A fascinating setting wrapped in a coat of luscious, beautiful artwork.
I love almost anything under the Viz Signature banner due to its history of providing some of the most mature, fantastical, and human manga series I’ve ever read. The recent addition to line is Children of the Whales, which currently has an anime ongoing right now.
Here’s the description for this volume:
In an endless sea of sand drifts the Mud Whale, a floating island city of clay and magic. In its chambers a small community clings to survival, cut off from its own history by the shadows of the past.
Chakuro is the archivist for the Mud Whale, diligently chronicling the lives and deaths of his people. As one of the short-lived thymia wielders, he knows his time is limited and is determined to leave a better record than his predecessors. But the steady pace of their isolated existence on the Mud Whale is abruptly shattered when a scouting party discovers a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about their home than they do…
The Initial Reaction
Going in, I kept myself mostly in the dark about what I would be getting into. I read a quick premise of the book and left it at that, even ignoring any and all news related to its upcoming anime. After finally getting my hands on the first volume and reading it through, I was left very intrigued and fascinated by this desert world and the moving islands that reside in it. It felt familiar, yet unique and awe-inspiring in its setup and execution. On the second read through, those feelings remained, but I couldn’t help but think there were some problems in this haunting, dirty world.
Children of the Whales begins with one of the most intriguing chapters for a fantasy I’ve read in a while. It presented me with a magical, decayed world with many news concepts and ideas that I would have to wrap my head around, but never too much at once. It opened with a funeral to set the tone for what the series is, capturing a strong melancholy feel, but not one without hope or love either. It presented its characters, all teeming with potential and a dose of exposition. Some were presented kind of awkwardly in its execution but intriguing nonetheless. It showed what the world was like for these people and ended things on a routine mission taking a surprising turn. It had my attention and I was more than ready to see where this manga would take me.
And on one hand, I was taken for a very intriguing and surprising trip. We met this mysterious, emotionless character referred to as Lykos, who seems to know a lot more about the world outside the Mud Whale and that there are other countries out there besides this floating city. We met more of the cast, were hit with tragedy and new revelations, and discovered that there was way more to this world than we could imagine. It almost reminded me of a Miyazaki film with its ideas and writing. The story really got moving the further it went along and ended on a terrifying, tense moment that left me wanting more. It did a great job of setting up this world and the added bonuses between chapters. The very end helped to further flesh out the many concepts and ideas there were.
But then, I was also left a little disappointed. It was something that only occurred to me on the second read through, but it’s something that I think would have really helped the series: the pacing and story revelations should have been paced better. We don’t really establish much of the characters, the status quo, what life is normally like on the Mud Whale, and what the world is like to these people beyond the first chapter and some lip service scattered throughout the later chapters. As such, a lot of the reveals feel like they lack real power or punch to them, like there being other kingdoms and lands out there, some of whom are after the Mud Whale for…reasons. These big moments happen pretty early on, so instead of being some shocking reveal, they’re more like “oh by the way, this world you’ve barely known has a big secret!” This doesn’t necessarily hurt the series much, but I think the rushed pacing didn’t do its storytelling, characters, or plot any favor. It probably would have been more effective to spread this out for another volume.
Now, let’s talk about the characters themselves. Chakuro is our lead and he’s pretty a typical protagonist in this sort of fantasy world. He’s likable, curious about the world, friends with most people, more emotional than some despite that being a big no-no, and a bit of a mess-up since he doesn’t have proper control of his thymia (his magic/physic abilities). His most defining characteristic is that he suffers from hypergraphia, a disorder that compels him to write everything he sees or feels. He’s a character you’ve seen a lot before and he doesn’t particularly grow or change yet, but his influence does leave an impression on the other important character, Lykos. She’s a mysterious girl found on her own floating island, fully emotionless and believing that everyone is an enemy. She’s apathetic and does not really care for anyone else and over time, you see why that is and how it sets things going forward for not only her backstory, but the entire world’s. She begins to regain her emotions over time, but to her, that is the worst and it puts her own memories and beliefs at risk. She shows the most overall growth in the book, which I’m eager to see more of going forward.
The rest of the cast was alright, but they could all use some development (a reason why I think stretching the story could have helped a bit before the big conclusion). There are characters like Suou, Sami, and others that are all fine, having their own place and purpose with keeping everything on the Whale ship-shape and they’re pleasant to read about. I feel they should have been more well defined than they are, since some of their relationships with other characters aren’t explored until the big moment at the end when it feels like elements were tossed in at the last moment. The only character that really stands out is Ouni, a rebellious teen who is very powerful and wants to find his own life outside of the Mud Whale. He takes interest in Lykos, forcing her to take him back to her ship and there we learn he’s willing to sacrifice almost everything to chart his own destiny. He has potential, but again, I think it would have been better to introduce him earlier or stretch the story out more to establish his characterization and motivation better.
The writing in this book is decent for the most part. It struggles in the dialogue department at times, coming off as rather clunky in a few areas when it introduces a character and awkwardly explains what they’re about to characters who already know (see Suou’s introduction). Otherwise, I found the dialogue pretty good and there are some really enjoyable interactions between the characters, like Chakuro and Lykos. The story does very well at introducing concepts, not bogging you down in the detail and bringing them in one at a time. The pacing is quick and while I find that hurts the story, it can be a benefit for those who just want to get straight to the point. Plus, things are easy to follow and never feel that confusing even despite the speed, so that’s all good too.
The thing that truly makes this manga so good is the absolutely gorgeous, lovingly detailed art. While admittedly, there is a problem of men and women sharing the same faces, everyone is distinguishable from one another. There’s no real mistaking anybody here due to their hairstyle, body types, and clothing, which helps make the cast feel diverse. The art goes for more subtle, emotional expressions and body language through the characters instead of more animated/anime-ish ones used to show what a person is feeling or thinking (though those are still there). Leaning more in that direction does benefit the story, matching its tone and melancholy atmosphere that resides all over the story. The layouts are constructed well — they’re easy to follow from beginning to end. The level of detail put into each location, setting, and use of magic leads to some awe-inspiring shots that are just beautiful to behold, like the Great Flying or the heavy moments towards the end. The creativity used in many of designs bring a Miyazaki-like feel to many things that’s a wonder to behold. The designs that aren’t that, like the mysterious Nous, are horrifying, but fascinating to look at and ponder. It’s a gorgeous book and I really look forward to seeing what the art can show when the story gets action-heavy next time.
Is It Good?
Children of the Whales Vol. 1 presents us with a fascinating setting wrapped in a coat of luscious, beautiful artwork that is a treat for the eyes. It lacks a strong cast currently and its pace may be more of a hindrance than a benefit to some. However, it is a series that has definitely caught my attention and is bound to do the same with many others as well. I give it a recommendation, especially if you love a good, unique fantasy world to explore.