The best stories typically include a world of intrigue for people to investigate and wonder about. Anime is no different; as many of our favorite shows take place in fantastic universes that make us want to keep watching. CHILDREN OF THE WHALES gives us the basis for another epic universe to dive into. Unfortunately, basic characters, slow development, and an unbalanced ending flatten an otherwise well-made world.

CHILDREN OF THE WHALES first aired in Japan last fall but made its global debut on Netflix on March 13. The series is based on the 2013 shojo manga by Abi Umeda. J.C. Staff produced the show with Director Kyohei Ishiguro. J.C. Staff is responsible for producing titles like FOOD WARS and the BAKUMAN franchise. Director Ishiguro has directed episodes of FAIRY TAIL and PSYCHO-PASS.

14-year-old Chakuro is the protagonist of CHILDREN OF THE WHALES. He is an archivist on a moving island called the Mud Whale, which wanders a vast sea of sand. Chakuro is one of many “Marked” villagers who possess thymia, a magic that allows users to control objects, similar to telekinesis. The citizens of the Mud Whale believe they are alone in the world, but they soon realize that is not the case. Chakuro finds a girl, Lykos, on another island in the desert sea. She was a child soldier of the Allied Empire, which is determined to find the citizens of the Mud Whale to kill them. The Allied Empire’s flagship vessel, Skyros, arrives after the Mud Whale villagers decided to take Lykos in, resulting in a massacre that changes the lives of the Mud Whale’s people forever.

There were several factors about the show that I did appreciate, like the desert sea setting and modern visuals. But CHILDREN OF THE WHALES had a few unforgivable issues for me to ignore.

Spoilers ahead for CHILDREN OF THE WHALES season 1.

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The Cookie-Cutter Characters of CHILDREN OF THE WHALES

A big problem CHILDREN OF THE WHALES has is that it introduces a lot of characters without really fleshing them out. On top of that, some characters are killed off without giving a reason for viewers to really care. The characters are your run-of-the-mill, generic shells that just aren’t relatable. This just seems really lazy, which is a big letdown because the universe these characters live in was rather compelling.

Sami is one of those empty characters. She is friends with Chakuro and fills the naive young girl archetype that you often find in these shows. Other than occasional awkward interactions with Chakuro, Sami isn’t really developed beyond her inexperience. Just when CHILDREN OF THE WHALES starts to get going, Sami is killed in the third episode. I understand that it’s a plot point for Chakuro to deal with, and Sami later returns to Chakuro briefly in a vision but, to be frank, Chakuro’s relationship with Sami didn’t feel very important, to begin with. By the time she was killed off, there were at least a dozen other characters the show was trying to develop at the same time.

A boy with pink hair crouches over another person in CHILDREN OF THE WHALES
Liontari pins Chakuro to the ground. | Image: Netflix

Then there’s Liontari. Liontari is one of the first major villains of the show. He is a 15-year-old soldier of the Allied Empire, whose mission is to destroy the inhabitants of the Mud Whale. Liontari is obsessed with killing people and inflicting physical and emotional pain. A brief flashback scene gives a glimpse of why Liontari is so murderous, but who would seriously relate to a 15-year-old child soldier who just can’t stop killing innocent people? The whole trope is a bit overdone, to be honest, and Liontari doesn’t do enough in the series to interest me.

There’s A Lot Going On Here

A problem some shows deal with is having too much content, and I feel like that’s the case with CHILDREN OF THE WHALES. I was very curious about the background of the show. There was just so much to take in, you almost get lost in all the details. There are tons of characters with intricate relationships on top of a huge fantasy backdrop but each episode of the show is about 20 minutes long, and there are only 12 episodes. You can only do so much with such a short season, but with so many things happening in a short time, it just felt incomplete.

One of the conflicts in the show is between thymia users and non-users. A big disparity between the two is that while thymia users can perform the magic, their lifespans are significantly shorter than their powerless counterparts. Those without thymia on the Mud Whale often serve as government figureheads. Thymia looks cool with the visual effects they add to the characters. At one point, one character’s thymia potential is unleashed, which was a rare high point in the show. But besides that, thymia felt like a sideshow to a more politically driven narrative.

A boy with green hair stands in candlelight
Suou becomes the mayor of the Mud Whale. He is one of the few characters who can’t perform thymia magic. | Image: Netflix

Thymia is just a small part of the huge world they try to develop in CHILDREN OF THE WHALES. The problem is that the show bounces around trying to balance all the narratives it’s trying to tell. I honestly feel like the season should have ended a few episodes earlier, as they use the last couple of episodes to set up a potential second season. They introduce several new characters at the end of the season and they seem like they’ll play an important part in the future of the series. But again, there was just so much going on in the show that it made it hard to follow and really made for a choppy ending.

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How CHILDREN OF THE WHALES Could Have Ended

As I said before, the first season should really have ended earlier, maybe with the events that happen in episode 9. The Mud Whale militia successfully beats the Allied Empire’s Skyros forces. But the brutal battle left them in mourning. It would have left the series with a few questions, but it wasn’t over-ambitious at that point. Then they stretched that feeling out a few more episodes, but by then I felt like the story got dry. They started bringing in more characters that I didn’t connect with right away. I didn’t understand why they would do that at the end of a season, other than to build hype for another season, but it didn’t seem to fit into the show very well.

Three men stand in a room
Rochalizo (middle) is one of several characters introduced late in the season. | Image: Netflix

Even so, the whole first season just felt like a prequel to an interesting and vast world. It seemed like an ambitious start since viewers got a huge chunk of details about this strange world very early on in the story. The story progressed slowly after that, and the world I thought they would be exploring is still pretty far off. If they had planned to end the first season with the Mud Whale defeating the Empire, they could have spent more time developing their main cast. Instead, they settled on basic caricatures of anime character types that we’ve seen in many other shows. Since they weren’t planning on having the Mud Whale leave the sea of sand in the first season, it seemed even more pointless to draw out the ending the way that they did.

What CHILDREN OF THE WHALES Did Right

Despite its glaring flaws, CHILDREN OF THE WHALES did have some bright spots along the way. The art style and animation provided some of the better moments of the anime. The J.C. Staff studio is responsible for shows like FOOD WARS and BAKUMAN. They continue to produce quality work in CHILDREN OF THE WHALES as well. The best example of this arrives in the stylized thymia magic. The glowing sigils of the Marked were a nice touch to the more heavy fighting scenes throughout the show. I also enjoyed the hand-drawn and painted backgrounds they use in the show, which was a welcome contrast to the otherwise modern character models and animation.

A girl holds a bloody sword with swords floating around her.
Lykos uses thymia magic to threaten Chakuro. | Image: Netflix

CHILDREN OF THE WHALES takes place in a captivating world. The sea of sand is an impressive setting and plot device that adds intrigue to the show. Fish-like creatures spring from the sand like it’s a real ocean, which makes you wonder what’s beneath the surface. The very existence of the Mud Whale itself is fascinating as well. It’s too bad they didn’t spend more time curating and detailing the daily life of the Mud Whale because I would like to have seen more of the sea of sand before the characters shove off to another part of the world.

Final Thoughts

People love deep, refined anime with rich characters and an original universe to discover. CHILDREN OF THE WHALES tries to do a whole lot with just a little bit of actual show time. All of the show’s moving parts and characters just became muddled by the end of the season.

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There really is a lot to take in with just 12 episodes. And that took away from the good points of an otherwise mediocre anime. The vapid, stuttered ending wasn’t very clean, and it really just added more questions to an already mystery-laden story. Overall, CHILDREN OF THE WHALES tries very hard to convince you that it’s a compelling story. Unfortunately, there are too many underdeveloped characters, and tons of plot devices and relationships to juggle. CHILDREN OF THE WHALES grabbed my attention at the start. I just couldn’t keep up with everything the show threw at me in such a short time.

Featured Image courtesy of Netflix.

3 Comments

  1. jason ness

    July 26, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    yea i felt like there was too much and not enough at the same time. things they should have focused on they didnt and things that should have waited on they didnt. yes i bet the sorce matrial did this but that shows its bad writing. i also say yes they killed off people to often and fast. its 512 people on this ship and how many died? you cant keep that up for long before they are wiped out or you find a weak way to bring more people on. i wanted to care about these people but i cant if there dead before i can get their names. each time you kill one off like that it lessens the feels and you become numb to it. now if there was like 1.5k people on it then it would feel ok but this ship should be doomed after 2 major fights. just my thoughts.

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  2. Alyssa

    May 14, 2018 at 4:38 am

    I completely disagree (except yes the animation/art style is amazing). I can see where you are coming from though, I guess I just view it differently. I don’t find the lack of background in the story to be a problem at all. The people of the mud whale don’t know anything about the outside world and I found it drew me in to be learning about the mysteries of the world with them. It’s understandable to feel like the characters aren’t given a lot of explanation or growth etc before dying, but I think we were given all that we need. Again, I think discovering along with the characters (who often don’t have or understand their own emotions) who they are and what is right and wrong and what the world means made this show all the more enjoyable for me. Sure there may be a lot of “cookie cutter” characters, but in my view at least, they were still fairly interesting. It would also be hard to try and have every character not fall into a cliche in one way or another.
    There certainly is a lot going on in the show but I don’t think it was too overwhelming, and that they are opening up a lot of topics to be explored in the next season. Maybe because it isn’t just one season is why they have so many things going on, because they don’t have to wrap it up in 12 episodes.
    The method of storytelling being different from most western storytelling where you are given a lot more background can definitely throw a person off. The show does kind of throw you right in, but you also need to think about the narration from Chakuro throughout the episodes, as if he’s telling this whole story from his past…so in that sense we are seeing memories rather than living through those times. For some people, having to take in as much as this show has happening within the 12 episodes might not be possible. But for those who aren’t bothered by that, I think it is an incredible show.
    Anyway, I personally really enjoyed children of the whales, it’s one of the best animes I have seen in a while. This is, of course, my opinion, but I can’t wait for the next season if they do make it.

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  3. Kookie

    April 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Just finished he show yesterday.

    Thank goodness someone else felt there wasn’t much of a relationship with Sami and Chakuro. You could see somewhat of an interest on Sami’s side, but that was it. Seemed like Chakuro didn’t see her in that way and it looked more like guilt then a romantic interest towards her.

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