• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

Kaina of the Great Snow Sea
Episodes 1-3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea ?
Community score: 4.0

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea ?
Community score: 4.1

How would you rate episode 3 of
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea ?
Community score: 4.1

Trees are wild. There are individual trees that have lived for 5,000 years. Giant sequoias qualify as the largest living organism on the planet. Redwoods can grow over 100 meters tall. Baobabs have trunks wide enough to host a reasonably sized wine cellar in their hollow. And in many cases, you can walk up and touch these things. Now, I'm not here to stun you with tree trivia I've acquired over many a sleepless night on Wikipedia. I'm here to write about anime. However, if there's a single unifying creative impetus to Kaina of the Great Snow Sea, it is a fascination and affection for these titanic pillars of breathing wood.

It's no surprise either, considering the pedigree of the series' creator, Tsutomu Nihei. The mangaka behind Blame! and Knights of Sidonia constantly grapples with physical scales that dwarf his characters. In Kaina, this manifests as stratosphere-scraping orbital trees with strange translucent canopies that wrap around the planet like a protective bubble. It's a striking image, and it's smart of the anime to lead with it. In a winter season suffused with fantasy series that all drink from the same tepid medieval European pond, Kaina's alien post-apocalyptic landscape smacks your senses awake like a snowball to the face.

However, there are caveats to cover before I go fawning over the show's aesthetic. This isn't a Knights of Sidonia situation, where Nihei penned a manga that was then picked up for adaptation. Instead, Nihei seems to have explicitly made Kaina for Polygon Pictures to animate. A manga adaptation also began last year, but Itoe Takemoto, not Nihei, is drawing it. So while there are plenty of Nihei-esque hallmarks, like the scale of the setting or the bleak industrial design of the Valghia warship, Kaina seems to be more of a collaborative effort—and Polygon Pictures being one of those collaborators is sure to rankle some viewers.

Personally, I don't mind Polygon's contributions to the CG anime scene as much as I once did, and I think they've come a long way since the first season of Knights of Sidonia. To me, a show like last year's heavily underrated Estab Life shows the studio branching into more cartoonish and adventurous avenues. Kaina's animations still look stiff in spots, but you can trust me as someone who's had to watch a lot of their middling Netflix-original output: it can get a lot worse. They're trying! In fact, ANN just published a surprisingly candid interview with Polygon's president that I highly recommend reading. While it can't compete with Studio Orange's take on Trigun this season, Kaina looks great when everything clicks together. The backgrounds especially are painterly and gorgeous. Some breathtaking vistas here are worth checking out, even if you're a certified CG anime hater.

I'm also bullish on the overall setting. Each episode introduces incidental details that invite us to piece together a picture of what happened to the planet and its people. For instance, I love the village elder who teaches writing via various metal street signs that have persisted into the apocalypse. It's a clever way of showing how far removed Kaina's clan is from the society we know. Like all good post-apocalyptic stories, Kaina's situation is a reflection and extrapolation of our current lot. People still fight each other for dwindling resources. An increasingly geriatric population is preparing to leave the younger generation behind with less hope than they started. But I would be OK with trading places with Kaina when he goes hunting bugs. Standing on that canopy, perched on a thin film separating the earth from the firmament—that has to take your breath away (quite literally too, due to the altitude).

While the setting is the selling point, Kaina's plot and characters are thinner than I'd like. The narrative still has time to ramp up, so I'm not as worried about that. As of now, there are plenty of questions to answer about how the world is and how it got there, which should mean the series has room to grow more complex. It's also quite evident that Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is taking its fair share of cues from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, so I'm interested to see how it utilizes and subverts that influence. Character-wise, though, Kaina and Ririha are both pretty flat. They've had a few cute moments together, but I can't say I feel much chemistry between or within them. Instead, they're most interesting when we see them interact with their world, as their complementary areas of expertise and naivete drive both of them to different conclusions and actions. As we watch both of them crawl like insects on the bark of their orbital tree while they observe another orbital tree being felled in the distance, we begin to grasp the colossal magnitude of what they need to overcome. That's Kaina at its best.

Overall, I'd say Kaina's a neat show so far! It's an original fantasy anime that steers clear of most modern fantasy anime tropes, and as such, I'd be inclined to stick with it even if I weren't reviewing it. At the very least, I need to see how weird Nihei's take on Nausicaä can get.


Kaina of the Great Snow Sea is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is on Twitter while it lasts. While he enjoys writing about cartoons, he is currently looking into becoming a post-apocalyptic bug hunter. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

discuss this in the forum (35 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

back to Kaina of the Great Snow Sea
Episode Review homepage / archives