It's a serious, poignant anime from Mari Okada. Lots of young love from 14-year-olds, usually unrequited. Complicated interlocking relationships. A timeskip halfway through that overturns your ideas of what was possible.
However, it's also magical realism. It's set in a grotty, run-down small seaside town where the population is dwindling, the cars are junkheaps and the fishermen are idiots... but there's also a sea god and an undersea village. The latter's called Shioshishio. In this anime, all humans originally came from the sea and could breathe and talk underwater. Those who went to live on the land, though, lost the magical "ena" that makes them amphibious.
The complicated bit is that if a sea-dweller and a landlubber fall in love, their children won't have ena. Shioshishio is thus opposed to intermarriage and will expel anyone who does. (Our heroes are outraged when they discover this.) Oh, and the sea god is called Uroko, because he's technically just a flaked-off scale of the real sea god. He's a bit of a sleazeball and he occasionally curses people. A talking fish will grow from some part of your body.
I found the show's first half a slight slog. Firstly, the most important male character (Hikari) is a dick in the early episodes. He's a bigoted, aggressive hothead who's permanently angry. His friends are fine, but he could sod off as far as I was concerned. (He improves a lot later.) The other problem was that the Shioshishio men all seemed to be as stupid as Hikari. (Kaname's fine, but I'm talking about the adults here.) They're lots of big, uneducated fishermen who dislike the landlubbers. Talking to them is like headbutting a brick wall. As for Hikari's dad, he's got that rough, masculine speech pattern that's incapable of talking in anything except blunt, rough orders... even when it comes to his daughter's love life. And his orders are always wrong or stupid. I was keen for him to sod off too.
The schoolboys are dreadful too. All in all, it's a relief to get a scene with no males.
Halfway through, though, your expectations get derailed by sea gods and weird sea-person biology. The mid-series finale (ep.13) is spectacular. After that, the second half is much calmer, although equally focused on our heroes' confused romantic yearnings. This is sensitively done and avoids simple happy endings. The love dodecahedron makes it impossible for everyone to get paired off with the person they want. Quite a lot of it is left open-ended and my favourite character's ending is bittersweet.
The magic is important. The finale might have felt arbitrary in a more realistic work, but this show has always gone out of its way to emphasise its own impossibilities. Note the way that life in Shioshishio is exactly like life on land, but with fish swimming past. People sit, walk, etc. in a normal way that niggled at me for a while. You don't walk like that underwater. A more realistic portrayal of Shioshishio would have been much more interesting, for me, but I think that distance from realism is necessary for the show to work.
Mind you, the big bubble tears in a couple of episodes (e.g. ep.11) look silly.
This is an emotionally complicated work. Personally, I found it more compelling in the second half, which marathons quite well. It sold poorly in Japan, but some viewers fell in love with it and called it one of their all-time favourite anime. Others got invested in relationships that weren't going to happen and ended up hating the characters who got in the way of those audience-preferred pairings.
It is beautiful, though. I love the idea of Shioshishio.