TL;DR – a frustratingly pointless examination into the lives of children cursed by their ancestors.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau (aka Children of the Whales as released on Netflix in 2018) is beautiful to look at and has an interesting premise but overall is odd. I’ve watched a lot of anime that is strange and unusual, but this is probably one of the first animes that left me disappointed in an odd way.
We have the Mud Whale, a giant floating island in the shape of a ship that traverses an endless sea of sand. On this island are two groups of people – the marked and unmarked. The marked are able to utilise a magic called “thymia” to manipulate objects, while the unmarked can’t. The trade off, however, is that the marked have a shortened life span and rarely live past their 30s.
The Mud Whale is ruled by two positions of power – the Committee of Elders and the mayor. The mayor moves around the island and reports to the committee and is more a figurehead than ruler. The committee is comprised of unmarked elderly individuals (you can’t get into the committee if you’re marked because of your short lifespan) and they stay holed up in a room overlooking the island. The committee are the ones that decide what largely happens to the inhabitants on the Mud Whale.
There is this weird rule that you can’t show emotions especially sadness. When people die on the Mud Whale, a funeral is held but it is said if you cry then your life is cut shorter. This raised a red flag for me immediately. The suppression (and in other ways, removal) of emotions is a central theme in this series and is a key oddity that I felt doesn’t always work in the story.
The Mud Whale comes from the Allied Empire that also has similar island ships. Within each ship (including the Mud Whale) is a “nous”, which is a weird alien-like organ that acts as the heart of the ship. A nous can take away the emotions of people, and if the nous is destroyed then the island ship sinks into the sea of sand. However, an important point to note, the Mud Whale’s nous does not take away the emotions of people. Instead, we learn later that it takes the life force of the marked and this is why their lives are shortened.
As the series progresses, we learn that the inhabitants of the Mud Whale are descendants of criminals and have been exiled. As the viewer, when we are introduced to the Mud Whale, the inhabitants have been exiled for nearly 100 years.
Outsiders from the Allied Empire arrive and proceed to execute the Mud Whale people. The attackers pause only when they learn that Lykos, a girl from another (abandoned) island ship and rescued by Chakuro (a marked resident of the Mud Whale), is the younger sister of one of the commander in chiefs of the Allied Empire.
When Lykos refuses to go home, preferring to stay on the Mud Whale, the attackers return to their ship and use Lykos as an experiment to show what happens when you become tainted on the Mud Whale and emotions overcome you.
This leads to the Community of Elders deciding it would be better to commit mass suicide by killing the nous and sinking the Mud Whale rather than have the Allied Empire return to execute the rest of them later. The elders are prevented from this madness by Chakuro and others who are marked.
The series attempts to examine the impacts of violence and the idea of suppressing one’s emotions. There are a number of points which I struggled with:
- The knowledge of why the people of Mud Whale were exiled and why they were declared criminals is never revealed. This is a fundamental point that is kept hidden from the viewer in the entire series which indicates that potentially a second series might be developed. But by keeping this information from the viewer, it makes all the violence largely senseless and frustrating.
- To make matters worse, the people of Mud Whale (especially the marked children) do not know themselves why they have been exiled. The only ones who do know the true reasons are the Committee of Elders, and they don’t share this information, which is also a bit silly. Withholding information is also a fundamental trigger to all the death that occurs.
- When the Allied Empire ship comes and starts their massacre of the now largely pacifist residents of Mud Whale, it’s a painful sequence of events. The soldiers of the Allied Empire have supposedly removed their emotions from the nous on their ship, yet there are some particular soldiers who delight in the violence (so I guess sad emotions are removed but they can still feel bloody glee for killing unarmed children).
- This segues into another problem I have. Most, if not all, of the original people who were condemned as criminals have died. It’s been 100 years of exile after all. So, these subsequent generations are now being branded by whatever sin their ancestors have made when clearly they are good people. The fact the Allied Empire are unable to see this (or don’t care) is difficult to swallow. It was vexing to see that no one dared to ask, “Should we be killing these unarmed men, women and children when they don’t seem like bad people?”
As a viewer, it’s difficult to accept what happens because we are kept in the dark for too long. There’s a lot death, a lot of pent up emotions (that are considered “bad” when really the bottling of emotions is what is truly problematic) and a lot of idiotic people withholding information from others who really need to know the truth.
It’s an examination into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of life but presented in a way that makes little sense (or hope for that matter). Not enough was given to me as the viewer, so the series became a struggle. I now doubt that if a second season is released that I’ll watch it.
4 out of 10