Yuta was a simple fisherman until a fellow fisherman brought some special meat to share. It was the flesh of a mermaid, said to grant eternal youth and longevity. But it can also be a deadly poison. For Yuta, it was the former. Hundreds of years later, Yuta searches for a mermaid that might be able to help him return to normal.
In the late 80s/early 90s, Viz Communications released several of Rumiko Takahashi’s short stories in graphic novel format. Fire Tripper, Laughing Target and Mermaid Forest. While I enjoyed Fire Tripper, I passed on Laughing Target and just plain avoided Mermaid Forest. I had yet to cultivate an appreciation for horror, and with visions of Disney’s The Little Mermaid in my head, a story about killer mermaids didn’t appeal. 20 years later, a lot had changed, and snippets of the anime enticed me to pick up the manga Mermaid Saga.
The series begins in present day, with Yuta continuing his search, and stumbling on a village inhabited only by women where he is promptly killed. Reviving, he finds a girl being kept captive and tries to rescue her. The village is filled with mermaids in human form, and the girl, who has been fed the meat of one of their own, is meant to be their sacrifice. This first story introduces the main characters of Yuta and Mana, and some of the rules that govern the Mermaid Saga universe. Eating the flesh will either make you immortal, mutate you into a horrible creature with no mind and murderous intend known as a Lost Soul, or you die. While mermaids can appear to be beautiful maidens, they have rows of sharp teeth like a shark and the personality to go with them.
Yuta is the main character. We follow him through is quest to find a mermaid and learn the secret to becoming human again in both the present and the past. He is kind, and always willing to help someone in trouble. He has the experience and wisdom of hundreds of years of living. He can not be killed, but he can die, but always comes back to life. He dies a lot in these first two volumes. Mana is a fifteen year old girl who has just become immortal, like Yuta. She had been isolated in the mountain village for most of her life, and so doesn’t know much about the outside world. She is rather spoiled, as she was doted on by the mermaids, and has a fierce personality. She isn’t afraid to jump into a fight and help Yuta, but she is also the reason they get into a lot of their predicaments, though, never intentionally.
Most of the stories in these two volumes are about people looking for immortality through the mermaid flesh, and what it does to them and the people around them. It never turns out well for the seekers. Vengeance and jealously often lead to murder. The promise of immortality can bring out the worse in humans as people kill for, or because of it. But it’s no picnic for those with immortality either, as Yuta is constantly dying and always has to leave people he has met and grown fond of. Surprisingly though, his experiences hasn’t made him jaded yet, and now that he has Mana to travel with, things do look brighter for them both.
I really enjoyed the first two volumes of Mermaid Saga. Takahashi does a great job of setting up a creepy atmosphere and serious tone to the stories and characters. There isn’t a lot of humor, but there really isn’t a place for it in this series. It is dark and suspenseful, and well suited for reading on dark winter nights. This is horror at it’s best with big monsters with bug eyes, many rows of sharp teeth, and blood. Lots of blood. And people getting speared a lot. I think Takahashi is at her best when doing stories with darker elements, which may be why I like Inuyasha best of all her shonen titles.
Mermaid Saga is a great look into the darker side of humanity. The lure of immortality and eternal youth is often too great a temptation to pass up, and Takahashi is a wonderful guide through the darkest, and sometimes lighter places of humanity’s soul. I highly recommend this title.