Children of the Sea, Vol. 1
By Daisuke Igarashi
Published by Viz Media
Though summer has just begun, Ruka’s temper has gotten her kicked off her handball team, leaving her with nothing to do. Taking the train to Tokyo on a whim, she encounters a young boy at the ocean who seems to intuitively understand her thoughts. When the boy turns up later at the aquarium where her father works, she discovers that he was one of two young boys found swimming with a herd of dugongs, by whom they had most likely been raised. Though she tells her mother she is still attending handball practice, Ruka continues to return to the aquarium to see the boy, Umi, and eventually her father gives her the job of entertaining Umi (and his less friendly brother, Sora) as “punishment” for her behavior. As she spends time with the boys, Ruka finds out that they have experienced the same strange sight she did as a young child–a fish that turned into light and disappeared before her eyes–something they call the “ghost of the sea.” Drawn to these boys and to the mysterious world of the sea, Ruka’s long, strange summer truly begins.
At the center of the story’s mystery are Umi and Sora. Though human, their bodies adapted themselves to the ocean over time in ways that make it impossible for them to truly live like other humans. Since their skin and eyes dry out easily if they remain on land, they must seek out water regularly and are more at home in the ocean than they are outside of it. Their senses appear to have evolved differently as well–Umi comments that Ruka “smells” like she’s seen the same things they have–though Umi’s intuitive abilities seem to be his alone, at least at this point. In some ways, however, the bigger mystery is Ruka. Her relationship with each of her parents is obviously strained. She feels abandoned by her father, and disgusted by her mother. She’s alienated from her peers, viewed as “unfriendly” by neighborhood adults, and clearly just very lonely. That she shares a connection with Umi and Sora is clear, but why? Is it just because of the strange vision she saw as a child, or is there more to it?
What is most compelling about Children of the Sea, though, is the mystery of the ocean itself. Though the story is supernatural in nature, there is a sense that the real world of the sea is stranger than any supernatural fiction ever could be, and it is up to Umi and Sora to introduce Ruka (and us) to this alien world. As the story progresses, fish are disappearing all over the world and deep sea creatures of all kinds are turning up on Ruka’s local shores where Umi, Sora, and their tattooed guardian, Jim, have also come in their quest to discover the truth behind the “ghost of the sea.”
Despite the grander supernatural drama, the story is well-written on a human level as well. Underneath the surface runs the conflict between Ruka and her parents (and perhaps the rest of the world), and her struggle to find out who she really is. It is particularly striking to watch Ruka react to both Umi and Sora. She is drawn to Umi by his immediate connection with her, grateful to be “found” by someone when she most wants to be, yet it is Sora–prickly and guarded–with whom she has the most in common. Sora is more “alien” than his brother, even physically, as his body has failed to acclimate to land successfully at all. Ruka seems equally out of step with her world, and it will be interesting to see if she realizes this similarity between them as the story goes on.
As I mentioned earlier, Igarashi’s art is absolutely stunning. With an ethereal, impressionistic feel, the world of the sea is brought to life, pulling us in like a strong undertow. By the end of the book, one begins to believe the ocean may be right outside–so real are the sensations of hot sand, cold, foamy water, and the smell of salt in the wind. The mix of sketchy lines and watercolor shading creates a surreal, yet down-to-earth look that works well both on land and sea, providing enough detail and texture to portray a real world full of expressive people, but leaving room for imagination.
I am well aware that my words are inadequate when it comes to expressing the real beauty of this series. Thankfully, I can point you all to the IKKI website, where you can fall in love with it yourself. I must also recommend picking up the book, since this series is definitely a keeper–one to revisit for many summers to come. For a perfect bit of summer reading that will make you forget, at least for a moment, your dreary, land-locked existence, check out Children of the Sea.
Volume one of Children of the Sea will be available in print on July 21st, 2009. Review copy provided by Viz.