Title: Mermaid Saga Chapter 1 & 2 – A Mermaid Never Smiles
Author/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Initial Thoughts: Some of you might know who Rumiko Takahashi is, or if you don’t, you might at least know of her works. She’s a longtime mangaka and creator of “Inuyasha,” “Ranma 1/2,” and “Urusei Yatsura.” She’s been writing and illustrating comics since at least the 1970s, and she’s still going. Nearly every one of her series have gotten at least one animated adaption, and most of them run for DECADES.
But today I’m here to talk about one of her more obscure titles and possibly the one oddball in her resume of titles. “Mermaid Saga” is Takahashi’s only foray into a straightforward horror series, and is relatively light on humor and love triangles unlike her other books. Which is good because it means her male protagonist isn’t an insufferable lech or an idiot.
Rest assured, the mermaids here are NOT the kind of mermaids you’re familiar with. We’re not talking about Ariel, or Darryl Hannah in “Splash,” or even the Hans Christian Andersen Little Mermaid. Mermaids in this story are monsters. Sometimes they walk on two legs, sometimes they don’t. But they are not cute, and they’re not friendly. The only way you can kill them is by chopping off their head.
Legend says the mermaid’s flesh can grant a person immortality if eaten. And it can… if you’re lucky. Eating the mermaid’s flesh is like Russian roulette, and if you don’t get immortality, you’ll be lucky if it kills you. The majority of people who eat the flesh, well… it’s not pretty.
Mermaid Saga didn’t get an animated series straight away. There were two OVAs (Original Video Animation, the equivalent of direct to video movies), one in the 80s and the 90s, and then an animated series in the 2000s. The one animated adaption I’ve watched in its entirety was the “Mermaid’s Scar” OVA from the 1990s, which is my favorite by far due to the artwork and the beautiful music. By admittedly, the opening theme to the anime series, “Like An Angel,” is breathtaking.
It’s one of Takahashi’s shorter series, with all the chapters collected in 4 volumes. For the sake of these recaps I’m going by each separate arc, but will include the cover art of the Viz manga collections that included the arcs.
[Wing: Okay, this sounds amazing, and I’m so excited. #killermermaidsforever]
And I’m including an MP3 of the opening theme, “Like An Angel” by Chiaki Ishikawa.
On a moonlit night, a young woman named Mana is unable to sleep because of the long, mournful howling she hears in her bedroom. Mana orders her caretaker to kill the beasts making such noise, but the old woman says it can’t be helped because it’s the night of the full moon. Mana wonders if she’ll always have to hear such howls… [Wing: Killer mermaids and full moons? SERIOUSLY, HOW HAVE I NEVER READ THIS BEFORE?]
On a sunny beach, some people can’t help but notice a young man walking nearby. He’s dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, but he’s incredibly dirty. The young man, Yuta, asks for directions to Cape Nosuri. No one understands why, though. There aren’t any roads to get there and the water’s too dangerous for boats. Yuta is resigned to travelling through the mountains. When asked why he’s going there, Yuta cryptically responds he’s looking for a mermaid.
Back at her home, while Mana stuffs her face during dinner, her caretaker Nanny beams with pride at what a beautiful young woman Mana has blossomed into. Mana doesn’t appreciate the compliment, throwing her bowl at Nanny and shouting she’s sick of hearing the same shit about her looks every day. The mountain village Mana lives in is strange, because everything looks like it’s from the feudal era. Mana hates being stuck inside her bedroom every day. Nanny used to carry her outside when she was younger, but since she’s gotten bigger it can’t be done anymore. Sure enough, the other women in the village all gush at how lovely Mana is.
The women, old and young, of the village convene that night to discuss Mana’s 15th birthday. One of their number must now sacrifice themselves. They choose Ayu, who doesn’t seem particularly old, but is selected because they say she’s lived the longest. Ayu accepts this without complaint. In a nearby cave, under torchlight, Ayu strips naked and climbs into a small pool. Screams are heard as the women throw harpoons into the water. They pull out what looks to be the tail of a mermaid, and slice a chunk of flesh off.
Mana is served what she’s told is “a rare fish” the villagers recently captured. Nanny watches Mana like a hawk as she eagerly eats the fish, saying it’s delicious. Again though, Mana gets pissed off and throws things at Nanny, demanding to know what’s so fucking interesting about her dining habits. Nanny quickly reports that Mana hasn’t shown any side effects from eating the “rare fish,” but they have to wait until it “Works its way into every corner of her body” before they continue. But surprise! Someone’s seen a man heading towards the village!
Seems Yuta finally found Cape Nosuri. Realizing people must be nearby judging from the cut marks on the trees, a group of villagers confront him before he gets closer. Yuta assures them he’s not dangerous, but they want to know if he’s by himself, and if anyone would look for him if he went missing. Confused, Yuta says no, he’s got no companions. Ooh that wasn’t a good idea, because the women immediately stab him to death with their spears. Confirming his death, they toss Yuta into “The Pit of Lost Souls,” which is the same cave where the mermaid corpse is. Come evening, however, Yuta gets back up, his wounds gone, and expressing mild annoyance that his only shirt’s now full of holes. But the mermaid corpse gets his full attention.
Mana is told she’ll be allowed outside again. As some villagers start to hoist her on a palanquin, shouts from outside capture their attention. Yuta bursts into the room, carrying the mermaid corpse on his shoulder. [Wing: Because Yuta is a complete badass, apparently.]
The villagers are shocked he’s still alive, and Yuta repays their “hospitality” by dumping the, it turns out, headless mermaid in front of Mana. Mana is not fazed in the slightest at the headless fish woman in front of her, instead she wants to know who this fucking idiot is barging into her room like a plebeian. More villagers show up with spears and harpoons, and Yuta asks what the fuck is wrong with everyone. Backed into a corner, Yuta grabs Mana and takes her hostage to get the villagers to stop. Looks like Mana is already a hostage when Yuta throws off her bed covers and sees her feet have been bound in wooden shackles! What the hell?!
Yuta hoists Mana onto his back, tying her robe around his chest to keep her from falling off even as she tries to strangle him. Mana’s anger at Yuta disappears as the women throw their spears at BOTH of them, with one spear slicing Mana’s cheek open. Yuta is more confused than ever, Mana is shocked speechless. Hiding in the nearby cave, Mana reveals her feet have been bound her whole life. Yuta manages to remove the shackles, and rips her robes to cover her bleeding ankles. Wiping away the blood from Mana’s cheek, Yuta notices the cut’s not as severe as they thought. Yuta says he’s finally found a mermaid, but of course it had to be a dead mermaid. Mana doesn’t seem to care, and Yuta’s a bit freaked out by how blase she is about seeing that corpse earlier. Mana asks why he wants a mermaid, which leads to Yuta telling his life story.
500 years ago, Yuta was a normal fisherman. One day, two of his friends said they found what they thought was mermaid’s flesh. Remembering the legend that it can grant immortality, Yuta and his friends ate some of the flesh out of curiosity. Almost immediately, one guy turned into a bulbous eyed monster before dying. The second guy died the next day. Yuta was afraid he would die too, but nothing happened. Life went on, he got married, but twenty years later, his wife told him she was afraid of him because Yuta hadn’t aged at all. Any wound he gets heals almost immediately, but Yuta admits even he’s afraid of himself. Years later, his wife, now an elderly woman, told him his best chance to become normal again was to find a mermaid. It wasn’t a guarantee, but what else can he do? So for centuries Yuta’s been travelling the country trying to find a living mermaid to take away his immortality so he could age like a normal person. [Wing: … I hope she eats the flesh from his bones.]
Yuta says he expects Mana not to believe him, but is a little amused to see she’s fast asleep. She’s not though. Mana is trying to figure out how the villagers could harm her, after they spent her entire life saying how much they loved and treasured her. Was it a lie? Mana is woken from her train of thought when she hears those same howls from the beginning of the story…
A fish-like creature with bulbous eyes, a mouth like an angler fish, and claws comes lurching out of the depths of the cave towards Yuta and Mana. Using the weapons he swiped from the villagers, Yuta tries to hold the creature off, first by throwing a spear then slashing at the beast with a small scythe. But these have no effect on the creature. Mana says poison’s the only way to kill it. Yuta asks how she could know that before it attacks again. Nearby, a younger village hears the howling and figures a “Lost Soul” wandered from the cave. She dips her spear in a pouch filled with powder tied to her side, and rushes to the cave. The villager saves Yuta and Mana by driving the spear into the monster’s side, but it claws her chest before running deeper into the cave. The villager says that’s not the only “Lost Soul,” but the poison tipped spear she used will kill that one soon. Yuta recognizes the Lost Soul as the same type of monster his friend turned into all those years ago…
Yuta tells Mana to wait for him. He’ll bring the wounded villager back and then return for her, but Mana insists on following him. Yuta points out there’s no way she could walk after having her feet bound her whole life, but is silently amazed when Mana STANDS ON HER OWN. But she quickly falls back down. Yuta hides Mana in the forest away from the cave before he leaves.
At the village, Yuta tells the villagers to back off or they’ll never find Mana. As they take the wounded woman (Kajika), Yuta notices she looks identical to two villagers the same age. Not only that, but two things disturb him:
- There are no men.
- All the women have the SAME FACE. Granted there are difference due to the age, but cluster the women together in similar age groups and they’re identical.
Yuta meets with Nanny, rejecting her offer of tea and demonstrating his healing abilities by slicing his arm with the broken pottery. Yuta explains he wants to be normal again, causing Nanny to ask if eternal life and youth is such a burden. If Yuta is so unhappy, he can just kill himself by chopping off his head. Yuta, however, is not suicidal. He wants to age because he’s sick of constantly roaming, unable to fall in love or start a family. He wants a LIFE. [Wing: UMM. You’ve had many lifetimes. Isn’t that life enough? You clearly could totally fall in love and have a family, since you’ve already DONE THAT.]
[Jude: Yeah, but that’s the thing about immortality visited later on. Never aging means he can’t stay in the same place or people would notice, and he’ll have to watch as his family and friends get older and die while he stays young. His immortality soured his relationship with his wife and he had to watch her get older and die, so he doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not fair to him or the other women.]
Meanwhile, Mana is sick of waiting, and miraculously is able to force herself to not only stand up, but walk as well.
Yuta question what value Mana has to the villagers and why they bound her feet. Also, he realizes that cave is filled with people who ate mermaid’s flesh but instead became monsters. Nanny is somewhat amused by how much he knows despite being a brat, which Yuta takes joking offense to since he’ll be turning 500 soon. And here I forgot to get a card.
Outside, Mana is found by Kajika and two other women. Mana notices Kajika’s wounds are gone…
Nanny explains Mana is the “Youth” of the village. It seems mermaids, despite being eternal, do not stay young forever. Yuta can’t believe that all the women in this village are really mermaids. And every so often they need to replenish their youth and vitality. Only, they can’t just pick any beautiful young woman. It has to be one who gained immortality from mermaid’s flesh. Mana is the only girl they’ve stolen in the last few decades who survived eating mermaid’s flesh. Yuta is, naturally, horrified and outraged when he realizes the Lost Souls in those caves were all innocent victims stolen from their families and raised as livestock before being cast to live in the dark. Yuta’s so disgusted he vows to never hand Mana back, but it’s too late. Mana’s paraded through the village tied up and at spear point. [Wing: WELL DAMN. That escalated quickly.]
Once distracted, Yuta has a spear rammed through his side. Nanny mentions the only way a mermaid could help him is by allowing her body to rot and ground into a mixture of herbs to make a poison. The same poison the spear is coated in. Yuta won’t go down without a fight, and even with the spear still in his chest, he rips a fucking door off and rams it at the women who’ve captured Mana. Together, Yuta and Mana get hold of a torch and a pot of oil, setting two women on fire and making a break for it. Nanny’s not worried. They’ll simply follow Yuta’s blood.
Mana can hardly believe the villagers wanted to eat her this whole time, and Yuta is upset his quest turned out to be a snipe hunt. [Wing: DUDE. You knew going into this that it might not work at all, much less the way you want it to. This is on you.] In a nearby, but different, cave, Mana explains all the caves near the village are connected to the sea. She explains during the full and new moons when the tide is high, the Lost Souls are forced to higher ground. In order to save Yuta, they have to *shudder* slowly pull the spear out of his body. It’s total agony for Yuta, but he remains conscious enough to tell Mana to suck the poison from his wound. When she’s finished, Mana asks if Yuta’s dead. He just smiles. Their relief is short lived when Mana hears a Lost Soul nearby, meaning the caves are all connected.
The villagers decide they’ll simply flush Yuta and Mana out by flooding the caves. By opening the floodgate from the nearby lake, they’ll convene at the one outlet to the sea and then they’ll wait. As the floodgates are opened, Mana takes the bloody spear and prepares to fight the oncoming Lost Souls by herself. And, like, an hour ago she couldn’t walk. Damn, those two are hardcore! [Wing: I am so in love with both of them.]
The Lost Souls back Yuta and Mana against the wall when the lake water floods the cave and washes them out to the sea. At the outlet, the villagers welcome the surging waters with open arms. Underwater Yuta is woken up, and sees the villagers have all turned into mermaids. But these mermaids have bulging eyes and fanged mouths like the Lost Souls. Mana is unconscious, so she doesn’t feel it when a mermaid bites her shoulder. Yuta sees the mermaid’s face quickly becomes similar to Mana’s, so he fights them off as best he can, Mana in one arm, the spear in the other. Desperately Yuta swims to the surface, throwing Mana closer to the shore while the mermaids jump from the sea and try to kill him. Nearby, Nanny approaches Mana and aims a spear at her throat. Mana awakens and grabs Nanny, looking pissed beyond belief. Mana throws Nanny off, shouting she’s not going to be eaten. Nanny asks what else does she have to live for? She says Mana has no clue what kind of unbearable pain comes with eternal life, that death right now would be a blessing compared to centuries of solitude and misery cut off from your fellow man forever.
Mana doesn’t care.
“I’M GOING TO LIVE! YOU’LL NEVER KILL ME!”
Yuta holds a spear against Nanny, who sighs in defeat saying it won’t matter. The mermaid villagers have reverted to their true forms, so nothing can change them back to human. Nanny, though, is not a mermaid. No, she’s simply an old woman who became immortal like Yuta and Mana did. And now she’s stuck here with those wretches until the end of time, because where else could someone like her live?
“Without any joy. Without any laughter or tears. Just living.”
Yuta takes Mana with him as he leaves. Away from Cape Nosuri, Mana asks if life is really that hard. Yuta says yes, but there are also a lot of good things in life. So, who knows? Together they’ll see how much they can make of life before the novelty wears off.
[Wing: This is AWESOME. I love the horrific mermaids, and Mana fighting to save herself and Yuta, and how Mana is so determined to live. What a fun addition to our recaps.]
Our first foray into the world of Mermaid Saga.
Right away, for Takahashi fans at least, you get the sense Yuta and Mana aren’t like her other protagonists. There’s chemistry between them, but you couldn’t call it romance. Yuta doesn’t strut around with a massive ego as some he man rescuer, and Mana is capable of defending herself despite being so sheltered. I really like their relationship. The horror is visceral but it’s not over the top or gratuitous. There’s shock value in Yuta “dying” yes, but Takahashi avoids going into straightforward exploitation which is impressive because this was first serialized in the 80s. As the first comic related post for Point Horror I hope you guys enjoyed it.
[Wing: This is a GREAT addition, and I’m excited to see more horror comics recaps in the future.]