Original Release Date: June 7, 2019 Directed By: Ayumu Watanabe Genre: Drama, Mystery, Supernatural Based on the Series Created By: Daisuke Igarashi
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Children of the Sea. Reader discretion is advised.***
Summer vacation has started, but for Ruka Azumi (voiced by Mana Ashida), it might as well be over already. Feeling unaccepted everywhere, she escapes to the last place that held any meaning for her – the local aquarium.
Ruka marvels at the majestic sea creatures as they beautifully fly through the water. While there, she meets two wholly unbelievable boys, brothers Umi and Sora (voiced respectively by Hiiro Ishibashi and Seishu Uragami).
Astonishingly, Umi and Sora grew up in the ocean, and thus, have an otherworldly connection to it. To Ruka’s surprise, she feels a pull from the sea as well.
At the same time, a strange phenomenon is occurring in waters all around the globe. And at the heart of these events are three remarkable children.
This review is the long-time-coming follow-up to my Out and About: Eigakan – Children of the Sea post from June 2019. In equal parts, I was excited and hesitant to return to this film.
“I can easily say there were elements in [Children of the Sea] I thought were phenomenal. However, looking at everything as a whole, it is currently impossible for me to tell you whether or not I enjoyed what I sat through. The language barrier I experienced was quite steep.”
-Out and About: Eigakan – Children of the Sea
To date (August 2021), Children of the Sea has proven to be the most challenging film I have seen in theatres. For context, as you can probably guess, there are no English subtitles in Japanese cinemas. Hence, I must use all my language skills, and this movie was far above my level.
Be that as it may, you don’t need to understand Japanese to know Children of the Sea is beautiful. The animators over at Studio 4°C did a phenomenal job in the visual department. The entire second half of this film was a sight to behold, that much I can assure you.
Plus, it didn’t hurt to have the legendary Joe Hisaishi do the music for this movie. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Hisaishi’s name, I almost guarantee you have heard his work, especially if you’ve seen anything directed by one Hayao Miyazaki.
Due to its visuals and soundtrack, I don’t regret watching Children of the Sea on the big screen. These two reasons were also why I wanted to come back and give this film a proper review. I longed to know what story could accompany such artistry.
For better or worse, I got my answer.
In a way, I am happy to have finally seen Children of the Sea with a translation. Yes, I had trouble the first time with this movie because my Japanese was lacking; there is no denying that. However, it is now clear I was also fighting an uphill battle.
This is not a film you watch for fun. No, Children of the Sea will require 100% of your attention, and then maybe – MAYBE – you’ll pull a narrative out of it.
To help us out, we can split this movie into two parts: the first hour and the second hour.
In the first hour, the story took place, and it was a very, very slow burn. Nevertheless, it was here where Children of the Sea introduce the themes and ideas it wanted to discuss. The foundation of this film’s mystery and intrigue came from this first hour.
Incidentally, this was also the half of the film I didn’t have too much trouble with when I saw Children of the Sea in theaters.
So, I can call the first hour of this movie decent. After all, I like having the room to do a little interpretation. Unfortunately, the second hour begins (like sixty minutes in, on the dot), and this film goes from “This is challenging” to “Buckle your f-ing seatbelts.”
When people ask me what I consider to be an example of style over substance, I will tell them, “Children of the Sea.”
Looking back at this film’s Out and About post, I found a segment that could not have proven to be more accurate:
“To tell you the truth, I’m glad I will have already seen Children of the Sea’s artwork when I eventually review this movie. That way, I can solely focus on everything else I missed (as in damn near everything) and not get distracted by all the pretty pictures.”
-Out and About: Eigakan – Children of the Sea
I can already hear the accusation:
“You are only hating on this movie because you didn’t understand it.”
Although it is true, I didn’t understand Children of the Sea, there is much more to me not liking this film than just that. Ultimately, my biggest gripe with this movie is that after two hours, there wasn’t anything to show for it.
Children of the Sea relied heavily on symbolism and interpretation. Like I said earlier, I don’t mind it when a story has those elements. But it is hard to engage with what is happening when a story is ONLY those elements.
I am having trouble expressing how much of a narrative mess this film was. Maybe if you’ve read the Children of the Sea manga, it would be easier to follow what is taking place on the screen. But if this movie is your only exposure to this world, then it will feel like completing a jigsaw puzzle you don’t have all the pieces to.
Children of the Sea had a correlation problem. Let’s take Ruka Azumi:
When introduced, her family was falling apart, and she acted out as a reaction to that. She then “found a place to belong” – question mark – when she met fellow outcasts Umi and Sora. Throughout her journey with the two brothers, Ruka realized there is much more to understanding and being than humanity realizes.
This “truth” – again, question mark – was evident by a mysterious gathering of the Earth’s sea creatures as they underwent a festival celebrating life. In this festival, Umi and Sora were cogs in a cosmic, unbroken wheel, and the boys were, thus, test subjects in a multi-national study. Umi and Sora’s souls, minds, and bodies returned to nature as Ruka became the embodiment of the entire universe.
What the actual s@#$ am I talking about? And that is precisely my point.
Children of the Sea just had things happen. The film then attempted to tie everything together with pseudo-philosophical speeches, “deep” meanings, and some woman with messed up teeth on a boat – seriously, who was this person, and what did she have to do with anyone in this movie?
From what I saw in this film, I can only assume the Children of the Sea manga is dense. That is fine, and I’m willing to bet in print form, this story had the space to explore everything it wished to explore. Therefore, maybe – just maybe – a two-hour movie wasn’t the best course of action for an adaptation.
If you got meaning out of Children of the Sea, more power to you. If you feel I’m being too obtuse and would like to clarify a few of this film’s points, please do so in the comments below. However, if you do that, know I will ask where the symbolism was in the movie.
Films are mediums for visual storytelling. Children of the Sea had the visual half of that notion down. But for story and narrative – a.k.a., the bit that actually matters – this movie was way in over its head.
When I saw this movie in theatres, I was not bored. How would that have even been possible with all the flash and polish taking place on a giant screen? Unfortunately, if we remove the glitz and glamor, reality sets in.
This film had ambition; I can’t take that away from it. The problem was, this story didn’t end up anywhere. Despite leading us down a longwinded and sometimes painfully slow path, the final destination never came.
If you want spectacle, then spectacle you will get. But if you want anything else, then you can skip Children of the Sea.
But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? How would you advise Children of the Sea? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
If you liked what you have read, be sure to follow Anime Hajime on our social media sites so that you never miss a post or update. Also, please share this review across the internet to help add to the discussion.
Plus, if you wish to add your voice to Anime Hajime, why not consider writing for us? If you would like to contribute, check out our Write For Anime Hajime page. We welcome your style.
For Anime Hajime, I’m Odyssey, and I’ll see you next time.