Title: Mermaid Saga Part 7 – Dream’s End
Author/Artist: Rumiko Takahashi
It’s a good thing I chose this chapter for July because I’ve been incredibly backlogged the last couple of weeks ever since I got sick around Independence Day.
Dream’s End is another oddity in the series because it provides more world building, even though it’s the shortest story at only 22 pages not counting the splash title page. It’s the only time the series explores the concept of the Lost Souls beyond their typical usage as a plot device and warning against consuming mermaid’s flesh. It also has a bit of a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe.
Things immediately get off to a bad start when Mana and Yuta are already dead at the story’s beginning. From the looks of it, the two were caught in a rock slide and got crushed to death. Temporarily, of course.
A nearby wanderer stumbles upon the two. The stranger is big, and most of his head is wrapped in bandages save for his oddly familiar looking eyes. As the stranger gets closer, Mana begins to stir…
Unfortunately, when Yuta wakes up, Mana’s gone. He’s in some sort of shack in the woods, alongside an old man with an eyepatch and a priest. Geez Yuta, someone’s delivering your last rights and you don’t even have the decency to stay dead. The old guy apologizes to the priest for wasting his time, even though he was sure Yuta was a goner.
The old guy appears to be a hunter, and his shack is loaded with weapons and animals he’s hunted for food. The hunter explains he didn’t see any girl when he found Yuta while Yuta tells him about the mermaid flesh and his immortality. The hunter’s certain Mana’s probably been eaten by someone or something he refers to as “Big Eyes.” This creature’s the thing that took the hunter’s eye, but he has no idea what Big Eyes is or where he came from.
However, Big Eyes is hella strong when it suddenly jumps to him ripping a wild boar’s head off like it was a twist cap.
That night, it cuts to a cave where Mana is still asleep. She’s resting atop a fur pelt while a single candle illuminates the darkness. A water droplet awakens Mana just in time to see Big Eyes returning with dinner. In the candlelight, Mana gets a good look at Big Eyes’ face, when the bandages wrapped around his mouth come loose. Those eyes, that mouth, he’s a Lost Soul! Instead of freaking out, Mana grabs a huge rock and chucks it at her rescuer after immediately assuming the worst. Mana orders Big Eyes to stay away from her as she picks up another rock, but is in for another shock when he says he won’t hurt her. This is the first time she’s ever heard a Lost Soul speak, albeit his speech is somewhat slurred.
The next morning, Mana’s washing herself in a nearby pond. Big Eyes is clearly enamored and thinks Mana’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He gets nervous when she approaches, obviously blushing, and prepares her breakfast by roasting the boar he killed. While stuffing her face, Mana asks what happened to Yuta. Big Eyes assumed Yuta was dead for real, but Mana’s not worried and prepares to find him. Big Eyes frantically begs her not to leave, at least not yet. He even bows in front of her and asks they spend a little more time together.
Meanwhile, Yuta and the hunter are searching the forest for Mana and Big Eyes, the hunter armed with a gun and Yuta a spear with an unlit stick of dynamite tied to it. The hunter lays down some of dat gank exposition; he’s stabbed, shot, done practically everything to try and kill Big Eyes. He figures the only way to kill him is to chop off his head. Yuta immediately guesses what they’re dealing with when the hunter’s dog catches Big Eyes’ scent.
Big Eyes begins to regale Mana with his thrilling life story. Like Yuta, he was an ordinary fisherman before he ate mermaid’s flesh. One day, he found the half-eaten remains of a mermaid carcass washed upon the shore. He knew about the legend of mermaid’s flesh, so he decided to try some.
His whole body became gripped with pain and he passed out. When he came to, he saw something had destroyed the village and killed practically everyone, including his parents. He then heard the lone survivor, a woman, screaming “Monster!” and pointing at HIM. He had no idea what to do, so he ran away, and has been living in solitude ever since. Meeting Mana has been the happiest moment he can recall in a long, long time.
That happiness is short lived when the hunter finds them and starts shooting Big Eyes! Big Eyes shields Mana from the bullets, and Yuta charges forth the moment he sees her. Unfortunately, Big Eyes panics and knocks down the rocks in front of the cave entrance just as Yuta gets inside. The hunter’s more annoyed at the inconvenience while Yuta lays buried under the stones. Big Eyes grabs Mana, much to her anger, and runs off with her to the exit on the other side of the cave. Yuta digs his way out and isn’t happy his suspicions were confirmed as he follows after Mana and Big Eyes.
Deeper in the cave, Mana struggles to get free from Big Eyes. Big Eyes is hurt, asking if Mana’s trying to leave him because he’s so frightening to look at. The man pleads, enunciating clearly, that his heart is still…
He can’t finish the sentence, and sinks to his knees. Big Eyes tells Mana to go back, but Mana says he can come with her and Yuta. She tells him they both ate mermaid’s flesh and are immortal human beings as well. Big Eyes tries to process that someone has called him a human being for the first time in ages, when the hunter ruins the moment. He tells Mana to get away from Big Eyes because he’s a dangerous monster. Mana lividly screams Big Eyes isn’t a monster… but then the hunter lifts up his lantern and shows her what’s in the cave.
Yuta reaches the unhappy party as Big Eyes starts to sob. He cries that sometimes he gets dizzy, that he, he doesn’t know what’s he doing until it’s too late. The hunter mercilessly opens fire, and something snaps within Big Eyes. If the bones around them are from lapses in his consciousness, this must be one of those times. Big Eyes swats the hunter and his dog away, running out of the cave as fast he can. Mana tries to follow him despite Yuta’s protests, hoping to reason with Big Eyes and saying he can still come with them. Big Eyes smacks Mana away hard enough to make her cheek bleed.
Man is slumped on the ground, left speechless in shock and sadness, as Yuta charges with the spear. He’s lit the stick of dynamite and hurls the spear at Big Eyes; it explodes and takes off one of Big Eyes’ arms. Poor Big Eyes passes out as the hunter approaches with an ax to sever his head. But it’s a trick! Big Eyes grabs the hunter by the neck. Mana jumps onto her friend’s arm and begs him to stop, but he just roars and hoists her into the air…
He doesn’t notice Yuta sink the ax into his neck until it’s done.
Big Eyes silently falls to the ground, letting go of the hunter and Mana. Yuta clearly is not happy with what he had to do, as Big Eyes feebly calls for Mana. Realizing his humanity’s returned just as he’s about to die, Mana wraps her arms around her friend and assures him his bad dream’s over.
I really wish this had been longer, had spread some more light on what Big Eyes had to endure all those years and maybe give him some more time with Mana. I appreciate he realized on his own he couldn’t force Mana to stay with him instead of turning into a villain just because he wanted to be with her.
I felt Takahashi made Big Eyes appropriately tragic, and one poignant touch had him exclaim “I don’t know what I’m doing” without the slurred speech he usually talks with. I thought that was perfect.