The beauty and majesty of the sea is as seemingly boundless as the ocean itself. But can a stunning aesthetic alone carry a film? Children of the Sea pairs vivid marine imagery with dazzlingly rendered anime to create an atmospheric, visually sumptuous spectacle. Ayumu Watanabe’s film goes a step further and incorporates not just aquatic magic but celestial and transcendental marvels as well in a film clearly meant to inspire a sense of awe. And yet, with thinly sketched characters and an even flimsier plot, the film offers little verve in its storytelling, resulting in a film that’s mostly just flashy eye candy.

Based on the manga series by Daisuke Igarashi, Children of the Sea hinges on no less than the wonder of genesis itself. After a meteor lights up the sky as it streaks down toward the sea, it’s believed to have burned up in the atmosphere, never reaching the Earth’s surface. Yet, soon after, a plethora of creatures from the briny deep begin to migrate, converging on a spot off the coast of Japan where the meteor was seen. When young girl Ruka (Mana Ashida) befriends two otherworldly brothers, she will get a much closer view of the underwater proceedings. You see, according to Ruka’s father (Goro Inagaki), who works at a local aquarium, the brothers Umi (Hiiro Ishibashi) and Sora (Seishū Uragami) were raised by dugongs, aquatic mammals related to manatees. Ruka is quickly immersed in the boys’ world, and discovers a common link among them, a shared vision of a ghostly, majestic whale years earlier.

Ruka, who plays rough on the sports field and as a result is something of a social outcast, bonds with the brothers over their mutual misfit status. But Umi and Sora also possess unusual biology, including the ability to breath and speak underwater. Of the two, Umi is far more energetic, with Sora more contemplative and sullen, and far more physically fragile. As the boys inform Ruka, they are something akin to hybrids between humans and marine life, and their physical gifts come at the cost of uncommonly short lifespans. They both hear the song of the deep, a strange phenomenon that draws the world’s sea creatures to the coast of Japan. But Sora feels another pull on him, one that may indicate his short life cycle is waning and causes him to entrust Ruka with the safekeeping of a cosmic power that will lead to the film’s visually stunning, psychedelic finale, one the leans hard into the interconnectedness of all things.

Children of the Sea doesn’t, however, provide any philosophical heft and with a lack of narrative momentum and dearth of compelling characters, the overlong film aimlessly drifts for long stretches. While the fact that there isn’t a heavy-handed environmental parable involved does help buoy the film, once the kaleidoscopic spectacle ends, we’re not left with much substance. Watanabe’s film may hook some audiences with its visuals, but the viewer’s ultimate enjoyment of the film will hinge on one’s willingness to embrace a story that’s mostly about magic for magic’s sake.

Once the kaleidoscopic spectacle ends, we’re not left with much substance.
55 %
Visual but Vapid
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