Distributed by the master curator company GKIDS, Children of the Sea is the latest anime film from director Ayumu Watanabe, based on the manga of the same name by mangaka Daisuke Igarashi. More fascinating than comprehensive, Children of the Sea carries the power to leave one wondering about what their place in life is, or to go even further what their existence really means. Leagues deeper than the waters of the beautifully animated ocean it presents; this film is the epitome of a ponder piece.
Children of the Sea follows Ruka, a girl dealing with a loss of summer break following a gnarly elbow to the nose she gave a teammate (we at St. Marla’s Journal do NOT condone violence). She decides to spend her time at the aquarium that her parents — who are separated partially due to her mother’s alcoholism — work at. Safe to say, Ruka’s days are filled with frustration and hardship since she has nobody to turn to. This changes when she meets Umi and his older brother Sora, who were raised at sea by dugongs. In them she finds companionship and enigma, as she tries to understand what all the events around her mean or why she was chosen for her role in what the boys — and ultimately the sea — have planned.
While enjoyable the entire 111-minute runtime, Children of the Sea starts to go off its rocker about halfway through. As the questions and plot become denser, the viewer is left to their own devices to try to understand what’s going on. The mystery is a good one, but it may lose people along the way because of how it’s presented. Children of the Sea refuses to simply give out answers, opting instead to give a 1500-piece puzzle, with 15 black pieces and the other 1485 white. It isn’t a test of intelligence, but of patience and requires a willingness to surrender oneself to a universe drawing that would intimidate any art student or philosopher. Personally, I feel like I didn’t understand everything, and I have so much to think about. The ocean is big. The universe is big. Can the sea ever be fully explored, and what may come from our exploration? There are several questions to think about beyond what I’ve posed. It’s exhilarating and probably what Watanabe wants. By the end of the movie, Ruka says of her entire experience “I didn’t understand anything,” and that may ring true for some viewers but don’t worry, there’s a major saving grace.
Coming from Studio 4°C (Mindgame, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, MFKZ), the film’s animation is an absolute treasure. Naturally sharing likeness with the manga, Children of the Sea has an intense beauty to it. Relying so heavily on visuals to tell a story requires massive flare, and the animation team delivered. There are scenes that are made to represent different things like the depths of the ocean and the creatures that exist there, or the literal universe moving in an almost celebratory manner as part of a festival of sorts. Details like the characters’ eyes and lips, the way Ruka’s sneakers look, and the way the kids swim throughout the film add to its depth and presents an immersive experience. As with a fair amount of anime in the past few years, there’s a mix of 2D and 3D animation. It works well most of the time, with only one or two instances in my viewing being a bit jarring. But the way the film looks overall is beyond superb. In all honesty, if Children of the Sea is played with no audio, it’d be hard to call it a loss. For the trip that it is, this film can be enjoyed for its visuals alone.
The score from Joe Hisaishi — the man behind the music on many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films — is a sincere helping hand to Children of the Sea’s aesthetic. The arrangements — string, piano and wind — are a perfect partner to the undersea life and the larger entity-like happenings that occur later. But as amazing as they are, the true champion of Children of the Sea, the reward for the viewer’s hard work in trying to comprehend the complex ideas presented, is the ending song. Kenshi Yonezu’s “Umi no Yuurei” or “Spirits of the Sea” is the best theme song to any film released in the past two years, gracefully beating out the Promare and Weathering with You (two amazing films) theme songs — “Inferno” and “Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?” respectively. The lyrics that deliver chills upon reading them on screen during the credits and the instrumentation that’s second to none gives an experience that can jumpstart anyone’s heart.
Children of the Sea is a philosophical journey that may take several watches to even begin the process of understanding. It’s never frustrating due to how captivating it looks, and it’s genuinely worth being invested in no matter the day or time of day (try watching this after midnight with the lights off. Life changing). If you have the time and want something worth pondering or if you just want to watch arguably the best animation that Studio 4°C has ever put out, then do yourself a favor and watch this film.