Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi: One of the Best Fantasy Horror Manga Titles in Existence – Manga Review

Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi is a shōnen, fantasy horror manga series that follows a young man who ate the flesh of a mermaid and became one of the super rare individuals to obtain immortality. After 500 years of living, he sets out on a quest to discover how to end said immortality. Along the way, he encounters many other people that had fallen victim to the allure of mermaid flesh and it’s potential powers, yet didn’t quite have the same luck as him.

My first experience with this title was via the OVA series that came out in the early 90s and then again with the anime serial of 2003. I immediately fell in love with the classic horror tropes that it contained as I had never seen anything quite like it in anime before. It would be another few years before I would find and read through the manga. When Viz Media released the newly revamped English Collector’s Editions, I was positively ecstatic to revisit this favoured manga while also being able to add it to my otaku repertoire.

One of the best aspects of the Mermaid Saga manga is how it uses elements of dark fantasy and horror to depict pieces of Japanese history that were some of the most difficult eras of the nation’s past, particularly with respect to the influences that war and greed had taken upon the common-folx. Additionally, the vast majority of these impacts are depicted through the lens of females and maternal figures, individuals who are typically associated with being nurturing and the ultimate caregivers of the home, while also being a gender that was constantly perceived to be inferior and begotten for subjugation. What happens when women that are always believed to be weak and gullible decide they want strength of their own? That they’ve had enough of kneeling before the “the man” of society?

The manga is presented in short stories with two recurring main characters, and each tale takes on a different viewpoint of suffering and wanting to describe the full-bloom experiences of disregard that the citizens were faced with. For example, one story follows a young child and the various ways that he learns to manipulate the kindness of others for survival. Another tale speaks of a mother’s desperation to help her sickly child and thus get corrupted in the process. Then there is yet another narrative about a women who becomes obsessed with the power and privileges that her youthfulness had allowed her. On the surface, each of these situations show us the basic desires of human nature—to nurture, to survive, to be vain—while providing undercurrents of the social cultures of their respective eras.

Children were forced to become some of the biggest sacrifices during the Second World War with so many families unable to feed multiple kids, which included taking in the kids of their relatives. Displaced and homeless, many of them had to learn to take care of themselves while living out on the streets (as seen in Grave of the Fireflies). Beautiful women were commodities, always wanted by the rich and famous as a symbol of their success and position in society, yet when those women ran out of their “usefulness” they were tossed aside or slyly replaced. These are just a couple examples.

In addition to the settings and awful circumstances, there is the allegory of the mermaid itself and its representation of untenable hopes in abhorrent times and greener pastures, but as with anything in life, nothing comes without a significant cost, which is illustrated (literally and metaphorically) via graphic scenes of body horror and death.

The artwork in Mermaid Saga is some of the very best work ever crafted by Takahashi-san. The level of details that went into creating an almost realistic sense of texture, particularly where the grotesque and bizarre is concerned, is absolutely fucking brilliant. The intense contrasts between black and white with limited use of shading and greys in-between does an impeccable job of highlighting the black and white of the mermaid flesh mythos, and the compelling lack of middle-ground therein. The Collector’s Editions also have breath-taking coloured pages with delicate yet vibrant watercolour aesthetics that stays with the reader as they move through the volume.

The quality of the Collector’s Editions is also phenomenal. The covers are so smooth, almost like cardstock, with glossy ombre titles. It uses soft colour palettes on the cover, utilising the same watercolour style as the illustrations inside, and it lulls the readers into a false sense of comfort. One looks at the cover and instantly thinks fairy tale fantasy, but what lurks beneath is anything but. Frankly, I adore this type of allure, especially from the horror genre. The unexpected is what makes it so damn fantastic and engaging. The end flaps also have glossed mermaid silhouettes that complete the beautiful appearance of it, and it makes splurging the extra bucks for the fancy volumes (two total) completely worth the investment. The volumes are also paperback and of durable, hefty quality—the pages aren’t flimsy or too thick, the artwork is wonderfully decipherable without the print being too harsh or blending all of the details and finer elements together—ensuring that it can last a long, long time with care.

Overall, Mermaid Saga is my favourite Rumiko Takahashi work and it’s also one of my favourite horror manga serials ever made. There really isn’t anything quite like it out in the manga world. That uniqueness coupled with its amazing structured allegorical short stories make it a fabulous feast for the eyes, the heart, and the mind. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to all fans of manga and graphic novels, but even more so for folx that enjoy the horror genre and aren’t put off by graphic body horror. It’s just so damn good. So. Bloody. Good. I’m hoping that with these new manga re-releases, we’ll get a revamping of the anime as well!

Native: 人魚シリーズ
Demographic: Shōnen
Genre: Fantasy Horror
Publisher: VIZ Media
Status: Completed
Total Volumes:  2 (3 volumes in Japan)
Content Warnings: Graphic violence, blood, and deaths (including suicide). Graphic body horror. Cannibalism. Disturbing themes related to times of war. Strong nudity.
AniList: Ningyo Shirīzu
Publisher’s Site: VIZ Media – Mermaid Saga

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