It’s been another weird week. The days felt like they just dragged on and on. While I absolutely do love fall weather, the whole getting dark at 5 P.M. thing is still utterly ridiculous. And the throwback to Spring lockdown restrictions means that I’m paranoid AF about ensuring I have enough supplies.
I’m not going home for Thanksgiving this year – I’ve never done the holiday without my family, so I’m also a little down about that.
It’s not easy. And I was hoping for a decent distraction with Children of the Sea, a 2019 anime film. I’m not sure it was the distraction I needed – it did distract me as the movie was like nothing I had ever seen before. I’m just not entirely sure if it was good or not.
The film focuses on Ruka, a teenage girl who decides to spend the summer at her dad’s aquarium. There she meets Umi – a boy who grew up in the ocean raised by Dugongs and his brother, Sora.
Weirds things also happening in oceans across the world -whales going into the Hudson River, species thought to be extinct washing up on beaches and mysterious meteorites landing in the water. It all seems to be connected to the boys – who have been living in the aquarium after being discovered,
It’s a very loose and fluid plot – and the entire third act feels like a drug trip and existential dread. And while the story may not be cohesive – the art is certainly beautiful.
The art style of this movie is stunning and dizzying. I love it. The backgrounds are drawn in a very realistic manner and the ocean scenes in particular as meticulously detailed. Any of the scenes involving the sea creatures and their home are amazing. It has this very ephemeral and detached feeling -like the landscapes and background are what matter. And the characters aren’t really real.
This is heightened by the characters being presented in a more traditional 2-D style. They’re also not very realistic look humans. They all have this very classic Shoujo look: noodly bodies and very huge glittering eyes.
It’s an interesting contrast and I really like it. Rather than taking me out of the film due to the sharp contrast, it heightened the experience for me. It’s great – and while a lot of the scenes seemed very reminiscent of major Studio Ghibli films they still stood on their own.
There’s one scene where Ruka is swimming in the ocean that reminded me a whole lot of the scene of Haku saving young Chihiro in Spirited Away though she looks more like Haku than Chihiro.
The scene where she swallows the meteorite piece reminded me of Howl swallowing the star in Howl’s Moving Castle and the general inclusion of all the ocean scenes and mysterious happenings was reminiscent.
The art in the final third of the movie is the best, but also the trippiest; things become less realistic and more metaphorical. If animation can be metaphorical, that is. However, that topic requires its own section.
The Ghibliness of the movie is heightened by the fact that Joe Hisashi, who composed like all the Ghibli movies – also composed the score for this film and you can hear the similarities if you’ve paid close enough attention. It’s interesting because it’s similar thematically to Ghibli films – but other than that and the music, the similarities end there.
This means it also misses out on the excellent writing and characterization in Miyazaki’s films. Which is kind of disappointing.
Lack of Answers and Plot.
There’s not much of a plot in this movie. Despite there being an obviously major event, with a time limit – we’re never quite told why the event is so important or how it’s connected to the boys. And no villains are getting in their way.
All dramatic tension and suspense are lost.
It just seems like a lot of little, low-stakes adventures and weirdly large climax – and in the end, everything seems the same except the boys are gone. We don’t know why or whether that was supposed to happen or why sea animals were always attracted to Ruka.
It feels like there were supposed to be – the manga had answers but apparently they decided to go in a very different direction with the adaptation.
And the thing is…I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
The film does hint at some things, like there being others like Umi and Sora, and other girls like Ruka but aren’t clear on why they exist or what they do. Or why Umi and Sora had to die. Or even where they came from.
It is confusing and unexplained that it’s frustrating.
There should be some concrete explanation in the movie about this, even if it were just a line or two. I mean, it’s the central mystery of the film – but the movie doesn’t feel like it has to answer or explain it.
There is a time and a place for not answering all the questions in a movie, but this isn’t one of them.
And there are no villains, making it hard to know what’s standing in the kids’ way. Some scientists are studying Umi and Sora, aside from Ruka’s father, who seem to be prime candidates for villains from the way they’re presented in the film but nothing ever comes from them.
Sure, it would be kind of cheesy, but at least it would make sense.
But at the same time, this kind of non-specific writing style almost works for the movie.
Since the film doesn’t answer any questions and the animation and general plot have this very mystical, elegant aura it feels like that’s how the movie should treat its subject, Getting anymore concrete would ruin the tone.
But still – the movie hasn’t quite built up the mystery in a meaningful or elegant way that the lack of answers comes more across like them forgetting. There’s all this build-up and then POOF it’s gone. The movie is over and I don’t know what happened.
All I know is that Umi is gone and things are more or less the way they were before.
How am I supposed to feel? Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Why did this need to happen? Did Ruka give birth to a new universe?
Like seriously, I could use a bit more context.
The final act is so weird that it feels like it could exist as its movie as the tone and imagery is so disconnected from the rest of the film.
That Third Act
The third act is the defining piece of the entire film. I know I’ve already bought it up a bit, but that’s because it’s important.
Up until that point, the film had been fairly conservative in its story-telling method. Very traditional. And then it hits you like a goddamn ton of bricks, some weird, fertility imagery that’s all about birth.
It’s a very dreamlike, abstract representation of sperm fertilizing an egg, and the growth of a fetus that goes on for an oddly long time. Almost the entirety of this final act, it feels like.
It’s a very dreamlike, abstract representation of sperm fertilizing an egg, and the growth of a fetus that goes on for an oddly long time. Almost the entirety of this final act, it feels like. So more than 10 minutes.
Some of the imagery is very beautiful and thought-provoking and I can see where most of the focus on the animation went.
I can see where most of the animation and art time went. There’s Ruka swimming through the water with a billion little galaxies floating around her -as though they’re all possibilities. It’s very easy to see the connections between the images and the connection to fertility and rebirth – but it’s beautiful nonetheless with the style changing and going into weirder and more beautiful images.
It’s a bold artistic choice and I admire that.
But it’s so long and stands out so much – it just throws off the pacing of the entire film. They had to put all the plot into the first two thirds, so they could spend the rest of their time on this beautiful looking but kind of slow montage. I think had it been shorter – and they used that time to answer some of the questions they presented the film would be a lot better.
After a whole movie that is portrayed pretty classically – the sudden jolt is disturbing, to say the least, and while part of me knows that was the intended effect, I think it did outstay its welcome.
Honestly, the entire last third of the movie could have been a short film all on its own. And that way at least all the time and resources that went into it wouldn’t go to waste. Cause it feels like a bit of a waste where it is.
Knowing Something is Good vs. Enjoying something
So I enjoyed this movie, even if I had to pause it several times while watching just to process what was happening. Especially towards the end.
What I enjoyed most were the unique art style and beautiful animation. Like absolutely nobody can leave this film thinking that there wasn’t a lot of effort put into that aspect of the movie.
There is quite clearly a lot of passion that went into this work. And with Joe Hisashi on music, you know – there’s a lot of talent on all levels and all sides of this production. But whether the actual writing of this movie’s script is good is entirely another question.
I am curious about how this final act was scripted. I’ve been studying scripts to help me with this blog and as part of a project – and I can’t imagine what the script for this must have looked like. Since like nearly all anime, this is based on a manga – I have to wonder if they gave the artists a lot of creative freedom or if they copied it straight from the source.
Also through my research – I found out the manga answers the questions I had. So even though manga and anime are two different mediums – I don’t think it’s an excuse to leave those plot threads on the cutting room floor. As a movie on its own, devoid of context – it’s ok.
As an adaptation -it’s worse. It’s good technically. But maybe not structurally. There’s a lot more work that would need to be done to make this movie work as a decent adaptation of its source material so that they can include at least some of the answers.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.
That’s the hardest part about reviews trying to figure out if a piece is good or whether I’m just enjoying it. That’s an important thing to distinguish.
I hope all of you who celebrate have a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2019
Length: 111 minutes
Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Producer: Eiko Tanaka
Voice Actors: Mana Ashida, Hiiro Ishibashi, Seishuu Uragami, Win Morisaki, Goro Inagaki, Yu Aoi, Tohru Watanabe, Min Tanaka, Sumiko Fuji
If you liked this review, check out: “Lu Over the Wall” needs more work to make the cut
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