Giant vessels known as Mud Whales roam the seas of sand. On these Mud Whales, society is divided into two. Those who are Marked have the power of telekinesis known as “thymia”, but this power comes at a cost of shortened lifespans. The Unmarked, on the other hand, enjoy longer lifespans, but have no powers to speak of. Marked boy Chakuro works as an archivist, and has never seen anyone from the outside world, but when he meets a lone mysterious girl on an island, his life is changed forever. But who is she really, and how did she get there?
Children of the Whales originally aired in Japan with 12 episodes between October and December 2017. Produced by J.C. Staff (A Certain Magical Index, A Certain Scientific Railgun, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Slayers), and directed by Kyohei Ishiguro (Your Lie In April, Occultic;Nine), Children of the Whales is the adaptation of the manga written and illustrated by Abi Umeda. I remember when this was announced last January, and was a little surprised to see Netflix had picked up the rights to air it internationally. I suppose with Netflix riding on the success of recent shows like Little Witch Academia, Devilman Crybaby, Violet Evergarden and the animated Godzilla movies by Polygon Pictures, finding a huge variety of anime shows to please the Netflix-watching audience is on their priority list. They still have many more plans to come for anime in 2018, and while this is simply an acquired license of a 2017 show, it’s still new to those outside of Japan.
The show begins with us seeing the Mud Whale for the first time, and its inhabitants holding a funeral for an important Marked member. This sets the tone for who the Marked are. The Mud Whale is the only known home for the last remaining humans on a planet covered by sand, and it is believed that whoever leaves the Mud Whale will die in the sand dunes. What makes things more complicated is the fact that these select group of humans, the Marked, can perform magic, at the cost of a shortened lifespan. Chakuro is one such Marked human, and works on the Mud Whale as an archivist and historian. When the Mud Whale arrives on an ‘island’ in the sand, they discover a girl living there on their own. The thought of someone living outside the Mud Whale shakes the leaders to the very bone, and Chakuro finds himself charged with taking care of her.
Chakuro is not a very good Marked person, and by that I mean he is not very good at using his powers. So instead he relishes and enjoys the archival work he has been assigned to by his elders. Even with his sudden meeting of Lykos on a deserted ‘island’, his entire world is turned upside-down, but despite this, he still does not fit into a ‘chosen one’ role. He is clumsy, emotional, and very sensitive, and that’s what I especially like about Chakuro. As the male lead in a sci-fi fantasy show, it is usually the norm to see him in a typically heroic role, becoming the leader or ‘chosen one’, fighting evil, righting wrongs and delivering justice. But despite being one of the Marked, Chakuro is just your average kid with an important job. It’s so nice and refreshing to see a lead protagonist who is more the average person type, and instead of fighting evil, cares more about emotions and the well-being of the friends and family around him, especially Lykos.
As the show continues on, the world-building is clear to see, and we end up asking inquisitive questions. Why aren’t the citizens allowed to express emotion? Why do the Marked die so early in life? What of the war criminals and their fate? The show asks for your attention, but by the end of the show, you are rewarded with answers to these fascinating questions, and find yourself wondering if they will ever make a second season (the ending isn’t finite, and is open for more room).
Another thing you notice as the show goes on is one subtle theme: emotions. In a post-apocalyptic world, it would be fair to say that these Marked and Unmarked people who only know of life on the Mud Whale and have no clue of the big wide world are rather beside themselves when they learn that people like Lykos can live off of the Mud Whale, and out in the sand dunes. However, said emphasis on emotions is what can polarise the audience. Not only does the show require your attention (this is due to the detailed plot and world-building), but as each character unleashes their passion, their anger and their sadness onto each other, you end up stopping to think whether these people should calm down or not.
As for the visuals in Children of the Whales, they are truly a sight to see. The watercolour-based animation has been done extremely well, and as I mention focus on emotions in the characters, a variety of colours burst out left, right and center. The show’s score is something the show also likes to focus on, and is another thing that can polarise the audience, purely because there is a lot of it. So much in fact that you welcome any kind of silence in the show. For the English dub, voice actor favourites Johnny Yong Bosch, Bryce Papenbrook, Christine Marie Cabanos and Cristina Vee all make an appearance, with Bosch taking the lead role of Chakuro…and doing a very good job at it too. Chakuro is not a very courageous person, despite the role he has been given as a Marked archivist, and even knowing Bosch’s acting history, he doesn’t force his character to be the great hero. And while I am an advocate for subbed anime, I applaud the direction of the English dub, as they have reflected the emotions their Japanese counterparts perform very well. No bland voice acting here. The opening theme is “Sono Saki e” by RIRIKO, and the ending theme is “Hashitairo” by rionos.
Here is a Japanese language trailer for Children of the Whales:
Children of the Whales reminds me a lot of one other recent post-apocalyptic anime show: Land of the Lustrous (available on HIDIVE). Both shows have a protagonist who is not the hero type and can be rather foolish and clumsy, and as time passes and various events happen to them, the show becomes more of a coming-of-age show. In Land of the Lustrous, the living gem Phosphophyllite is unable to fight alongside their fellow gems due to their body being so brittle, and after witnessing one of their mentors get abducted by the enemy, they are driven to do something with their lives. Here in Children of the Whales, Chakuro enjoys his job as a historian for the elders on the Mud Whale, but still longs to leave the Mud Whale and see the world. He is not alone in those thoughts either, as his friends also want the same thing. Does he, and they, see Lykos as some kind of key to seeing the world?
I was very pleasantly surprised with Children of the Whales. Netflix has managed to find themselves a good exclusive license in this. As the science-fiction watching audience always want to see new and innovative ideas in new shows, this shines as it combines magic, fantasy and a post-apocalyptic world with breathtaking animation and excellent character design. Given that Netflix have been hit-and-miss for English versions of shows they have licensed, this comes as a surprise, as the English dub is actually very well-crafted. The themes featured in the show come as a refreshing break, and the more I watch it, the more I understand why Netflix wanted the license for this (and not Crunchyroll/Funimation); Netflix want to stand out as a name for anime streaming, and an innovative and novel show like Children of the Whales is a good choice.
Children of the Whales is a very odd show, but it has enough to get you hooked right from the first episode. Some may feel daunted by the massive world-building in the show, and could find the highly passionate characters a little too much, but it’s its ambition that makes the show so enthralling and exciting to watch. A great combination of animation and character design, this can be called a benchmark of Netflix’s grand anime plan.