Recap #185: Mermaid Saga Part 12: The Ash Princess by Rumiko Takahashi
Title: Mermaid Saga Part 12 – The Ash Princess
Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
Wow, so we’ve reached the final “Mermaid Saga” story to recap. My first completion of an entire series for Devil’s Elbow.
Unfortunately this last chapter is devoid of Mana, so Wing I hope you enjoyed her presence in the last recap. We’re looking at another exploration into Yuta’s past, this time a couple of hundred years after “The Village of the Fighting Fish.” It’s here Yuta has an encounter with a different kind of immortal, but without any romantic overtones. It’s still pretty heartbreaking though.
[Wing: I can’t believe that we’re already done with this series. I’m going to miss it, and Mana, quite a bit.]
It’s at some point in the 17th Century, when the Tokugawa Clan took control of Japan from the Toyotomi Clan. In a rural region, a woman was out walking with her young son when the boy silently collapsed to the ground. In horror, onlookers watched as the boy dissolved into a pile of bones! [Wing: That escalated quickly! And is creepy as hell.]
Nearby, an old monk recognized whose handiwork this was.
Meanwhile, in a nearby village, an old man is putting on a show for the villagers. He asks if anyone has heard the legend of the mermaid, a celestial beauty with a sweet voice and the power to grant immortality. In fact, he has a mermaid of his own! The spectators watch the old man unveil a small box containing what appears to be an actual mermaid. The old man follows up by introducing a young woman of about 11 or 12. He claims this young lady has gained eternal life through the power of mermaid’s flesh. To prove it, the girl cuts her arm with a sword and everyone watches as the wound heals in no time. The old man brings out a basket containing little parcels of mermaid’s flesh, promising the audience they too can have eternal life.
Farther back in the audience, the old monk sees the girl and is visibly disturbed at having confirmed something.
Yuta’s still wandering at this time, and is shocked to learn someone’s eaten mermaid’s flesh. The man claims he bought it at a sideshow and it tasted like carp, yet a scratch he got the other day still hasn’t healed. He thinks it was just carp he ate, which is Yuta is relieved to hear. Too bad it sounds like this mermaid is a fraud, which means he’s still no closer to undoing his immortality.
As evening grows near, the old man from the mermaid sideshow is looking for the girl, Natsume. He figures she went looking for food for their mermaid.
In a field, Natsume is eating something, but decides to save the rest for the mermaid. The thing she’s eating is a small liver… that’s she ripped out of a small wild dog. [Wing: Damn it, Natsume.] The monk approaches Natsume, calling her an evil spirit and declaring “Nirvana awaits you” as he unsheathes a blade from his staff.
Yuta is resting underneath a tree when he hears Natsume getting chased by the monk, and sees the monk cut off her hand! As Natsume scrambles to grab her severed hand, the monk is going to finish the job when Yuta tackles him down a small hill. While the monk is down, Natsume grabs a big rock with her good hand and starts bashing the monk in the head. Yuta lets her get a few good shots before he tries to make her calm down out of fear she’ll bleed to death.
Yuta leaves the monk by the hill as he brings Natsume back to the old man, her “Pa.” Yuta notes how old Pa seems to be Natsume’s father. Confidentially, she’s not sure he IS her Pa.
Inside their hut, Pa looks over Natsume’s wound as she recaps her experience with the monk. Yuta realizes Pa is the guy peddling mermaid’s flesh and turns down a free offering. He argues this is a sleazy way to make a living, but Pa laughs and feels he’s selling the dream of eternal youth and longevity.
As Pa finishes fussing over Natsume, Yuta is shocked to see her hand is completely reattached to her arm! There’s not even a scar. Yuta thinks Natsume’s eaten mermaid’s flesh, and does a demonstration of HIS regenerative abilities. Once Natsume hears Yuta’s been looking for a mermaid, she happily offers to show them the mermaid they use in their act.
Yuta is horrified by the so-called “Mermaid.” Pa then adds Natsume hasn’t actually eaten mermaid’s flesh. The two offer Yuta a place to crash for the night. Much later while Pa and Natsume are asleep, Yuta is still trying to figure out who or what Natsume is, when Natsume gets up and starts biting Yuta’s side! Pa wakes up and gets Natsume off Yuta before begging the young man to leave their home.
Back to wandering down the road, Yuta is approached by the old monk. He recognizes that Yuta has almost had his liver eaten, and begins to tell him what the deal is with Natsume and her Pa. For starters, the monk claims he MADE Natsume using something called the Hangon Technique.
Many decades ago, Japan was plagued with constant wars (1477-1573. The Warring States Period). The monk passed through many villages administering last rites when he came across a heartbreaking sight. It was a man kneeling by a pile of bones and cradling the skull of a small child. The monk brought the man and the collection of bones to his temple. He reassembled the skeleton and during the process, he placed a mermaid’s liver within the rib cage before completing the process.
[Wing: Damn, this is great. I once had an idea around a liver-eater monster, but this is so much better.]
The man was overjoyed by the return of his child, but there was a problem. She’d wander around, attacking small animals and soldiers who weren’t quite dead so she could eat their livers. The monk realized he had to return the girl to her old state, but by then her father had taken her and fled. Yuta gets where this is going, but the monk has more to add. He believes the old man memorized the Hangon Technique and used it to make not just the bastard mermaid, but has been shoddily bringing people back from the dead. The only reason Natsume’s still around is because of the mermaid’s liver.
The next day, Yuta checks out Natsume’s performance at her Pa’s sideshow. He doesn’t think she looks evil, even with the events of last night. Natsume’s ecstatic to see Yuta again and apologizes for what happened the previous evening. She blithely comments she wondered what an immortal liver would taste like before heading back to her Pa. Yuta muses on the monk’s words; he explained he needed seven days to fast and prepare himself to return Natsume to the world of the dead. Yuta doesn’t want to be an accomplice to killing Natsume, but the monk clarifies he only wants Yuta to keep an eye on the two. And besides, she’ll be happier in Nirvana.
Yuta’s sitting by a creek and thinking things over when Natsume joins him. She’s got a bunch of questions, like if Yuta really will never get older or become a grown-up. Yuta gets a bit huffy and says he IS a grown-up. Natsume asks about his parents, whom Yuta says died a long time ago. Natsume feels bad that Yuta is so lonely and offers to stay with him. Yuta asks Natsume what’ll happen to her Pa; Natsume honestly doesn’t know if he IS her Pa. The first thing she remembers is waking up to him hugging her and crying tears of joy that she was “Back.” She never changes while he keeps getting older…
While all this is going on, Pa is discussing resurrecting the daughter of the local nobleman. Per Pa’s instructions, the lord and his wife have allowed their daughter’s body to turn to bones. He says he will use the Hangon Technique; the lord’s wife is familiar with the story.
A long time ago, a priest trained on a mountain. The loneliness became too much for him to stand, so he gathered the bones found scattered in open fields, placed them together, and constructed a brand new human being.
The lord and his wife pray this will work to revive their dear child. Pa empathizes with the couple as he knows all too well the agony of outliving one’s child. Up in the hills, Natsume assists Pa in placing the princess’s skeleton together. He’s going to use as much time as possible to properly resurrect the girl, so she’ll live for many years. Natsume asks Pa if this is how she was born, and why he does such things. Pa relates she doesn’t remember how awful those war torn years were for them. It got so bad no one had the ability to cry over the dead anymore. Except him. As he remembers cradling Natsume’s dead body, Pa tells her they’re doing good work by creating life.
No matter what form it takes, life is the most important thing there is.
Natsume mulls over these words as she eats the liver of a stray cat. She decides to save some for the fake mermaid, but returning to the sideshow she discovers it’s regressed back to bones. Natsume buries the fake mermaid and asks if Pa will create another one. He promises to do so when they’re done with the princess. Natsume hopes the mermaid sleeps well.
The next day, Natsume meets with Yuta as he works as a fisherman. They talk about the mermaid’s passing and Yuta offers her a fish. While she noms on the fish liver, Natsume expresses her feelings of helplessness. She wishes she could grow up so she wouldn’t have to worry about getting by once Pa dies. Yuta remembers the words of the monk, and offers to bring Natsume with him on his travels so she won’t be “Sent to Nirvana.” Today is the seventh day of the monk’s cleansing, so Yuta knows he has to get Natsume away from him. Natsume’s ecstatic and asks Yuta to wait while she tells her Pa the good news. Unaware her dad’s been listening the whole time.
A short while later, Pa approaches Yuta and tells him Natsume is waiting for him in the hills…
Right where the princess’s bones are.
Pa attacks Yuta with an ax and informs him he won’t let anyone take Natsume from him. At the time, Natsume’s still looking for Pa so she can tell him she’s leaving. Which is exactly when the monk shows up.
Yuta wakes up to discover he’s bound to a tree. Pa plans to remove Yuta’s immortal liver and place it within the princess’s bones so the Hangon Technique will stick. While this is happening, Natsume’s being chased by the monk. As he chants prayers, the monk believes removing the mermaid’s liver will turn Natsume back to bones.
The monk is able to reach inside Natsume’s body like she was made of clay. As he rummages around in her chest, she thinks about her goal to leave with Yuta before grabbing the monk’s staff and cutting off his arm. Unfortunately, the monk’s arm falls out of Natsume grasping the liver, but she still has the strength to run.
Yuta tells Pa he can’t keep making kids like Natsume, but Pa screams he has no idea what it’s like to lose a child. Natsume arrives just as Pa stabs Yuta, and she begs her father to stop. She tries to shield Yuta and pleads with her father to leave Yuta alone, when Pa explains he’s giving the princess eternal life. Just like Natsume.
The idea horrifies Natsume and she once more pleads with her dad to stop, but he swats her away. It’s then the princess’s bones begin to take a more human shape, so Pa feels he has to remove Yuta’s liver now. Natsume grabs the bones and jumbles them up, stopping the process and the princess’s revival. She sobs and cries it’s too cruel to bring someone back like this, and the princess should be allowed to rest.
She apologizes to Pa for wanting to leave, but feels she has to go because Yuta is just like her. That’s when Pa notices Natsume is bleeding from her stomach. Pa promises Natsume it will be okay as he picks her up in his arms and carries her up the hill. Yuta fears what the old man is going to do and struggles to get out of his ropes. Sadly, Yuta can’t stop Pa from jumping off the cliff with Natsume in his arms. He promises Natsume he’ll be with her the whole way. Natsume screams for Yuta, before seemingly giving up and clutching her father’s shoulders.
Yuta can only watch in horror as they hit the ground.
Below, Yuta picks up Natsume inches away from Pa’s dead body when, surprise! She opens her eyes!
Natsume asks if Yuta was seriously worried a fall like that would kill her, of all people. She claims she only felt sorry for Pa, that’s all. Only, she’s having trouble keeping her eyes open. She can’t see where Yuta is…
The monk catches up to Yuta as he cradles Natsume’s body, followed by the sound of clattering bones. The monk says she needs last rites, but Yuta doesn’t want him anywhere near Natsume. Without turning to even face the monk, Yuta picks up Natsume’s bones and promises to personally take care of her last rites.
Yuta hears Natsume’s last words, wondering where he’s going…
And that’s the last of “Mermaid Saga.”
It amazes me at how Takahashi has crafted such interesting and compelling women in this series. Mana, Natsume, the Kannagi Sisters, Misa, Isago and Rin, Nae, Akiko Kiryu, and Nanao’s mother.
I don’t know how to feel about having stuck with this series and completed the recaps over an entire year. What did everyone think?
[Wing: Well this is a heartbreaking ending to the story. Takahashi is an amazing creator, and I’m so glad you brought this to the site.]