This Week in Anime
WTF is Going On in Children of the Sea?

by Steve Jones & Michelle Liu,

The studio behind Mind Game, Studio 4°C, takes on Daisuke Igarashi's manga Children of the Sea to create a sumptuous visual feast. The movie's ever-expanding lens begins on one fateful adolescent summer before zooming out to ruminate on life, death, and the meaning of everything.

This movie is currently streaming on Netflix!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Micchy
You know, Steve, I was a little caught off guard when you asked me to watch the Children of Whales sequel movie on Netflix, seeing as I haven't seen the first season, but having seen the "Pines of Rome" segment of Fantasia 2000 AND the Macross 7 space whales, I figured that was prep enough. You see one whale movie, you've seen 'em all, amirite?
Steve
Micchy, as much as I'd love to "yes and" to this bit, I remember absolutely nothing about Children of the Whales. Mercifully. However, I will say that I relish any good whale chat opportunity that doesn't involve my gacha spending habits, so let's talk about these big beautiful boat-sized beasts.
Okay yeah, Children of the Sea isn't actually a sequel to Children of Whales, but I really do think the title fits way better. Anyway, while this whale movie may not have a Respighi soundtrack, it DOES have a dope Kenshi Yonezu credits song, so that at least puts it on par with every other flying whale movie out there.
It does also has a little-known guy called Joe Hisaishi on soundtrack duties, and he does a pretty good job! I think he's gonna go places. But yes, while the whole sea (and I do mean the whole sea) makes an appearance in Children of the Sea, whales are front and center. In fact, may I begin with a fun whale fact that I only just learned 10 minutes ago?
That they can't actually fly or breathe in space?
Well I think the jury's still out on that one, but it does have to do with breathing! So anyway, I know whales have blowholes, but because I'm an idiot, I've always pictured them to be these perfectly circular openings like you'd see in a cartoon. So when the big whale goddess in this movie shows up with this very human nostril-looking blowhole, I thought it was a neat way to symbolize the interconnectedness of all living things.

Lo and behold, humpback whales just actually look like that. I am punked by nature yet again.
Well, are humans not just tiny, finless whales? Really makes you think.
That's honestly not too far off from the film's central theme! But that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves, and boy howdy, this is gonna be an interesting one to talk about.
First off, I'd heard going in that Children of the Sea is a visual wonder, but words really don't do it justice. Stills are only marginally better in that regard. Like it really cannot be overstated how good this film looks, hot damn. It's like one of those lavishly-animated short films people make as a technical showcase, except instead of being five minutes long it goes for two hours and never lets up.

This is a contender for the best-looking animated film I've ever seen. It's everything I love about going to an aquarium plus the keen artistic eye of an all-star collection of animators. It's easy enough to recommend on its technical merits alone, if that's your kinda thing.

I wish I'd seen it in a theater like I was planning to in April! Watching something of this caliber off my desktop monitor just doesn't feel right. The detail in the line art, the color composition, the backgrounds, everything comes together to make something you can't help but gape at in awe.
I was going to see this on ~4/20~ and it was my most highly-anticipated theater experience of the year. Thanks for nothing, covid. However, if you, like me, are a landlocked sap suffering from ocean withdrawal thanks to, say, a global pandemic that discourages traveling, get a dark room and a good pair of headphones, and enjoy. It's not the full theatrical experience, but the sound direction is more than good enough to drop me right there in the surf.
Oh they get real up close and personal with the sea, alright.
I've never thought about a dugong chewing my hair, but thanks to Children of the Sea, now I do. It's probably nice.
Probably feels better than adolescent ennui!
That doesn't take much! But that is our relatively normal introduction to the story of Children of the Sea. Tomboyish loner Ruka runs away from her summertime responsibilities and befriends two boys who whisk her away into the magic of the boundless ocean.

Emphasis on "relatively" in my above statement there, because those two boys were raised in the wild by those aforementioned dugongs.
No, I'm pretty sure Umi is a perfectly normal boy who likes soaking in drinking fountains?
Admittedly, that's exactly where I wanted to be for the entire month of July. The sun is a bastard.
For Ruka though, adventures with the mermaid boys is a nice break from the social niceties and petty rivalries that come with being a teenage girl.

Umi doesn't care whether she flexes in handball practice or has a bad temper. Umi is just happy to have somebody to hang out with and maybe introduce to his dugong family.
Meanwhile, his brother Sora is a little pricklier, but in his defense, I don't know if dugongs have the concept of "politeness" in their blubbery vocabulary.

Or the concept of "PDA," for that matter.
Yeah, I don't blame Sora for being a little grumpy that the researchers who found him insist on poking and prodding him to find out why he glows in the dark. It's not his fault he's a pasty white boy!!
There's lots of us out there! I've been known to glow on moonlit nights. It happens. It's normal. I have to wear SPF 500. It's fine.
Unfortunately, Sora's luminescence comes with a shortened life span as a side effect. There's not enough sunscreen in the world to save this boy from withering before his time.
He bows out around halfway through the film, but he's also not really gone. This is also the point where the abstract crux of the film starts to manifest in the text and move away from the more concrete coming-of-age stuff. Some of Sora's own ruminations play a part here, on humans and their relation to the universe.

The elder pretty boy agrees.
Both the universe and the self can be terrifying, vague and incomprehensible. The experience of being a sentient creature comes with many, many unknowns, and the more Ruka and co. discover about themselves, the more confusing it all becomes. Sora's musing here speaks both to Ruka's coming-of-age - her malleable formulation of 'self' - and to the unfathomable complexities of being a single human in an unknowable world.
This scene—and indeed the bombastic remainder of the film—is a synthesis of science and spiritualism as they relate and recapitulate the grand continuity of capital-N Nature. Like, what does it mean that most of the universe is almost totally unobservable? What does that tell us about the world? What does that tell you about yourself?

Most importantly, how do I get to look that good in a ponytail?
The entire last act of the film is this grand melding of life and the cosmos, breaking down the identity-defining boundaries that keep individuals from knowing one another and sweeping Ruka up into a cross-species Instrumentality. It tries to get at a sort of visceral truth that can't be expressed strictly in rational statement, something deeply understood but hard to articulate.
It's appropriate, too, that the film keeps coming back to this point that words alone are woefully insufficient when it comes to expressing these huge and important ideas about life and existence. The climax arcs definitively into the realm of the audiovisual to get its point across, which is why Children of the Sea is so difficult to talk about lol. It's deliberately constructed to be felt first and foremost. And that's why, despite some similar iconography, you really shouldn't go into this expecting something like Your Name or Weathering With You. This gets about as artsy as art films get.
Children of the Sea's goal isn't so much to tell a concrete story with a tangible conflict and narrative arc so much as to evoke a sense of truth. It encourages a swell of emotion and lets it go just as easily. Really, this movie is the perfect encapsulation of mono no aware - people coming and going, the rise and fall of life, the eventual reorganization of everything in the cosmos, the ephemerality of it all.
Oh my god yes. Very recently, when I was trying to get a good look at the comet NEOWISE before it faded, I found myself alone in a big dark field looking up at the night sky. It had been a long while since I did so, but I almost immediately felt this familiar lump in my throat from the primal vastness of everything I was, and wasn't, seeing. Like I was experiencing it all. It was overwhelming. Children of the Sea gets really, really damn close to that feeling.
It almost feels like you've walked into a gap in time, doesn't it? Like you've entered a dimension far away from the mundanities of your usual life, free of whatever obligations usually keep you occupied. Ruka's 'summer break' is kind of just that - a little cul-de-sac of an experience that seems detached from the rigid conception of time that we usually live by.
Yeah I think we all have moments—whether they span a whole summer vacation, or longer, or just a few minutes—that have inspired us to think about where we are in the cosmic sense. These moments are going to be different for all of us, along with our subsequent perspectives, but the universality of the act itself can still connect us. Granted, I don't know how many of us visualize an Evangelion-esque outer space-bound egg cell insemination, but you do you I guess.
Some of us have visions of eating pinwheel galaxies and that's perfectly valid.
Maybe your dugong-raised boyfriend turns into a space baby and you gotta feed him a meteorite so he can finally manifest as another reincarnation of the initial and unending seed of all life as we know it. It do in fact be like that sometimes.
And then you get to cut an umbilical cord! Ruka's life is pretty wild.
As wild as life itself!
Children of the Sea is, in my estimation, a masterpiece. Even beyond the technical achievement it's an incredible experience that simply asks you to let go and get lost in the magic.
With neither reservations nor abashedness, I loved Children of the Sea. This is smack dab in my wheelhouse of full-throated abstraction in service of cosmic interrogation, and it's fricking gorgeous to boot. Every closeup of a character's eyes mesmerized me anew. I'm in my delightfully pretentious element here, and I'll be coming back to this film for a long time.


I also recognize that most people's favorite anime film is not The Adolescence of Utena, so I don't begrudge people who are frustrated with Children of the Sea's deliberately dense direction. But it's worth experiencing nonetheless.
It's really something special. There's one last thing weighing on me though: what on earth is this bizarro universe where Benjamin Franklin has a Snidely Whiplash mustache?
Once we unlock that, we'll surely have the codex to all of this film's soggy secrets. Also, good on director Ayumu Watanabe for taking his meticulous depiction of drool in Mysterious Girlfriend X and expanding it into an entire underwater universe. That's what I call growth as an auteur.
Aight I'm gonna stop you there before you start talking about whale snot or some shit.
You know me too well.

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