Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 01 (First Impressions)

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau, or Children of the Whales, begins with a funeral of a much-loved and admired 29-year-old teacher. She didn’t live a long live because she’s “Marked”, like 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Mud Whale. The Marked can use Thymia (magic), but are cursed with those short lives. The Unmarked, who live much longer, serve as the Mud Whale’s leaders.

It’s an efficient introduction to all the necessary whats and wherefores of this world that avoids being dry, and indeed is suffused with quite a bit of emotion due to the funeral of someone who went too soon. It’s also clear that as 90 percent of the population is doomed to die young, this mini-civilization travelling the shifting seas of sand aboard the Mud Whale may not have much of a future…unless there’s a change in the status quo.

Our window to this world is Chakuro, the teenage archivist of the Mud Whale who is not only Marked, but also “cursed” with the compulsion to record all he sees and hears, while trying to keep his own personal emotions out of it; a kind of Mud Whaleipædia. Other introductions include his sister Sami (also Marked), the chieftain Taisha (Unmarked), and her heir apparent Suou (also Unmarked).

One day, Chakuro looks out onto the usually empty horizon and spots a “Driftland”, a rare island full of supplies for the Mud Whale. He and Sami join a scouting party, who use their Thymia to keep their boats from sinking into the sand.

Chakuro finds a sword, and when he wanders off to look for Sami, he finds an injured Marked girl with a tan and light blue hair, surrounded by swords and holding a bloody one. The ruins, the swords, the tuna cans suggest a completely different culture at work on this island than the Mud Whale, a self-contained miniature world that has diverged due to isolation.

I for one feared the worst for Sami, but thanks to his Thymia Chakuro deflects the girl’s sword strike, she passes out, and he carries her to the rest of the party, where Sami is safe and sound. He also picks up a strange, intelligent furry mammal who tags along.

They take the girl, whose shit tag reads “Lykos”, back to the Mud Whale, and she is brought before the elders, who clearly fear she’s an unstable element that will shake up the status quo, flawed as it is by the short lives of the Marked. She is also deemed “emotionless”, and likes saying “I/we lack that.”

She simply doesn’t belong here, but the fact that she’s proof of an outside world beyond the Whale is a kind of infection that instantly takes root there, thanks to the fact Suou happens to be releasing a gang of rebellious Whale-dwellers from the “Bowels” or dungeon, led by Ouni, who happens to have the most powerful Thymia on the Whale.

As soon as Ouni hears there’s someone from the outside world, he acts quickly to pluck her from the elders, as well as Chakuro, who was spying on them.

Ouni and his gang aren’t interested in living out their short lives on the pathetically small Mud Whale; they want to explore and find what else is out there. Since Lykos is from out there, he takes her and Chakuro accompany him back to the Drifland to find more clues.

Thus the lines of conflict are drawn: the faction who wishes to maintain the Utopian society, studying to find a cure for the short lives of the Marked; and the upstarts who reject the Mud Whale as the one and only world they need concern themselves with, even if contamination with the outside world could doom the Whale much faster. Chakuro finds himself in the middle, but if there’s one thing he’s sure of, whatever happens, he’ll record everything he sees, hears, and experiences along the way.

CotW is a lush fantasy yarn in the spirit of Nagi-Asu or Gargantia with attractive character design, a warm pastelly-watercolor aesthetic, and an appropriately robust score. While it lacks the immediate visceral punch and grandeur of Made in Abyss, it has a lot of potential, especially once the small world of the Mud Whale starts to expand at Ouni’s behest.

Imouto sae Ireba Ii. – 01 (First Impressions)

Our protagonist wakes up with his little sister Alice, naked as a jaybird, sitting on top of him. After giving him a sloppy kiss with tongue, he washes his face in her bathwater, wipes it dry with her bra, then sits down to breakfast with her (still naked) and some random other girl. He drinks Alice’s milk(?), eats an omelette with Alice’s eggs(?!?) and she wipes his mouth with her underwear, which he then eats (?!?!?!?1?!!!2)…

But wait! This isn’t the show, thank God. It’s just novelist Hashima Itsuki’s demented idea for a follow-up to his last piece, which had precious little to do with little sisters. It’s a story that’s rudely but mercifully interrupted by a hearty “WTF” from his editor, who summarily rejects the disgusting tale.

First of all, great fake-out, show. You had me going there. I was ready to switch off the TV and go hide in a deep dark hole to get away from that trash. It pushed all the buttons of what a “little sister rom-com” would be in these trying times, then kicked it all up to 11.

The actual show is much more tolerable, even if it suffers from some of the same problems as Itsuki’s treatment, only far more low-key. Itsuki is an unrepentant siscon…but doesn’t actually have a little sister. He does have a very cute, responsible, hard-working, androgynous younger stepbrother in Chihiro, as well as a kohai in the silver-haired novelist Kani Nayuta. His fellow novelist Haruto and friend Miyako round out the group who converge on his apartment for a nice dinner party.

Everyone sits around while Chihiro does all the cooking like some kind of traditional housewife. Rather than help out, the others spend most of the episode having a lot more fun playing a “lateral thinking puzzle” than I had watching it. A bunch of diagrams and graphics are used, but the whole thing seems like a stall, which in a first episode that already scared the shit out of me in its cold open, is…not great.

The game is an opportunity to demonstrate what a dirty mind the silver-haired Kani Nayuta has, as she’s constantly throwing lewd comments Itsuki’s way; a clear indication she likes him, but getting little in the way of a response from the little-sister-obsessed Itsuki.

The two end up alone together, but nothing comes of it, and she retires to the hotel room where she’s supposed to be holed up working. As Itsuki checks out a particular book on his shelf (one written by Nayuta), he recalls when he and Nayuta met; she threw up on him, then later confessed her love for him after reading his work.

Itsuki then reads her work, and can’t put the book down. It’s in another league, and he’s immediately inspired to get back tot he laptop and belt out some work of his own. It seems then, that in addition to preferring little sisters (despite, or perhaps because he has none), Itsuki can’t stand beside someone liky Nayuta until he gets better. More then, of a muse than a romantic interest.

That surprising reveal at the end, that there’s mutual respect and affection below the raunchy repartee, and the fake-out at the beginning, were both nice touches, but the guessing game that dominated the middle really bogged this episode down, and there’s also a disconnect between everyone’s appearance and their age (the adults look like high schoolers, the high schooler looks like a middle schooler).

But it might be worth watching the second episode to see whether those structural choices are repeated or corrected.