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“Children of the Whales” Review: Part 1

(SPOILERS. LOTS OF SPOILERS.)

I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing Children of the Whales.  I only meant to watch an episode or two, then watch the movie I wanted to review… And then I ended up watching half the series…but I kind of wish I hadn’t.

Children of the Whales is based on the manga of the same name by Abi Umeda; the Japanese version of the anime aired last year and Netflix has picked it up for international release.

The series is currently twelve episodes long. This review will cover the first six episodes.

The series takes place on a vessel called the Mud Whale which traverses a sea of sand. Not a desert, but a sea of sand with seemingly no other life. Most of the people living on the Mud Whale are Marked, meaning they have telekinetic abilities of sorts, referred to as “thymia.” The caveat, though, is the Marked only live until the age of 30 and the power tends to weaken as they get older. The Unmarked don’t have powers, but enjoy longer lives; because of this, they end up the de-facto leaders of the city.

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Marked characters using their powers

Chakuro, the main character, is Marked and works as the ship’s archivist. One day, they come across another ship and a team goes to raid for supplies. Chakuro goes and comes across a girl he calls Lykos, who also happens to be the first person from “The Outside” that anyone on the Mud Whale has met.

Lykos is emotionless, and seems to harbor hatred for everyone on the Mud Whale, calling them the “criminals of Falaina.” Her introduction turns the entire world upside down; the Mud Whale citizens are not alone in the world and there is a lot more to their existence than the average citizen knows.

That’s the basic premise of the series and a good summary of the first six episodes, without major spoilers. (I’ll get to those in a minute.) It’s a solid concept with a beautiful art style and music, but the most boring, uncreative, static, annoying and generic characters ever. Especially the main characters. I can’t stand either of them.

At all.

Chakuro is extremely whiny. He’s always crying; which in a world where people are expected to repress their emotions should set him apart and be an interesting trait, but crying seems to be all he does. We don’t see other emotions. And we rarely see him use his abilities. Most of the time, I forget he even has them.

That’s weak story writing. If he never uses them, why have them? His character, theoretically, could be even more interesting if he was one of the few people without thymia.

The only difference would be that he wouldn’t be the person to discover Lykos.

And Lykos, isn’t exactly a very compelling character either. She has no emotions. None. Granted, this is because she was forced to give up her emotions and individuality as a child to the spirit controlling their island, so it’s actually a character trait as opposed to shitty writing, but the way that she is written as an emotionless character is still pretty shitty.

She’s a blank slate and I often feel like there’s no reason that I should care about her. She does seem to be developing some emotions after being on the Mud Whale but I don’t understand how this  process is supposed to work.

Is she having emotions by being around people with emotions? Can she actually feel or is she just learning to understand emotions? But, it’s still hard to get through a series when both main characters are hard to empathize with. And it’s doubly frustrating in that emotions and expressing them seem to be a major theme in the series.

The only two characters that I truly enjoy are Ouni, a very powerful Marked boy who is sick of being on the island, and Suoh, an Unmarked boy, who often suppresses his emotions behind a smile and helpful advice. They’re excellent foils to each other, and I think would make far more interesting main characters. Especially after Suoh becomes mayor of the vessel. There’s a lot of potential here for characters to grow.

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Suoh, Chakuro, Lyko and Ouni

All  of the two other characters I liked were massacred in the third episode. Sami, was Suoh’s little sister. She was the obvious contender for Chakuro’s love interest but it seemed like there was a lot of development in store for her character.

Taisha was the town’s mayor. Although she only had a few scenes, it was clear she cared about her people and was willing to make sacrifices to protect them.

And they’re both dead.

Admittedly, the mass killing helps set the tone of the series. After all, if the childhood love interest is dead, anyone could die next. It was an extremely risky move to kill people off that early. And unfortunately, it didn’t totally pay off.

We didn’t get quite enough time with these characters to establish anything more than the basic parts of their personalities and desires. I felt nothing except surprise when they died.

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Samu and Chakuro

No sadness. No anger. Nothing that you should feel when a character dies. And that to me, is bad writing.  And Sami’s death, is shown to be the most important, because Chakuro never admitted he had feelings for her. So now, he has motivation to fight and no one standing in the way of him ending up with Lykos. Her death was cliche and kind of unnecessary.

To be honest, I’m frustrated that the series hasn’t explored the world that has been set up. Already, a sea of moving sand has a lot of potential, so I understand how the people of the Mud Whale feel about not being able, or allowed, to leave. There’s so  so many interesting ideas that can be explored regarding culture and the nature of thymia, and the show does nothing with it.

Does everyone just travel on these odd ships? Are there solid landmasses? Regular oceans? If so what compelled people to travel on these vessels? Why are emotions considered to be weaknesses or threats?  I don’t feel like the full potential of this world is being explored in this narrative. Maybe they’ll all be answered by the end of the series, but so far the series has shown that it won’t explore beyond the reaches of the Mud Whale or the vessels that happen to pass it by.

It’s piss-poor writing. It’s not bad for a story to be contained in one area. Most of the time, it’s a good thing. But when it’s supposedly a world of adventure and supernatural, you can’t have everyone stuck in one place for too long. It gets boring and the series already feels too stuck and contained.

The animation style is very pretty though; it’s definitely the highlight of the anime. Especially the backgrounds. They’re very detailed, and have a Studio Ghibli-like whimsy to them. They really stand out from the characters, who themselves, are really nothing special design-wise.

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The Mud Whale

The theme song and ending credits theme are both quite interesting and unique. They both have a sense of mysticality to them that’s hard to explain. I don’t know a lot about music. I don’t think I would have necessarily chosen them for this anime; the opening theme to me, has more of an Irish/Gaelic feel to i, while this world is more clearly inspired by ancient Greece. I am in love with the ending theme though.

The review next half of the series will be posted on April 8.

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Rating: 6/10

Series rated: MA for Mature Audiences

Available: Netflix

 

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