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.