Watching a series like Nadia is interesting, if only because of the place it takes up in the history of the adventure genre. It’s based on the novel 20000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, who was one of the pioneers of the science fiction genre and wrote about aeroplanes and submarines before they were even invented. The visuals are clearly inspired by Laputa Castle in the Sky, one of Ghibli’s earliest classics, and you can also see traces of the awesome Mysterious Cities of Gold. In its turn, you can see its influence amongst great future adventure series as Bonen no Xamdou, Blue Submarine No06 and of course Ashita no Nadja. Amongst these excellent works, Nadia obviously doesn’t stand out as the greatest adventure ever, but nevertheless it’s an excellent series and a proof of Gainax’ ambition.
Nadia starts out as an historical series in the year 1889 and shows the two lead characters (two kids named Jean and Nadia) as they are chased by what at first sight seems to be the prototype for Team Rocket. Gradually though, this series gains more and more depth, and the setting develops into something truly epic, and a great look at how science fiction would have been more than a century ago. We gradually get to see more and more of the back-story of the world that this series plays in, which really becomes increasingly more interesting as the series goes on.
Throughout the series, we get to see a wide variety of situations, as we see Jean and Nadja travel on aeroplanes, hot air balloons, robots, the Nautilus Submarine of which the novel 20000 Leagues Under the Sea has become famous for, and much more. There’s also an entire arc that takes a step back from being epic, and instead has the lead characters stranded on a desert island for about eight episodes, with the focus being much more on “slice of life” and trying to survive on that desert island. While it will probably be boring for those who are watching this series for its action, but these episode did a great job of fleshing out and developing the characters.
But what great action this series has! Consider that this series aired in 1990, it looks like no other TV-series that aired before. Hideki Anno did a great job in creating a TV-version of the Ghibli-esque graphics, in the days that Hayao Miyazaki was really at his most prolific. The series has a excellent selection of rich and colourful character-designs and other graphics, and while you can see that the drawings in this series were still done by hand, the animation is surprisingly smooth and detailed.
There unfortunately are a bunch of flaws that hold this series back from calling itself among the greatest adventure series out there. Especially the villains of this series just are hardly fleshed out. The major villain is your typical evil mastermind who wants to take over the world, and every single one of his subordinates has the personality of a paper bag. It’s very hard to take these guys seriously and consider them a serious threat, even though they’re usually competent at their jobs. I think that it’s also because of this that the ending contains a bunch of weird Deus ex Machina that just seemed to have been inserted to wrap up the story. Also, Nadia may have been a bit too often a damsel in distress, especially in the first half of the series.
At times the show is a bit hard to watch, because the barrier between men and women forms a major theme for especially the lead couple, but most of the important characters end up nicely developed by the end. Nothing memorable, but this development does makes sure for a bunch of really charming scenes in which this development comes together. And a honorable mention has to go to King, the animal side-kick who proved that subtlety and GAR do go together.