Reviewby Theron Martin,
Children of the Sea
Tomboyish Ruka was looking forward to the beginning of summer until roughhousing during sports got her temporarily banned from her team. Left directionless and unwilling to stay at home with her alcoholic mother, she goes instead to the aquarium where her father works and discovers Umi, a boy about her age who was raised in the sea by dugongs. Umi and his slightly older brother Sora are perfectly at home in the water, and they draw the initially-reluctant Ruka into their underwater cavorting as well. Meanwhile, mysterious events are happening in oceans and aquariums around the world, all of which seem to be pointing to some big event which also involves a meteor. Uki and Sora are part of it, and Ruka finds herself caught up in it as well.
One thing can be said unequivocally about this adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi's original manga: it is quite the visual spectacle. The problem is that director Ayumu Watanabe and his Studio 4° C team got so wrapped up in delivering “wow” moments that they neglected to make an interesting narrative to go with them. This is a very pretty movie but also, frankly, a boring one.
No single factor is the root cause for this; the movie's narrative weakness instead derives from the compounded effect of minor deficiencies in several places. Part of the problem certainly lies with the characters, however. Ruka seems at first like she might be an interesting girl to follow, but as the movie progresses she mostly winds up just reacting to what other characters are doing rather than doing much herself. Umi provides a necessary spark of energy but not much else, while Sora and a few others promote the story's mystery aspect but, again, not much else. Even characters who exist to provide the potential for conflict, such as the alcoholic mother, are just there; if there is any reason why Ruka does not get along with her mother beyond how much she drinks then it is not shown, and viewers only know that she drinks to problematic levels from empty beer cans, as she is also never shown drunk or drinking. Maybe the worst offender is Anglade, the assistant to a scientist Ruka knows, who is mostly defined by being a highly effeminate bishonen. He is implied to know a bit more about what's going on than anyone else, but how or why is never even hinted at.
Pacing and length are also contributing factors. A run time of 111 minutes allows the story to progress at a leisurely pace, but this eventually becomes a problem as everything takes achingly long to get to the point. Even the climactic phantasmagoria stretches on endlessly in delivering its visual cues. With as little actual story as the movie has to tell, it probably could have benefited greatly from having 10-15 minutes (or more) trimmed out.
The vagueness of the themes that the movie is pitching also stands as a negative. This is not a case of the movie using abstract imagery that can be interpreted multiple different ways; I am fairly certain that some specific meaning was intended here, but if so, the point never comes through clearly. Certainly a big part of the climax involves insemination and birth, with the Earth's oceans serving as the womb and the meteorite as the sperm, but that is not even close to explaining everything. At times during the all-too-long climax the visuals feel like they are being abstract just for the sake of being abstract, for allowing the animators to show off. This is not necessarily a problem on its own, but it does leave the movie feeling emptier than it was probably intended to be.
The visuals are certainly a treat, however. Whether it is Ruka's cluttered home, the time and weather-worn town that she lives in, the behind-the-scenes area of an aquarium that is so detailed that it has to be based on an actual facility, depictions of beached animals, or even underwater shots out at sea, the precise rendering of the settings is a constant marvel. Character designs paint distinct personalities better than their behaviors do, and perspective shots can shift between mobile first-person and mobile third-person, with a great deal of depth provided in many of the fancier earlier scenes. The animation outside of the spectacle scenes also delights, with hardly any shortcuts taken on depicting characters talking, moving in background, or sea creatures swimming. Also noteworthy are the 3DCG-supported movements of a whale and just about any early shot of Umi swimming, where he embodies a grace that anime characters rarely achieve. The movie also relentlessly emphasizes the movements of animals, whether it be dolphins or crabs on the beach, with swarming scenes being especially impressive.
The special effects are the true highlights, however. Just about any scene involving water can become something wondrous, such as various scenes where sheets of rain can turn into fish, but the animators save their best for the insemination/birthing event which comprises the movie's last quarter. The transformations, flowing imagery, and bursts of energy all somewhat reminded me of the climactic scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the point that I would be surprised if that could not be cited as an influence. The film may be worth watching just for that part (and honestly, you could probably watch that part independent of the rest of the film and not feel like you were missing much), though, again, even it runs on too long.
Director Watanabe also managed a minor coup by getting Joe Hisaishi, Hayao Miyzakai's long-time collaborator, to sign on as the music director. While the musical effort here does not leave as much as of an impression as it does in many of Miyazaki's films, it is nonetheless quite effective at backing and supporting the visuals.
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes an English dub, but that was, unfortunately, not available for review. While it has some familiar names in supporting roles, its main cast will all be anime newcomers. The discs themselves include almost three hours of Extras, ranging from more typical fare like staff and cast interviews, storyboards, art galleries, and trailers to more frivolous fare, such as Studio 4°C staffers recreating a meal shown in detail in one scene. The biggest Extra is an 81 minute piece titled “Turep – Looking for the Children of the Sea,” which explores various concepts brought up in the movie through the framing device of a man looking for a lost brother, I think? It was rather strange.
In all, Children of the Sea is a movie that wants to say something, maybe even make some grander point, but does not coherently pull this off, resulting in a work that is mostly fluff. But hey, it's pretty fluff, right?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Spectacular visual sequences, high-quality animation, visual detail
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