I have to say, VIZ is on a roll right now with new series. First, they launched Golden Kamuy, a thrilling treasure hunt series which features a rambunctious bear-punching soldier and a young, stubborn Ainu huntress. We’ve got Tokyo Ghoul RE, coming fresh off the heels of Tokyo Ghoul’s conclusion and the live-action movie. Now there’s another great series to add to the lineup: Children of the Whales.
Taking place on an earthen ship called “The Mud Whale”, Children of the Whales tells the story of Chakuro, a 14-year old boy who is tasked with recording the history and activity of his people.
At the start of the series, it’s uncertain what state civilization is in – or even if any remains. Aboard the Mud Whale there are just under 600 people living and working. Among the inhabitants are two distinct classes of people: “marked” and “unmarked”. The marked are gifted with a power known as Thymia – a magical gift that allows them to harness the power of their emotions. The extent of this power isn’t completely revealed, only their ability to form disc-like tools to chop down plants and food.
In exchange for this power, however, the marked pay a steep price: their lifespans are significantly shortened. Most marked don’t live past 30, and are buried within the sea of sand when they pass.
The unmarked, however, live standard lives. Interestingly, these are the individuals who are placed in charge of the makeshift government that runs the Mud Whale. At the age of 61, you become a member of the council of elders by default, and much like being inducted into a top-secret club, are granted the true history of the ship they sail and live on.
For the day-to-day activities of the Mud Whale, the marked and unmarked that die and move on, records of harvests, exploration, and everything in between…they employ an Archivist. This is the role that our protagonist Chakuro occupies; a marked young man who is introduced to us as he chronicles the funeral of his childhood teacher.
The early pages chronicle daily life on the Mud Whale, including collecting food, their makeshift justice system, and social standings. It also addresses the importance of emotions aboard the Mud Whale, including a physical gesture that the children recognize as a means of controlling their feelings.
The clasping of one’s hands helps to contain out-of-control emotions, and this control is central to the gift of the marked.
One day, while sailing upon the sea of sand, Chakuro spots an island. Excited at the prospect of scouting out a new island, the first one they’ve seen in 6 months, Chakuro joins the reconnaissance party in scoping out this new land.
During his exploration, Chakuro discovers a young girl, obviously weakened, and surrounded by blades. As she staggers towards him, she makes a weak attempt to attack him – to which Chakuro responds with an exertion of his Thymia, knocking the blade out of her hand as she passes out.
This girl, wearing robes that say “Lykos” on them, is a mystery as Chakuro brings her back to the reconnaissance party. While she initially appears like she’s ready to battle, she admits that her friends have all fallen in battle, and she doesn’t wish to fight after all. Taken to the Mud Whale, she asks the question: “Is this Falaina?” To which Chakuro and the others have no answer other than “No, it’s the Mud Whale.”
Interrogated by the council, Lykos is retrieved by a young rebel named Ouni, who spends most of his time in the Mud Whale’s prison known as “The Belly”. Eager to get off of the ship and explore the larger world, Ouni asks Lykos to take him to her island, and Chakuro tags along as well.
Once back on the island, they discover dozens of graves, all belonging to Lykos’ former comrades. She sent them on to the next world by herself, a task that Chakuro would imagine could take quite a toll on her emotions. Lykos responds that it wasn’t that bad because she has no emotions. Furthermore, she reveals the true reason for the name Lykos being embroidered on her robes.
A nebulous and mysterious monster known as a nous had been discovered on the island where they discovered Lykos. She, along with her fellow soldiers, fed it their emotions in order to harden their hearts and strengthen themselves. She reveals to Chakuro and Ouni that beyond the Mud Whale there are individuals with no feelings, known as Apatheia, that are fighting a war without end. She implores them to leave her behind to die with the ship alone.
Ouni, still excited at the prospect of moving beyond the restricted life upon the Mud Whale, reaches out to the Nous, along with Chakuro, who attempts to stop him. In an instant, they all experience a flood of memories and emotions. Chakuro, in particular, is left in a daze as he sees images of death and misery, including some snapshots of a young Lykos.
In the days that follow, Ouni and Chakuro are imprisoned in the Belly, and Lykos remains a captive aboard the Mud Whale. Chakuro is released first, and almost immediately seeks out Lykos in an attempt to have her view “The Great Flying” – essentially a large migration of a unique species of cricket – with the rest of the youth on the ship. After confiding that he couldn’t leave her behind and imploring her to stay with them, Chakuro, Lykos and the rest of the Mud Whale enjoy The Great Flying from a distance.
Unfortunately, their world is due to be disrupted. In the closing pages, a mysterious force appears with guns and powerful Thymia users and begin brutally executing the residents of the Mud Whale – men, women and children alike. As Chakuro witnesses his world being torn apart, the volume closes with him cradling his childhood friend Sami, riddled with bullets and lifeless, as he looks up to an aggressive soldier closing in on him. The final words on the page read
“I have to fight.”
Children of the Whales tells a captivating story from the start. Opening the series with a funeral, and the reflections of our protagonist, Chakuro, on the positive impact that the young teacher had on his life, it is able to tell us a lot about the Mud Whale society’s philosophies on life and death in a succinct manner.
Sure, the concept of “Gifted” and “Non-Gifted” individuals in a society is far from unique, but the power structure and government is interesting; prioritizing the ability to preserve history and understanding by placing those with longer life-spans in control, rather than those who burn brightly for a shorter period.
The dystopian feel and sheltered society definitely gave me a distinct Nausicaa vibe, only further solidified by the closing pages of the volume. I also got some hints of the soul-crushingly sad Now and Then, Here and There, though we’ll see where the story goes from here to determine whether or not that dark path is where the series is headed.
Finally, the art is superb. From the design and aesthetic of the Mud Whale, to the dual-paged depiction of The Great Flying, to the mysterious and nebulous Nous… there are a lot of visually striking moments in this first volume that will definitely have you excited for the volumes to come.
Overall, Children of the Whales is shaping up to be a riveting series. For a world that wishes to control and restrict emotions, you’ll definitely be riding a roller-coaster through this volume. The first volume will be released on November 21st, and you can pre-order it here.
Update: My review of volume 2 is up! You can find it here.
Note: VIZ Media provided us with a physical copy of Children of the Whales, volume 1, in exchange for our honest review.