Escaping the glaringly sparkly and sharp bold colours used in most anime nowadays, the animated adaptation of Umeda Abi’s Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau (Children of the Whales) is a fantasy story taking place in an apocalyptic magical world where we find our protagonist, Chakuro, living in a small colony (with a population of 513 people) on a floating island (the Mud Whale), riding above a vast ocean of sand. Upon discovering an abandoned floating island (a driftland), Chakuro comes across a mysterious girl, whom he dubs Lykos and with this strange encounter comes a wave of change in Chakuro’s life. As I mentioned in my watch list, I picked up the original manga a while back and liked the premise of the story but never ventured any deeper into it because I was interested in the anime series I was watching at the time. For that reason, I decided to check out its first episode and report back my thoughts on it.
Animation studio J.C. Staff took on this project this year for the Fall 2017 anime season with its first episode released in early October. In terms of the anime’s looks, J.C. Staff decided to stick with varying line thicknesses and textures that you’d typically find in the pages of a manga. The studio combines this art style with a soft watercolour palette to bring the world of Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau to life. Clouds seem as if they were painted on with a winged brush, and the tips of these clouds extend outward to create different shapes. Shading is made through a blend and layering of gradiant colour and small thin lines create texture to backdrops that the characters move across. This artstyle reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s illustrations of his work, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which appears simplistic but possesses personality.
The characters themselves are drawn with soft expressions and stand apart from the detailed background.
At some points this isn’t an issue, but there are moments during the episode where the scene looks jarring because the characters look like they are smacked on top of an environment, as pictured below.
…Or maybe I’m just being picky for no reason.
I know I’ve been spoilt by KyoAni.
Chakuro, our protagonist in Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau, is our guide into the story’s world and was assigned the role of archivist in his colony. As a fantasy genre anime, I also feel that its slow pacing is its downfall but to explore and explain a unique world like the one in this anime, using the main protagonist as a vehicle to not only give context for world building but also as a narrator for the story is important. The world of Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau is pretty extensive as Chakuro explains the politics and the culture of his home on the Mud Whale, along with the superhuman power Thymia of which the grand majority of the colony is able to use. Thymia is an ability dependent on magical symbols which allows the user, the Marked, to do any number of tasks, such as levitating objects or travelling on bamboo boats through the sand, via their emotions.
The Marked have short life spans, living up to their twenties or thirties. As Chakuro also explains in the first episode, the small ten percent who live without using Thymia are called the Unmarked and make up the Council of Elders and the Chieftain of the colony (the colony’s leaders) who live a regular human life-span.
Chakuro’s internal monologue can be useless at small points of the episode and does make the story lag on for a bit longer than what I’d like. For instance, I think that the episode could do without the obvious narrative cue to lead the viewer into the next scene because we already have moving visuals to help the viewer understand the story. In a transition from the Council meeting where we learn that Suou is assigned the role of leader in the driftland expedition through the Chieftain’s direction to the expedition group traveling to their destination was made longer because Chakuro repeated the same information.
Another factor are the interactions between nameless background characters which drag moments for longer than they should, such as the cutting of the tall bamboo poles and the travelling scenes, could easily be cut out in the animated version of the story. I suppose the reason for keeping these minimal conversations acts as foil to the characters possessing a larger role in the storyline, giving the important characters more detail. For example, the fact that Chakuro is not deemed as important by the other Marked people in the colony and is considered useless because of his inaccurate Thymia wielding ability.
At this point in time, the characters are not all too interesting since the episode didn’t spend so much time on them individually, but they all hold potential.
The music used in the first episode fits the fantasy genre, utilizing either an orchestra or a simple melody with a piano and some string instruments to accompany Chakuro’s internal monologue by imbuing his objective observations with emotion, especially in his first encounter with Lykos. The story itself removes any panic Chakuro may be experiencing when being pinned down by Lykos aiming all of her swords at him to essentially make a pin cushion out of him. Once Chakuro is pushed down, the string instruments enter into the scene like a heavy wave of dread, leaving me with some goosebumps as the camera shot moves from Chakuro’s opened gasp of shock to his impending doom.
The ending theme of the series, Hashitairo by rionos is also a delight to listen to. The ending theme captures the listless journey of those on the Mud Whale, travelling onward through the boundless sand with no clear destination in sight and holding onto a small yet improbable dream of worlds lying beyond the sand. The song begins slowly and calmly with string instruments and builds to the chorus with its orchestra of flutes, guitars, drums, and piano adding depth to the sound. It has a dream-like quality to it but is also melancholic with its lyrics. Quite fitting for the characters in this anime.
My consensus for this series: Watch it whenever or watch it for Ouni who is the only interesting character trope thus far.