the Atlantean-supremacist Gargoyle dies while discovering his true nature — he is a human adopted by the real Atlanteans, and he never found out before entering an energy field that turns non-Atlanteans to a pillar of salt. Oops.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Nadia is gradually transformed from a cold, aloof, temperamental pessimist to a caring, trusting young woman as a result of her relationship with Jean.
The Determinator: Played partly for laughs with Grandis at the beginning. But applied dead seriously in the final episode, where Emperor Neo makes his unpowered robotic body move by sheer force of will to save Nadia.
Driven to Suicide: Nadia reaches this point after learning the truth about herself and the Blue Water, on top of coming to the conclusion that she's a horrible person; which leads her to believe the world would be better off without her. The attempt is foiled, but not without repercussions.
Electra does the same when she finally learns that Nemo does care about her, and tries to shoot herself. Nemo talks her out of such behavior.
Dropped Glasses: Minor subversion: the glasses are repaired almost immediately to demonstrate the technological capabilities of the Nautilus.
Since the series and Evangelion shared character designers, a few faces are unmistakably similar. Most notable is Shiniji, whose unmistakably girly face is mostly due to being drawn more similar to Nadia than any of the male characters.
Faux Action Girl: Much is made of Nadia being a circus acrobat but these skills are seldom put to use As the first episode demonstrated, Le Parkour skills are great if you're only saving yourself. Not so great when you've got an acrobatically disinclined geek along for the ride.
Filler: There is a long arc about 2/3 of the way through the series that involves the kids not doing much on an island then escaping and not doing much in Africa while the rest of the cast has adventures off screen. Their low quality simply earns them the polite title the Island Episodes.
First Kiss: Named an episode after it, even if one of them is high on mushrooms when it happens. A more traditional one happens later. Unfortunately it is treated as a cruel tease, because the writers quickly press reset on the leads' relationship immediately after.
The spin-off Japanese-only Mega Drive game by Namco (which is a loose retelling of the show) handles this much better. There, it's treated as a genuine turning point in Jean and Nadia's friendship and there are no mushrooms involved. (Nadia also admits her love for Jean, which is something that never really happens in the show.)
Flash Back: Most main characters get some exposition in this way. Over twenty minutes straight of The Movie is made up of flashbacks.
Furo Scene: Two with Nadia. The first one is shared with Electra and Marie and the second one (on a western bathtub) is with Grandis.
Gadgeteer Genius: Two of them — Jean, the heroic and goodhearted main character, and Hanson, a member of the Grandis gang.
Granola Girl: Nadia is a vegetarian, a pacifist, and generally skeptical of technological progress in general — which sometimes poses problems in her friendship/budding romance with Gadgeteer GeniusJean — although she does eventually abandon this attitude.
Good Costume Switch: Grandis is the first villain of the series and wears a military uniform. When she announces her Heel-Face Turn she's wearing a dress and it becomes her standard outfit (unless she's going into battle).
Hair-Trigger Temper: Grandis, mostly for comical effect. Nadia also has this, which poses serious problems for her relationships. It takes her a long time to learn to control it.
Heel-Face Turn: Grandis and her minions, somewhat unique in that it happens about 1/4 of the way into the series.
He Is Not My Boyfriend: Nadia obviously has feelings for Jean, but she impulsively declares otherwise to both Grandis and Marie when both call her out about it. (Naturally, since she has never known anything about love before, she does not know how to acknowledge it or express herself.)
Even funnier because in episodes 17 and 30, after she denies it to Marie, she ends up approaching Jean for attention anyway (the former episode to give him a snack of seaweed).
Heroic BSOD: While Jean is, at heart, a very optimistic and cheerful character, there are at least two moments where he becomes completely depressed: first, in Episode 15, when he traumatically overhears a sailor he's friends with gassed to death (he is surprisingly melancholy after that), and then, in episode 16, when he learns that Gargoyle killed his father. This latter revelation crushes Jean so much that he considers giving up inventing until Nadia, who doesn't like seeing him so gloomy, tries to cheer him up and succeeds by suggesting him to build another aircraft so that they can go on another airflight.
Human Aliens: So much so that they appear to intermarry and reproduce just fine. Apparently, humans were designed by the aliens to this aim. In the end of the anime, it's revealed that Nemo and Nadia are the only "true" aliens left; all enemies including the Big Bad were, unknown to even themselves, in fact humans.
In episode 20 she becomes extremely jealous of Jean's friendship with Electra, irrationally believing that the latter is going to take Jean away from her (when, in fact, nothing romantic is happening between Jean OR Electra). Her inability to express her concern with losing Jean nearly ruins her own relationship with him. (All that Jean is doing is just trying to learn more from Electra so that he can help mankind and Nadia herself; despite being stuck in the books at times, he is obviously very dedicated to helping her, to the point where you feel sorry for the boy every time Nadia takes out her anger on him.)
As a matter of fact Nadia even lays into Jean when he offers her manmade flowers (that Ensign Fait generously gives the boy) or attempts to compliment her in the abovementioned episode (as Electra advised him to). Naturally, this only succeeds in confusing poor Jean—to the point where he is surprised when she finally plucks up the courage to ask him directly for a compliment for a dress (awkwardly fashioned out of canvas) in episode 26. (Fourteen episodes earlier, she doesn't succeed in getting a compliment from Jean about a dress she's wearing since the latter is busy reading a book, but in that case she was sort of expecting him to read her mind and not knowing how else to act.)
On the flipside, she does apologize to Jean numerous times for her misdirected anger, even going out of her way to bring him something to eat, go on walks with him, or anything else conciliatory (in the canonical episodes), but she never gets to do so to Nemo, even though she realizes too late that she could have been nicer.
Electra, as in Electra Complex which basically sums up her relationship with Nemo. She's also close to Electra of mythology. Her main motivation is revenge against the people who killed her parents. At one point, she even threatens to take it out on her adoptive father.
Sanson is a very strong, vain, and bullheaded man. Like the Biblical Samson.
Meanwhile, Hanson's name may be a pun on "Handsome", which he, uh, isn't.
Nemo's name means "No one" or "Nobody" in Latin, as they helpfully point out.
And "Nobody" in Spanish is Nadie.
On a minor note, Nadia is also similar to "Nadar", the Spanish word meaning "to swim".
Meat-O-Vision: Jean saw Marie as a plate of turkey after eating some mushrooms.
Meat Versus Veggies: The source of Nadia's Berserk Button, as explained above. She tries to impose her views on her friends while turning a deaf ear to Jean's reasoning that they only eat meat for food, not to do murder. Nadia eventually abandons this aggressive attitude, though, when she finally confesses her tragic past to Jean and Marie.
My God, What Have I Done?: Nadia has this kind of look on her face in Episode 20 after she learns from Electra in the bath scene that Nautilus is merely fighting to destroy Gargoyle and that she is not in danger of losing Jean to Electra as Grandis had suggested. Earlier, she was stubbornly determined to believe Nemo and the Nautilus were both evil and was quite nasty to Jean (in a fit of jealousy) when he attempted to compliment her (as advised by Electra). She looks quite remorseful for making such bad calls of judgment.
The same is true in Episode 23 when she reflects on how she had mistreated Nemo.
Not Good with People: Nadia. Having spent fourteen years of her life in a circus with a cruel, unloving ringmaster, she dislikes grownups with a vengeance. As such, she does not know how to interact with people. Nemo is also like this when it comes to children, although he does gradually warm up to them.
Not So Different: When Jean and Hanson stop fighting over the blue water, they realize they're both mecha geeks and simultaneously squee over the Nautilus.
Off Screen Villain Dark Matter: averted by Gargoyle's mooks reporting how his dark matter, I.E. commerce in wool and banking, is proceeding and how it is paying for things like his submarine and the Tower of Babel.
Parental Abandonment: Many of the characters are orphans or otherwise deprived of their parents, from Nadia up to Gargoyle, the Big Bad.
Parental Incest: Nemo initially viewed and treated Electra as a surrogate daughter to replace his own children whom he believed were both dead. However, she had already fallen in love with him upon reaching puberty, but decided to continue to keep it a secret as she felt it would just be unrequited after accidentally overhearing how he felt about her. They eventually get together after she snaps and confesses her feelings. When his real daughter, Nadia, turns up she realizes that he no longer has any need of her as a surrogate daughter.
Plot Hole: What does Nemo hope to accomplish by blowing up Gargoyle's ships while never doing anything about his shipyards?
The Pollyanna: Jean is a shoo-in for a inventors' competition which he ditches to save Nadia, and not only does his plane crash but he is perpetually on the run and in constant danger. Through it all, he is cheerful and even enthusiastic about the technology from both sides in general. (The only exceptions are when he and Nadia are exploring Gargoyle's base, and when he reacts in horror to two deaths—one of an escaped fugitive, and another of a crew member.)
Putting on the Reich: The Neo-Atlanteans. They greet each other with a reversed version of the Nazi salute (right arm extended, then placed to chest). In addition, they also wear black uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi Schutzstaffel, and black Ku Klux Klan-like hoods (officers in charge wear orange).
And, of course, multiple shout-outs to Jules Verne's works that weren't directly used in the plot.
The shout-outs in Secret of Blue Water are innumerable. You think you have found all of them, but there's still more. There's an allusion to something outside of the story, often in Real Life, like every five minutes. That's among the things that make the series great. It latches onto everything.
Some plot elements seem to be Shout-Outs to R.A. Wilson and Bob Shea's Illuminatus-Trilogy. But then again, Illuminatus itself already contained several Jules Verne Shout-Outs, so yeah...
More than you'd think; the original plot outline/treatment was written by Miyazaki himself back in the 70s – pre-Laputa, and in fact reused by Miyazaki for his film when Gainax sat on the story and didn't use it for 20-odd years.
In the sequel movie, about 30 minutes (one third of the entire running time) was taken up by a long flashback sequence (made from footage from the TV series, re-cut without regard for chronological order).
Teen Genius: Jean. The kid beat the Wright Brothers by twenty-four years! He also invented a helicopter. And a rocket. And a music recorder. Which, if you take it at face value, means he invented the speaker, the microphone, the amplifier, and vinyl records. Which means he may well have invented the vacuum tube. And plastic. He also seems to have invented the Ukulele.
In a dream sequence, he goes on to invent the television, the computer, and the A-bomb. He also invented an ice cream machine.
Terrible Trio: Grandis and crew are an Expy of the Time Bokan gang, with the twist that this time the fat guy is the genius engineer and the skinny guy is the strongman.
Marie when she witnesses Nadia lay into Jean (unfairly and undeservedly) in episode 10. (Nadia eventually apologizes to him for that.)
When Nemo shoots a Neo-Atlantean to save her from being shot, Nadia accuses him of "murdering in cold blood". From that point on, she stubbornly determines to despise him... despite Jean's attempts to reason with her that she would have died if Nemo hadn't acted.
In episode 20, Nadia misunderstands Jean accepting a reprimand from Nemo (for nearly endangering the Nautilus with yet another failed invention). She makes the situation even worse by laying into Nemo. Then she nearly ruins her own relationship with Jean out of jealousy when she irrationally and wrongfully believes she is losing him to Electra — when, in fact, the latter had given him advice on how to please Nadia. (She regrets her mistakes, though, after talking with Electra in a bath scene.)
Just about everything she does in the island/Africa arc.