In 1990, five years before Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gainax had its first super-hit TV series -- Fushigi no Umi no Nadia (Nadia of the Mysterious Seas) -- having previously released the now-classic feature film Wings of Honneamise and the best-selling OAV series Aim for the Top! Gunbuster (which was Hideaki Anno's directorial debut). Nadia is about a bunch of kids and their dog, and they solve mysteries -- oh wait, no. The central artifact of the story is Blue Water, a diamond-shaped gem that Nadia wears on a necklace. Everyone else wants Blue Water, but Nadia just wishes to find her home, somewhere in Africa. The story takes place around the turn of the century, starting in Paris, 1889. The setting of Nadia is very loosely based upon that of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and has a very Jules Verne atmosphere to it. Nadia was directed by Hideaki Anno (Gunbuster, Evangelion) and features character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Honneamise, Evangelion, Aoki Uru). Nadia was underwritten by and broadcast on NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyoku = Japan Broadcast Office).
Nadia is a light-hearted, high-adventure series with depth and multi-faceted themes (to be discussed in later articles). Since the same people worked on both shows, it's kind of like Evangelion in a good mood, minus the combat mecha, but with more vehicular mecha and a very Laputa-like storyline (also to be discussed in later articles). The strength of the show lies in its characters and their development.
Nadia: An orphan seeking her past, she is a pacifist and vegetarian. Because of her insecure past, she is often pessimistic, cold, and aloof. Nadia was a circus acrobat until the Grandis Trio began to chase her. Her original character design called for more sharply-kinked hair and a more "African" feel to the character, but Gainax was worried about the difficulty of animating this, especially since much of the work would have to be farmed out to other studios, so her hair was changed. Nadia is a lover of nature but will learn that she cannot live alone in nature, that she needs more. Also, Nausicaš and Nadia compete for the "most popular character ever" in the yearly Animage (famous anime magazine in Japan) poll.
Jean Coq de Raltigue: A budding inventor and dreamer, Jean is fascinated with the technological and puzzled with the feminine. (In a later article, I will argue that he is the main character of the series. -Greg) (Just as Folken is the main character of Escaflowne, right? -Lawrence). Jean, like Nadia, is an orphan (and not the last one we meet, either), his father recently killed by a sea monster. Director Hideaki Anno has said that Nadia and Jean are representations of his own Dark and Light sides when he was 14 years old. Almost the opposite of Nadia, Jean favors technology and human creations.
King: Nadia's (dwarf?) sidekick lion, who travels with her presumably in hopes of returning to Africa one day. King is Nadia's only friend in the beginning of the series.
Grandis: An aristocrat-turned-thief, she is the leader of her own threesome gang -- the Grandis Trio. Later on, the show will discuss her motivations and history.
Sanson: Slightly vain, handsome, and surprisingly strong. He's good with a revolver.
Hanson: The engineer of the gang, he created Gratan (Grandis-tank).
Gratan: I have to admit that this reminds me of the Gadgetmobile, having many amusing modes of travel. Grandis named it Christine, but everyone calls it Gratan.
This gang is a knock-off of gangs in Time Bokan and related series which played on Japanese TV beginning in 1975, most of which had a young boy and girl saving the world from an evil, sexy woman and her two henchmen (one tall and very vain and a shorter, rounder one who was a mecha genius). Time Bokan was a humorous, slapstick kind of show, in case you were wondering.
Another thing to look for in the first episode is the British entrant in the flying contest. He has an amusing name and flies a total knock-off of Chitty-chitty-bang-bang.
[12/16/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]