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Interview: The Cast and Crew of A Lull in the Sea

by Zac Bertschy & Viewers Like You,

A few months ago we put out a call for questions for the director, producer and star voice actress of the pastoral, contemplative fantasy drama A Lull in the Sea, which is out on standard edition DVD today (with a limited edition bluray box already on shelves from NISA). You responded in kind, and we've got the answers to those burning questions here.

This is a three-part interview, beginning with the show's director, Toshiya Shinohara. On page 2 you'll find answers from producer Mitsuhito Tsuji, and then finally on the last page we have an interview with the prolific voice actress Kana Hanazawa, who plays Manaka in the show.

Enormous thanks to everyone who submitted questions and to NISA for making this interview series possible.

WARNING: the following interviews contain significant spoilers throughout for A Lull in the Sea. Discretion is advised.

Director Toshiya Shinohara has a wide-ranging and incredibly diverse resume, storyboarding on productions like the original Sakura Wars OAV, Big Windup!, Kids on the Slope and more, while serving as an episode director on megahits like Gurren Lagann. As a full-fledged series director, he's worked on Black Butler, Red Data Girl, and now A Lull in the Sea.

From "Joel":
In designing the underwater town of Shioshishio, what was the process like, and what were the sources of inspiration?  Some parts of the town have a traditional Japanese feel while others seem very Greek/Mediterranean in design.

A Lull in the Sea’s setting is based on a fairytale-like world where people can live even underwater. To introduce this world to the viewers without it feeling awkward, was one of the most important tasks we had to accomplish in the early stages of the story.

Fish swimming inside the homes, the blue flame (sacred fire) used for cooking and disappearing in the shape of a ring, how the TV's weather forecast provides information about the salinity—things like that were all pieces of our plan.

In the scene where Hikari exits his house, what you see beyond the many outlines of fish is the townscape of Shioshishio. This is where we wanted the viewers to acknowledge the unique world that this show was set in while switching their perspectives from reality to fantasy.

However, this was a calculation planned specifically toward Japanese viewers. Though the contrast between the traditional folk scenery of Hikaru's home and Shioshishio's fantastical setting should be easily adaptable for Japanese viewers, viewers outside of Japan may think that Hikaru's house is much more fantastical in a way.

As you pointed out, the original townscape of Shioshishio originates from the Cyclades of the Aegean Sea, but during the initial planning stage, we were thinking about using traditional Japanese houses like Hikaru's as the main exterior. What decided it was an oil painting that Art Director Kazuki Higashiji did during his school days. The painting was of a boy sitting alone inside a Cyclades-like, white building.

From "Mayline"
Did Nagi no Asukara already have a planned ending, or did it evolve into something different as the series progressed?

We did have a vague direction (which was to resolve the interpersonal issues of the characters), but the conclusion greatly transformed with the progression of the story. Everything ended in the right places, leading to a grand finale.

In the latter half of the series, the characters gradually started to stand on their own, so it felt like the characters demanded the particular ending of the story.

I believe that is considered bliss for the show itself.

From "Alexander"
How early in the process did you decide that there would be a timeskip? What sort of challenges did that bring to the production?

During the initial stages of our planning, we were having trouble coming up with a major event to develop the series into two complete seasons. This was when Ms. Mari Okada, in charge of series composition, came up with an idea.

The initial idea was not five years, but for 15 years to pass. So Tsumugu would have been 30 years old.

Portraying the characters’, like Tsumugu's and Miuna's, physical and mental growths and the transformation of their interpersonal relationships, which occurred during those five years, was challenging but also very fun.

One difficult task was characterizing Manaka as someone who had "lost the ability to love someone."

Also, telling a timeskip story places a huge burden on the production team because the number of required settings basically gets doubled. The fact that we were able to overcome that is all thanks to the power and passion of the staff.

From Anonymous:
A Lull in the Sea has a huge event in episode 13 that changes the whole premise of the series. Was that a surprise to viewers of the original TV broadcast in Japan, and how did you keep it a secret?

That specific episode aired at the end of the year. The next week was a break because of all the New Year's specials, so the viewers who were watching the show in real time had to wait for two whole weeks. Those two weeks and the five-year timeskip synchronized very well, so I think viewers were able to accept the timeskip fairly easily.

This is not something we calculated, but it did provide a wonderful effect for the show.

Also, during that two-week wait, the new key visuals from after the five years (some grew, some stayed the same, and Manaka was out of the picture) were revealed, bringing mystery to the viewers. I remember various conjectures that were brought up during this time.

Producer Tsuji knows more about preventing spoilers than I, but we limited the outgoing information, releasing only the key visuals. We extracted Miuna's recollection scene for the preview trailer as well, so viewers wouldn't feel that five years had passed.

From "7jaws7"
 How would you describe A Lull in the Sea to somebody new to the series?

Set in a world where humans live in the sea just as they do on land, it's a youth romantic drama among the middle school kids from both worlds. "What is it like to love someone?"

From Anonymous:
 What kind of ideas or feelings do you want viewers to be left with after the end of the series?

There were many things I was thinking about for the show, things I wanted to depict, but once the show goes live and departs from our hands, it ends up being the viewers who must decide that for themselves.

If we can at least tug at the viewers’ heartstrings, there is no other bliss for a creator.

From Anonymous:
Who did Hikari end up with? Miuna or Manaka?

That's exactly as you see, shown in the final episode.
From "Alex"
How did you approach animating scenes taking place on land versus underwater? 

The direction of the sun and the effect that is given from its ray of light. The specific gravity of the shadows.

The distance between each character.

To make sure there is no discord in the portrayals of emotional transitions.

The proper amount of "the feeling of the sea" when the characters are in it.

 From "D Chan"
Were there any unique aspects of A Lull in the Sea that made it difficult to direct?

"Portraying a world underwater just how it would be above water" was an unprecedented setting, and a lot of the staff was concerned about this. It was a real problem figuring out how to portray this so that the viewers would accept the idea. There were extensive discussions and testing needed to be done before we could work out the current form.

Maintaining the consistency of each character's emotional expressions was one of the biggest focuses during the storyboard check, and it was also a very challenging part of the process.  I loved all the characters, and I didn't want to neglect any one of them, so I ended up making my life even more difficult.

From Anonymous:
Was there anything you learned from directing Red Data Girl that you applied to A Lull in the Sea?

Other than the fact that RDG was based on an original story and A Lull in the Sea wasn't, the two titles had big differences in their production partnerships, staff formation, broadcasting model, and scheduling. So there just wasn't much that I could apply to A Lull in the Sea. If I must say, the experience of working with P.A. WORKS, and producing something by "bringing people together," were the things I was able to apply.

From "D Chan"
Are you surprised at the popularity of the show with the Western audience? Do you have a message or any special words to say to your Western fans?

I did mention it in the first question as well, but the fantastical setting and the portrayals of emotional transitions were created for Japanese viewers to relate to. Especially those characters who keep their true emotions within; that is, I believe, very Japanese. So the fact that this show was accepted by non-Japanese people brought me much surprise, along with an unexpected joy.

In a way, I'd like to ask what everyone thinks of characters who wish for their feelings to remain unexposed, like Miuna, Chisaki, and Manaka.

From "Wandering Wastrel"
I was wondering if the half-unfinished, half-ruined highway support structures that are shown in the anime, coming out of the bay, were intended to resemble sundered torii gates (found at the entrance to Shinto shrines)? Was this a way to symbolize the sundering of the ties between the land people and the Sea God? 

Though "sundered torii gates" is a really interesting perspective, I've never actually thought of it like that at all. However, I could see it being a metaphor for the deficiency in religious faith.

A Lull in the Sea is staged in a world that possesses the feeling of decline on a downward slope. It's inspired by the current state of Japan where people have subconsciously given up on the country's bright future; a world that has lost its momentum. This is reflected in the fact that all the cars you see in the village are three-wheeled. Three-wheeled cars don't portray speed, after all.

The abandoned highway structure was Mr. Higashiji's idea. It was perfect to portray the declining feel as described above—a world that has already passed its peak.

In the beginning of episode 14, the big structure appears through Chisaki's point of view while she is riding on a bus through a tunnel. This allowed us to show that the story, after its major turn of events, is still staged in Oshiooshi.

This was very effective, and including its overall feel, this scene on the bus is one of my favorite. 

From "AsherFischell"
Nagi no Asukara isn't the first time that you've directed a show with series composition done by Mari Okada, whom you also worked with on Tatakau Shisho, Black Butler, and a personal favorite of mine, Hana-Saku Iroha.  What do you think makes the two of you complement each other so well? And, as a director, what do you think she brings to the table versus other writers you've worked with?

This was my third time teaming up with Ms. Okada, and I think she possesses such endless potential as a script writer. I've only seen a piece of that, but I can list all the great talent she has in characterization, creativity, story structure, writing powerful dialogs that grab people's hearts, and more.

There are many capable script writers out there, but I feel like she and I are on the same wavelength particularly because it's very easy for me to understand how she depicts emotional ups and downs and incorporates them into a story.

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