The following review of Children of the Whales is spoiler-free, so feel free to read on without fear.
In just a few days, VIZ Media is releasing the first English-translation volume of Abi Umeda’s Children of The Whales. The manga puts a refreshing fantasy spin on the post-apocalyptic genre; as my first foray into Japanese comics it did not disappoint! To be blunt, Children of the Whales is simply amazing, with beautifully developed visual storytelling reflecting the human condition. You become quickly drawn in while the story continues to evolve alongside your own growing curiosity, and that’s just Volume 1.
Chakuro lives aboard a Mud Whale, a city-ship of sorts floating through an endless storming sea of sands. When we first meet him and his friends, this vessel contains every person known to them in the world. The Mud Whale is Chakuro’s idyllic little world in its entirety. He is one of the Marked, special individuals endowed with the ability to wield “thymia”. Think of it as a kind of magic. Thymia plays an important role in the day-to-day lives of those aboard the Mud Whale, but with a dire cost; the Marked have shortened lifespans, rarely living past their early thirties. Despite that double-edged sword, life on the Mud Whale is peacefully predictable.
An unprecedented discovery sets Children of the Whales in motion and shakes the very foundation of this nigh utopian world. Chakuro and his friends find a young girl named Lykos, the first outsider they’ve ever met, on a lonely island. What she knows about the world beyond the Mud Whale leads them to question things they’d never even considered before. At its core, Children of the Whales is a tale about the loss of innocence. Umeda sets up a brilliant cast of characters who seem happy in their roles because it’s all they’ve ever known. Lykos quite literally represents a change in thinking—that’s where the character development really begins. Although she’s also a Marked, her outlook is far grimmer than Chakuro and the others.
Beyond her thematic representation, Lykos carries a very real, unheeded warning of terror on the sandy horizon. This first volume ends with a cliffhanger set to shatter the isolated Mud Whale community forever.
The Linework Almost Seems to Come Alive While You’re Reading.
Umeda’s art style is breathtaking and, as noted before, reminiscent of the anime Last Exile and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaäof the Valley of the Wind. It’s hard to decide which is better, the large side-by-side images or intricate storyboard sequencing. The artwork in this story is amazing. Children of the Whales’ visuals suck you in just as much as the story does. It’s as if you’re right there with Chakuro, standing on the edge of the Mud Whale gazing out over an endless, volatile sea of sand. Umeda masterful visual storytelling gently (and sometimes violently) guides your eye across each and every page.
Everything in this manga feels meticulously chosen, right down to the characters’ names. Choosing to name Ōni, a rebellious Marked on the Mud Whale with the strongest thymia powers, the Japanese word for “demon” makes you wonder what direction his character arc is headed. Even Lykos’ name might have some hidden meaning; it’s the Greek word for “wolf”. Could she be leading these innocent lambs to their slaughter? My nerd-senses are tingling. That’s exactly what you want from a premiere manga: the kind of mystery and intrigue that keeps you turning the pages. All of this could be insignificant, but I’m hoping for something cool in the next volume.
Without question, I highly recommend this premiere to seasoned and first-time manga readers alike. If you’re in need of a new spin on the post-apocalyptic genre, this one’s for you. Abi Umeda has created a world in Children of the Whales I’m looking forward to revisiting again and again with each new release. Sadly, Volume 2 won’t be out until January 16th, but that’s a worthwhile wait.
Children of the Whales Volume 1 is still available for pre-order through VIZ Media before its release on November 21st.