It is with a not-particularly-heavy heart that I say adieu to Children of the Whales, a show that just hasn’t been doing if for me the last couple of weeks. Its appalling lack of focus and momentum, the blandness of its many characters, and its thoroughly incoherent mythos (glowing hands, anyone?) all conspired to sap away any interest I might have initially harbored. To sit and watch the show try to flesh out and humanize the magenta-haired sadistic murderer who’d been nothing but a detestable jerk this whole time…yeah, I’m out.
I asked for the battle to finally begin, and I got what I wanted…sort of? As intimidating as the looming Skylos appears out of the sandstorm and as meaty the score sounds, the battle largely lacks punch. Neri’s song is nice, I just wish more were going on while she sang it. As for the return of Mr. Pinkhair, lets just say I wish he’d stayed out of this; he’s a thoroughly uninteresting, annoying “crazy killer warrior.”
I am somewhat relieved this battle isn’t as large or lopsided a slaughter as the first; the Thymia-armed defenders, many of them kids, get their licks in before, say, one fighter lets her guard down and gets stabbed by Pinky.
The Elder who wanted to sink the whale also gets an excellent death, getting cut right down the middle of his face but using his momentum to send the two attackers plummeting to their deaths with him, saving several children.
Suou finds the elder, but before he can say goodbye properly, Pinky is there to torment him. Pinky is everywhere! How does he cover ground so quickly? At any rate, the Kamiya Hiroshi-voiced Shuan is poised to rescue Suou by giving Pinky a good fight. Not this week, though.
The raid on Skylos goes all too predictably well at first, until half of the force walks straight into a just-as-predictable trap right when they thought they were nearing the finish line. They all get slaughtered, though Lykos hung back, sensing said trap, while Ginshu guards the door with a wounded Nibi.
It would seem Falaina’s raiders were allowed to have their fun; now the hammer of Skylos is poised to come down on them, and hard. The commander was quite clear that all should be annihilated, even Lykos, despite her brother’s status.
Chakuro—I haven’t mentioned him yet, have I?—really doesn’t want to fight or kill, but did a decent job with his defensive magic. It’s clear Team Falaina is going to need more of it if what’s left of them are going to survive this thing.
The people—specifically the youth—of Falaina prepare for battle. After a certain age even the Marked can’t use Thymia, so they’ll be depending on children to fight, many of them quite small, and like everyone else, tought their entire lives not to use their power to hurt people.
They must unlearn all that pacifist conditioning and learn to kill, which is what their enemies will be experts at right out of the gate. A seldom-seen elder makes sure Suou understands what leadership is: he’ll be sending children to kill and die. Suou seems to. I mean, what’s the alternative; just sit around and wait to be killed?
One Falainan who’s never had trouble hurting people with his Thymia is Ouni, and he mentally prepares for the task ahead with his old friend Nibi, who welcomed him into his gang when they were kids when Ouni showed him that things like the Bowels weren’t really that scary.
There are scary times ahead, but it certainly seems that Nibi will be by Ouni’s side for them. Whether that spells the end for him when they infiltrate Skylos and try to kill its Nous…this isn’t the episode about that fight, but the final build-up to it. And at that, it works generally well.
As one of the people going on the infiltration mission, Chakuro will be doing more than simply witnessing events, he’ll be a direct participant in them; forced to use his infamous “destroyer” powers for actual destroying; maybe of the Nous, maybe of fellow humans, maybe both. It’s uncharted territory.
Fortunately, Lykos will be by his side, and while her gradual falling for Chakuro was both inevitable and predictable, it sure beats her having no emotions at all, even if, as she says, “feelings get in the way.” It’s true! But without feelings, would life really be worth living? I mean, what are we doin’ here, trying to win a stoicism contest, or LIVING?!
While preparing for the battle that may decide the fate of many a person, as well as that of the entire Mud Whale, the show remains content to keep us in the dark about Neri and her apparent twin, Ema, or what is up with her angel wings of light.
Suffice it to say, she’ll play a more satisfying role educating Chakuro on the secrets of the Mud Whale perhaps nobody knows besides the elders; and some stuff that even they might not know. But for Ema to start spilling the beans, Chakuro has to come out of this in one piece.
The villagers throw sand at each other in a tradition called the “sand returning” which kicks up those who have been lost into the air. In a touching scene Lykos witnesses Chakuro doing this for the late, dearly departed Sami.
After that calm comes the storm—a sandstorm, of course! Skylos can be heard before its red lights can be seen, but the great battleship doesn’t fully emerge quite yet; we get the credits. That means next week will be the battle – no more procrastinating!
This week Chakuro and his friends locate the nous at the core of Falaina that apparently every sand ship has, are interrupted by three elders who bring archers to kill the nous, thus sinking the Mud Whale, but Chakuro manages to convince them not to, though they do manage to shoot Lykos in the leg.
After that, Suou is freed and Taisha’s aides gather to his side, he meets with Lykos, who tells everyone about the eight ships the empire has and how there could be other countries out there, and Suou gives a speech to the rest of the Whale’s population that they’re going to fight and defend until they can find allies.
That’s a good amount of material in one episode…so why the heck did it feel to me like virtually nothing happened? I suspect it’s at least in part due to the overall presentation, which has felt lacking in urgency and peril since the surprise attack that ended episode two.
There’s also the fact that the Mud Whale feels like such a small and static setting whose leadership seems to change on a dime with little to no repercussions. The rest of the population is treated like one united faceless entity that cheers at the prospect of Ouni joining the defense force.
Perhaps most troubling—and contributory to my waning interest in this show—is the protagonist Chakuro, whose defining character trait is a guy who says a lot—both to others and through narration—but does very little, while Lykos’ is simply “girl who developed emotions” and little else.
As a result, it feels like I’m watching a set of thin and fairly generic characters caught up in a world that’s groaning under the weight of its convoluted (and at times, random-feeling) mythology.
Right now, that’s just not grabbing and holding my attention as much as the other Fall shows I’m watching. Maybe next week, when the defense of the whale begins in earnest, I’ll be able to muster more enthusiasm.
Suou is brought before the council of elders, named the new Chief of the Mud Whale, and given his first and last orders: to prepare the people to “return to the sea of sand” from whence they came; in other words, they want the entire remaining population to commit suicide en masse.
Wait, why are these clowns in charge again? Even Suou can’t accept that fate, and while trying to talk to the eldest elder of them all (who seems senile but seems to speak the truth nonetheless), gets knocked out by the captain of the guard and thrown into the Bowels.
Meanwhile, Chakuro is carving words into a cliff face when approached by Ginshu, who seems to be moving quickly after Sami’s demise, offering to help “Cha-kki” learn to use his Thymia better for the next defense of the Whale, obviously unaware of the elders’ decision.
While gazing out into the sea, Nelli comes to Chakuro, and transports him into a series of visions involving those who have passed away, including Sami and Taisha, both of whom make clear that it’s not time for Chakuro to give up hope and join them; nor is it time for the Mud Whale to vanish.
It’s heartbreaking to see Sami anew, especially as she says she wanted to be Chakuro’s wife. She was never able to say this while alive, and so Chakuro never got to return her feelings.
These visions fly in the face of the elders’ wishes, but they—with the exception of one of them to whom the others no longer listen—have lost hope, and want only to give their people honorable deaths rather than let them be needlessly slaughtered.
Newly invigorated by the visions from Nelli (who seemed oddly possessed by someone else afterwards until snapping back into regular Nelli), Chakuro learns what happened to Suou, and seeks help from Lykos, Ouni, and Ouni’s gang (what’s left of it).
They come afoul of the guards, but Chakki is able to seduce Ginshu into letting them pass. They descend into the deepest parts of the Mud Whale where they’ve never been before, until they find Nelli with what looks like a Nous sitting in a giant…rocking chair?
I’l say this: with his primary role as one who must bear witness, Chakuro isn’t the most thrilling protagonist, but at least he’s working to save the Mud Whale and its people. He hasn’t given up. And whatever the heck is going on at the end, I’m definitely intrigued and want to see where this is going.
The docile, frightened, and mostly defenseless denizens of Falaina are absolutely no match for the surprise attack by the efficient, emotionless raiding parties of Skylos, who use their thymia to kill with rifles, spears, swords and maces. Chakuro tries to run away carrying Sami, but he trips, and the way her body falls indicates that she’s already dead.
Ouni manages to get released from his cell, and proves more than capable of killing a good number of the enemy…but one man simply won’t be enough. Back in the fields, soldiers advance on Chakuro, but in his combined grief and rage he manages to hold them off with his Thymia until Lykos arrives.
Lykos, or rather Lykos “#32” as she’s called by an oddly giddy and sadistic pink-haired associate who holds a high rank among the enemy, was originally sent to exterminate Falaina. It would appear she failed, and regained emotions.
Now her brother, Commander Orka, is content to leave her on Falaina as a human experiment, to see how long she lasts among the “sinners.” The enemy withdraws, but after torturing two of their soldiers, Ouni learns they’ll be back in just a week’s time. Lykos, it would seem, has picked Chakuro and Falaina over her brother and home country.
It doesn’t look like pacifism and negotiation are in the cards, nor does there seem to be a “misunderstanding.” The people of Falaina are in a war with their very existence in the balance, period. While it isn’t great to see Ouni shed so much blood on his own, I see few alternatives.
As for Chakuro, after a gorgeous but immensely sad funeral service for the dozens lost, including Sami, he simply wishes he could die right then and there. He doesn’t want to be in this world anymore.
Who can blame him? I’m not even sure I want to be here. While the heroic arc obviously requires some initial hardship to be overcome, it was not fun watching men, women, and children callously mowed down. There also seemed to be a lot of the enemy soldiers simply…standing around for long pauses while their victims try to process what’s happening.
Other than Ouni, Lykos, and maaaybe Chakuro (if he can learn to control his power) this entire community looks utterly unequipped for the conflict ahead. Hopefully a few steadfast defenders will be able to curb further slaughter.
What I thought was the start of some kind of grand adventure involving Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos turned out to be more of a quick stop. Lykos (which isn’t her real name) shows them the creatures called “Nous” that suck all emotion out of humans, leaving them “heartless.” Chakuro and Ouni only get a brief taste of the experience, but I imagine neither of them wanted to get a longer one, as intriguing an experience as it might’ve been.
They’re brought back to Falaina, where Ouni is thrown in jail, Lykos returns to the custody of the elders, and Chakuro is freed after “cooling his head”—just in time for the extraordinary periodic phenomenon involving swarms of glowing star locusts. Chakuro breaks Lykos out of confinement so she can see the event with him, and jealous vibes immediately emanate from Sami.
Having been away from…whatever it was she was doing on that other island, Lykos is definitely starting to show more emotion, and when she remembers the time her father gave her a piggyback ride (out of practicality, not love or any other emotion) she can’t help but cry. Chakuro thinks it’s normal, and it proves she has a heart. And anyone’s heart would be stirred by the light show they get.
But that night, Lykos almost told Chakuro something very important, and the next day, really really wants to tell that something to the council of Elders. She best she gets is Suou…but by then, any warning she might’ve given is too late: another island sidles up to Falaina and an attack is launched by its highly-prepared and more technologically advanced occupants.
Those we see are wearing clown makeup (not a great first impression), and Chakuro and Sami stare up at their airship in Miyazakian awe…right until they open fire, Sami jumps in front of Chakuro, and gets riddled with bullets. I was not expecting that! Poor Sami!
It’s a bold, dark new turn for what had been an pleasant Utopian slice-of-life. That’s not quite right: the introduction of Lykos and her lethal magic last week marked the beginning of the end of the “good times”, while the locust swarm was the punctuation mark for the Mud Whale as a place of peace and contentment, and even that peace may have been artificially maintained, as the elders likely knew something like this was possible and/or coming, and have kept all of the Marked in the dark.
It would seem our protagonist and his society are viewed as “sinners” in the outside world, perhaps because they still possess the emotions the Nous feed on and make no effort to purge them. Thus ends Chakuro’s official archive of the Mud Whale, and the beginning of his personal diary.
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.