by Daisuke Igarashi
published by Viz; $14.99 US
Children of the Sea is a beautiful book for summer escapism.
The opening sets the mood perfectly. A woman is skippering a sailboat on the open ocean. A child listens to her tell a tale from when she was young, accompanied by the whip of the sail and the sound of the waves, with nothing but the sea in every direction. The storytelling of memory provides an aspect of uncertainty, while the sensory feel of the setting captures the appeal of the water and the mystery of its inhabitants.
Ruka’s a competitive athlete, but when she’s banned from handball practice for being too rough, she doesn’t have anything to do with her summer. (I am unfamiliar with this sport, which looks like soccer, only you can touch the ball.) She’s bored, with no way of escape, and misunderstood by those who find her unfriendly.
On a whim, she heads to Tokyo, to see a different piece of the ocean. There, she meets an unusual, glowing boy, Umi, who jumps into the sea and changes her life. He and Sora, another like him, were raised by dugongs and can live underwater. (Dugongs are similar to manatees, sea cows, and they might have inspired legends of mermaids, people who dwell in the sea.) They’re sensitive to light and their skin dries out unless they submerge themselves frequently. Umi thinks that Ruka is like him and Sora, and with them, she’s found kindred spirits and a connection to the ocean’s inhabitants.
These mysterious boys are watched over by Jim, who works with Ruka’s father at an aquarium. Jim’s design is particularly evocative of the different themes of the story. With so many tattoos, he reminds me of an old-time sailor, heading out to unknown lands, back when they were the only ones carrying so much body ink. But the designs resemble something tribal or aboriginal, and his guardianship of the underwater boys reinforces that connection with nature.
The art doesn’t have the same refined, classic illustration as something like Aria, but the simple lines are in keeping with the natural approach of the story. (Although the various fish and sea mammals are quite detailed and feel realistic.) It has the flavor of a folktale, something hand-crafted. I can’t envision it drawn any other way.
Similarly, the story develops leisurely, relying on mood and atmosphere instead of plot revelation. I advise the reader to relax and let the events wash over you, as if you were sitting near the shore. Something weird is happening with the fish; some are missing, some appear where they don’t normally belong, while others demonstrate luminescence, appearing as ghosts made up of tiny lights. The sea is often compared to space in this series. The former has sparkling fish; the latter, stars. Both remain unexplored frontiers.
Some call this supernatural mystery, others magical realism… I think it’s a fantasy that taps into primal feelings of floating and underwater mysteries. I really appreciated the chance to visit this ocean-influenced world for a while, especially right before I take a beach vacation. I think I’ll be looking at the shore with new eyes.
At the time of this writing, this book can be read online at the Viz Sigikki site, plus there’s a video trailer if you want an overview. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)