Saturday, July 17, 2010

Children of the Sea, Volume 3 by Daisuke Igarashi

Sora has disappeared, and the way he disappeared left Ruka traumatized. But before he went, he gave her a sort of present, a black meteorite that he put in her belly when he kissed her. Ruka is troubled by visions of Sora's hand, cut off just below the wrist, floating in the water. Her parents have her at the hospital, but the doctors send her home, thinking that a familiar place will help her recover from what she has seen.

But instead, she runs away to be with Umi, the other child of the sea who her father and the other scientists at the Aquarium have been studying. Something seems wrong with Umi- he is getting stranger. When the scienstists question him about Sora, he says he doesn't know who that is, and says he remembers being born as a baby white ray. He then says Sora wasn't his sibling. When the scientist asks him if this was a dream he had, he first says no, then yes, then asks if they are done. Meanwhile, Ruka's father and his research colleague are reading Jim's reports on Sora, and the female colleague is disgusted with the way the information was obtained- surgery and making him go free-diving naked. But it did reveal that Sora was less like a human and more like a sea-creature, including special bacteria in his gut that is strikingly similar to extremophile bacteria that live around volcanic vents called "Smokers" at the bottom of the ocean.

Jim goes to see Anglade, who tells him what he experienced on the night that Sora disappeared. But Anglade isn't giving Jim all the data. He wants to experience what happens from his own exclusive vantage point. It is the day of the dead, and Anglade thinks that Sora might come back. But where, and to whom? Anglade decides to take Umi out on his boat, deep at sea, to the place where they were found as children. Ruka asks to come along as well, because the meteorite in her stomach is speaking to her, like it is whispering in her ear- and she thinks its voice is Sora's.

Ruka isn't acting right herself. She's doing very dangerous things with her body, and when Umi sniffs her, he thinks she smells like Sora. He tells Anglade that only part of Ruka is in her body. The other half is somewhere in the sea, but he can go diving, find it, and bring her back, which he does. Ruka's spirit, appearing as only her head, is somewhere deep in the sea, and encounters a whale and a huge Squid. Her eyes meet those of the squid before she rises upwards, where she is found by Umi and returned to her body. There, she tells Anglade what happened to Sora- that the both of them were swept out to see, there was a flash of light, and the sea-creatures devoured Sora. Then she remembers being in the sea, but also on the boat, and she is confused by her conflicting memories.Umi says she is one and a half people now. Ruka says that she can hear Sora whispering in her ear, saying that it is Umi's turn next.

Then there are tales of people who encountered unexplained things at sea. A man fell off a boat, was swallowed by a basking shark, and when he came to, a beautiful island woman was taking care of him. She says that basking sharks are a channel between sea and sky. They marry and have children, and one day, he is eaten by other sharks while fishing. But his children and grandchildren remain, as does his wife.

Ruka and Anglade talk, and Anglade tells Ruka about the strange bacteria in Umi and Sora's stomachs. She found out about it by stealing the research from the garbage can of a colleague of Jim's. He explains to Ruka about the Bacteria and where it comes from: the Benthic region of the oceans, from the carcasses of whales.

The next day, they reach the area where Sora and Umi were found, and Ruka and Umi go swimming with the whale pod. Ruka now seems to have the same abilities to not need to breath as Umi, and when she sees the whale's eye, she thinks that it looks just like Umi's eye. She wonders what the whales want to say to her.

Abruptly, it is 10 years ago, and an older female African scientist is in the islands. She has heard a story that a village captured a monster, and other people in the islands say it is a dugong (manatee) with a human face and feet. But as she gets closer to the island, she finds out the true story- that what was found were children, swimming with the dugongs. There is a prophecy in the village that when two monsters are found, one will be a child of the sea, and one a child of the sky, and the ocean will be swallowed up, and the village with it.

Some villagers wanted to kill the creatures, but others thought it would be unlucky to do the deed themselves, so instead, they locked them up. But now the villagers feel a cloud of unluck over the village, and they just want the children to go away. The scientist takes Umi and Sora and brings them to the Doctor. Sora is suffering from a skin rash like those dolphins get when out of the water for too long, but Umi is healthier and more well adapted for living on land, but he has a little of the same rash as well.

The female scientist goes to see Jim, to tell him about the children. Jim is interested, but is fostering a young boy who is extremely intelligent. His parents are afraid of him, thinking that he would kill them. The boy is, of course, Anglade, and he becomes very interested in the children when he hears of them, and wants to meet them. But as yet, Jim keeps them apart. He goes with the female scientist to see them, but the doctor, thinking that they were kidnapped or abused, has turned them over to the police. His wife thinks that the female scientist is the kidnapper and threatens to call the police on her and Jim.

She and Jim talk about how more and more children of the Sea have been found in the last two years, but that all of them have either drowned in the nets they were caught in, or if they didn't drown, were killed by villagers who believed them to be unlucky, monsters, a blight, or all three. As the only two to survive, these two children are lucky. The female scientist, Olga, who now goes by Dedeh, meets Anglade. Jim wants Dedeh to teach Anglade about boats, since she is an instructor, but she doesn't want to take care of a child. They continue to discuss the children, with Anglade joining in. He thinks that they may be like whales, who are special.

Whales have a larger, more developed cerebral cortex than humans, and probably think very differently than humans. It is obvious that something stimulates their brains out in the ocean, so it may be thoughts, but since a whale's world is so very different from that of humans, he thinks that whales think in an entirely different way. The two children of the sea may be able to bridge that gap between the thinking of humans and that of whales.

Anglade is sent off by Jim. He doesn't want to go- he wants to meet the Children, but Jim wants to handle that on his own. He tells Anglade that he is planning an arctic expedition, and he wants Anglade to build up his stamina for that. He and Dedeh continue talking about the Children and the nature of the sea. She says he is running scared, that she thinks that the Children will cause them to rethink everything they know about the sea, including man's relation to it.

Back in the now, Ruka continues to swim with the whales. She reflects on what she has just experienced, and wonders how much memory lies in the sea. She catches up to Umi, who is swimming with gigantic manta rays. She hears whale song and is transfixed, for the voice beside her ear is singing along with it, and now she knows it is not Sora, but the meteorite.

Above the waves, Anglade thinks that all this time, Umi and Sora have been using the scientists to get what they wanted. But what is that? He thinks back to eight years ago, in India, when Jim was studying Umi and Sora in a former church compound. It seems that the two didn't trust the scientists, but Umi and Anglade forged some kind of connection. More stories of the sea are told, including a diver who went blind after seeing an enormous ray with a face on its back. The other divers who saw it perished, and the images from his brain made him work them out in pots, which people wanted to buy and which made him famous.

Anglade tells his own story to Umi, about how he was unlike other children until his parents moved next door to a man with a greenhouse. When Anglade went into the greenhouse and met the owner, for the first time, he understood human speech. But the neighbor died not long thereafter. Therefore, to Anglade, he was born in a greenhouse. He asks Umi to show him his world, and Umi takes Anglade swimming, where he has an encounter with a strange, star-marked nude woman after a hole in the bottom of the ocean swallows him up. Jim, finding him, says he recognizes the figure. It is a map of the oceans. Societies have portrayed the map as a human figure.

Meanwhile, in the now, Ruka gets tired and cold, and with no ships anywhere about, has an encounter with a whale that has many markings that resemble eyes. Can Ruka survive the encounter, and the chill depths of the ocean? What are Umi and Sora, and what really happened to Sora? What is going on with the meteorite? And since Sora was killed by sea creatures, does that make him the creature of the sea or sky? What is really going on here?

Well, mysterious story continues to be mysterious, but in some ways I am actually getting tired of it. All the adult characters go around philosophizing and asking questions that can't be answered yet and very little is revealed so that it just becomes more and more flogging of philosophy. I would have liked it more had there been less talk and a bit more action. As it is the story seems dreary when the characters argue competing philosophies. The only places where it picks up is in the sea stories that dot the volume, which are rooted in the real world the way the rest of the story seems not to be.

I confess myself confused. The first two volumes were rooted in reality, while this one takes an abrupt left turn into magical thinking and supernatural stuff. It's quite a change from the first two, and I found myself liking it less. I found the art still wonderfull, all except the character of Dedeh, who looks awfully like a caricature of a black person- fat lips, wide nose, and downright ugly looking, which really disappointed me. Japanese artists all seem to have a problem drawing black characters without making them seem like horrible stereotypes. The only one who escapes that fate is Sora, who has pretty much the same features as Ruka- to the point where I could only tell them apart because Ruka has longer hair.

The other character who feels weird to me is Anglade. When he first showed up, I thought he was a she. Yes, he's flat-chested, but lots of japanese women have small chests, and he has hair down to the small of his back and wears a long-sleeved shirt all the time that appears quite flowery and feminine. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out Anglade was male. Even in this volume, I had to keep reminding myself, "Male character. Male character." because if I didn't I found myself thinking, "Oh it's that woman again."

I found this volume a little troubling as far as the story went. The art continues to be excellent and evocative, even spooky and scary in some parts. But the philosophical maundering made me want to shoot myself to end the boredom it induced. If the series continues to be like this, I may have to drop it. There's only so much philosophy I can take before my eyes start to cross, and this series will no longer be an interesting and fun read. While I'm not averse to reading stuff you have to think about, after a while it gets to be like working on the chain gang. I'd still recommend this series, but this book was less fun, verging on uninteresting. So, neither recommended nor not.

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