A couple months ago we received a few manga books from the awesome people at VIZ Media. One of the books that caught our eye was the first volume of stories from the Children of the Whales series, created by Abi Umeda. If that name sounds familiar, it's because she was the creator of the Kujira no Kora wa Sajō ni Utau TV series. This manga marks her official English series debut, which we had an opportunity to read through for review.
The book puts you in a world that is harsh as hell and vast in its harshness, but a group of people have managed to find a way to live on a creature called the Mud Whale. The Mud Whale is basically mud and bricks creating an oasis where several generations have survived and slowly grew. The society within, as you might have guessed, comes with its own dystopia where there are two types of people: Marked and Unmarked. The Marked are telekinetic and die quicker, while the Unmarked are the opposite. Our story focuses on a boy named Chakuro, who wants to explore the vastness we spoke of earlier. Chakuro gets some encouragement to do so once the Mud Whale comes across a young girl from the outside world stranded on an island.
The book itself is pretty straightforward in its storytelling, as you're presented with the premise and the characters and their plight pretty quickly. If you're a fan of most manga where the images do more of the work than the words, you'll fall right into the tale pretty quickly and accept everything happing around you as the norm. The Mud Whale itself is intriguing as it presents itself as its own character, a constantly traveling village where the inhabitants know little to nothing of the world around them and basically live sheltered lives on what they believe is the only livable space on the world. The idea of both being explorers and isolationists at the same time is a fascinating concept that I wish was explored more in depth.
It also serves as an interesting allegory of lost ambitions and modern politics, where the least powerful people eventually become the ones in charge and pretty much keep the status quo, while those who exhibit the most power that could do a lot of good end up dying young before their true potential could ever be reached. All of it is laced within this cool story that speaks to the idea of wanting to become something more than just the sum of your parts.
The story told throughout this first chapter is really well done as you're introduced to everyone you need to know in short order. You're immediately presented with specific conflicts that give you a sense of the world you live in and the people around you. There's very little guesswork left to be done beyond the key factors that you shouldn't know right away, and it made reading this so much fun until the end.
I highly recommend giving Children of the Whales a shot if you're looking for a new manga that's kinda of fantasy and kind of sci-fi. There's also a nice love story going on as well as some powerful themes that make it just a joy to read. That being said, keep in mind that it is a manga, and if you're not into your standard Japanese media tropes that seem to pop up in almost every cartoon-related project ever created, you'll be seeing some of that here. You're not slapped in the face with it like you would be in other books, but yes, you will see the on a few occasions the shocked face with wide eyes or animal that looks more human than animal. Still, it's a damn fine book that's worth your time.