This fall season is for mangaka Rumiko Takahashi, with an earlier collector’s edition release of Maison Ikkoku and the premiere of Yashahime. Now, VIZ Media is giving another long-out-of-print title from the Eisner Hall of Fame creator the collector’s edition treatment. Mermaid Saga is much darker fare than other titles like RIN-NE or Maison Ikkoku, but this horror manga was absolutely enchanting. The series is translated into English by Rachel Thorn and features touch-up art and lettering by Joanna Estep.
There are stories that say if you eat the flesh of a mermaid you will gain immortality. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy, as Yuta knows. Yuta is over 500 years old, cursed with immortality after eating said flesh. He has wandered for years seeking out the elusive creatures in the hopes of turning himself back into a normal man. After encountering a young woman named Mana, he may not have to continue this journey alone.
Mermaid Saga is largely episodic. Most stories take place over the course of two chapters, following Yuta and Mana’s many encounters with humans and the mermaid lore of the story. There is one part that is a flashback to before Yuta met Mana, which was a tad confusing at first since it throws readers right into the thick of it, but it provided nice context for how alone Yuta has felt.
How we define loneliness is a theme throughout the manga. Mermaid Saga ultimately becomes an episodic journey about what it means to live, to die, and be a monster. Yuta knows how to die: he just has to have his head chopped off. Yuta wants to live and die a natural death. That is key and what makes his character so fascinating in regards to his relationship with immortality.
Takahashi leans into traditional mythology surrounding mermaids. It appears a lot of inspiration and references are specifically drawn from the legend of Yaobikuni. The mermaids are grotesque creatures. Gone are the singing beauties. This is not a love story between a human and a mermaid to be found. In fact, each story provides a varied interpretation of the mermaid lore that feels fresh. What happens if you consume just a mermaid’s blood instead of her flesh? What about her ashes? Every story unpacks a darker side of humanity and also a brief look at the ways myths change from their original meanings over the years to suit our own needs.
Takahashi’s art might be the best suited for a horror story such as this. It isn’t graphic on the scale of Tokyo Ghoul, but Yuta’s immortality is put to use. Characters are impaled with harpoons, cut with chainsaws, attacked by dogs, and have to claw their way out of graves. The creatures in this series are malformed. Takahashi draws bulging veins, engorged eyes, and mouths full of fangs that feel like a traditional horror story. This would be great for readers looking for something darker but who might not be able to handle the queasy body horror of Junji Ito’s artwork.
Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition Volume 1 is hard to put down. Rumiko Takahashi’s artwork and storytelling excel in this horror-oriented manga that takes away romanticized mermaids and brings back their monstrous origins in folklore. Thank goodness VIZ has brought this series back into print. Read it.
Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition Volume 1 will be available November 17th, 2020 wherever books are sold.
Mermaid Saga Collector's Edition Volume 1
Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition Volume 1 is hard to put down. Rumiko Takahashi’s artwork and storytelling excel in this horror-oriented manga that takes away romanticized mermaids and brings back their monstrous origins in folklore.