DRAWN & QUARTERED
"Mermaid Forest" is comprised of 13 episodes. "Mermaid Saga" graphic novel series reprints all previously published stories. "Mermaid Forest" is comprised of 13 episodes, "Mermaid's Gaze" was published in 1996, and "Mermaid's Scar" is available only on VHS and laser disc.
Tales of mermaid-flesh immortals still pack punch
Everything old is getting to be new again, and so it is with Rumiko Takahashi's mermaid saga, a collection of often macabre stories centering around the legend of mermaid's flesh.
A series of articles spotlighting the work of Rumiko Takahashi by anime contributors Jason Yadao and Wilma Jandoc, will run in "Drawn & Quartered" the second Sunday of each month:
» This month: "Mermaid Saga" (Wilma)
» December: "Maison Ikkoku" (Jason)
» January: "Fire Tripper," "Laughing Target"
» February: "One-Pound Gospel" (Jason)
» March: "Rumiko Takahashi Anthology" (Wilma)
It's more that the saga never went out of style, with various printings over the years that ensured that although it might have been out of sight, it was never completely out of mind.
One story in the saga, "Mermaid's Scar," has already been talked about in this column (go online at starbulletin.com/ 2001/05/27/features/jandoc.html), but a brief refresher is in order: According to legend, mermaid flesh can grant eternal life. But the meat is so potent that it alters the body's makeup, and few can withstand the sudden change. Most who don't, die. The unlucky ones are turned into killer beasts called Lost Souls.
Many are lured by the promise of eternal youth, but they don't realize the slim chance they actually have at immortality. In addition, a person remains at the age he or she was when the flesh took effect, so youth doesn't necessarily enter into the equation.
The mermaid saga focuses on Yuta, a young man who is actually a 500-year-old immortal in modern-day Japan, and his traveling companion, a teenage girl named Mana. It comprises nine tales, which were first serialized in the Japanese magazine Shonen Sunday starting in 1984. The saga was first published domestically in Animerica magazine in 1993 before Viz printed them as single-copy comics and graphic novels.
Those three Viz graphic novels from the '90s -- originally titled "Mermaid Forest," "Mermaid's Scar" and "Mermaid's Gaze" -- were repackaged last year into four smaller volumes, now reading in the original right-to-left format, and retitled "Mermaid Saga."
Two stories in the saga, "Mermaid Forest" and "Mermaid's Scar," were made into original animated videos (OAVs) in the '90s. They're available only on VHS and laser disc; because the license has long expired, there are no plans to release them officially on DVD, either in Japan or elsewhere. (Those DVDs some of you might have seen of "Scar" and "Forest"? Those are bootlegs.)
What has come out on DVD is the "Mermaid Forest" TV series, which aired in Japan last year. In spite of its name, this 13-episode series animates all previously made mermaid saga stories, except for "Mermaid's Gaze," and includes new versions of "Forest" and "Scar." The two "Scar" episodes were never broadcast but are included on the DVDs.
Because Geneon, not Viz, licensed and released the TV series, the translations of the Japanese titles are slightly different from those in the manga. The original Japanese voice actors for Yuta and Mana reprise their roles in a series whose sharp animation is harsher than Takahashi's original artwork -- perhaps emphasizing the brutal life of an immortal.
THE MERMAID tales explore the darker possibilities awaiting anyone seeking to live forever, injecting a bitter dose of reality into the sweet fantasy of eternal life. Although immmortals heal fast and return to life as long as their heads are not cut off, they still feel every bit of pain of the blows dealt to them. Then there is the psychological pain, of seeing loved ones grow old and die, of having to move constantly to avoid detection and the lack of security that comes with such a lifestyle.
Yuta had watched his friends die horribly as their bodies were ripped apart by the effects of the mermaid flesh, he being the sole survivor of that expedition. He eventually married and tried to live a normal life, but soon realized that as long as he did not age, he could never be normal.
Since then he has wandered across Japan, searching for a way to become human again -- a lonely journey until he comes upon the newly immortal Mana, whom he saves from a village of mermaid crones who had sinister plans for the girl.
Because the series deals with immortality, there are any number of settings for the stories. But no matter what the era, Yuta constantly struggles to maintain his own humanity in the face of other immortals' selfish manipulation of others, their emotions killed by years of mental and physical tortures.
The TV series tones down the gruesome OAVs -- most blood is shown as unrealistic fluorescent blobs, some fatal injuries are glossed over and some nudity has been eliminated.
The mermaid saga shows that Takahashi is eminently capable of stepping away from the zany wackiness of series like "Urusei Yatsura" and "Ranma 1/2" and creating philosophical stories that touch the dark side of the psyche. She laces them with a bit of romance as well, as Yuta and Mana risk their lives time and again for each other.
Takahashi once said the saga was one she worked on in her spare time; the last story was published in Japan in 1994, and it's doubtful she will create any new ones. The third DVD of the TV series is slated for a North American release this month.
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New ‘Lil‘ Keiki’ issue is out
The second issue of the locally created "Lil' Keiki" comic book is finally out after its debut back in March.
Published under the Kiddieland Books imprimatur, creators Len Yokoyama and Dennis Fujitake have picked up the action in issue No. 2, as the gang of Forest Town find out, on Halloween night, what's with all the spooky commotion going on Saddle Road.
And questions will abound for the third issue: Will sweet Nikki Ann escape the clutches of the creepy witches? Will the mother goblin and her brood cause further trouble for the keiki, forest ranger Dylan and Tess? And what's with the Unholy Trio and their zombie companions anyway?
After all that excitement, it's time to kick back with a treat, and there's a helpful promotional story on Aoki's Shave Ice in Haleiwa at the back of the book. It comes complete with a quaint back cover portrait by April Lew of the cartoon keiki enjoying their cold treats on a bench in front of the store.
You should be able to pick up "Lil' Keiki" at Borders Books and Music in Waikele and Ward Centre, Collector Maniacs and Gecko Books & Comics in Kaimuki, and Jelly's in Aiea. It can also be ordered from Kiddieland Books directly at P.O. Box 240609, Honolulu, HI 96824-0609, with a $3.99 cover price plus $1.50 postage, payable either by check or money order.
For more information, e-mail Kiddieland@hawaii.rr.com.