Here are some rough (and I mean rough) sketches for a few characters. My sketches are intended as exploratory as opposed to trying to peg the final, animatable design. At the least, you could say they're exploring extremes so that we know for sure where we don't want to go.
This is a sketch of the boy's mom in their situation after the dad dies at war. I had the idea of the mother having to work in the fields in horrible conditions.
Here's a couple of sketches for the master. I wanted to explore different extremes with this character, as far as age and size go.
And finally, yes, I'm not giving up on the sea turtle water spirit, because I think it's AWESOME, whether it's Chinese, Japanese, or Indian or whatnot. I mean, just imagine a ginormous turtle surfacing next to the bridge! Pretty much I'll be pushing this idea until it becomes a capital offense.