Children of the Sea Review: Beautiful animation can’t save a confounding story
The newest film from director Ayumu Watanabe, Children of the Sea evokes beautiful animation as it takes viewers on a trippy oceanic mystery that isn’t always as appealing as it sounds.
The film, based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, follows Ruka (voiced by Mana Ashida) – a lonely young girl with an interest in the sea-life that stems from an experience she had at the aquarium, where her dad works, when she was young. Wanting to escape an ordeal she has at school and her troublesome relationship with her mother at home, Ruka decides to try to spend her summer break at her dad’s aquarium where she meets a strange young boy named Umi (Hiiro Ishibashi) – who was raised in the ocean. Along with his brother Sora (Seishu Uragami), Umi was actually raised by dugongs from a young age making their bodies adjust more to being underwater rather than being on land. Ruka eventually becomes ensnared in a strange mystery that connects Umi and Sora to a series of supernatural events that is affecting the marine life just outside of Japan.
First and foremost, Children of the Sea is beautifully animated in a way that evokes an older and lesser used style of Japanese anime. More recent anime films give their characters a much cleaner look with very little facial feature marks or specific distinctions, like with the eyelashes, but this film goes for an older style that people would recognize from stuff like Ghost in the Shell, the original anime not the live-action one, and Perfect Blue. It’s actually very refreshing to see an anime film touch on this style and it’s utilized very well here. The characters can be very emotive and eye-catching without having to do much and the details within their eyes are very hypnotizing.
The environments and the way the film depicts ocean life is even more entrancing as it implements some 3-D animation to create a more mesmerizing environment. There’s a great sequence of Ruka running through a town and the 3-D environment adds an immense amount of depth and visual appeal that really sucks you into the scene. The film utilizes environmental 3-D animation throughout, and it especially looks great when the film heads into the depths of ocean. The sea creatures in this film look beautiful and are given emotive qualities that make it easy for viewers to connect with them on a deeper level. Seeing Umi and Sora swim with dugongs really feels like you’re seeing a family together and even when some sea creatures are seen washed up onshore, the detail and depictions really add some emotional weight to the moment. There’re even some incredibly trippy, dream-like moments of fantasy that dazzling and fascinating to watch.
All of this is made even more enjoyable through the interesting personalities of the characters and concepts that are presented. Ruka’s sense of curiosity and childhood interest in the ocean makes her pretty intriguing off the bat and you can really feel her sense of loneliness. Umi’s booming sense of energy is instantly charming and perfectly fitting as sort of a polar opposite to Ruka and Sora. Where Umi is more personable, Sora is swept in mystery as he never really shows what he’s exactly thinking or makes his motivations clear. As a whole, these three are easily the driving force of the film, but not even their sense of charm can make Children of the Sea the most enjoyable or easiest watch.
While the concept of Umi and Sora being from the sea immediately piques your interest, especially with their sea-life upbringing playing a major role in their life expectancy and time on land, the film struggles to retain it. The film is just so swept up in mystery and constantly adding lore and new information on top of what we’re seeing that it’s just too hard to follow. Add in the more fantasy elements that are cool to look at but totally muddy up the plot and the viewing experience. It’s so hard to stay connected to the film that all of the intrigue it initially presents starts to fade and you’re left with a film that displays cool imagery but a story that doesn’t hold the same weight. Perhaps fans of the original manga could enjoy this more since they’re already acclimated to the story, but those going in with no prior knowledge will only find boredom and the feeling of being lost in Children of the Sea’s story.
Children of the Sea does boast some fascinating and fantastical animation that evokes an anime style that’s been long forgotten, but refreshing to see here, although it’s questionable if it’s enough that makes it worth watching. In concept the film is very interesting, but it just can’t retain its potential with it how it’s story is executed and ultimately just creates too strong of a disconnect.
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