Children of the Whales Volume 1 by Abi Umeda
Dystopia manga can sometimes be a bit tricky. Some have great world building, some have intriguing characters, some have compelling story lines, but you don’t often get a manga that has the perfect ratio of those three elements. I very much liked the setting of Children of the Whales, but the character and story development fell a little flat to me in the first volume.
The Mud Whale is an floating island adrift on a sea of sand, and Chakuro serves as the archivist, chronicling the lives of the people. One class of people with magical powers called thymia tend to die young. The less gifted are long-lived elders who end up governing the Mud Whale. One thing I liked very much about this title was the art. The desolate sea of sand contrasts with the rounded towers of the Mud Whale, and the bleak horizon in the background serves to underscore the isolation of the characters. Aspects of the art reminded me a little bit of Nausicaa, particularly the lack of hard edges and the look of the eroded buildings. The setting is one of the most compelling things about Children of the Whales, however I think the story could have benefited from being a bit more slowly paced. There was a bit of a tendency to dump way too much background information in Chakuro’s internal narration, instead of letting the reader discover this world in a more organic fashion. Since so much of the manga is spent in Chakuro’s head, the other characters just don’t seem as developed, with their motivations not as thoroughly explored.
As can be expected in a story that centers on an isolated society, when outside influences come in, the world of the Mud Whale is tested in unusual and violent ways. This first volume was intriguing, but it didn’t totally make me invested in wanting to find out what would happen to the characters, which is a little disappointing because it ends on a shocking cliffhanger. There were enough aspects of Children of the Whales that I did like that I would give the second volume a try, just to see if things come together a little bit better once all the exposition is out of the way.