Chakuro is the 14-year-old archivist of the Mud Whale, a nigh-utopian island that floats across the surface of an endless sea of sand. Nine in ten of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale have been blessed and cursed with the ability to use saimia, special powers that doom them to an early death.
Chakuro and his friends have stumbled across other islands, but they have never met, seen, or even heard of a human who wasn't from their own. One day, Chakuro visits an island as large as the Mud Whale and meets a girl who will change his destiny.
To all appearances Children of the Whales seemed to be a promising anime. I have the impression that the series held all the necessary elements to be a memorable work: partially interesting and potentially exceptional worldbuilding, splendid artistic direction, intriguing characters... but after 2 episodes, the series goes in another direction and gets worse gradually. In the end, we have a lot of tears, melodrama, inconsistencies, and far too much in my opinion.
Story: Chakuro is 14 years old and is an archivist / scribe on the Mud Whale, an island that floats on a sea of endless sand. That island has several specificities. There are
two types of people: marked and unmarked. Chakuro is in the first category, that is, he can use saimia, a supernatural ability that unfortunately is responsible for their untimely death. There are other rules like never fighting (very useful to be used as a plot-convenience), not to cry for dead people and especially not to inquire about their existence and their presence on the island. Indeed the Council that governs the people of Mud Whale, doesn't want its people to understand why they live here and why they have supernatural powers.
And Chakuro? One day he makes a trip with some friends (including Ohni) to an island they discover nearby (without the authorization of the Council). They meet a mysterious girl named Lykos. They also find a strange structure called the Noûs (which absorbs the emotions of humans)
Chakuro brings Lykos on the Mud Whale. The Council strongly opposes and decides to question the girl. However I specify that the girl is a kuudere (yeah ! useful for plot-convenience) so she isn't really willing to talk. We also learn that she can't express her emotions.
As I said before, the premise seemed interesting. Many mysteries concerning the origin of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale, on Lykos (which seems to come from another country), and in a general way on the world, where are the other peoples and why the Mud Whale seems so isolated? Episode 3 will therefore answer some questions but I admit that this episode was particularly disastrous. Disastrous for the Mud Whale and for the credibility of the series.
(Light spoilers from there because there is almost impossible to talk about that show without mentioning some scenes)
This episode 3 begins with the arrival of a gigantic ship called Skylos. The leader (called Oruko) of this ship decides to annihilate all the inhabitants of Mud Whale. Why? No explanation at first, we understand later that the inhabitants of Mud Whale were exiled a hundred years ago. Why exiled? Because they have emotions. And it is here that the series seems hardly credible. If the other inhabitants don't have emotions then why do we see the other pink-haired idiot (Ryodari) be glad killing innocent people? Why is Oruka so happy to kill people? We always see him laughing. So they get emotional !
Well, I won't be a scold. There is an explanation for Ryodari who apparently has strong emotions. Honestly I have the impression that this explanation was later created to erase the inconsistencies and that it was not really anticipated. Also, the introduction of this character was particularly bad and this character is really detestable. I don't care about his situation and I don't sympathize.
However, I didn't have explanations for the other characters. The Noûs is supposed to absorb their emotions so why do we see Oruko laughing? Why do we see the other captain being scared when he meets the Daimonias for the first time? They aren't supposed to have emotions so they should just be indifferent.
I can understand that it is difficult to create characters without emotions but in this case, why the author decided to make a difference between the inhabitants of the Mud Whale and the other populations? Finally they are rather similar. When they are in danger, they are afraid. When they are happy, they smile. What is the difference between Oruko and the inhabitants of Mud Whale?
By the way, a surprising point. When the inhabitants of the island are threatened by the Skylos army, they decide not to defend themselves. The army wants to kill them but they do not react. Why? Because they don't have the right to kill, yeah !
Ah ! So the inhabitants of Mud Whale prefer to respect this stupid law than to defend themselves in order to save their friends and their families. Ironically I have the impression that it is rather the inhabitants of the island who lack feelings, compassion.
From this episode 3, the series was getting progressively worse. The Skylos decided to leave the inhabitants alive (after killing a lot of people, I confirm) and to abandon Lykos on the island. Lykos was a member of their army, so it made sense that the Skylos wanted Lykos to get back on the boat. However Oruko prefers to leave her on the island to do an experiment. This intention probably has no meaning and doesn't lead to any rational explanation, believe me. Oruko promises to return in a few days to completely annihilate them. (You can write "lol" here) The inhabitants decide to avenge their companions despite the opposition of the Council. The Council is really irritating and looks stupid. Honestly, I don't know why they are so keen to hide all the truths about their origin. This obstinacy doesn't really make sense. Furthermore, you will see that some of the members of the Council will even try to sink the boat so that its inhabitants don't fight. Again, why?
Why don't the inhabitants of the island have permission to fight? Will they receive a curse? Many elements are unfortunately not explained. Especially that these same inhabitants fight later and aren't really subject to a curse. The only thing that could make you doubt is the Daimonias. This is the only potential danger but still, the anime didn't show us that this power was dangerous for the allies.
Also, the inhabitants don't have the right to cry for their dead. Why? No credible explanation. They all cry at the end of episode 3 and even constantly, each character has a tear in their eyes and there is no consequence. I don't see any curse or misfortune because the characters cried. They are unhappy because the Skylos invade their territory and kill their friends, their families.
The curse of the whale? I don't see anything except a war, so it's not about the whale.
Let's go through the inconsistencies to talk about the drama. The drama isn't credible. We constantly have scenes that alternate nonsense comedy and drama. And because of this I have difficulties to sympathize with the characters. For example, you see characters like Ginshu making jokes in really inappropriate moments. You see the other character touching the characters' hair as they prepare to fight the Skylos army. There are always some foolish scenes that contrast too much with the dramatic atmosphere.
Regarding the characters, they are numerous. The main cast would be Chakuro, Lykos and Ohni. But the secondary cast is very present. You have a short flashback and you quickly know their feelings. However, as you know that these flashbacks indicate their future death (otherwise they wouldn't show it), suddenly the result seems predictable and uninteresting. And since their screentime is too short, it is difficult to worry about their fate. In a word, it's sloppy.
Chakuro is a very effective character for melodrama as he cries a lot and easily shows his emotions. He is very passionate at times! I don't really know what to feel for this character. He never managed to interest me in fact. He is slow, indecisive, timid, really, and his personality doesn't evolve. He seems to like Lykos but their relationship isn't particularly worked insofar as the plot takes up too much space.
Lykos is your cute kuudere. She doesn't talk with others but the character is well written. At first, she has no emotions (it makes sense !) and living with the inhabitants of Mud Whale, she will gradually feel emotions. It's a shame that the series isn't more focused on this character. It would have been interesting if we had more access to Lykos' thoughts. However, she is rather irritating thereafter. She knows some things but like the Council, she doesn't want to reveal anything and it's annoying. (Example: why do the marked ones die when they are young? Chakuro and the others don't know it, so why didn't she inform them?)
Ohni is probably the best character in the series. He is tired of living on the Mud Whale and wants to discover other places, other countries. And he even fought the first time against the Skylos army while the others didn't dare. So he must have been one of the few characters to use his brain.
On the other hand, some of the secondary characters were so stupid that I laughed sometimes. For example, Suou, this character is hilarious. He is obviously not credible as a leader since he cries all the time and is unable to make decisions courageously. Besides, I remember a scene where he tries to save Ryodari. I specify that Ryodari is responsible for the death of many inhabitants (and that he doesn't regret), so WHY SUOU WANTS RYODARI TO LIVE ON THE MUD WHALE?
(To mention a scene that made me cringe: Suou appears naked to meet people from another country. That leader... )
On technical aspects, the series is very satisfying. The artistic direction is truly sublime and original. I personally loved the staging, it was really beautiful. The chara design is not my cup of tea. Male characters often look like trap but the female characters and especially Lykos are very charming. The soundtrack is not really remarkable, there are surprisingly a lot of songs. I didn't find them incredible but pleasant enough. (Neri is really a mysterious character) The opening theme is definitely one of my favorites of the year. Regarding the seiyuus, I didn't particularly like the narrative parts. The narration doesn't bother me even though it's excessive (like Durarara) but Natsuki Hanae has a monotonous and boring voice.
Disappointing. This is the first word that comes to mind. The end is also unsatisfying since the conclusion doesn't answer all the questions. I can't recommend this series but if you want to discover interesting worlds with a coherent worldbuilding and some interesting characters, watch Shinsekai yori or even stuff like the Attack on Titan do the trick.
I'll say this right away, Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau (AKA Children of the Whales) is not for everyone. It has amazing music and eye-catching visuals, but the story requires the audience to be interested in its themes of emotion and utopianism. The characters and setting have incredibly satisfying arcs throughout the show, but if you're not invested in them you won't find the arcs engaging or nearly as cathartic as I did.
If the show sinks its hooks in you by episode one like it did for me then chances are you'll have a great experience.
(Long review ahead, TL;DR at the end.)
world of Children of the Whales asks its characters to conceal their emotions for the greater good, a sly criticism of today’s society of people who constantly change their appearances to conform to a standard. The show uses a bit of reverse psychology to immediately establish emotions as the crux of the narrative.
Emotions are the core of this story but powered by a melancholic soundtrack, self-confident directing, and some of the best world building this season, Children of the Whales becomes incredibly immersive. Falling short of the manga by a small amount for cutting out some character backstories, minor side information that adds a bit more detail to the setting, and occasionally awkwardly adapted scenes.
A vast ocean of sand carries the Mud Whale, a giant magic powered clay ship that is home to many people trying to live out their lives peacefully despite being limited to a small closed off society. Living in a small town myself I connected with the setting immediately. The feeling of being trapped in a contained society that I don’t quite fit in with is shared by a group of characters in this show.
About 90% of the population possess telekinetic abilities known as saimia, which leads the afflicted to an early death which earns them the title of “the marked”. This leaves the 10% of normal people to assume the role of the government, who are also referred to as “unmarked”. The show opens with a somber funeral scene where the main character, Chakuro, is seen holding back tears with many other fellow Mud Whalers. Everyone on the Mud Whale is taught to suppress their sadness whenever they are reminded by the early deaths they will inevitably face, instead of accepting the fact that they will die soon, they choose to live blissfully ignorant by forgetting about their deceased friends and moving on quickly.
Anyone who has experienced the death of a friend or family member can surely agree that holding in your feelings only makes it worse. Getting sad and acknowledging the loved ones you’ve lost is how you’re able to grow and move on and that pain you feel proves that you loved and were loved. That's the sentiment Chakuro begins to lean towards after realizing the Mud Whale's rules are biased. Right away an uncertainty towards the unmarked ones is planted in the audience's minds when the rules of the Mud Whale are established. The show is able to get into your mind in subtle ways to make you ponder certain subjects so that when they're brought up more as arcs progress you will feel more emotionally impacted.
However, if you don't follow these arcs intently then you'll be missing out on a large portion of the experience. This is probably what led so many people to hate the show.
The conflict of the story comes from the Mud Whale’s interaction with another island and how radically different their beliefs are. The Mud Whale’s beliefs towards life and emotion are put to the test as they violently clash with their enemies, creating some of the most memorable scenes in the show that stuck with me long after watching.
Complex themes woven into the story are not delivered through tiresome exposition. The show gives the audience the pieces of the puzzle without holding the audience's hand and it expects you to figure it out, which makes the experience incredibly rewarding and refreshing. If the idea of working out that puzzle sounds unappealing to you then perhaps Children of the Whales may not be for you, however, I’d still recommend watching the first episode just to see if it sinks its hooks in you like it did to me.
One of the show’s most intriguing hooks is how central emotions are to the story. The telekinetic powers are controlled by emotion, the Mud Whalers are taught to suppress their emotions.
The mystery is so compelling. Just by merely rewatching the first two episodes I picked up on many clues sprinkled into the dialogue (by the talented author) for the sake of people who choose to rewatch. It’s a show that wants you to love it and unravel its mysteries, and it surely isn’t hard to love it once you notice the clues placed with such elegance and care.
Everything in the show has an arc, the characters, the themes, and especially the constantly evolving setting. I loved the way the show reveals information about the world periodically and usually in subtle ways. Whether it be a brief line said quietly by the outsider Lykos or the interesting but vicious psychopaths who invade the Mud Whale. Through meeting new people the islanders broaden their horizons and even the physical island undergoes an evolution. And the way that the Mud Whale actually changes is so satisfying to watch. We see the Mud Whalers live in blissful ignorance in their "utopian" society, then eventually the image is cathartically shattered and their whole world is altered irreparably.
I never felt like the show wasted my time. From the first minutes of episode one, it grabbed me with the emotion hook and a society cut-off from the world. Then onward I was getting info on the world that I was already very interested in! If you're not grabbed by the show from the first episode you probably never will be. It's a sad truth that makes the show more niche than it needed to be. I'm hoping enough fans find it to warrant a sequel because the story isn't over yet.
The one small gripe I had with the story was how the pace is a bit on the quick side. I liked how it never felt like the show was dragging on, but honestly, I wouldn’t have had a problem more slow scenes to get more of the little details about the Mud Whale I felt were missing from the show.
The characters have visible arcs that meld them into the sort of believable people you can root for.
The mud-whalers start out as bumbling idiots, unable to comprehend the danger they are in. After they experience a devastating tragedy (which I won't reveal) the entire ship undergoes a change. They train and prepare themselves, it was cathartic to see them go from fools who thought they were in control, to wise and determined fighters who understood the struggle they had to endure in order to survive.
Watching the three lead characters, Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos develop is where most of the show’s engagement is derived from. All of them have interesting backstories that are explored in the show. As if they were magnets, the more they experience the more through learning from each other and the tragic events they experience, their characters progress in visible ways. The friends of the main three characters also have individual arcs. This sense of character progression really made the main cast endearing to watch, I was rooting for them all by the end despite a few duds in the roster.
I’ve seen the protagonist Chakuro get criticised for being kind of a wimp. To that I say, he’s meant to be like that. This isn’t some shounen power fantasy. It’s shoujo. The male characters show plenty of emotion and cry just as much as the female ones. Some people might hate this but I found it incredibly refreshing to see this level of sensitivity, it really helped make the show’s theme of emotions believable.
I did have a rather large issue with the characters that prevented me from giving them a full score. It’s made clear at the start of the show that there are so many people living in Mud Whale, but as the show goes on it pulls from this unknown amount of random people to use as accessories to the main characters. Instead of killing main cast members these randos are killed nearby the leads, which does add a little bit to the tension. I felt like whenever these characters were added into the lead cast pool I knew they’d be the first to die, just an unnecessary layer of predictability.
The fantastic world building is extended to the characters due to how well rooted in the world they all are. Citizens of the Mud Whale feel like they belong there. For example; we see that the Mud Whalers don’t get much punishment because there’s almost no crime, which explains why they’re all so carefree and lack a whole lot of respect for the rules and the elders that wrote them. Some of the citizens hate the Mud Whale for how small and closed off it is. Just simply knowing this detail about them makes them all the more believable. I feel similar to the characters who despised their birthplace so even though they don’t get a whole lot of development I was able to connect with them and place myself in their shoes.
As for the villains, the majority of them are the murderous invaders of the Mud Whale.
What the invaders lack in charisma they more than make up for in introspection. Their quiet, logic-based demeanors clash with the emotion-fueled personas of the Mud Whalers. Their motivations make sense from a utilitarian perspective, but put yourself in their shoes long enough and you’ll hate yourself for understanding their beliefs. There were a few standout villains like the visually distinct pink haired Ryodari. He has emotions but due to the society he lives in he has become something of an outcast. His arc becomes visible during the middle half of the show and after that, he becomes a reoccurring character to give the audience an insightful look at life outside of the Mud Whale.
Despite taking place in a world made of mostly sand and mud, the show is visually breathtaking. The characters have a lot of varying hair colors (which really helps to distinguish between them in the early episodes), this gives the world a lot of vibrancy due to the contrast. Both the backgrounds and characters look great, but together they sometimes don’t quite fit and it breaks immersion. When a gust of wind sweeps glittering sand across the screen or the mud whalers use thymia they look like they belong in that world, but sadly there are a few moments that didn’t sit right with me. Even during the low points, the show is still stunning and it held my attention constantly.
It occasionally feels like the characters are individual objects to the environments, as they have different visual styles.
Having read a bit of the manga I can say that the show feels like the manga put in motion as accurately as possible, but sometimes this problematic for the director. Some static scenes in the manga would be transferred into static scenes in the show with a bit of animation of the characters but the background details would be totally static.
Most of these issues are in the earlier episodes when the show is a bit less dynamic, either way, it’s always visually appealing even it takes a little while for the director to find the right way to frame the show.
An uplifting folky opening starts off each episode with some really thought-provoking lyrics that allude to the evolution the Mud Whale undertakes.
I love the orchestral soundtrack to Children of the Whales. It always seems to reflect not only the emotion of a scene but the atmosphere and location of the scene.
Great insert songs during titular moments to really hammer home the importance of those scenes. They do a good job of defining a turning point in the story but their mellowness is gentle on the ears.
Strong voice acting, but I’ll be on the lookout for Netflix’s English dub in the near future as they tend to be well cast.
Mystifying and almost religious atmosphere to the show. The way that the director hangs on certain shots to highlight their importance, cutting out all sound, and giving you time to understand the what makes that shot so titular.
In the earlier episodes, I was incredibly frustrated at how the Mud Whalers become paralyzed whenever confronted with danger. I understand that in their utopian society they never faced war, but it was painful to watch. It wasn’t helped by the fact that those scenes were dragged on a lot more than they were in the manga. Thankfully this issue is addressed later on in a satisfying way that I’d rather not reveal for the sake of keeping this review spoiler-free.
A few annoying pacing issues during the first half of the show that didn’t affect the overall story but hindered some scenes moment-to-moment enjoyment. This is most likely due to the director struggling to find the right length of time to hang on a specific shot. In the second half of the show, I noticed significantly fewer issues and plenty of impressively delivered moments. Sometimes the director hangs on specific shots of characters to convey a sense of weight during turning points of the story.
Overall I was impressed more than bothered. Some people might not care about those minor issues but those that do will probably have no trouble getting past them once they see the show’s other merits.
[Story 9.5] Great world building, high rewatch value, rewarding twists.
[Character 8] Constantly evolving main characters, large supporting cast.
[Art 7.5] Pretty visuals but characters look too independent of the backgrounds.
[Sound 9] Great music and op/ed, nice insert songs, solid voice work.
[Enjoyment 8.5] Frustrating at times, but gripping in the end.
The audiovisual splendor of Children of the Whales grabbed my attention immediately, but as it continued on I saw there was more to it than met the eyes. I'll admit that it's a niche as hell show and as such many people won't get into it as much as others. If the first episode sinks its hooks in you as much as it did to me, then chances are you'll find the journey the world and characters undergo to be an incredibly rewarding one.
Most shows with unique hooks tend to run out of steam before they reach the conclusion. But Children of the Whales isn't most shows. It's a melancholic story about emotions and has a mysterious setting that unfolds with some of the best world building of the season.
One would argue that the former is the more logical choice. After all, the processing of information, the analyzing of what’s presented, the formulation of ideas, and the application of what you’ve learned are essential elements of your everyday life. However, Children of the Whales is a show claiming that the latter, our feelings, is more significant. Produced by J.C. Staff and adapted from an ongoing manga, Children of the Whales (CotW) is centered on the denizens of the utopian island of Falaina ("Mud Whale") and their valiant efforts to defend their home from the malicious Allied Empire. As
the Mud Whales’ protectors engage their enemy with a magical ability called “thymia”, as they resist one horrifying wave of trained killers after another, CotW lets it be known that these defenders are fighting not only for their lives, not only for their island, but for the right to possess emotions as well.
And, boy, do these characters have emotions. Whether they are delving into witty banter, stewing in the hell this series placed them in, or merely pranking a friend, CotW’s characters express themselves to the fullest extent, especially when attacking the Empire. While it is certainly a tall order for viewers to invest themselves in an overtly energetic cast like CotW has, taking a good look at Falaina will help any skeptic understand why these characters are so passionate. The animation in Children of the Whales is, without a doubt, among its biggest strengths and it’s emphasized in Falaina’s landscape. The down-to-earth homeliness of its villages, the vibrancy of its forests, the coldness of its prison cells, and the tranquility of its skies are all lovingly portrayed, thanks to a dynamic color palette (very few shows can manipulate shadings and hues like CotW can), stunning cinematography, an eye for detail, and a magnificent soundtrack. A lover of the ambient, CotW’s music is a soothing symphony of flutes, chimes, violins, acoustic guitars, pianos, and vocals that flawlessly complement the atmosphere of Falaina; while the music tends to limit itself to the same handful of songs, it’s a worthwhile listen all the same. There is an insert song in episode 7 from a supporting character that is remarkable in what it represents but the true standouts of CotW’s OST are the opening and ending themes. The OP, RIRIKO’s “Sono Saki e” is a joyous combination of melodic vocals and a sexy acoustic guitar while the ED, riono’s “Hashitairo”, is a triumph of soft piano solos and soothing vocals (the ED’s dolly shot of colorful sand fits the song like a glove). It is because of CotW’s visuals and music that Falaina is as undeniably mesmerizing as it is.
The finale of CotW’s second episode is when the series takes a turn for the macabre and the transition is excellently executed, thanks to a no-holds-barred approach from this show. Sure, there tends to be a few silly animation shifts, akin to Hellsing:Ultimate, but when CotW adopts a darker tone, it fully dedicates itself to how serious it can become. When the Allied Empire invades Falaina for the first time and has its enigmatic soldiers gun down innocent villagers, CotW’s soundtrack steers away from what it’s accustomed to, for the sake of Gregorian chanting and orchestral flourishes. As the monotonous sound of gunfire fills the air, as the screams of the dying chills the bones, Chakuro, the show’s protagonist and de facto narrator, intones, “The angels of slaughter tore our paradise to shreds with their great talons”. It’s during this transition that Children of the Whales’s concept of death surges to the forefront. This show is different from many others in that death plays a more powerful role than what viewers may be accustomed to; there isn’t plot armor nor a deus ex machina to protect the denizens of Falaina from a fatal injury, not even the most important characters. It doesn’t matter how central to the plot you are, even if you happen to be a main character. Death plays no favorites in Children of the Whales and its devastating effect is most emphasized not on whose lives it claims but on which characters it leaves behind. How CotW’s survivors cope with witnessing their loved ones murdered in cold blood serves as the show’s chief argument for the importance of emotions.
When humans find themselves in a stressful, harmful, or damaging situation, they don’t coldly input information into the brain like a computer. No; we react to situations based on how we feel about it. Our actions are generally dictated by our emotions and the same can be said for this show’s characters. Chakuro reacts to devastating situations by running away while Ouni, CotW’s fan favorite anti-hero, copes with Falaina’s devastation by boiling in rage. Shuan, Falaina’s most powerful thymia user, adapts to stress with apathy (“Living is a pain”, he says with a smile, “Our hearts are the biggest nuisances”) while Ryodari, a unique soldier of the Allied Empire and (arguably) CotW’s most hated character, adapts by wholly embracing it; when Shuan and Ryodari face off against each other in episode 7’s duel to the death, it’s a brilliant battle in ideologies between two starkly different characters and it serves as a particularly strong dynamic in a series chock-full of them. Individually, CotW’s characters are but iterations of the most basic anime archetypes (the self-insert, the quiet one, the genki girl, etc.). Collectively, however, it is easier to appreciate what each cast member brings to the table, thanks to the aforementioned character dynamics. By himself, Ouni is a brooding loner that are a dime a dozen in its medium. However, when interacting with Chakuro, Nibi (Ouni’s childhood friend), and Suou (Falaina’s de facto chief), different aspects of Ouni’s personality are showcased that weren’t really present before. With Chakuro and Nibi, we see Ouni adapt the role of a mentor or a big brother. With Suou, we see him embrace a pride in his homeland, a desire to defend it from the Allied Empire. Ouni is but one of the many members of CotW’s cast that are developed thanks to the show’s top-tier character dynamics and, as a result, we’re left with quite the impressive anime.
Although I am quite the fan of CotW, my adoration for it is not without its grievances. Whenever I’m watching this show, there are some occasions where I can’t resist feeling as if CotW is pandering for the sake of pandering, mostly when it involves the supporting cast. For example, I feel as though the Spirit of the Mud Whale didn’t manifest itself as a preadolescent girl by mere coincidence. There are plenty of other characters that I feel were created to appease the fans but the Mud Whale’s Spirit is the biggest culprit. Beyond that, the Allied Empire could’ve stood to gain more character development. Yes, the story explains why the Empire is so determined in destroying Falaina but there is little personality attributed to the Empire’s members beyond their goal. Perhaps it is because the Empire represents humans devoid of emotion and a character without emotion isn’t exactly compelling. The Allied Empire’s soldiers are a symbol, a representation of the “ideal” human, rather than unique characters and CotW suffers for it.
There are boundaries of the “logic vs emotion” argument, facets of this idea, that Children of the Whales never explored but what it presents is an admirable defense for its side. CotW advocates for emotion and, as a result, it is a deeply moving show. Your heartstrings are pulled to and fro not because there is one tragic backstory after another thrown in your face but because you sympathize with the struggles of Falaina’s defenders. Before your very eyes, these characters mature. They make mistakes, choke under pressure, and collapse in a fit of tears. Yet, they also acknowledge their faults, forgive transgressions, persevere through challenges, and embrace responsibility. In the course of 12 episodes, these children of the whale transform into adults and one cannot help but cheer them on along the way.
Watching shoujo fantasy adventures these days feels like taking a dive into a video game world. When Kujira no Kora Wa Sujou ni Utau (Children of the Whales) began airing, I had a strange instinct about the show. It felt like an anime that really wanted us to really embrace its ideas but fell short on capitalizing on all of them.
Created by Abi Umeda, few people probably heard of the author’s name. Taking a close look at their resume, some of their work consists of horror genre series. Crafting a shoujo fantasy adventure sounded like a challenge. However, I will say this: the author decided
to mold a variety of themes together that felt different from some of the other shoujo fantasy series I’ve seen in the past. To be clear, I think this show is suited for an audience beyond just the female demographic.
Are you the target audience? Let’s test that theory. Do you enjoy watching a show with colorful world fiction? How about a show with a large cast of characters? Or conflicts involving a utopia certainly thrown into turmoil? If any of these are on your bucket list, then definitely give it a try. That being said, the main attraction on paper is so far the setting. Mud Whale is really a unique dynamic that will draw attention. In an endless sea of sand of the Sand Era, Mud Whale is a moving vessel composed of an unique civilization. There are the “marked ones” who are individuals with psychokinetic powers but have a short life span. On the other hand, there are the “unmarked ones”, individuals who possesses no powers but have longer life spans. It’s interesting to note that these people live in isolation so they know nothing about the outside world. The plot involves a mysterious girl named Lykos as she changes the lives of everyone on Mud Whale.
As a 1-cour adaptation running for 12 episodes, I was a bit worried. Before even watching, I had to be less optimistic because it meant the likely event that the show will omit content and also leave questions for the viewers. Unfortunately, that came to be the case after this series ended. It felt like an advertisement of the manga and wants the audience’s hunger for more. As a manga reader, I am thankful that the anime adapted the story consistently with what the overall tone of the setting. But for the overall story, it really felt lacking. My early impression of the show kept me wanting for more though. The first few episodes established the setting and really gives a feel of a shoujo fantasy adventure. We have the characters living their lives in harmony as part of a utopia. Despite being isolated, they behave like humans and have their own system like the council, battle platoons, and recreational services. That changes after Lykos makes her appearance with Mud Whale while bringing attention from outsiders. It transformed the show from a harmonious story into one with dramatic conflicts. This elevates into bloodshed, pain, and even death.
Now as I watched more of this series, I accepted that only the main core characters will get their spotlight. The ones you see on the key visuals includes Chakuro, Lykos, Ouni, Suou, Ginshu, Ryodari, and Sami. Chakuro is the main guy who bears a gentle personality. This is a contrast to characters such as the emotionless Lykos and cold hearted Ouni. While I can’t say Chakuro is an impressive protagonist on paper, he is able to influence others such as Lykos throughout the show. The two forges a unique bond after the two begins to understand each other more. However, the anime doesn’t go too far into developing their relationship nor does it explore them individually as characters. It’s sad to realize this but I think omitting characterization makes the characters harder to accept. For the others, they play a variety of roles such as Suou becoming a leader, Ouni as the rigid combatant, or Ginshu as a guard of Mud Whale. It’s also noticeable that even deceased characters in the series has some influence on the present story. This is especially true when applied to characters like Chakuro as death affects his mentality. Meanwhile, I can’t say the antagonists of the series are appealing. The most noticeable one to point fingers at is Ryodari, the pink haired child soldier. We only see a glimpse of his past but it’s shown that he is clearly unstable and has a thirst to kill for the thrill of it. It lacks any depth in characterization and really doesn’t make him feel believable as a character. Indeed, the characters in the show is a mixed bag. As I watched more and more of this series, it felt like the creator didn’t really put too much thought into making them.
On the other hand, the experience I got from watching this anime felt rather memorable at times. The drama brings a reality to death and there’s a sense of tragedy that can send chills down the spine. While character chemistry isn’t always meaningful, it does have a way to express itself and evoke emotions. The vulnerability of the characters is clear and it shouldn’t take long for viewers to discover how death affects them. While it is also a shoujo, don’t expect romance to actually develop though. It serves more as a genre to carry the style of the story. The mystery elements develops more and more as the story progresses but don’t expect answers to everything. It’s explored through some background storytelling but will still leave viewers to their imaginations.
Adapted by J.C. Staff, this anime really stood out in the artwork department. A utopia like Mud Whale is depicted as a perfect society and before the events of Lyko’s encounter, it really does look like one. From the simple character outfits to natural spectacles, it’s a sight to feast eyes on. Mud Whale itself is also decorated with colorful features such as the sand particles, atypical structure, and natural aesthetics. The world fiction gives the impression of what a fantasy shoujo should be with the endless sand. It feels like a vast open world video game. Character designs also makes quite an impression as a majority of the cast are children. It gives off a sense of innocence, vulnerability, and youth. There’s also violence so do expect action to pick up once the conflicts really gets going. The amount of blood isn’t presented as shock value but more as a way to illustrate the reality of death. Fan service isn’t explicit but does also exist with bath scenes so be on the lookout for that.
Beautiful and harmonious. That’s how I’d describe the theme songs of the show and overall tone of the OST. The technical elements of the soundtrack is outstanding to fit with the genres of this anime. Sound director Jin Aketagawa (known for his work on some other fantasy series) impressed me with the overall direction. The synchronization of the soundtrack with some of the more emotional scenes made them feel impactful. Not to mention, there’s also harmonious singing in the show that really took my attention. Character voice mannerism can be a mixed bag at times. Lykos is too emotionless to be memorable while most of the younger characters all sound the same. Ryodari takes his personality often too far to be declared impressive.
Adapting a shoujo fantasy adventure isn’t easy but the final product that came to be felt like it’s missing something. Whether it’s the weak characterization or underdeveloped plot is up for you to decide. It definitely has visual splendor though and sells its setting convincingly to viewers. I just wish they took more time to expand the story and characters to really capitalize on this series as a whole. To me, this is a show that needed more passion to bring audience for appreciation.