AKA: Kujira no Kora wa Sajo ni Utau, Whale Calves Sing on the Sand
Year Released: 2017
Running Time: TV series, 12 episodes, 23 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-MA
Related Films/Series: Children of the Whales (OVA)
For Fans Of: Last Exile, Haibane Renmei, Saikano, Waterworld, Now and Then Here and There, Nausicaa
-The Japanese language track was used for this review.
-Children of the Whales is based on an ongoing manga written by Abi Umeda which is serializing in Monthly Mystery Bonita.
-The childish and sadistic soldier Ryotari is voiced by Daiki Yamashita. He’s the same VA who provides the voice of Izaku Midoriya from My Hero Academia. Sweet dreams whenever you see Ryotari slaughtering people with a smile on his face with his Thymia quirk.
-Children of the Whales was directed by Kyohei Ishiguro whom you might know for his work in directing Occultic;Nine and Your Lie in April.
-In addition to performing her own music, singer Rionos (who sang the ending theme “Hashitairo”) did composition and arrangement work for themes songs in other anime. Some of her outside musical work involves co-writing songs for anime such as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Maquia, and Hanebado.
Anibloggers can rejoice that I decided to take on a newer anime series. I know that I’m not as well-versed when it comes to anime made in the 2010s, but I do my best to give a critical eye while being as equal as I can as I would with anything made in the 00s and before. I do have to credit Jon Spencer after checking out his review of this same series while also him nudging me a bit to watch some of it. Even other peers such as Karandi and Scott have checked out this series, too. This particular anime also provides an Iridium Eye first. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time I review a shojo series that I didn’t even know was part of that demographic until researching after watching the entire TV series.
I think you had enough of me with that preamble. Let’s dive into this sandy sea for this mysterious anime.
Children of the Whales takes place in a strange post-apocalyptic environment where there are entire oceans of sand around. There’s a giant ship called the Mud Whale that carries hundreds of people living in this vessel as it traverses water and sand alike. This mystical vessel has two main groups of people. There are the Marked who are individuals that use psychic/magic energy called Thymia, but they have drastically shorter lifespans where they live up to their twenties or thirties if they’re lucky. There are the Unmarked who have no such powers, but they live normal human lifespans and are in several leadership positions on the Mud Whale. The main character is a Marked recorder/scribe named Chakuro who’s fourteen years old and has never seen life outside of the Mud Whale. That all changes when he and his peers find an unknown island and he sees a mysterious blue-haired girl allegedly named Lykos (it was the only name they could see on her coat) who starts out dead silent. She’s actually from an enemy kingdom that targets the Mud Whale because of an enigmatic punishment that leads this community to be in exile for nearly a century. These communities harbor their own secrets and hidden histories while blood is being shed.
This was certainly a series with unique elements. I was impressed with the art style and animation provided by JC Staff. I know I haven’t been the kindest when it comes to that studio (See my reviews on Legend of the Last Labyrinth and Fight!! Spirit of the Sword), but when they try, they can be really good. So much of the movement is fluid, the action is creative with the Thymia powers, and the atmosphere has this surreal old-world feel while fusing elements of ocean punk, steampunk, and desert punk in one neat package. The art and backgrounds remind me of a mix of The House of Small Cubes, Haibane Renmei, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and Kino’s Journey which is a huge compliment from me. The music was a great choice with acoustic and symphonic elements. The ending theme is a very haunting acoustic/ambient piece that fits the mood of this series so much. The usage of music such as the insert song from Aima and the song the Mud Whale sings later in the series was also great. There were some interesting characters in Children of the Whales. The main character Chakuro didn’t seem like a typical anime protagonist to me. I can certainly relate to him being a writer, but he was more as his curiosity played a crucial role in the story, but he develops into a far more resolved character after seeing all the chaos around him or finding out the secrets about the Mud Whale. Lykos starts out as an emotionless blank slate (insert joke about the typical blue-hair emotionless girl effect like Rei Ayanami), but she slowly expresses herself in healthy ways as the series progresses. The relationship dynamic between her and Chakuro did keep me a bit interested. You also had the rebellious mole (prisoner) Ouni who is very powerful but too stubborn for his own good. Not going to lie, he does look like a misplaced Avatar: The Last Airbender character, but he becomes so much more than that with his own reasoning or where his loyalty lies.
Children of the Whales does get beached more times than I could count though. While the world-building was very fascinating, the anime series is not consistent with all of the world’s rules. The fact that emotions or the lack thereof play into different societies, it was bizarre when the Allied Empire who frown upon emotions have Orca who certainly emotes smugness and especially Ryodari who is very emotional in his gleefully sadistic nature to kill people like he’s a mix between Dio from Last Exile and Dilandau from Escaflowne. They also don’t develop certain concepts such as the types of Marked people, the Nous, other nations, or why the world is full of sand. Much like Angel Beats!, I thought there were way too many characters to keep track of in just twelve episodes. Sure, a bunch of them die, but I barely remember everyone’s names. The usage of child soldiers on both sides was way more disturbing than I intended, and there are far better series that handled that concept like Now and Then Here and There. I noticed subtitle errors such as misspelled character names and the big song that the Mud Whale inhabitants sing doesn’t have all the subtitles. What really hurts was that the lyrics were plot-relevant. The biggest flaw of Children of the Whales is that there’s no resolution. If the ending was just a season finale, then I’d be far more forgiving, but even people who don’t know anything about the manga (this includes myself) can tell that there’s way more to the story than what they just showed. Sure, it technically ends on a more positive note with a sense of optimism, but so many things were unresolved. I wish they would make a sequel to this series especially since the manga is still going on.
This fantasy series had so much potential, but not all of it was realized. Children of the Whales did hook me in with its surreal and colorful world atop the Mud Whale, but I wished there was more effort in multiple fields. The production is certainly one of JC Staff’s better endeavors which I do appreciate. The lack of a true sense of resolution really hurt this anime especially since nothing has been confirmed about sequels or anything to make that series continue. The world-building aspects were twofold with brilliant things and inconsistent elements. Children of the Whales was only good, but I’ve seen similar series handle topics and stories much better.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if animation means a ton to you.
Subtract 1-2 points if you must have a complete story.
-Unique animation and art style
-Great musical soundtrack
-Likable main characters
-Inconsistent world-building factors
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Warning: Children of the Whales may start out tame in the first episode, but things get far more adult starting with the ending of episode 2. The battles get shockingly bloody and the body count gets high. Even multiple children get killed onscreen which is quite disturbing. There’s some language that gets strong at points (Ouni really likes using the S-word in the Japanese version). There is partial nudity, but all of those scenes are self-censoring with hair or limbs covering certain body parts. There are adult themes such as child soldiers, suicide, genocide, and colonization in this anime.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Children of the Whales is property of J. C. Staff and Netflix. The poster is from My Anime List and is property of J. C. Staff.