A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Children of the Sea is a 2019 anime drama that mixes a coming-of-age story with heavy themes. The lead character, Ruka, displays poor sporting behavior after retaliating for a cheap shot against her by bloodying the nose of her opponent; this results in her being kicked off the team on the very first day of summer. Ruka's mother appears to be an alcoholic: She's frequently shown sitting by herself with a can of beer in front of her, and beer cans litter the living room and overfill garbage bags. In a later scene, Ruka's mother says that Ruka doesn't want to be around her because she is "a drunk." While there are some standard anime themes in place, such as characters who are, quite literally, "fish out of water," the headier themes on existence, the duality of nature, and the interconnectedness of all things in the universe are likely to sail right past younger viewers. This, coupled with the film's slow pace and overlong story, make the film best for tweens and older.
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What's the story?
In CHILDREN OF THE SEA, Ruka's summer seems to be over before it has even started. She has just been kicked off of her sports team for bloodying the nose of a rival, and at home, her mother sits at the kitchen drinking beer all day. Ruka goes to the aquarium where her father works and is reminded of a whale-like apparition she saw there as a child. It's here where she meets the boys Umi and Sora, two kids who were raised by dugongs (manatee-like creatures living in the Indian Ocean) and who must stay close to the water or else their skin dries up. As they get to know each other, the three also hear a mysterious sound that seems to be responsible for a mass exodus of sea creatures from whales to plankton. They join Ruka's father in trying to figure out what's happening, and as they try to unravel the mystery, they learn the need for balance and harmony in the greater universe, how the ocean is like the universe, and how we're all interconnected.
Is it any good?
This movie is filled with beautiful animated depictions of the sea and the many creatures who inhabit it. Unfortunately, the beauty of the animation doesn't salvage what is a slow-paced and overlong movie that tries too hard to condense the headier themes of the manga into a feature-length film. Also, these "headier" themes -- the universe needs balance, everything in the universe is interconnected, we're all made of "star stuff," etc. -- isn't exactly breaking new ground, as many of these ideas can be found adorning the throw pillow section of the nearest Bed, Bath & Beyond. In terms of the teen melodrama aspects to the movie, the "fish out of water" saying is a literal depiction here, and while sometimes anime makes creative use of applying these terms to the magical realism of the worlds they depict, in Children of the Sea, it begins to grow increasingly tiresome.
It's the classic example of an anime that tries to do way too much, and the sheer volume of messages and side stories and backstories work against each other. The sheer volume of what's being communicated, as it's paired with beautifully hypnotic images of, say, tropical fish, creates a kind of numbing effect. The coming-of-age story gets lost in the morass of Big Ideas and Grand Concepts. And it's not to say that these thoughts on life, the universe, and the deep blue sea shouldn't be expressed, as stale as some of these ideas have become for overuse, but the lush animation would have been better served by using this movie to address some of these messages, and not all of them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about anime. How does Children of the Sea compare to other anime you've seen?
How does the movie use character dialogue and symbolism to convey deeper messages and themes about fitting in, the environment, and the universe?
This film was based on a manga. What would the challenges be in adapting and condensing a lengthy series into a movie?
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