Children of the Sea 4

December 29, 2010

Daisuke Igarashi – Viz – 2010 – 4+ volumes

For the record, as of right now, there are 2,500 reviews on this site. I am vaguely proud and also vaguely embarrassed. Moving on.

Hmm. I wonder what happened with this series. It looks like a new volume hasn’t come out in Japan since July 2009, and the new chapters on the SigIkki site stopped in October. I wonder if Igarashi is on hiatus or something?

Anyway, I am still extremely torn on this series. I think it is wonderfully cosmic, and a very wild ride into topics that aren’t often explored. With discussions of what conditions have to be like on a planet in order to generate an ocean, descriptions of life on a galactic and primordial level, and the sea life still agitated and preparing for some cataclysm or rebirth, It’s hard not to appreciate the scope of this series. It is ambitious, and studies nature, the environment, life, and its meaning in a way that is rare in most literature.

I also like the continued use of sea-based folklore to inform the narrative. We only get two such stories in this volume, but I really do appreciate the magical touch and local flavor of these stories. They are utterly unlike one another too, not just story after story of someone’s grandmother spotting a strange creature. Their point is mostly to lend an element of mysticism to the sea, something they do very well.

But I still have problems with the abstract nature of the main plot. All these vague things are happening in aid of an outcome that, after 1,400 pages, neither the characters nor the readers can even guess at. The characters are merely tools we are using to observe these forces of nature, and I also don’t really like that. This volume in particular just seemed like a series of unrelated events that take place one right after the other. They illustrate the theories that the characters are discussing, to some degree, but they don’t really mean anything. They mostly just look pretty.

A lot of my issues come from personal taste, though, since I don’t usually enjoy stories that dip this far into the theoretical. But it is kind of hard to read. I feel bad admitting that, but I just have trouble picking a volume of this up, knowing it won’t make much sense or really go anywhere.

I love looking at it, though, and that helps a lot. The art is fantastic, and its strange organic forms and rough shapes suit the discussion of the sea, the creatures, and the people that live around it perfectly. There are actually very few words for as long as the book is, and that’s so that we can appreciate the scenes of Ruka swimming through a whale’s stomach/underground cavern, people covered in jellyfish, the tribal forms painted on the bellies of whales, antarctic landscapes, beautiful scenes of shell divers, extinct shark species, studies of antarctic plankton, and all sorts of other interesting asides. I enjoy the side content more than the main story, and that’s largely due to the wonderful art.

It’s definitely not for me, but I can see that it is a great series. Do I think it would appeal to a lot of people? Honestly, no, and that’s a shame since it is so wonderful. But I’m happy I’ve had the chance to read it. And I do wonder where it’s eventually headed.

Children of the Sea 3

June 6, 2010

Daisuke Igarashi – Viz – 2010 – 4+ volumes

You know, I like this series.  I like it a lot.  The art and atmosphere alone make it a great read.  The mixture of sea and costal areas, the aquatic life constantly swarming around Umi and Sora, and the periodic creepy legends that creep into the narrative.  All of that is good stuff, and I just can’t fault it.  If nothing else, Children of the Sea does an excellent job of conveying its mystery and coming-of-age story through the medium of nature, and that’s just not something you see every day.

On the other hand, I’ve never been very good with intangible philosophy, which is what drives the plot.  The characters often speak of the philosophy of life and creation, and I’m pretty sure that it has a deep, intrinsic meaning to the plot, but I’m just not getting it.  I can follow what’s going on well enough, but every single bit of nuance is stripped from the storytelling by my lack of comprehension as to how discussions along the lines of likening conversation to whale songs and turning into ghosts that can be viewed by people from the future have to do with the plot.  I can see it, since in that case, Anglaide is very much affected by what he sees in that flashback, but I want to assign meaning to all parts of it.  The part about the whale song makes more sense later in the volume, and yet, I wish that things could be more straightforward.  The characters are just talking in riddles when they explain things.  Again, it’s not hard to pull meaning from in terms of the immediate conversation, but it’s frustrating to read, and I feel like I’m missing out on a big chunk of the story.

As far as ambition, art, and atmosphere goes, Children of the Sea is one of the best.  But the plot progression always makes me hesitate when I’m going for a new volume.  It’s beautiful, and I have a feeling that there are quite a few people who can appreciate it more than me.  I’m going to continue reading, because it’s just so bizarre and I do love mythology… but it is a little frustrating.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Children of the Sea 2

February 24, 2010

Daisuke Igarashi – Viz – 2009 – 4+ volumes

Man, I can’t believe I put off reading this for so long.  I have no idea why, I enjoyed the first volume quite a bit.  The second continues the themes of a sort of bizarre ocean-themed fairy tale set in the modern day, except the story further unhinges itself from reality and goes in some interesting directions.

Umi and Sora are still separated, and Ruka does her best to help Umi find his lost brother.  Umi is in a state of persistent mourning after being separated from Sora for the first time, and while Ruka at first helps him deal with his sorrow, the two later embark on a series of searches which have various bizarre outcomes, from lightening and manta rays leaping out of a typhoon-swept ocean, to salty rainwater, to more strange fish disappearances, to partially formed children with no record of existing washing up on shore.  Actually, most of that is caused by a typhoon that sits over the story for a good chunk of the volume, but it’s unclear what Sora and Umi have a hand in, and Umi mentions the typhoon is their brother from the southern oceans.

In fact, the maddening definition of what Umi and Sora are, and the extent of what they can do and what things simply just happen around them, is still central to the plot of the story.  It is explained in a rather unsatisfying way towards the end (somewhat, not really), but there are one or two alternative explanations that I would accept.  Nothing really makes sense, mind, but one of the themes of the story is a commentary on the limited nature of science and what humans can see, so it’s not setting out to make sense, it’s trying to do something different.

As I said, it does read as kind of a fairy tale set in the modern day, but it also explores the ideas of fairy tales through the ages and how a seed of truth might be sowed into them.  A new scientist that enters the picture towards the end of the volume, Anglade, tries to explain Umi and Sora’s situation by looking at aquatic-themed folklore from Southeast Asia, which is extremely interesting, though I wish it were pursued more or linked in a more concrete way to the story.

Anglade is, by the way, the very definition of androgynous.  He is referred to as a “he” by other characters, but he really, really looks like a girl, and there is at least one panel where he has breasts.  He also wears his shirts in a way that suggests breasts.  Yeah, I’m not sure where that’s going.

Anyway, later on, there are some hints about Ruka’s role in Umi and Sora’s story, and how she may be more like them than she thought.  She is trusted with an item that ensures her a more supernatural role in the coming series, which bodes well for future installments.

And the art continues to do a great job with the lavishily-illustrated seaside landscapes and underwater panoramas.  It’s important for a series so linked to nature, and it’s amazing to look at.  It’s probably worth mentioning that sometimes the sketchy detail makes the drawings of people suffer (there was a face on one of the first pages that made me cringe), but hey, it’s not all about the people here, and Umi, Sora, and Ruka always look pretty good.

I still feel like the story has only begun to explain the mysteries its spinning, and I have a feeling they won’t be explained all that adequately in the end, so it makes it a bit of a maddening reading experience.  But it’s still an incredible read, a kind of ethereal story with amazing illustrations to go along with it.  I’m very much looking forward to the strange paths the story will take in the future.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Children of the Sea 1

June 5, 2009

I have to say, I’m all about Viz’s recent online manga efforts.  I’ve been reading Rin-ne every week (mostly because, well, I like Rumiko Takahashi and I like shinigami, but it’s got sort of a slow start), and recently, Viz launched an online version of Ikki magazine with a weekly release schedule for chapters of Children of the Sea.  I believe there will be more content when the site formally launches at the end of summer, but for now, Children of the Sea is quite a treat.  There are three chapters up currently, but this review is for the full volume.

It’s not so much driven by story as it is by the art and setting (a coastal town with a marine research facility/aquarium).  It’s comparable to Aria in that way, except Aria… well, it doesn’t have nearly the depth that this does, which is a strange thing to say about series which primarily focus on sight-seeing.  Aria’s structure is mostly episodic stories where the characters take in the scenery, whereas in Children of the Sea, the rather serious-minded and wordless exploration leads to revealing more about the mysterious plot.  The gist is that a misfit girl named Ruka starts hanging out with two boys named Umi and Sora who were supposedly raised in the sea and are seeking out other people who witnessed a mystery/phenomena some years ago.  Apparently anyone who witnessed the event was deeply impacted by it.  But you don’t find all this out at once.

The book is mostly amazing scenery shots as Ruka travels to different locations around town on her bike and bits where someone, usually Umi, is swimming among fish, plantlife, rocks, and everything else underwater.  The art has an extremely… rough and organic look to it, unlike the extremely stylized art in Aria, so it lends itself better to depicting the sea life and nature (whereas a lot of Aria’s strengths are in architecture, so I suppose that balances out).  The composition and scale of the illustrations are also not to be believed, and there are wonderful full-page illustrations of things like a small Ruka staring into a massive tank with a tiny Umi swimming among schools of fish, or Ruka floating underwater and remaining still while a sea of gigantic whale sharks passes her by.  Later in the book, there are scenes where massive, exotic fish beach themselves.  The depiction is somehow both grotesque and beautiful.  There’s not a lot of noise or dialogue, so most of what happens is just observation, both by the reader and Ruka.  I said the same thing of Aria too, but this book is somehow a lot quieter and paced more slowly than Aria.  They’re really not comparable at all once you read them both, but it’s easy to see parallels between them, which is why I keep bringing it up.

The scenes are occasionally surreal as well.  In my favorite scene, as Ruka pedals her bike through a heavy downpour, she suddenly realizes that the sensation is not unlike swimming.  As the thought surfaces, she glances up and sees what appears to be Umi swimming in midair above her for a second.  No explanation is offered.  The entire series is introduced in the first few pages as a true event (presented by someone who is perhaps an older Ruka) and at the same time a tall tale, or maybe a big fish story.  It does a good job of being somehow both fantastic and grounded, so the introduction sets the mood quite well.

And while you’re absorbing what is usually a rather breathtaking illustration or moment such as the one at the aquarium I described above, usually a small piece of the plot will be offered up.  As Ruka looks up at the tank, her dad walks up behind her and tells her in a straightforward manner that Umi was raised by manatees.  In another scene, as Ruka casually offers up an observation about the fish that they’d been watching and swimming with for some time, Umi makes a face and reveals what it is that he and Sora have been doing all these years.  No plot details immediately connect, and usually only one or two facts ever come to light in each chapter.  The buildup is slow, but I really would love nothing more than watching the characters meander and take their time doing things.

Currently, the plot is establishing an intriguing mystery, and although there aren’t really a lot of hooks that would keep a reader coming back, it’s the way the story is told and the absolutely amazing art that make this series unique.  The fact that there’s an overarching plot and continuity is just a bonus.  It’s also the perfect series to offer online for free, because between the artwork and the beautiful book presentation, it’s pretty apparent that it is very special and worth owning.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.