2020’s Mermaid Saga Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1 collects five of Rumiko Takahashi’s nine Mermaid Saga horror stories. The series was originally published in Shogakukan’s Shōnen Sunday Zōkan and Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 1984 to 1994.
Immortality! It’s merely a meal away. There are, however, a few small caveats.
A) One has to consume mermaid flesh and mermaids are scarce. B) Most humans die horrible deaths after tasting mermaid flesh. C) Most of the survivors find that immortality is no great gift. They are transformed into mindless monsters; if they avoid that, they lead lonely lives. But … immortality!
Five hundred years ago, Yuta and his companions made the mistake of tasting mermaid flesh. Yuta was the sole survivor; the others discovered the hard way that the experiment was a crapshoot. Decades later, his wife reacted with horror to his impervious youth. Yuta regretted his transformation and set out to find another mermaid and a cure for his condition.
Five hundred years later, he is still looking.
Set aside any expectations you might have based on other Takahashi manga, such as zany harem romances like Ranma ½ or Urusei Yatsura. This is horror. Takahashi’s mermaids are goggle-eyed, fanged, and hungry for human flesh, while the humans persist in finding out for themselves just why it is that eating mermaid flesh is a terrible idea.
Although the art can be surprisingly crude for this stage in Takahashi’s career1, Yuta and his eventual companion Mana are engaging characters. While one knows going into each story that it won’t end well, Takahashi is ingenious in devising innovative ways for clearly bad ideas to go catastrophically wrong.
Now for more detail:
A Mermaid Never Smiles
Questing for a mermaid whose flesh can free him from immortality, Yuta finds his way to an isolated village. There he finds a community of women keeping young Mana a pampered prisoner, for reasons that fill Yuta with horror and outrage.
The Village of the Fighting Fish
Centuries before meeting Mana, Yuta is drawn into a dispute between two pirate communities, a conflict orchestrated by a mysterious woman for her own dark ends.
Fifteen-year-old Mana is as immortal as Yuta, but far more naïve. No sooner do the pair reach civilization than Mana wanders in front of a truck. She soon recovers from what should have been a lethal injury, a revelatory fact that makes Mana a potentially invaluable playing piece in the struggle between an embittered, ageless woman and her caretaker sister.
Most folks who eat mermaid flesh and survive are transformed into Lost Souls, monstrous immortals. As far as Yuta knew, the experience leaves Lost Souls too mindless to understand their predicament. The Lost Soul Mana encounters still has the rudiments of his mind, which as it turns out is not a good thing.
Years ago Yuta befriended a young woman who later died, as mortals do. Returning in Mana’s company to visit his late friend’s grave, Yuta discovers that the situation is more complex than he suspected, that in the hands of a self-centred, obsessed man, mermaid flesh has applications even more alarming than Yuta could have guessed.
Lots of Takahashi stories are about misguided relationships milked for humour. This one is in no way funny.
1: The anti-piracy watermark VIZ stamps on each page of the pdfs defeated my efforts to read the text that accompanies the stories, so I won’t be commenting on that aspect of the book, except to say it was literally unreadable.