Jul 8, 2020
The seas are fascinating, and have always held a special place in mankind’s history.
Beautiful yet also turbulent and treacherous, they have divided or bridged cultures and destroyed or benefited civilizations in equal measure. Mythologies and sailors’ superstitions are among the most prominent examples of mankind recognizing the seas’ majesty.
Kaijuu no Kodomo pays homage to this, but is also a unique sample of ecological storytelling, although Daisuke Igarashi is following an approach different of say, Hayao Miyazaki.
[1. Beginning with the story…]
Taking place at a typical modern setting by the seaside in Japan, the story begins during summer. The protagonist is Ruka, a teenage girl with divorced
parents. Her father works in an aquarium, where she gets acquainted with two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora.
At this point, readers are introduced to supernatural mystery. And gradually, more and more anomalies connected to the sea occur, which baffle marine biologists. However, Daisuke Igarashi does not limit his scope here. Instead, he expands the mystery towards a bigger picture and connects human condition with nature, from which mankind attempts to detach, but in reality remains but a thread of a grand tapestry. This is not unlike what is expressed in the Nausicaä manga.
Retracing to the introduction however, I mentioned how his approach differs from Miyazaki’s. The latter connects in Nausicaä many ideas from social and natural sciences with personal tales to forge a big picture, and the setting covers the land environment. On the other hand, Igarashi connects marine biology, mythology and cosmology with personal “testimonies” connected to the sea.
The result is simply put, unorthodox. I could summarize it as “abstract and monistic, sensual and symbolical”. Some chapters are dialogue-heavy, whereas others go for “show, don’t tell”. Questions are left unanswered, the story has a lot of disbelief to suspend and interpretation is more recommended rather than taking it at face value.
[2. Continuing with characters…]
Ruka is a not-too-ordinary teenage girl. She is quite athletic, independent and mature but also highly introverted and dismissive/aggressive towards her peers. Overall, she gives off the impression of being a true person, warts and all.
The main trio is composed of her and the titular “children of the sea/marine mammals”, Umi and Sora. They too are mature yet detached from their peers but also much more unusual, for they were raised in the sea under unusual circumstances. Their origins drive the narrative, whereas Ruka and the rest of the cast act as observers. The rest also help bridge human condition with the bigger picture, by being part of “personal testimonies” connected to the sea. No true antagonist exists, only humans with conflicting views and different pasts, influenced by the sea in their own ways.
[3. And concluding with the artwork...]
Character designs are realistic if somewhat crude and odd-proportioned at times, but sufficient for the goals of this manga.
The true stars however are the depictions of landscapes and of wildlife and the textures. Oceanic and land environments and marine wildlife - be it e.g. starfish, cetaceans or manta - are brought to life by meticulous (almost photorealistic) sketchy drawing, characterized by rough yet rich linework.
There are also colored (and some colorless) pages whose textures and shading resembles watercolor, adding to the already unique artwork.
Artwork is at its finest during the “show, don’t tell” moments of the narrative, when it becomes purely visual and lets nature do the talk in the place of the characters. Mythological elements are also portrayed quite vividly.
Hope you enjoyed my review!
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