I have recently been thinking that the Shioshishio culture, as well as that of the surface dwellers of the Nagi no Asukara series, is distinctly Japanese. Not in the sense that some of the Japanese ideas the creators were intimately familiar with are reflected in the show’s setting – that could be said for any Japanese show – but in the sense that the world the characters live in is modern Japan, with the only difference being the existence of people capable of breathing in water who have developed a couple of customs of their own. For a short rundown of examples:
- the characters speak modern Japanese, not just for the audience’s convenience, but with the contemporary Japanese writing system displayed/referenced at various points in the show, and the Japanese naming system completely intact
- the school building is your average Japanese school if you have ever seen one – down to the shape of the fire alarm box – except with more blue in the color patterns
- contemporary school clothing is the same as contemporary school clothing in Japan with sailor-style uniforms
- traditional clothing is also reminiscent of Japanese traditional clothing
- natural phenomena like the triple sun day are named after uniquely Japanese ideas and conventions
Taken at face value, all of this is not particularly unusual in a Japanese show, and might just be treated as a way of mixing the new and the familiar in a show’s setting, or maybe even as laziness on the creators’ part. But things become fishy (pun intended) when we stop to think of the characters’ family names. Sakishima Hikari, whose last name means “island at the front”. Mukaido Manaka, whose last name translates to “facing the water well”.
No wait, those are perfectly fine Japanese last names and all. The vast majority of last names in Japan came to be as a summary of where a given family lived – “in the middle of rice fields”, “next to the bridge”, all that stuff.
But whoever the characters’ ancestors were, they probably did not live on an island. And they sure as hell had no use whatsoever for a water well. Last names are leftovers from the past, tags which lose any connection with their literal meaning as soon as one generation after being chosen. But exactly because they are remnants of the past, they should bring to mind the concepts of a time before there were surface-dwellers, before anyone even knew what a water well was.
Or maybe I am wrong, and not looking far enough into the past?
Long ago, human civilization had lived on the oceanfloor. However, there were many humans who wanted to live above the surface and they moved to land creating a fundamental separation between the two.
Or so the show’s summary says. And I ask, what was before that “long ago”? Or conversely, how far into the future is the “tomorrow” in Nagi no Asukara – From the Calm of Tomorrow?
We live in times when global warming threatens to melt the polar ice caps and cause worldwide floods. And I have to wonder, is Shioshishio the distant descendant of a Japan which had to abandon the surface in the face of such floods? Is the world of Nagi no Asukara, with its salt storms, tomoebi sunsets and mysterious technology, a post-apocalyptic world?