Rolling Review – Children of the Whales (03)

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Episode Synopsis:

Soldiers from an external civilization attack the Mud Whale, killing and injuring many with a combination of guns, melee weapons, and thymia.  The citizens of the Whale, wholly unused to violence of any kind, are largely helpless.  Chakuro, in disbelief over Sami’s death, attempts to fight, but is stopped cold by the realization that the soldiers are humans of the same group as Lykos – and by the appearance of a sadistic enemy fighter that revels in the carnage.  Ouni, freed once again from prison, kills all of the attackers he comes across in retribution for two of his friends.  Lykos, apparently sister to the mastermind of the invasion, is left behind as an experiment as the soldiers withdraw. 

A week separates the Mud Whale from the next attack by Skylos, and its inhabitants will need to make some difficult decisions in the coming days…

Episode Review:

This show is coming apart at the seams, and it’s painful to watch.  There’s a lot of individual elements I could cite that are causing it, but at a high level, the show’s greatest flaw is its terrible pacing, both at a story level and at a scene-by-scene level.  At the story level, we have just barely been introduced to a fairly large cast of characters, the somewhat alien world they inhabit, and the complex structure of their society.  It is the third episode, and half those characters are dead, the world has been shown to be full of murderous clowns (literally), and their society has been shattered.

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It is nigh-impossible to take you seriously.

Now, this could all be good stuff (well, maybe not the clowns) if we had any investment in the characters or world of this show.  Instead, I dispassionately watched as the Bozo Brigade slaughtered their way through the village, including at least two named characters.  And I couldn’t have cared less.  Why would the show bother setting up such a complex and interesting world… and then exploring about 5% of it before destroying it?  Whatever the characters or the society does as a response to this attack, it won’t feel like anything important is changing because I have so little idea how things were before.

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Oh, Lady Taisha… I almost cared that you died.

On a scene-by-scene basis, it’s clear that the show’s creators have no idea how to pace… well… anything.  Throughout the episode, we jump back and forth between about 4 different places, but it never seems like anything is happening during the jumps, so everything feels drawn out and painfully slow.

The Jester Guard attack anyone they see on sight… unless some characters need to talk to each other literally in front of them.  Then they’ll sit by while the dialogue plays out, oftentimes visible on screen as they just stand there, waiting to be acknowledged.  Once they are, they’ll trudge a few steps forward before something else interrupts them.

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This kid was slowly running away from that clown guy for, I swear, half the episode.  He’s been standing there while this tearful scene goes on for nearly a minute.

Yet when it’s time for the main character to fight, his target is suddenly tearing across the fields, wielding weapons with speed and finesse. Other Mime Force members stand around awkwardly, vaguely menacing some kids as they advance on them, slowly, over the course of about 10 minutes, before finally throwing a spear to kill one of them.  Then they stand by while the kids agonize over the death.

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About 5 Farce Battalion guys are just off to the left, waiting for Ouni to finally decide to kill them with that spear after he delivers his monologue

Ouni is somehow instantly a skilled and deadly warrior, taking out several of the supposedly trained enemy the moment he gets serious – despite never having known conflict before.  And it’s not just action scenes.  Characters quietly talk, no hurry apparent, while gunshots ring out in the distance.  Lykos charges into battle, but by the time we cut back, she’s talking to the invasion’s leaders like they’re old acquaintances, with no establishment of how we got here.  Soldiers are standing around documenting the battle with pen and paper while 50 feet away there are pitched street battles and mass executions.

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Come for the fighting.  Stay for the bureaucracy.  The Prankster Platoon – now recruiting!

It also doesn’t help that the quality of animation is starting to fall apart.  Backgrounds and static character shots still look really good.  But Lord help you when the animators try something that requires fluid action or, even worse, perspective.

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What is… how?

The weaponry on display by the enemy army also fails to impress.

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It looks like someone quickly copy-pasted those float-a-boat crafts in front of that gorgeous background painting

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These things look so thrown-together that you’d think someone would have been like “You know, I think we can get the idea of the invasion across without the siege weapons.”  And they’re not even the worst!

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This guy.
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This guy is the worst.

Seriously, if I’d wanted to watch a show with stupid clown villains, I’d go watch Grenadier again.  Also, it’s a minor thing, but if you’re going to dress your clown warriors with cat ear hats that have impossibly dumb bells hanging from them, the least – the LEAST – you could do is actually have those bells make noise when they move.  Then there’s my least favorite new element introduced in this episode, and you know it’s going to be a doozy after the rest of this nonsense.

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As you can probably guess, this is the cliché enemy who just loves causing pain, torturing innocents, and laughing as people cry in front of him.  He’s taken a special “liking” to the main character, and the thought of how long it’s going to be before Chakuro fights and defeats this guy, during which time we will be subjected to endless gloating, is exhausting.  His wholly unnecessary existence is going to be a drag on the entire show, I can feel it in my bones.

So! I know what you’re asking – it’s only three episodes in.  Can the show be salvaged?  Is it worth watching at all?

……

………

Maaaaaaybe.  Maybe.  The show, for all the faults listed above, does still summon up some pretty stunning scenes, at least visually.

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I still have some curiosity to learn about this world, even if what I really want – a lot more slice-of-life episodes on the Mud Whale – is no longer possible.  If the show slows down, a lot, between now and the next attack, there’s a chance they can pull off something interesting.  Watching how the society adapts to its new reality, watching the various characters come to grips with the need to defend themselves, watching what happens when the village elders (who basically knew this could happen and never told anyone) try to continue leading and guys like Ouni or even Chakuro challenge them – that could make for some interesting episodes.  Here’s hoping they can pull it off.


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