Review: ‘Children of the Sea’ breathtaking
Three Stars out of Five
By Joanna MacGown
“Children of the Sea,” now streaming on Netflix, is a strange movie, even by anime standards, and I find it hard to recommend to anyone but animation buffs like myself. But if you are in the mood for this particular brand of sensory spectacle, it is well worth your time.
This is the story of Ruka, a middle school girl who’s trying to figure out where she belongs when she encounters two boys who were raised by dugongs (relatives of the manatee), and is subsequently swept up into their story. And their story is apparently the story of the universe. Or something.
Explaining the rest of the plot would basically require explaining the metaphor, and even if I could interpret it, it would take far too many words. And that would be missing the point, anyway.
The film is animated by Studio 4°C, a place founded by many former animators for Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, etc.), and most notably, the soundtrack comes courtesy of Joe Hisaishi, who scores almost exclusively for Ghibli.
The art design is much sharper than Ghibli, probably thanks in part to the way they incorporate CG into the animation, but its more realistic sensibilities end beneath the water.
That’s where the film shines. When Ruka first plunged beneath the waves and into a pod of whale sharks, it took my breath away. The creators clearly love marine biology, and delight in animating various obscure, otherworldly creatures that call the ocean home.
This movie reminds me of a ballet, or perhaps Fantasia, a story where plot takes a backseat to spectacle (or occasionally metaphor). The animation is the centerpiece, and Hisaishi’s score serves mostly to develop the intended mood and atmosphere.
If you want a story with clear stakes (or even a clear plot), “Children of the Sea” will probably just frustrate you. But if you’re willing to swim in ambiguity and get caught up in a swirling metaphor of sights and sounds, give it a shot.