Title: Mermaid Saga Part 3-4 – The Village of the Fighting Fish
Author/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
This immediately isn’t one of my favorites stories in the series. While two of the characters are pretty cool, it doesn’t really have the same horror feel as the other tales. The tone and setting comes across similar to Takahashi’s other series, “Inuyasha.”
It also seems weird she’d do a story about Yuta’s past, long before Mana was in the picture, as the immediate second tale after the opening two parts.
I’m not sure how you’re gonna feel about this one, Wing. I don’t think you’ll like the ending, but I do think you’ll like the bad guy.
[Wing: It does seem like a strange choice to do a backstory so soon after the series begins.]
One day, out at sea, a ship is suddenly under attack! A group of men led by an armored young woman named Rin lead a siege on the ship, exclaiming the sailors on board aren’t leaving without paying. The sailors believe Rin and the men are pirates and beg for mercy after being captured. However, Rin tells them to stop being stupid. Her group aren’t thieves, they just want the sailors to pay a toll for traveling through their waters.
Rin and the men head back to their home, Toba Island, with a tenth of the cargo from the sailors. The group is pleased with having done a good job when they sail by those dastardly Sakagami Islanders. Their leader, a hulk of man with only one eye, comments he hasn’t seen Rin’s father in a while and assumed the old man finally died. Rin orders the Sakagami Islanders to get the fuck out of there, but they just laugh. The Toba Islanders notice the loot on the Sakagami boats is bloodstained, musing they probably slaughtered an entire ship.
Upon their return, Rin’s men are joyously greeted by their wives and children, while two kids, Tokichi and Sayori, rush to Rin’s side and inform her a dead body washed up on shore. Rin can’t believe another one showed up. [Wing: Oh, those pesky dead bodies washing up on shore. What a downer.] Farther down the shoreline Rin is shown the body of a young man, nearby where some odd looking scales are floating among the waves. He doesn’t seem to be a native, but he sure does look peaceful. Rin orders two men to give the stranger a proper burial and heads home to her father. Her bedridden dad asks what the commotion was, and she explains it was just the latest in a number of dead bodies that have been appearing on the shore. Sometimes, it’s a Sakagami Islander. Rin then asks her father if he believes in mermaids, because supposedly, the Sakagami pirates have been looking for one. Rin muses if the legends are true, she’d try to find one first and let her father eat the flesh so he’ll get better. Rin’s father tells her the islanders all believe she’s doing a fine job as leader, but Rin thinks she could never be as good as him.
The next day, Sayori shows Rin some flowers she’s picked to put on the dead man’s grave. Sayori and Tokichi ask Rin to join them as they bring the flowers to graves on the hill, but Rin’s thoughts are focused on the mermaid. Every time a dead body has appeared in the water, it’s always near the same odd scales. Rin wonders if the scales belong to mermaids. The kids, on the other hand, are thrilled to discover some of the flowers they planted before have taken root. Rin does not pick up their enthusiasm as she places flowers on the most recent gr-OH SHIT A HAND POPPED OUT.
OH SHIT THE MAN’S ALIVE!
Rin automatically grabs the kids, brings them to a safe distance, and then heaves a huge rock at the not-so-dead guy. The man orders Rin to calm down.
“I’m not some kind of suspicious character!”
“Wh-what?! YOU LOOK PLENTY SUSPICIOUS TO ME!!”
Sayori begs Rin not to kill the guy again, and soon the island is in a tizzy about a supposedly dead man come back to life. The man is brought to Rin’s father, who comments on the guy’s ability to survive. The man introduces himself as Yuta, and thanks them at least for giving him a proper burial. He used to be a fisherman a long, long time ago, but now he takes on odd jobs wherever he ends up, a sailor, a soldier, etc. While working as a sailor, he was approached by a beautiful, albeit sleazy looking, 30-something woman who asked if he would like to hunt for mermaids. After hearing the woman’s description, Rin is sure Yuta was approached by Isago, the Sakagami Captain’s wife.
Back on Sakagami Island, the captain and his thugs are having a meal and bemoaning their bad luck the last few days. One of the men asks Isago if she truly believes in mermaids. Isago oh-so-casually says the waters are lousy with them back where she came from. One guy asks what the point is in searching for a creature that can make you immortal if you die in the process of searching. The captain gets pissed off, hoisting up and throwing a table, screaming at his men for their failures and cowardice. After killing one of his men, the captain then bursts into tears about how fragile life can be. [Wing: So here’s our overly dramatic Captain Hook character then.] Away from the captain’s hut, some of his men figure they’re all gonna die soon if they don’t find a mermaid, and blame Isago for putting ideas in the captain’s head.
The following morning, Rin is relieved of guard duty and heads back to her hut when she spies Yuta rowing away in a boat. Outraged that he’s stealing one of their boats, Rin yells at Yuta to stop and jumps into the water… while still wearing armor. The minute Rin sinks beneath the waves, Yuta dives in after her and finds her furiously trying to swim on the seafloor. The two exchange blows as soon as Yuta gets her above ground, Yuta calling her an idiot for trying to swim with armor on, Rin punching his head calling him a boat thief. On the shore, Yuta apologizes for trying to slip away like that, explaining he was trying to reach the spot where the mermaid’s supposed to be. Rin thinks Yuta wants immortality, but he corrects her.
“Not that it’s anything to brag about… but this is the fifth time I’ve come back to life.”
“…It sure sounds like something to brag about.”
Yuta recalls the many times he’s drowned, been killed in battle, and just when it looks like it’s finally over he gets yanked back to life. It’s not an enjoyable experience at all.
I think Kenny from “South Park” put it best.
Yuta finishes by saying he was told the only way to age normally again is to find a mermaid. Rin gets him to explain where, exactly, he’s trying to look, reasoning he won’t know the waters in the area like Rin and the islanders do. Yuta makes a diagram in the sand pointing out where he was headed. Rin figures they have to wait for the waxing moon before the waters are safe to travel, offering to guide him in exchange for doing work. Yuta is totally eager to get back to being a fisherman.
Over the next few days Yuta falls into routine with the other Toba Islanders, working as a fisherman and helping Rin’s group collecting tolls. The villagers are starting to see him as one of them. One day, Rin asks Yuta to come with her and Tokichi to the harbor market. Yuta’s a little surprised she’s dressed in a kimono robe, before Rin asks what Yuta will do if he becomes a normal human again. Yuta tells her he’d like to stay on the island if he becomes normal again.
At the market, Tokichi runs off and attempts to trade the scale he found, when he’s approached by none other than Isago. Rin and Yuta are looking at brushes and combs when Tokichi exclaims he sold his scale! Rin is not happy to see Isago, who’s more interested in seeing Yuta’s alive. [Wing: It’s so hard to find good dead help these days.] Tokichi thoughtlessly blurts out Yuta came back to life. Yuta tells Isago he didn’t find a mermaid, but she doesn’t exactly believe him… which is why she stabs his hand with a hair pin. Rin orders the woman to back off, saying Yuta didn’t find one. Isago “apologizes” and then pays for the hairpin, shamelessly putting it in Rin’s hair as her way to show there aren’t any hard feelings.
Rin throws it inches from Isago’s head as she departs, not that Isago notices. Or cares.
That stormy night, Yuta converses with Rin’s father about what happened at the market. Rin’s dad sees no allure in the idea of becoming immortal, believing a good life is one of moderation. He asks Yuta what he thinks of Rin. Rin’s dad knows he’s going to die soon because of his health, and asks Yuta to stay on the island and become Rin’s bridegroom. He knows Rin likes Yuta, and is worried about what’ll happen to her after he dies, even with the courage and strength she’s shown in leading the village. Yuta thinks to himself he would if he’s able to become normal again, obviously not wanting Rin to go through what his wife did with the whole “Immortal husband” thing.
As Yuta prepares to turn in for the night, he runs into none other than Isago. And she does NOT look happy. Armed with a sword, Isago sees Yuta’s hand has already healed. Yuta tries to explain he’s been immortal for years, but she doesn’t believe him. Isago demands Yuta tell her where he’s stashed his mermaid’s flesh, but Yuta’s not scared. He reminds Isago there’s no point in threatening an immortal, but Isago smirks. The sword’s not for him. Rin overhears the arguing and arrives just in time to find Isago smugly standing over her father… with the sword sticking out of his chest.
Isago warns the two that Rin’s father will die unless they get the mermaid’s flesh…
The next part opens with Yuta removing the sword and bandaging Rin’s father, advising Rin the stab wound’s not fatal. Isago reminds them the old man wasn’t in good health to begin with, at which point Rin grabs the very sword Isago stabbed her father with and slashes her across the chest. Rin dashes out of the hut, determined to find a mermaid to save her dad. Yuta looks at Isago’s corpse, amazed at how stupid the woman was, before following after Rin and ordering one of the other islanders to look after Rin’s dad.
Yuta and Rin sail out in the middle of the storm, unaware the Sakagami Pirates have been waiting nearby. Isago, it turns out, was baiting Rin so her husband and his men would follow them to find the mermaid. Rin manages to direct Yuta through the rough waters until they reach the spot men have been dying to hide to when OH SHIT! The mermaid leaps out of the water!
Yuta dives off the boat and swims after the mermaid, who tries slashing at him with her claws to get away. Yuta grabs hold, refusing to let go after searching for so long. Rin watches from her boat as the mermaid emerges from the waves, Yuta still holding onto her. Rin is left speechless as the mermaid submerges and emerges several times before she’s finally run through by a barrage of harpoons… while Yuta’s still holding on.
The Sakagami pirates bring the mermaid, Yuta’s corpse, and Rin back to their island. The pirates marvel at how ugly the mermaid’s lamprey face really is when it turns out she’s still alive and bites one of the pirates. [Wing: Pretty much everyone involved is terrible at determining whether someone is actually dead or not.] The captain isn’t phased in the slightest before severing the mermaid’s head (still biting his subordinate). They throw Yuta’s body over a cliff into the ocean and keep Rin prisoner. Rin steels herself remembering Yuta will come back to life, but the guy watching her starts to get certain… ideas. The guard forces himself on Rin as Rin orders him to keep his slimy paws off, before someone calmly asks what this guy is doing without the boss’s permission.
Isago tells the guy to beat it as she’ll be taking watch of Rin. Isago smugly asks why Rin’s surprised to see her; she’s already met one immortal, hasn’t she? Rin starts demanding to know why Isago was so obsessed with finding a mermaid if she was already immortal. Unlike Yuta, Isago doesn’t want to become normal. Rather, she claims she needed the mermaid’s flesh for her unborn baby. Rin snarls she gives no fucks about any bastard sired by the Sakagami captain, but Rin’s got it wrong. Isago explains her baby daddy is her first husband, who was killed when she was kidnapped by the Sakagami pirates. That doesn’t make sense to Rin, recalling Isago was kidnapped THREE YEARS AGO.
The Sakagami captain (who’s got all the carved up mermaid’s flesh on a big plate in front of him) demands Rin be brought to him and the men for some dinnertime “entertainment.” Rin’s hands are bound as she’s brought to the pirates, the captain thanking her for aiding in finding the mermaid’s flesh. Outside, the evening guard bemoans his rotten luck that he doesn’t get to partake in any of the mermaid’s flesh when Yuta emerges from the water and ambushes the guy, forcing the guy to tell him where Rin is.
Back on Toba Island, the villagers have learned from Rin’s newly conscious father that Isago stabbed him. Adding that Rin is missing, the villagers put two and two together and plan a siege on Sakagami Island to rescue Rin.
The Sakagami captain asks Rin to join in their toast; she spits in his face. The captain smirks before throwing Rin around on the floor, battering her for not being “sweet enough.” He even adds, with Isago right next to him, he’d have made Rin his wife had she been nicer. The captain sobs at Rin’s nastiness, throwing her out of the hut… and into Yuta’s arms. The captain isn’t happy to see Yuta, his men shocked having believed Yuta was dead. Rin starts crying tears of relief that Yuta’s alive for real. Isago helps herself to more sake as she calmly explains the only way to kill Yuta is to chop off his head. The captain sweetens the deal by saying whoever brings him Yuta’s head gets a share of the mermaid’s flesh. The men immediately swarm Yuta.
After Rin’s hands are freed, she and Yuta tag team as they beat the shit out of the Sakagami men. The captain and Isago continue on with their meal as if nothing’s happening, the wounded men begging for some mermaid’s flesh so they can fight. The captain barks at the men to bring him Yuta’s head if they wanna live so badly. Yuta takes the fight straight to the captain, throwing a sword and stabbing the brute in his chest. The captain flinches as he removes the sword, swinging it at Yuta screaming “THAT HURT!” With his attention diverted, the subordinates lunge at the mermaid’s flesh and greedily stuff their faces. The captain orders them to stop, but his men declare now they’re immortal too so they aren’t scared of-
They can’t finish. Several start puking blood and die. Others begin to turn into Lost Souls. Isago isn’t phased that the mermaid’s flesh didn’t agree with them.
“A medicine that’s too powerful can be a poison, too.”
Isago samples some of the mermaid’s flesh as she finishes explaining only a lucky handful become immortal; the rest die or become monsters. The captain agrees with Isago, taking a swig of sake and spitting it on his chest wound. Or rather, the spot where the wound WAS. Thinking he’s immortal, the captain tries to kill Yuta while Rin finds herself surrounded by the newly born Lost Souls. The captain is incredibly hard to kill, throwing Yuta around like he was nothing. Rin rushes to Yuta outside the hut while the captain takes out a sword, preparing to decapitate Yuta…
When suddenly, the captain’s good eye bulges outward.
Isago informs the captain he brought this on himself. If he hadn’t kidnapped Isago, she wouldn’t have needed to hunt for a mermaid. As she puts it:
“There’s so many of us where I came from.”
Outside, Yuta and Rin continue to fight the Lost Souls when the villagers finally arrive.
Isago explains to the slowly transforming captain she’s a different kind of mermaid. Some mermaids have two legs, and some live in the sea. Those with legs feed on the ones who live in the sea. The seabound ones provide nourishment for Isago’s kind, especially when pregnant. Isago’s been carrying an unborn child for three years and her child couldn’t develop any further until she fed on another mermaid. YIKES. [Wing: This worldbuilding is fucking amazing.]
Rin and the villagers have killed the Lost Souls when the captain bursts from the hut, having fully transformed into a grotesque monster, bigger and nastier than the others. Rin orders the men to throw their harpoons at the captain, but Yuta tells them to throw six of them in the captain’s back. Yuta then CLIMBS UP THE CAPTAIN’S BACK using the harpoons, and starts stabbing at the captain’s shoulders trying to slice his head off. But the bastard sees Isago climbing towards the cliff and goes berserk. Yuta desperately stabs the captain’s neck, screaming what the hell is Isago doing letting herself be cornered on the cliff.
Isago turns back and looks right in her ex-husband’s good eye.
And then jumps off the cliff.
Before she hits the water, Isago turns to face Rin, and smiles while doing so.
The other villagers assume Isago jumped because she had no choice. They have no idea she simply swam away, most likely to finally have her child.
Still immortal, his search having been fruitless once more, Yuta’s decided to leave Toba Island. It was a short while, but it was a good dream at least.
As Rin steers the boat, she cries and asks if she was in Yuta’s dream. Yuta says they were husband and wife.
Rin adds she had the same dream.
Rin tells Yuta to live long, but Yuta jokes that’s the last thing he wants to hear.
So yeah, Isago’s by far the one villain we’ve seen who managed to win in the end.
There’s really not much else I can say about the story so I’ll leave it to Wing to cap off with her thoughts.
[Wing: I still think this comes at a weird location in the overall publication order of the series, but I found it surprisingly delightful, possibly based solely on that worldbuilding around mermaids eating other mermaids. Deliciously horrific.
Plus, pirates. Pirates are good.]