Review by Sean Boelman
Ayumu Watanabe’s new anime Children of the Sea is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous animated films of the year. Unfortunately, a script that is somehow both needlessly convoluted and riddled with cliches lacks the same sense of wonder that runs through the movie’s wonderful visuals.
The film tells the story of a young girl who befriends a pair of brothers who were raised at sea, soon discovering that they share an unexpected connection with the marine world. This is essentially a rather basic coming-of-age tale, with a bit of cosmic mystery thrown in for good measure, but the movie all too often doesn’t make sense.
One of the most frustrating things about the film is that it doesn’t really explore the mythological aspects of its story particularly well. The movie teases some cosmic implications but never really builds that world in a way that is particularly immersive. Instead, all of the leg work is left for the animation.
There are some interesting ruminations here about what our place in the universe really is, but they are not enough to compensate for an otherwise extremely underbaked script. The film certainly isn’t empty, and it deserves points for that, but a series of poetic musings that never come together isn’t very satisfying either.
The aura of good-heartedness to the movie is infectious, but it too doesn’t save the film from feeling underwritten. The coming-of-age arc is compelling and sweet, but it is frequently overshadowed by the mystery elements. And the environmentalist message is undoubtedly well-intentioned, but delivered shallowly.
At nearly two hours, a lot of the movie’s problems can be attributed to the fact that it meanders. There are definitely some great moments, but there are long stretches that are aimless. There’s a lot of material to draw from — the manga by which the film was inspired has five volumes — so perhaps writer Hanasaki Kino struggled to decide what he wanted to include and omit.
That said, the movie’s style is its absolute highlight. The use of color here is spectacular. It can be easy to get mesmerized by the visuals to a point of zoning out of the story, which is fine because the story isn’t particularly impressive anyway. The way in which the animators were able to capture the majesty of the ocean is truly magical.
Children of the Sea is a disappointment on a narrative level, but the film is such a beauty to look at that it may be worth a watch anyway. That said, it will definitely find its fans for the right reasons.
Children of the Sea hits VOD and home media on September 1.