Quirky But Well-Developed Animation

Children of the Sea (Kaijū no Kodomo in Japanese) is the anime film adaptation by director Ayumu Watanabe and Studio 4°C (Tekkonkinkreet) from manga artist Daisuke Igarashi’s award-winning work. The eccentric but high-impact anime explores mankind’s cosmic connection to the ocean and the greater mysteries of life. It’s a creative coming-of-age fable seen through the eyes of a young girl with deeper ecological themes.

Drawn toward the aquarium at an early age, Ruka is a young girl beginning her summer break when she meets two mysterious brothers, Umi and Sora. Befriending Umi, Ruka learns from her father that Umi and Sora were raised by… dugongs, a close relative of the manatee. The brothers feel more at home in the ocean than on land. From there a deepening mystery about the oceans involving all aquatic sea life and a connection to the stars takes our heroine on a far-flung adventure.

Children of the Sea’s mix of hand-drawn and CGI animation is breathtaking

The narrative is flimsy and mostly character driven as the plot follows Ruka’s discovery. Meandering and slow in spots, Children of the Sea is more about the journey than the destination. The occasionally stunning but quirky animation has a heavy burden, carrying a somewhat stilted premise better suited to philosophical reflection than an anime film running nearly two hours.

Children of the Sea’s message is muddled and ambiguous. There are tentative grasps at comparing adolescence to evolutionary development. However, fantasy elements are haphazardly mixed with the more grounded scientific undertones.

Ruka and Umi are appealing protagonists, if a bit limited by design for storytelling purposes. We get flashes of her parents’ unhappy marriage and what drove them apart. Ruka’s voyage of discovery mostly works on a metaphorical level. There is simply something dull and plodding about the overall story. While the deeper themes may work for adults, most dialogue feels intended for children.

Children of the Sea’s mix of hand-drawn and CGI animation is breathtaking at times. It is evident much thought and care has gone into its craft. That just isn’t enough for a compelling movie despite the spectacular visuals.

Video

Outside of the cutting-edge CGI animated sequences featuring an array of spectacular aquatic sights and sea life, Children of the Sea’s idiosyncratic hand-drawn animation style will find its fair share of both admirers and detractors. Animation studio Studio 4°C directly adapts critically acclaimed manga artist Daisuke Igarashi’s stylized art, embracing his colored pencil techniques when possible. The eccentric animation “colors” outside the lines so to speak in terms of traditional character designs for anime.

Some persistent banding appears in select scenes. It’s difficult determining if that is the fault of the AVC encode, or was baked into the animation from the beginning. The color palette offers rich hues with subtle color gradients, particularly in the sparkling ocean settings. GKIDS provides a direct transfer without unnecessary processing, resulting in fairly eye-catching 1080P video when the imagery allows.

Children of the Sea is a well-made theatrical anime from Studio 4°C’s experienced hands. The animation faithfully adapts the manga’s art, bringing it to fluid life with some truly creative visuals. Theatrical anime productions tend to look great on Blu-ray and this is no exception.

Audio

Both the original Japanese audio and English dub can be heard in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Both the quality of the voice cast and the mix itself favor the Japanese soundtrack. It’s highly unusual the English dub for an anime movie would have an inferior surround mix but this is one such case. The Japanese audio has better dynamics with more presence. The English dub packs less punch with weaker LFE and a more timid soundstage. The English voice cast is underwhelming and largely forgettable compared to the Japanese voices.

The ocean provides an immersive sonic setting with atmospheric directionality. The sound design is adequate and immaculately recorded. The minimalist score from Studio Ghibli’s old composer Joe Hisaishi is less about symphonic majesty than similar anime fare.

Optional English and English SDH subs are included in a yellow font, playing inside the scope presentation. The SDH subs are dubtitles, while the separate English subtitles are a direct translation of the Japanese audio. Spanish and French subtitles are also offered.

Extras

GKIDS and Shout Factory have put together a nice set of special features for this Blu-ray and DVD combo package. A glossy slipcover is available on early pressings.

English subtitles are included for the bonus features spoken in Japanese. Most anime films don’t receive this amount of bonus content and the feature-length pseudo-documentary takes a deep dive into the background research made for this movie. The doc makes for fascinating viewing because it stands alone from the movie itself.

Introduction At Animation is Film (02:04 in HD) – Director Ayumu Watanabe introduces the film at its American premiere.

Directing Children of the Sea (12:46 in HD) – Watanabe discusses the challenges of adapting the manga among other topics in this interview.

Animation Breakdown (03:48 in HD) – Compelling visual insight using animatics into how select scenes were animated.

Interview with Composer Joe Hisaishi (04:00 in HD) – The esteemed composer from Studio Ghibli discusses his approach to music composition and how he handled this movie differently.

Japanese Cast Interview (10:24 in HD) – A trip to the recording studio sees several different members of the voice cast highlighted and interviewed for their thoughts working on the project.

Art Gallery (HD) – 195 still images from the production and marketing materials that can be advanced through with your remote.

Selected Storyboards (HD) – Over 400 storyboards from the film, which can be strolled through at your leisure by remote.

Turep – Looking For Children of the Sea (80:52 in HD) – An intriguing film project about manga artist Daisuke Igarashi that serves as a documentary about many of the themes and relevant points of interest brought up in the movie. Constructed around a narrative with a story in itself, one of the more interesting bonus features included with an anime movie.

Studio 4°C Makes A Meal Based on Children of the Sea (04:30 in HD) – The animators make a goofy trip to a food market.

Making of the Poster (02:13 in HD) – Time-lapse video of the film’s poster art getting made.

Children of the Sea Trailers (06:19 in HD) – Six different teasers and trailers play in consecutive order.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Children of the Sea
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Summary

Cutting-edge theatrical anime from Studio 4°C provides more flash than substance in this faithful but limp adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi’s manga.

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