Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sub.DVD - The Complete Series
Older Marin and younger Urin are sea people sisters (in a sense) who exclusively live underwater, though Marin is curious about what it's like above-water. When a dolphin-styled ring descends into her hands, she uses finding its owner as an excuse to explore life on the surface, with Urin reluctantly in tow. Though their swimsuit-like apparel draws curious looks from the “sky people” on the nearby Amamiko Island, they make the strongest connection with Kanon, a high school-aged reluctant fortune-teller whom they discover had thrown the ring away after breaking up with boyfriend Kojima. The emotions tied to that ring eventually lead to all kinds of trouble, most prominently including the accidental release and growth in power of Sedna, an evil entity from lore who seeks to reconstitute herself and spread her brand of malaise. The Turtle Elder, Matsumoto, awakens from a long slumber and advises the girls on becoming the Priestess of the Sea and the Priestess of the Sky, a pairing necessary for resealing Sedna. Building sufficient power for the task is easier said than done, however, for Sedna sends waves of minions to thwart them and her power has more insidious effects which can interfere with the nature of the power of light within the priestesses.
The title of this 2009 fantasy series directly translates as “Sea Story,” which tells you exactly what you're getting: a story where nearly everything going on in some way or another involves the sea, even if that connection is not initially apparent (and a fair amount of it will not be until the climactic episode). While it gives some early indications that it is going to pattern itself off of the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Little Mermaid – and indeed, a visual summary of that tale is prominently featured in the closer – it actually is its own separate story about a meeting between people of the sea and (as the sea people put it) people of the sky, one much more heavily-influenced by magical girl tales than anything else.
The story being told is a fairly simple and straightforward tale, one which does not trouble itself with details such as why sea people don't have any physical features suggestive of living their lives underwater; if you cannot apply a generous suspension of disbelief and/or ache for extensive worldbuilding then you will likely not enjoy this series. (For instance, only a little is ever said about the nature of sea people, and that is only included to explain why they don't have a sense of family in the way sky people do. Nor is any hint ever given about whether more exist beyond the four featured here.) The basic plot is typical of magical girl series: two girls must each overcome their own personality quirks in order to face down an evil force which claims to protect people from being hurt by sapping away their love and, as a side effect, drawing out the nastier sides of their dispositions. Complications are standard for that genre and mostly predictable, such as one character getting corrupted to serve as a vessel for the evil force and how that comes to pass.
What is not so easily predictable – in part because the writing does not provide enough information until late to make such a prediction – is the true nature of Sedna. Once that is revealed, though, everything that may not have made full sense until that point clicks into place, such as why Sedna's influence works the way it does, why her emergence is cyclical, why Marin and Urin were ultimately more vulnerable to it than Kanon, and why it seems keyed to Kanon's island. The gimmick involved has been used in other series, including ones outside of the magical girl realm, but it is applied effectively here. That is a crucial component to the resolution of the story in episode 12 having a significant emotional appeal.
The other necessary component is the personality interactions amongst the major players. Marin is the standard pure-hearted, love-everyone girl, one much in the same vein as Belldandy from the Ah! My Goddess franchise, including the same weakness: she is so pure that she doesn't know how to deal well with negative emotions, and that becomes a big factor at some points. That also creates a nice contrast with the more jaded Kanon, who freely manifests an “evil aura” (this quickly becomes a running joke). Despite her frustrations over her ex-boyfriend Kojima, she is ultimately the more emotionally stable of the two because she can vent and has extensive experience dealing with negativity (she has long undertaken tasks that no one else wanted to do). The way the two complement each other emotionally drives many of the crucial developments late in the series, and does so without even implying yuri elements. Urin, meanwhile, is also fairly typical as the possessive little sister who doesn't cope well with Big Sis sharing her love and the Turtle Elder Matsumoto is a fairly standard wise man figure. Most other supporting characters are either comedy relief or sounding boards for the main cast, save for the Kojima, who is more a plot device than an actual character.
Though the series is light on specifics in other senses, geography buffs may find the setting interesting. Amamiko Island appears to be a fictional creation that is a conglomerate of traits found on one or more of the Amami Islands, which lie between Kyushu and Okinawa; evidence of this includes references to pit vipers, nearby coral reefs, an extensive cave system under the island, and the nearly-extinct dugong (a species in the same family as manatees, which pops up in episode 13) once having frequented the area. The name Amamiko is also a reference to a goddess prominent in Okinawan myths, and that may be who the singing priestess, who appears in several episodes, is meant to represent. Surely many of the features of those islands and their surrounding underwater areas were replicated for the series, as many visual details are too specific to be mere fabrications.
Other than that and the detail put into depicting underwater flora and fauna, the artistry produced by studio ZEXCS is largely unimpressive. A rough watercolor feel is applied to most of the backgrounds, which does give the series a softer feel suitable to the style of storytelling but comes at the expense of sharp precision. Character designs are anime-typical but also distinctly varied, with particular emphasis being placed on clothing design and how it accentuates the generous curves of some characters (especially Marin and Warin). That is about the extent of the fan service in the series, though, as only a couple of brief scenes suggest any more than that. CG effects, mostly in the form of butterflies, butterfly-like wings on one character late in the series, and a black miasma, are integrated in well, while the regular animation depends heavily on extensive shortcuts and is not robust in its depiction of action scenes; it is definitely not a bottomfeeder in this regard, however, and does much better in its depictions of swimming fish. Also watch for some amusing clarifying notes which were apparently part of the original animation.
The real production star of the series, though, is the musical score produced by Ken Muramatsu, whose other prominent effort was Kurenai. While he takes a similarly low-key approach here, his sound is vastly more impactful and crucial to driving the mood and especially emotion of the series. It relies heavily on pieces featuring soulful and/or ominous use of piano or both Western and Eastern strings (especially cello) occasionally accompanied by flute and/or drum. Opener “violet” is a simple guitar-based number with an outstanding sound that sets the tone for the series very well, while The Little Mermaid–themed closer “Tōmei na Inori” by Masumi Itou (Scrapped Princess, Utawarerumono, and many others) also hits the mark at a pleasant wrap-up. A couple of insert songs also distinguish themselves, especially the hauntingly beautiful Island Song, which pops up in several places.
Nozomi Entertainment is releasing the series only on DVD and only with subtitles, but they are offering it up for the appropriately-reduced MSRP of $39.99. With common discounts figured in, that makes this an economical buy for what one is getting. The episodes are spread across three disks in a single case, with each disk having some Extras: Web promos for all episodes, clean opener and closer (on the second disk), commercials and promo videos (on the first disk), and four installments of the silly comedy asides called “Marin's What is This?” Also present is the unaired 13th episode, which provides a very satisfying epilogue to the series by depicting events one year later and how the contact between Kanon and the sea people influenced both. (Sadly, it also takes a nosedive on production values.) On-screen notes explaining crucial wordplay which wouldn't survive translation – such as why Marin insists on referring to Kojima as 'flounder” for much of the series – are also included in a few places.
Although wholly uninspired in its early stages, Umi Monogatari can impress in its late stages with its impact, handling of its message, and overall storytelling quality, with the way certain aspects of its epilogue episode are handled being especially nice touches. While hardly a can't-miss series, it is nonetheless another nice little rescue by Nozomi Entertainment.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : A-
+ Relationship which develops between the two leads and how it influences both of them, quality musical score, late emotional impact.
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