Rumiko Takahashi is one of the most well-known and wealthiest manga artists in all of Japan. Her works are known far outside of Japan and translated into a bunch of other languages. She is probably the most well-known for her series Inuyasha or Urusei Yatsura. Both received high critical acclaim and had anime adaptations that became very popular for their time. Inuyasha even got a sequel manga and anime long after the series was finished. I believe it started airing this year. However, one of Takahashi’s other fairly popular series is Mermaid Saga. It was first published in Japan in 1988, and then was picked up for its English translation in 1992 by Viz Media. Now, 28 years later, Viz Media is releasing a two-volume collector’s edition, with the first volume coming out tomorrow, 11/17. I’ve been lucky enough to be given the chance to review this manga ahead of time and get the news out to you all. I actually have never read this manga before, or even seen the anime that was eventually adapted from it. But considering Takahashi’s history as a well-awarded and popular manga artist, I really wanted to see what this manga had to offer.
The story of Mermaid Saga is a collection of nine stories told throughout 16 chapters. The first collector’s edition compiles the first eight chapters. The premise follows the legend that if one eats the flesh of a mermaid, they will be granted eternal life and youth. However, there is also the real chance that it will turn you into a monster. Yuta unknowingly ate the flesh of a mermaid one day, and now walks through the forests, villages, and streets of Japan looking for a way to break what he sees as a curse. He thinks his only hope is finding another mermaid to see if they know a way to reverse the effects and let him age naturally to death. Over his travels, he meets many strange people and villages, eventually finding a companion in Mana, another person who ate the flesh of a mermaid and survived.
The original art style of Takashi remains preserved in this volume. It’s fairly easy to recognize if you’ve watched or read any of her other works. I feel like a lot of her main characters or younger characters will sometimes have similar faces or face styles. However, I don’t really have a problem with it, because I do actually like this style. It has a nice nostalgic feel to me, going back to the early days of anime and manga where the styles were just a little bit different than they are now. I can see the shadows of Inuyasha and Urusei Yatsura in the character’s face shapes and eyes. But Takahashi’s female characters still remain very elegant in their composition. I wound up really liking how Mana was drawn and some of the other characters he comes across. This doesn’t mean all of the other characters look the same. I think Takahashi does a great job when it comes to distinguishing between ages and drawing both very young and very old characters.
The one thing that confuses me about these stories is to what extent they take place in the modern world. In the first short story, we see him walking through a very modern looking beach scene, but then we transition to a very rural, older looking village. The same thing happens a couple times, and I’m wondering what time period some of these take place in considering the longevity of Yuta and Mana. It could be that it’s just after post-war Japan, and we’re seeing a difference between rural and urban Japan that, at times, can be very stikingingly different. But I still kind of wish that it was made more clear either through the background arre or just straight up telling us what year this takes place. However, I don’t think that really impacts the feel of the stories that Takahashi tells in these chapters.
Mermaid Saga is split into many different one-shots, each with a different “villain” and plot that the characters must confront and escape from. Each of these stories explore the different impacts of mermaids, the folklore surrounding eating their flesh, and how the quest for eternal life can corrupt. It’s an age-old tale, told in many different ways and cultures: the quest for the elixir of life. Many cultures have different lore surrounding what or who could grant you eternal life. Here, we see a legend surrounding the powerful nature of mermaids and their flesh. Yuta, someone who unknowingly ate the flesh of a mermaid, is cursed to wander forever. By the time this manga kicks off, he is about five centuries old. He’s seen his friends live and die and is searching for a way to grow old. In this way, I think Yuta acts as a great foil to those who are actively searching for mermaid flesh themselves in order to live forever.
Takahashi crafted her stories in more of a horror and action vein, with Yuta traveling Japan and coming upon those who lusted for or had mistakenly partaked of any part of a mermaid’s body. I really liked the first story that leads off the volume: “A Mermaid Never Smiles”. It has a lot of markers of a good horror story: misdirection, deceit, secrecy, weird shit going on. The premise centers on Yuta who, while searching for a mermaid, comes upon a strange village populated by only women and a young girl who has been trapped there her whole life. The mystery of the village is uncovered the more the villagers try to kill him and force him to leave. I loved the feeling that something was just off about the whole thing and seeing that unfold as more things come to light concerning their relationship to the mermaids of the area. In the end, this is where Yuta finds Mana, his immortal companion.
I think Takahashi is pretty good when it comes to writing twists into her stories. For one of the other stories, “Mermaid Forest”, we see another great chapter where not everything is as it seems and not all the character’s motives are as clear as we think they are. It was also a great story as it expanded on the lore surrounding mermaids and the uses of their bodies. In this one, the blood of the mermaid was used to try giving eternal life to a person, but it didn’t go as planned. The conflict Yuta walks into brings to life a decade’s long revenge plot between two sisters. In “Mermaid’s Promise”, we see another great expansion on the lore of mermaid flesh in the use of the ashes of a mermaid to bring someone back from the dead in the form of a soulless body. These two stories, I think, were my favorites in this volume.
Mermaid Saga was definitely a lot more action-packed than I thought, but I really enjoyed it. I kind of wish that there weren’t so many instances of Mana getting kidnapped or killed, but I think both Mana and Yuta are fairly strong characters in their perseverance and kindness to those they come across. In a way, this series reminds me a bit of re:Zero in that Yuta constantly gets killed and then comes back to life to continue his mission or save Mana. But overall, I think this series wound up being fairly different than what I thought, in a good way though. I really enjoy finding something I otherwise might not have read and discovering I actually enjoy it. This time, it’s a classic horror manga.
Mermaid Saga or Rumiko Takahashi fans, let me know what you thought in the comments below. What is your favorite story out of the bunch? Be sure to pick up this new collector’s edition in stores tomorrow, 11/17!
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