Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Children of the Sea

Director Ayumu Watanabe’s anime saga has some wonderfully mystical moments and the expected philosophical bent, and yet the plot goes weirdly awry and there’s something soggy about it all in the end.

A Studio 4°C production (not a Studio Ghibli outing, as you might be thinking), this is drawn from Daisuke Igarashi’s manga mags published between 2007 and 2012, and perhaps the source material’s epic narrative is the key problem here, as we squeeze a huge story into less than two filmic hours, keep stopping for quiet interludes, and clog up the second half with exposition before an annoying climax. But, of course, devotees of this sort of would-be-trippy thing wouldn’t have it any other way.

Teen Ruka (voiced by Mana Ashida) remembers a visit to the aquarium when she was very young and seeing something almost supernatural through the glass, and then we’re into business involving whales singing ominously and intruding into places they shouldn’t be. She’s then seen being kicked off the summer sports team, and as she sourly hides from friends, we’re left to wonder if her vague adolescent angst is to do with her ‘otherness’ or simply poor writing.

Ruka returns to the aquarium where her Dad works (and, it seems, her mother was once also employed before alcoholism took hold), and there she meets the high-spirited Umi (voiced by Hiiro Ishibashi) and, later, his stranger brother Sora (Seishû Uragami), both of whom were raised by dugongs in the Philippines. The boys apparently can’t physically handle being away from the sea, and when they steal a boat and leap into the water, those expected long, lyrical sequences begin, as the plot intrudes with what sound like apocalyptic warnings and omens about meteors and the potential rising up of aquatic life.

However, what could have wound up a disaster-movie-type affair resolves itself in a head-scratching finale that features much environmental soapboxing and finger-waving. Lacking the flawless, tactile animation of a Ghibli product, director Watanabe’s film instead offers rough edges and a certain jerkiness, although the later scenes in the deep with a huge school of whale sharks, for example, are impressive anyway. But visual lushness isn’t enough, especially when we’re left, at the final curtain, pondering that most profound of existential questions: “Huh???”

Reviewer Rating

Children of the Sea (PG) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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