The first series to be featured on Viz Media's new IKKI online magazine, Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea is a lovingly rendered, frequently contemplative look at "the path that connects the sea to space." Rated for "Older Teen" readers, the story centers on a young girl named Ruka – and two mysterious boys who were raised in the ocean by dugongs. Both boys, Umi and Sora, have swum to Tokyo following the lights and sounds that seem to be accompanying the unexplained, large-scale disappearance of deep-sea marine life.
Monitored by workers at Enokura Aquarium — Ruka's father Azumi and a tattooed wave rider named Jim Cusack, in particular — the two boys spent their first years living "exclusively in the ocean." As a result, they need to periodically return to the sea for their own well-being. "If we don't keep cooling down with water," Uma, the younger of the two tells Ruka, "we get really hot, like we're burnt."
They also appear to be on a similar wavelength as our headstrong young heroine. ("Whenever things get tight, she starts playing rough," a handball coach says during an early character-establishing scene.) Ruka has been repeatedly drawn to the aquarium ever since she saw a "ghost" in the water as a child. "You smell like someone who sees and thinks the same things we do," empathetic Umi says. Ruka's "ghost" was a glowing sea creature she witnessed vanishing from the aquarium tank as a harbinger of events to come. "Come to think of it," the adult Ruka recalls as she opens the story, "that may have been the beginning of everything."
Igarashi evocatively blends this sci-fi mystery with crisp (if occasionally familiar) characterization and a beautifully attuned sense for nature large and small. The big draw here, at least in Children of the Sea's opening volume, resides in its art, which at times recalls both manga/anime master Hayao Miyazaki and southwest underground comix artist Jack Jackson. It's particularly marvelous during the underwater scenes — as when Umi and Sora take our heroine out snorkeling and she finds herself surrounded by schools of inexplicably glowing fish. They look like stars, and though we're not told why this is in the series' opening eight chapters, Ruka's opening statement about the pathway 'tween the ocean and sky would seem to hold the key. More than once Ruka and the boys compare the act of swimming to flying; for most of us heavy humans, after all, floating in the water is the closest we get to weightlessness.
Viz is presently running Children of the Sea in online installments with the first print volume collecting chapters one through eight scheduled for a mid-July release on its Viz Signature line. To my eyes, the paper version is superior to the online edition – the 6-by-8-1/2" book format makes it easier for the reader to luxuriate in Igarashi's art, while the monitor version proves especially unfriendly to two-page spreads. The online version is the place to start, but I'm thinking that a lot of manga fans will want a copy of this for their home shelves. Judging from the first volume of this atmospheric sci-fi tale, Children of the Sea will make a strong addition to anyone's well-kept manga library – an undersea companion to Yukimura's Planetes, perhaps.