Review: Children of the Whales

In 2017, new, yet prolific animation studio, J.C. Stuff, released a 12 episode anime adaptation of Children of the Wales. The Children of the Whales is a short yet popular manga series by Abi Umeda. Seeing advertisements for this boldly coloured and uniquely designed looking series, I decided to check it out, and see if it was as good as it looked.

It turns out that, the series is something of a mixed bag, with standout caharacters, yet horribly muddled pacing. Children of the Whales follows the inhabitants of the Mud Whale, a huge vessel that’s travelled on an endless sea of sand for centuries. Among them are people with the power of Thymia, known as the Marked. For unknown reasons, the Marked have much shorter lives than those who are Unmarked. One of the Marked children and archivist for the Mud Whale, journeys to an island on a supply run. There, he meets the first person that the people of the Mud Whale have ever seen outside of their community. From there on, they start to learn about the wider world, and the threats it possesses.

Children of the Whales’ main strengths are in its (generally) endearing and well-written characters, intricate world-building and unique art direction. The animation style resembles that of an old map or picture, giving the sense that the Mud Whale is something mysterious and ancient.

It also employs a lot of strange, surrealistic imagery to enhance the sense of spirituality and mystery of this ancient civilisation. Each of the central characters struggles with how to make sense of the culture and environment they grew up in. They gradually learn about the history kept from them as people from different lands come to their shores. The small details of the Mud Whales culture and how it functions gives off a feeling of realness to the world that draws the viewer in.

This is an ambitious series, which deals with an expansive world and tackles themes such as war and free-will. It might be a little too ambitious, considering its short length. And The story feels somewhat constrained by its short run and suffers in terms of pacing and fleshing out many of its supporting cast. It introduces us to many compelling and fun character we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with because of the compact nature of the story.

While it’s an overall powerful and touching story, the series tends to become overdramatic to the point of ridiculousness, especially in the latter half of the series. Forced subplots plots complete with hammy acting overshadow the main plot. One of the central villains is so over-dramatic, that he’s almost impossible to take seriously.

Children of the Whales is surprisingly bloody and violent series, with some unexpectedly graphic death scenes. It serves an overall, purpose, but there is an element of shock value that takes the audience out of the story. This twelve episode series feels incomplete, due to the ambitious ideas it tackles in a short space of time. The source material was vast, and cramming it into so few episodes makes little sense. A second season would be very welcome. But we do get is a bold, beautiful tale with some flaws in its execution. Overall, I would recommend checking it out for the glimpse into a fascinating world with deeply lovable characters and a (generally) moving story.

The Children of the Whales English dub is available on Netflix. You can watch the subbed version (which I think is much better performed) on Anime Dao.

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