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Books: Children of the Sea Graphic Novel 1

Ruka’s vacation is ruined right on the first day of summer. She hitsanother girl in the face with her elbow during a handball game—in hermind, it’s payback for having her foot stomped—and the coach lays downthe law: “Don’t bother coming back to practice.” She’s unhappy andremote, distant from other kids her age, annoyed by how the onlyattention she gets from adults—including her estranged father andincurious mother—is in the form of reprimands. This girl needssomething to do, and doesn’t know what.

One afternoon sherides the train into Tokyo, for no particular reason, and finds herselfstanding at the lip of an inlet to the ocean. Someone else is there, aboy who doesn’t look Japanese but speaks to her: “The sea in Tokyo iskind of like a broken toy, isn’t it?” His name is Umi—“Sea”—and he hasthe dreamy, amused air of someone who will probably never grow all theway up.

Strange, Ruka thinks, then drops by the aquarium where herestranged father works and sees Umi swimming in one of the tanks. He’sperfectly comfortable in and among the other fish, as if he had alwaysbeen there. And in a way, he has: he was found in the SouthSeas years ago as an infant in the company of a family of manatees.Like the manatees themselves, he can move between land and sea withequal grace, but the sea is his true home.

Ruka is at firstbaffled, then curious. It turns out Umi is one of two such childrenliving at the aquarium where her estranged father works. The other,Sora (“Sky”), is as arrogant and distant as Umi is friendly andplayful, but nonetheless the two of them share something between them,a common mission. “You smell the way we do,” Umi tells Ruka, “and yousee and think the way we do, too.” Ruka doesn’t know what any of thismeans until she has a few adventures with Sora and Umi, and indeedbegins to see things as they do. The ocean, as she discovers in theircompany, is a universe unto itself, with its own denizens andpeculiarities—and even its own ghosts.

A plot synopsis for Children of the Seadoes not do justice to the storytelling, and so much of the joy of abook like this comes from the way it is told: beautifully. Like 5 cm/sec,it’s as much about the pauses and breathing spaces and littledigressions in its story than forcing things to b e hustled forward onevery single page. At one point Ruka plays hide-and-seek in her emptyschool; at another, she and the two boys grab a boat and push off intothe sea on their own. Both scenes do make plot points, but they’re notrubbed in our faces. Likewise, there’s the larger story—something to dowith other fish that are vanishing from their aquariums around theworld, which may well tie into the general degradation of marine life.But Sea doesn’t make any of this into a formal ecology lesson. We’re just reading a lovely story about a girl’s most unusual summer.

Art: “Roughbut beautiful.” That’s the best way I can describe Daisuke Igarashi’sartwork—it’s meticulous and lovely, but also coarse around the edges.And yet it’s a pleasant coarseness, like the way textured paper fraysin appealing ways when you tear it. There’s enough detail to lend asense of realism to everything that goes on (even the more magicalmoments), but it’s all seen in a somewhat dreamy, detached way.

Moststriking is the the opening dozen or more pages, which ease us into thestory through a series of digressions, illustrated as—whatelse?—watercolors. Then the colors fall away and we’re left with thelines and tones of the book’s black-and-white artwork, but even inblack-and-white it’s still bewitching to look at.

Translation: Thisbeing a VIZ Signature edition, I expected nothing less than the best. Igot most of it. The book’s original right-to-left layout was kept,although the editors chose to replace effects and signage when theycould get away with doing so with minimal damage. I’ve become a lotless resistant to the idea of digitally retouching FX and signage: forone, it’s become easier to do this sort of thing, even in just the lastcouple of years; and it means that much broader an audience for worksthat genuinely deserve it. The text translation itself is impeccable,never distracting or stilted.

The Bottom Line: Betweenand among the endless clones of popular shonen titles, the gratuitousif entertaining violence of the more mature-audience offerings, and theflood of forgettable garbage, there’s titles like this. They’re notabout a flashy concept and they don’t often have a name artist orwriter on the cover, but once you start reading them the rest of theworld simply drops away for a while.

Children of the Seacaught my eye when it was announced earlier in the year at Comic-ConEast, and now that I actually have it in hand it is even moreenchanting than I expected. This book embodies what I look for when Iread manga at its best.

Footnote: VIZ’s ratingsystem indicates the story is “for older teens” due to “disturbingimagery”. Nothing in this current volume justifies such a rating, whichputs it in the same category as Claymore. Other volumes in thisseries might come closer to justifying the rating, but there’s scarcelya frame to be found in this book of Sea that is remotely as disturbing as anything in Claymore.

Tags: Japan manga review

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the categories Books, External Book Reviews, published on 2009/07/27 22:54.

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