#1 A proper adventure story
The Buxton Family runs one of the most prestigious banks of England and their future is looking bright. The eldest son George is an adventurous scholar, his stepbrother William is a perfect fit for the family business, and their little sister Jane is an energetic kid with a passion for engineering and invention. Until… disaster strikes.
On an expedition to chase a legend, George is accused of treason and executed. William vanishes without a trace and Jane’s father, already a widower, takes ill as the family finances plummet. Years later, Jane receives a curious envelope bearing George’s signature. Though it contains no letter, there is a small crystal inside that turns to dust in the moonlight. Convinced that her brother is still alive and trying to tell her something, Jane and her elderly attendant St. Berain set out on a journey to the far, uncharted east where they hope to uncover the truth about his alleged treason.
What follows is a real globetrotting adventure in a style not unlike that of a Jules Verne novel. It’s big and mysterious; a journey where you never quite know what might happen next. You might get a few comedic episodes where Jane travels with some soldiers and tries to learn how to do chores to repay them, while in a different chapter she is desperately trying to survive being stranded in a desert with dwindling supplies and sickly companions. It’s a varied and often emotional story, which I find essential for a proper adventure.
#2 Watching Jane age
Secret of Cerulean Sand starts on the day where Jane is born, and the anime spends its first few episodes on showing us various stages of her childhood. This makes the start of the story a bit sluggish, but it’s a fantastic way to introduce your protagonist.
Jane is an amazing character and getting to see how pivotal events in her childhood shape her personality creates a special bond between her and the viewer. You’re not just told that she likes inventing things, you get to see her tinkering with her toys as a toddler and hold elaborate presentations in class about the machines she’d love to create one day. By the time her life is thrown into chaos in her teens, I was completely invested in the story.
Even as Jane leaves England, that’s not the end of her growing up. If anything, leaving her sheltered home and getting to see the world accelerates her growth as a person. She’s an idealistic and selfless girl, but the further she gets from civilization, the harsher the world and its people become. Treacherous mountains and vast deserts may test her physically, but betrayal and cruelty will also test her very beliefs. Getting to see how this all affects and changes her is immensely interesting and sets the show up for an intense finale and a fantastic epilogue.
#3 Beautiful, period-appropriate visuals
When dealing with older anime, especially the more obscure ones, you gotta temper your expectations for the visuals somewhat. I expected Secret of Cerulean Sand to be average-looking at best, only to be blown away by just how beautiful the show is.
Right from the start, Secret of Cerulean Sand impresses with its beautiful interpretation of industrialization-era England. Streets filled with stagecoaches, giant mechanical trains, the stylish architecture, it really captures the setting well. This is vital for an anime about travel and it keeps it up wonderfully as Jane sets out for unfamiliar lands. I was particularly fond of Jane’s brief stay in a middle-eastern city where the lively market streets are bustling with different kinds of vendors.
Praise also has to go to the character design which bridges the sensibilities of anime and cartoons from the era. The characters are very expressive and creatively designed, but it doesn’t scream ANIME in the same way other popular adventure series at the time would. This makes it a widely accessible series without ever losing appeal for the die hard weeb.
#4 Fantastic support cast
Jane gets to meet many interesting people while traveling the globe and a strong point in Secret of Cerulean Sand‘s favor is that it often takes multiple episodes to develop these side-characters instead of making them episodic encounters.
I don’t want to risk spoiling too many of the stories told in Secret of Cerulean Sand but my favorite ended up being a handful of episodes where Jane tries to help a tribe in the desert fight back against a band of raiders. A story arc during which the tribe’s leader Sasha really gets to shine and leaves a deep impression on Jane. And there are many characters like Sasha, spanning both genders and all age groups.
And, of course, one can’t forget about her most loyal companions. The formal but endlessly loyal ward St. Berain, the young guide Saburi, and Jane’s dog Sky. Especially St. Berain was a character I grew to adore and sincerely hoped would live to see the end of the story, in spite of his old age and frequent near-death experiences.
#5 Solid mystery
George was researching a way for mankind to take to the skies and believed that the answer could be found far in the East. So what exactly did he find there and why did it lead to his apparent death? What is the significance of the blue crystal and why is it the only thing George ever send back to England?
While the answer to such questions is withheld for a long time, Secret of Cerulean Sand does a great job at keeping them prevalent. There are enough developments and reveals that add to the puzzle without ever progressing it too far. It gives you enough to ponder and theorize on until the next information arrives, though this often means it creates more new questions than it actually answers.
The story starts clicking together satisfyingly around episode 20, where all the answers to those piled-up questions are rapidly answered one-by-one. There’s even an entire episode that shows how the villains traveled through the same areas Jane visited several years before her, which is a cool way to contextualize some of the earlier plot twists. It’s also a clever way to disguise what is otherwise an episode-long infodump.
By the end of the story, I didn’t feel like there were any loose ends that needed to be tied up. I had a fantastic time and the final epilogue perfectly concludes the anime.