Title: Mermaid Saga Chapter 5 & 6 – Mermaid’s Forest
Author/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Initial Thoughts: I decided to skip chapters 3 and 4 for now because that story isn’t really a horror tale, but more of an action/adventure one that takes place in Yuta’s past. I prefer the modern day stories because the past tales remind me too much of “Inuyasha” so they don’t really feel like “Mermaid Saga” to me.
I mentioned in the first post “Mermaid’s Forest” is one of the two most well known stories from the series. It was the first to receive an animated adaption as an OVA in the 1980s, and was later included in the anime series from the 2000s. In fact this story’s so well known Mermaid Saga is sometimes referred to as “Mermaid’s Forest.”
This takes place immediately after Yuta and Mana leave Cape Nosuri, and features the most visually striking character in the franchise, Towa Kannagi.
I’m gonna include scans and screencaps from the manga, the OVA, and the anime throughout this.
[Wing: I am in love with this story already, and looking forward to this recap.]
Mana and Yuta have been walking for like forever since leaving Mana’s village and Nanny behind. While wandering around a city park, Mana sees a small kitten and has no idea what it is. After Yuta explains the little fluffball is a cat, he advises it’s not a good idea to bring it with them, because it won’t be long before they outlive the cat. Mana feels sorry for it, knowing unlike them it’ll be dead for good.
[Wing: Well this is a heartbreaking way to kick off this part of the story.]
Yuta asks to stop and rest for a little bit after carrying Mana most of the way from Cape Nosuri. He tells her not to wander off while he naps. Asleep, Yuta dreams of his past five centuries of wandering, of the Lost Souls, and his fear of losing Mana at some point. Jolted from his nightmare, he’s shocked to see Mana really is gone. She’s simply exploring the park with the kitten, but when it gets loose from her hands, Mana follows it onto the street… and in the path of a speeding truck. Of course, Mana has no idea what a truck is, so she just blankly stares at it instead of FUCKING MOVING OUT OF THE WAY!
Yuta searches the park and then overhears two men exclaiming a girl was hit by a truck. The girl’s been taken to a local clinic so Yuta follows the men. At the office of the elderly Doctor Shiina, the doctor says he’s “At a loss.” Yuta’s scared Mana’s dead for real, but is told she only had a concussion and bruises. When Doctor Shiina turned his back, Mana left. Yuta and a police officer leave to look for Mana, while Doctor Shiina goes into the back of the clinic… where Mana’s still dead body is. The doctor closes her eyes.
[Wing: WAIT WHAT?!]
At a nearby home, Doctor Shiina confirms Mana was dead on arrival. He converses with a woman, hidden in shadows and standing in the doorway of an old fashioned bedroom, with Mana’s body laid out in front of him. The woman, Towa, apologizes for “Inconveniencing” the doctor, because he’s always so kind. Doctor Shiina says this might be the last time he does this as he begins to slice off Mana’s right arm. Just then, an old woman named Sawa bursts into the room demanding to know if Doctor Shiina is going to keep bringing corpses into her home. Towa says it’s necessary because her arm’s hurting again so it needs to be “Changed.” Towa reminds Sawa this could be avoided if they had a mermaid… and then Mana awakens and demands to know what the fuck are they doing to her arm. All three people are shocked at this corpse coming to life and how the incision in her arm has already healed. Mana simply asks where Yuta is.
[Wing: Mana. Seriously. They were cutting into your arm. Maybe don’t be so chill.]
Yuta is still looking for Mana and realizes Doctor Shiina might have lied. Returning to the clinic to get answers, Yuta’s told Doctor Shiina’s making a house call to the Kannagi residence. When Yuta learns the Kannagi house is near Mermaid Forest, he asks about the curious name. Yuta’s told supposedly a mermaid was buried somewhere in the woods by an ancestor of the Kannagi Family. Yuta finds the Kannagi home, a very old and not very inviting abode, and when no one answers at the front gate he simply hops over to continue his investigation. Yuta is then greeted by a teenage girl, with snow white hair, a cane in her left hand, and bandages covering her right arm…
Yuta asks the girl if Doctor Shiina is here because he’s looking for his friend. The girl mentions he must be “That girl’s-” but is cut off when Yuta angrily demands to know what they’ve done with Mana. Yuta doesn’t get an answer, when instead a Lost Soul, one that looks like a dog, leaps through the bushes behind the girl and attacks Yuta. The girl isn’t phased in the slightest.
“What the hell is this?!”
“It’s a dog. Isn’t that obvious?”
“What’s obvious about it?!”
[Wing: That exchange made me LOL and THEN YUTA’S THROAT OMG.]
The fight’s over quickly when the Lost Soul sinks its jaws into Yuta’s throat and crushes it. The next morning, Doctor Shiina and Sawa find Yuta’s body. Sawa is crying, and as Towa bids them good morning, Sawa demands to know why Towa killed him. Towa blames the dog, and as Doctor Shiina begins to dig a grave, Towa notices through Yuta’s bloodstains that his wounds are gone. Yuta then begins to breath again. Boy, two in one day, how lucky is Towa?
[Wing: … I seriously need to remember they’ll keep coming back. This is a roller coaster.]
When Yuta finally wakes up, he finds his arms have been shackled to the wall of a well furnished prison cell. Towa visits him, expressing her delighted amusement at finding two immortals at once. She sees this as confirmation that people can indeed gain eternal life through mermaid’s flesh. Yuta questions why she took Mana. Towa confesses she was more interested in Mana when she was dead and is still figuring out what to do. Yuta’s trying to understand what the hell is this girl’s deal when Sawa comes down with a tray of food for Yuta. Yuta, understandably, asks how anyone can be thinking of eating dinner, and I agree because how the fuck is he supposed to eat if his arms are chained to the wall standing up. He can’t even put his arms down if he wanted. Towa chimes it’s better if he doesn’t eat, because Sawa’s supposed specialty is poisoning people.
“Towa! Why do you always say such horrible things to me?!”
“You shouldn’t yell like that. Your dentures will fall out.”
Yuta just wants to get Mana and get her as far away from these people as soon as possible. Upstairs, Mana is stuffing her face and Towa declares Mana will live with them from now on. Mana’s like “Fuck no I’m waiting for Yuta,” so Towa says she can stay in their home until he arrives. While walking with Mana through the garden, Towa says she gets incredibly lonely living with just that horrible old lady. Mana’s perfectly happy having Yuta as her only friend, which Towa envies. That, and Mana’s youth. Towa has trouble standing with her cane, explaining she’s in poor health and may die soon. It’s why she’s so determined to find a mermaid. Sawa knows where the mermaid’s buried in the forest, but refuses to divulge the location.
Downstairs, Yuta is trying to yank the chains out of the wall, and he does! But he also yanks out most of the wall behind him and manages to get a concussion, because he’s a dork. And that’s when Sawa enters the cell with an ax…
We then cut to Mana bathing. Towa offers to wash Mana’s back with her good hand. She notices how beautiful Mana’s skin and body are, but the moment Towa gets fresh and cops a feel, Mana smacks her. Towa just smirks thinking of the pristine condition Mana’s in, before she starts to strangle her with the bandages from her right arm. Mana is more shocked when she sees Towa’s bare hand is really a misshapen claw almost exactly like a Lost Soul’s hands. [Wing: While that is truly a surprise, I’m not sure it’s more shocking than her trying to strangle you, Mana. Also, on a more meta level, way to tie ugliness into evilness, story.]
Back in the cell, Sawa has severed Yuta’s chains, and tells him to get Mana away from Towa. Sawa then reveals Towa isn’t her grandchild, but her TWIN SISTER. Yuta assumes Towa’s immortal, but he’s wrong. Towa looks young, but her organs are that of an old woman, and she’ll die soon. Sawa tells their story.
Sixty years back when they were both young, Towa contracted a fatal disease. Their father named Sawa his heir and he revealed the location of Mermaid Hill, the tomb of the legendary mermaid along with the medicines and poisons made from her corpse. Sawa, in a fit of desperation, tried to save Towa’s life by bringing her the mermaid’s blood (she couldn’t get the actual flesh).
“You mustn’t die, Towa. After all, you’re my only sister.”
It backfired spectacularly. Drinking the blood deformed Towa’s hand, and the shock made her hair go white. The OVA revealed the Lost Soul Dog was her pet dog, and it licked up some of the spilled blood. For years their family pretended Towa died and kept her hidden in the underground cell. Towa wasn’t allowed to leave until after her father finally died.
After Sawa finishes her tale, Towa bitterly comments she hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be trapped those decades past. Yuta and Sawa see Towa’s dragging an unconscious Mana by her hair. Towa locks the cell and explains she needs to have her arm changed again. Every few years, Doctor Shiina’s kindly transplanted a new arm from a freshly dead young woman to alleviate Towa’s crippling pain, but after a few years the new arm becomes deformed as well. This time she’s decided to not settle for an arm, and wants to switch BODIES with Mana. Towa drives a spear into Yuta through the bars of the door, and Yuta and Sawa are horrified as Towa brings forth the Lost Soul Dog. Towa kindly asks Sawa to get out, smiling one of the most genuinely twisted and horrifying smiles in the entire franchise as she says she wants her sister to live.
Shaken, Sawa edges out as the dog goes inside. Towa locks the cell shut, leaving Yuta to “play” with the dog while she gets to play with Mana.
Upstairs, Towa explains to Doctor Shiina she wants Mana’s body because she doesn’t want to die. She says Sawa could stop all this if she reveals where Mermaid Hill is, but since Sawa won’t, it’s a shame poor Mana won’t get to live a good, long life.
Yuta is doing his best to fight the Lost Soul Dog, even as it rips and bites him up. Yuta gets a few good jabs with the spear Towa left behind, and is finally able to kill the dog by impaling it through the back of its head as it bit onto the cell door. The spear goes straight through the head and through the wooden bar. All Yuta can think of is Mana.
Doctor Shiina is unable to do what Towa asks. Towa apologizes, admitting it’s not fair to keep asking so much of him. So instead SHE will cut off Mana’s head. Sawa finally relents and says she’ll bring Towa to Mermaid Hill. For insurance, Towa’s dragging Mana along with them, strapped to a cart and ready to chop off her head if Sawa’s lying. Mana finally wakes up, and begins screaming at Towa and co. for being a bunch of savages. As Mana screams for Yuta, Towa reports he’s dog food. Yuta, back at the house, still hasn’t fully recovered from his wounds and blood loss and is having trouble standing.
Sawa brings the group to a small hill and uncovers an entrance hidden by rocks. Towa forces Mana inside where they find a cave and a pit with bars covering the opening. There are shelves filled with different jars and bottles, and inside the pit is the fabled mermaid. Two wooden logs are stuck in the pit wall, one log shoved through her torso while her tail rests atop the other. [Wing: Jesus, this is brutal.] Towa is ecstatic, and not even Yuta’s arrival can spoil her glee. Yuta’s still weak, but is happy to find Mana as she’s overjoyed he’s alive. Yuta tries to warn Towa eating the mermaid’s flesh to gain immortality isn’t worth it, pointing out what happened to her just by drinking the blood. Yuta’s reasoning fall on deaf ears, and Towa throws Mana into the pit so she can bring back the mermaid’s flesh. There’s someone else in the pit, and another Lost Soul emerges behind Mana. Sawa explains to Towa that a Lost Soul is what happens to someone who neither gains immortality or dies eating mermaid’s flesh.
Yuta jumps into the pit with the spear, even though he’s not fully recovered. True enough, the Lost Soul makes quick work of him. Towa laughs at Yuta’s poor efforts, pissing Mana off even more if such a thing were possible. Towa tosses the ax at Mana’s feet and says if she doesn’t hurry, neither of them will live. Mana promises she’s gonna sever Towa’s smug head the first chance she gets, and orders Yuta to stand back while she takes care of business. But Mana is all talk and the Lost Soul throws her at Yuta. [Wing: Which is a shame, because I’d really like to see her kick some ass at this point.] The Lost Soul then grabs Yuta and flings him at the logs with the mermaid. Yuta starts trying to pry the log the mermaid’s impaled on out of the wall, telling Mana to run towards him. When the Lost Soul gets close enough, Yuta’s finally able to loosen the sharp end of the log and drive it through the Lost Soul’s head and body. WITH THE MERMAID STILL ON IT. I love both of them.
Yuta collapses into Mana’s arms, and Towa thanks them for their hard work. Surprise surprise when the mermaid, who is STILL ALIVE, [Wing: Seriously fucking brutal.] attacks Towa and bites through her shoulder. Towa is able to chop off the head while it’s still biting her. Towa is amazed at the mermaid’s will to live, much like her own. Slicing a chunk from the tail, Yuta begs her not to eat it. She doesn’t. She gives it to Sawa and tells HER to eat it, which is what she’s truly wanted all these years. Because after all, Sawa is really the one who wanted immortality, which is why she used Towa as a guinea pig to test the mermaid’s blood.
Back then, after it just happened, Towa overheard her father screaming at Sawa that he TOLD her more than once that no one’s ever gained immortality from the mermaid. And Towa realized SAWA KNEW the entire time and wasn’t trying to help Towa but was too much of a coward to experiment on her own body first. [Wing: HOLY SHIT.] Of course I’m wondering why the FUCK did their dad keep the mermaid and the stuff made from her body if he knew the shit was toxic in the first place?! Trapped in her cell, Towa’s only indicator of the passage of time was her visits from Doctor Shiina, who was clearly getting older. Sawa got married and had a kid, and in all that time Towa barely saw her sister. After Sawa’s husband, son, and their father died, she freed Towa, because “We’re all we have left.” Towa held no sympathy for her bitch sister, because she was allowed the privilege of having a life while Towa rotted away underground. It was then Towa decided she wouldn’t allow her sister to die.
“Now eat it! We’ll see if you become a monster, or if you go on living forever in that decrepit old body. EAT!“
Sawa says nothing, but slumps back on the pit wall. Doctor Shiina inspects Sawa, and reports she’s died of a sudden heart attack. Towa, for the first time in decades, starts crying. She waited years for this and once more, Sawa’s taken Towa’s hope away from her.
Towa, who’s lost too much blood from her wounds, requests Yuta and Doctor Shiina turn Mermaid Hill into her funeral pyre, now that she has nothing else to live for. As the hill burns, Doctor Shiina reveals he was engaged to Towa, and spent years trying to get her to leave the Kannagi house. She always said there was something she needed to do. All that time, she only cared about her revenge and couldn’t recognize she HAD the opportunity to live because Sawa’s betrayal cut too deeply. [Wing: This is both deeply creepy and heartbreaking. Her sister turned her into a monster not because of the claw but because of how it drove her obsession with getting revenge, and the twisty ways this family fucked each other over is terrible and really compelling reading.]
As Yuta and Mana leave the city, Mana asks if loneliness is that painful. Yuta asks Mana what she’d do if he disappeared. Mana happily responds she’d look for him, and if she couldn’t find him, she’d look some more. Yuta, humorously but sweetly, thanks her for her dedication.
“I’d keep looking and looking. I’d just keep looking and looking and looking. I’d look forever.”
“All right, all right. Thanks.”
[Wing: … Okay, that is also pretty damn creepy, Mana.]
What I love about this story is it shows Yuta and Mana are both capable in their own rights, and Mana isn’t there for Yuta to rescue. They’re both badasses, and if they’re outmatched by something, they’re equally outmatched just as they’re equally devoted to protecting each other.
Towa is so messed up and so tragic, you’re creeped out by how depraved she can be but then you learn there’s a good reason why she’s like that. You spend most of the story thinking she’s evil, and then in the last few seconds Takahashi makes her a victim. For those wondering, in the OVA, Doctor Shiina runs into the fire after Towa so they can be together in death.
[Wing: WHAT. Oh, my heart. Terrible and heartbreaking. This story is great.]
As a bonus, I’m including the ending theme from the OVA. “Born To Love You,” by Eri Fukatsu. You can find the lyrics and translations at the “Mermaid Saga” section of Furinkan.com.