Adapted from the popular eponymous manga conceived by Daisuke Igarashi, ‘Children of the Sea’ takes place at the intersection of nature and human nature. Igarashi’s exploits in surrealism have earned him a place on several lists of greats and comparisons to the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. ‘Children of the Sea’ is no less a work of anime art than Miyazaki’s ‘Princess Mononoke’ or ‘Spirited Away.’ Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, it’s a story larger than life itself.
Children of the Sea: The Movie
‘Children of the Sea’ begins on the premise of a bildungsroman. Ruka, your quintessential young adult, is cast in the role of an outcast. She is shunned by her handball team for clashing with a teammate, is kept at arm’s distance by her father, and is distant from her mother. She finds solace in her lifelong affinity for the ocean and in the confines of an aquarium that employs her father. There, she also finds her long-sought tribe of people: two brothers raised by dugongs (sea cows), named Umi and Sora, who are subjects of research to determine their origin and nature. Neither are able to adapt to life on land and face a dwindling life-span. During their time together, Ruka and the two brothers form an unshakeable bond with each other.
A little shy of the halfway mark, the movie becomes less Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird‘ and more Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Suddenly, strange and astonishing phenomena begin to occur across the world. Whale sightings take place in Manhattan waters; marine life flocks to the site of a meteor crash; whales hum strange melodies. This is revealed to be in anticipation of a festival that celebrates life, which is witness to marine life from far and wide gathering together. The festival is long-since known to seek a ‘guest’ and it soon becomes clear that Ruka is the designated guest at the celebration. Umi and Sora, too, will play a central role in the festival.
A developing tornado is quickly pegged as the venue of the gathering. When Ruka, Umi, and Sora race to the eye of the storm, they are greeted by researcher Anglade and the mysterious Dede who silently watches over them. While each of them awaits their calling, Sora deposits the fallen meteor he’d snuck away inside Ruka before disintegrating into the now luminous sea. Soon after, Ruka and Umi embark on a quest with scintillating marine life that takes them light-years away.
While it begins with the mundane, Children of the Sea spirals into a bizarre acid trip at the end that both shocks and confuses. Let’s attempt to add some method to the madness.
What kind of quest do Ruka and Umi embark on?
At certain points, Children of the Sea swings back and forth over the line between fantasy and science fiction. At the height of the tornado, Umi and Ruka ascend into a psychedelic quest of the galaxy, which is decidedly reminiscent of Kubrick’s science fiction magnum opus. They then plunge into the tornado-stricken ocean and Umi, right before Ruka’s shocked eyes, disintegrates into what resembles miniature galaxies.
What Watanabe inferences here is more metaphorical than it is literal. The quest itself is an exploration of the meaning and true purpose of existence, both for Ruka and Umi. Ruka and Umi’s quest spans the depths of the ocean as much as it does the apex of galaxies. Watanabe draws parallels here between two entities as different as could be: infinite galaxies and the earthly oceans. This is a distinct homage to the philosophy of ‘As above, so below’, purported by Hermes Trismegistus, which posits that what is true at the apex of those galaxies also holds true in the deepest trenches of life on earth.
Since both, vast galaxies beyond our imagination and the heart of the earthly ocean, at the minutest level, are composed of atoms, they are more alike and connected than we can comprehend. This is also alluded to through names. Umi and Sora, when translated from Japanese, mean ‘sea’ and ‘sky’ respectively. Umi and Sora, while different in nature and kind, are, nevertheless, brothers who share an impenetrable bond.
What becomes of Umi?
Once Umi ingests the meteor and descends into the ocean, he begins to slowly but steadily disintegrate. Here, too, the philosophy of Hermeticism comes into play. The ‘As within, so without’ principle postulates that what is manifested within ourselves, is also manifested outside of ourselves.
After consuming the meteor, Umi takes on a new, enlightened form. Since what is manifested within Umi and what is reflected outside of him in the ocean are both in perfect harmony, Umi disintegrates and, eventually, becomes one with the ocean. His lifetime’s worth of memories (i.e. the tiny galaxies we see) slowly seep into and become part of the ocean.
The Ending: What lies ahead for Ruka?
At its core, the film makes a case for humility. It does this in a distinctly Carl Sagan fashion: by demonstrating to us the vastness of the universe. This theme is best surmised by the sagacious Isaac Newton, who once said, ‘What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.’ Children of the Sea depicts exactly this, but literally.
As they await the celebration, Anglade ruminates that there’s much more to the world than meets the eye. He declares that only a fragment of the world is known to humans, saying, “Humans can only see a tiny fraction of what really exists…the world is full of invisible things and the universe exceeds much of what we see with our eyes.”
Dede, too, espouses the same wisdom and cautions against those who consider themselves superior and are unable to contend with their own lack of knowledge. As Dede and Anglade lounge on their respective boats in wait of the celebration, Dede opines to him, “If you want to protect [Umi and Sora], protect them from the arrogants.” She refers, undoubtedly, to the researchers who are driven by their (self-affirmed) intellectual superiority and disregard for Umi and Sora’s autonomy. Umi and Sora are exploited at the hands of human greed and at the cost of their own lives. In their arrogance, the self-serving researchers declare themselves the final authority on what’s best for the two.
Ruka, too, is consumed by her own arrogance at the very beginning. After getting into a scuffle with a rival handball player, she refuses to empathize, treat her colleague with humility, and apologize. However, after her journey of reckoning with herself and those around her, she begins to rise above herself and come to terms with her transgressions. She is seen, at the conclusion of the film, playfully lobbing a runaway handball at her surprised colleague.
Truly, ‘Children of the Sea’ is a movie that is larger than life. It explains to us the infinite ways in which we’re connected to each other and the galaxy. It asks of us humility and empathy in comprehending the vastness and depth of our connections. The movie does justice, in every sense of the word, to Igarashi’s works. It treats its subjects – our vast water bodies and their inhabitants – with profound humility and empathy. But perhaps, the movies’ greatest feat is its stunning, almost poetic, visuals. Its exquisite detailing, vivid color palettes, and whimsical imagery are no less than a shrine to the ocean. Possibly both Watanabe’s and Igarashi’s most accomplished work, ‘Children of the Sea’, in more ways than one, breathes life into the majestic sea.
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