By Abi Umeda. Released in Japan as “Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau” by Akita Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Mystery Bonita. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions.
In general, I try to review something fairly soon after I read it, if only to ensure the volume sticks in my head. But sometimes the queue gets really long and things slide to the back. This can be unfortunate. When I read Children of the Whales back in November, I thought it was pretty creepy but intriguing, if a bit too depressing for my taste, and firmly in the genre of “we discover that our world is not what it seems and must fight for survival”. All of which is true. Then I read The Promised Neverland, one of Viz’s new Jump titles, which is not the same premise, but has enough similarities that I couldn’t help but compare the two. And, two be honest, Children of the Whales is not as good. The desire to immediately see more and figure out how the cast will succeed that I got with The Promised Neverland is, with Children of the Whales, replaced with “I wonder if the author is finished killing off interesting characters yet?”.
Our hero is Chakuro, who lives on a “mud whale” (hence the title), an island that seemingly moves through the desert in some post-apocalyptic land. Chakuro is an archivist, meaning he records births, deaths, etc. He’s also a bit of a weirdo. The mud whale has its own culture, with a mayor and everything, and its own taboos – such as grieving for those who have died, something that comes naturally to Chakuro, and thus gets him into trouble. He’s also got a cute childhood friend who clearly likes him. Then one day they run across another mud whale, and while exploring it find a seemingly emotionless girl, Lykos, who seems to be the last survivor. Unfortunately, though she doesn’t bring it herself, once she returns with them to their sand whale, terrible things begin to happen, as we find the world is not as abandoned as they had thought.
I think my main issue with Children of the Whales so far is that it seems to bleak. One of the characters killed off near the end was, in my mind, going to be used to set up a couple of different plots involving Chakuro and Lykos that would carry over into future volumes, but no, they’re brutally killed off to show us that Nothing Is The Same Anymore. And where The Promised Neverland shows us heroes who plan to fight back using pluck and grit, the cliffhanger to this book shows more of having to fight due to simple “otherwise I will be dead” despair. I just can’t really get involved with anyone here. It’s a shame, as the art is great, and the best reason to read this – the cover alone is fantastic. It conveys both the wonder of this world we’re discovering as well as its vicious, bloody destruction.
I know I shouldn’t be comparing two titles that are for different audiences in different magazines. But I find it very telling that after reading Children of the Whales, it drifted to the bottom of my review stack, whereas after reading The Promised Neverland I had to review it the very next day. Still, fans, of creepy fantasy/mystery series will likely enjoy this more than I did.