Having been made by Gainax, those extraordinary-otaku-turned-anime-professionals, Nadia is one of the finest examples of multi-faceted anime ever produced. When I say multi-faceted, I don't mean that it's one of those shows that tries too hard (and more often than not fails) to represent every genre. To me, "multi-faceted" implies richness in detail, style, and emotion. Music, such as in some classical symphonies, might provide an appropriate analogy. Upon each listening, by shifting one's focus to another dimension of the music, it becomes possible to learn something new each time. Multi-faceted anime shows offer the same experience. They provide solid entertainment for new anime fans, and as the fans gain experience, those shows become even more satisfying the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th time around.
Nadia succeeds in that its multi-faceted nature is achieved not by the use of obscure symbolism or ambivalence, but by hearty and cheerful appropriation of familiar elements that anime, science fiction, and comedy fans have always loved, just like the best pop songs simply recycle the songs that came before them and synthesize them into something novel and stimulating, yet comfortably familiar.
When making Nadia, Gainax drew influences from various anime, sentai shows, books, and who knows what else. As such, Nadia is full of in-jokes and references to those other works. One might be tempted to call Nadia formulaic and propelled by gimmicks. I think, however, that Gainax avoided falling into that trap. Even though it is a multi-faceted show, Nadia has a few clear themes it seeks to explore in depth. While the show was being made, even the creators may not have had the end goal in sight at all times. However, the general purpose and important themes were evident and consistent throughout. A major examination of these themes is shown in the infamous "Island Episodes," as Jean, Nadia, Marie, and King become stranded on an island after having been ordered into an escape pod by Captain Nemo as the battle-damaged Nautilus sinks to an unknown fate.
It is unfortunate that the "Island episodes" are considered infamous. The main complaint is that the episodes do not contribute to the story's plot and are therefore merely "filler." It is true that these episodes are not plot-intensive, but I would argue that they are both important to the series, as well as being extremely funny and entertaining. Furthermore, the relative importance of plot vs. style is a matter of personal taste, which holds especially true for the medium that is anime... but that's another article.
The Nemo vs. Gargoyle storyline is noticeably absent from the next set of episodes. It should be remembered, however, that the story is first and foremost about Nadia, her alienation from society, her attitude towards nature and technology, and her growing relationship with Jean and the other people around her. It is in the Island episodes where the various aspects of Nadia's personality are truly explored, and these quirks of her personality give her dimension and vitality, without which she'd merely be another cardboard-cutout anime character. Remember that it was Nadia who finally ended Nausicaš's reign as the Animage Poll's #1 favorite character. Nadia, like Evangelion, is a story about human relations, albeit Nadia takes a lighter approach. In Evangelion, the characters were isolated from "normal" society, and their interactions spoke volumes about their personalities. In Nadia, what better place to generate character interaction than on a deserted island? It might be an old trick -- stranding two pubescent kids on an island (with a little kid and a lion, no less) -- but the Gainax touch makes it work. In developing the Nadia/Jean relationship, the Island episodes are very important.
When I first started watching this second set of Nadia episodes, I experienced a "crime of continuity shock." The tone and mood was so different from the previous episode, we thought we had lost some episodes or the series would immediately revert to underwater battles, but it didn't, and I loved it! I guess some fans couldn't wait to see how revenge would be taken on Gargoyle and his henchmen, but waiting was not a problem as long as we were treated to some kick-ass social interaction to build up the characters on their way towards the finale. Don't worry, though; the characters are not doomed to be castaways forever.
There are more interesting facts about Nadia than can be written about in this article, but here a few. The second half of Nadia was directed by Shinji Higuchi instead of or in conjunction with Hideaki Anno. Higuchi was the mastermind behind the fabulous Evangelion episode "Dance Like You Want to Win!" (and is Shinji Ikari's namesake). That alone should be enough to convince you that you're in for a treat (as long as you don't take things too seriously). Nadia calls the island they're on "Lincoln Island." This name is in reference to a Jules Verne novel, not 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but The Mysterious Island, whose characters get stranded on a *gasp* mysterious island, and the main character, an engineer/inventor-type, must use his wits and ingenuity to keep his men alive and discover Lincoln Island's secret.
The humor in the Island episodes is often wry, always clever, and just downright silly at times. Gainax pulled out all the stops when it came to setting up the jokes, like Jean's cascade of creation, or Nadia's communion with Nature, or Marie's abuse of King, or King's retreat into Old Man and the Sea solitude. Here (unlike in previous episodes), the creators had the environment to set things up with deliberation, using time slowly and with greater effect.
It's not surprising that people complained that nothing happened in these episodes. If those super-goal-oriented people couldn't wait for the cliffhanger to be resolved, they probably weren't paying much attention to the intervening events, which is unfortunate since these episodes are riotously funny. For those impatient few, don't worry. You'll find out soon enough what happens to Nemo and Gargoyle. Think of the Japanese fans who only got Nadia once a week with no doubling-up of episodes. =)
For those of you who like a little variety in your anime and don't mind chilling out with Jean and Nadia on their Island vacation, sit back, soak up some of those animated rays of sunshine, and enjoy anime at its leisurely best. You deserve it.
[12/2/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]