Geneon // 2003 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // July 21st, 2005
From Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of Inu Yasha!
Fans of Rumiko Takahashi's more lighthearted stories, like Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku, will find decidedly darker fare in Mermaid Forest, a horror-fantasy anime that may cause you to think twice the next time you go out for sushi. It may be a cartoon about mermaids, but The Little Mermaid it definitely isn't.
According to legend, the flesh of a mermaid has the power to grant eternal life. Those who eat mermaid flesh and survive not only become immortal, but cannot be permanently killed except by beheading. The key word here, however, is "survive." Mermaid flesh is also a deadly poison, and nearly everyone who eats it either dies horribly, or transforms into a crazed, bug-eyed monster.
Yuta, our hero, appears to be a youth barely out of his teens, but in
reality he's been alive for centuries. Once, as a young fisherman, he and his
friends tasted mermaid flesh, and Yuta was the only one of those who lived.
Having tried the flesh more out of curiosity than a desire for immortality, Yuta
is far from happy about what he considers to be a curse, as he's had to watch
his wife and innumerable friends and loved ones
grow old and die while he remains ever youthful. He has wandered the world for hundreds of years, seeking a cure for his condition so that he can live -- and die -- like a normal human being.
Mermaid Forest aired in 11 parts in Japan in 2003, as part of the Rumiko Takahashi's Anthology series. The first of four DVD volumes, Quest for Death contains three episodes:
* "Mermaid Does Not Smile"
Yuta encounters a beautiful young girl named Mana living in a village populated solely by strangely identical-looking old women. The women appear not to take kindly to strangers, as they impale Yuta with
harpoons the moment he enters their midst. Naturally, the impalement doesn't take, and Yuta comes back to rescue Mana and discover the macabre secret of the village -- as well as a clue towards a possible cure for
* "Village of the Fighting Fish (Part I)" and "Village of the
Fighting Fish (Part II)"
In this two-part episode, we're taken back in time to a story from Yuta's early days, when his travels bring him to a small fishing village that supplements its meager income with piracy. Soon, Yuta is drawn into a mystery involving a strange and malevolent woman who shares his quest: to locate a mermaid.
Future episodes will follow the adventures of Yuta and Mana as they seek to rid themselves of the mermaid curse, and reveal more scenes from Yuta's many centuries of wandering.
Horror-themed anime can be a bit of a dicey proposition. Too often, these
series are overblown and melodramatic, populated by gigantic, tentacled demons
and screeching, white-haired ghosts, telling the same formulaic stories over and
over again. Mermaid Forest could easily be one of those mediocre horror
stories, except that Rumiko Takahashi, the artist whose manga series this anime
is based on, is a master storyteller. Takahashi rarely settles for the
predictable, nor does she pump up her stories with loud but meaningless flash.
She's known mostly for comedy, but viewers accustomed to the raucous slapstick
Ranma 1/2 or Urusei Yatsura may be surprised by how dark and creepy Takahashi's vision can be when she sets her mind to scares rather than laughs.
The three episodes on this disc set up Yuta's origins and explain his curse, without lapsing into dull exposition. Yuta is a fairly typical anime protagonist -- decent, honorable, and no-nonsense -- though not above a bit of lighthearted teasing. What sets him apart from other young men, of course, is his incredibly advanced age, which makes him much less cocky and more world-weary than your usual teen hero. There's an amusing moment early on that defines Yuta's personality, when he gets run through with multiple spears, and his reaction is simply annoyance that he'll have to take time to regenerate and come back to life. Mermaid Forest may be darker overall than Takahashi's other works, but it's not without her trademark sense of humor.
This series is the second time that Mermaid Forest has been adapted. In the early '90s, Viz released a two-part OAV series on VHS, Mermaid Forest and Mermaid's Scar. I was a big fan of that production, and was impressed by its intricate mysteries and macabre tone. This updated adaptation improves upon the earlier version in several ways, not least of which is that it tells the complete story, whereas the previous version was limited to only a couple of installments from the manga. In this incarnation, the story has more room to breathe, and the notion of all these people chasing down mermaids in order to devour them seems less strange when it's more deliberately set up.
The animation style is also pleasing, although I wish it reflected more of Takahashi's original character designs. The artwork is quite colorful and detailed, drawn in a naturalistic style, and although the gore feels toned down, the horror elements are delightfully creepy. There's something about white-haired, cackling old crones that Takahashi really, really doesn't like, and she gets you to share her dislike in a big way.
Geneon's presentation of Mermaid Forest, Vol. 1: Quest for Death on
DVD is excellent in terms of video/audio quality, but not so good in terms of
extras. The transfer is nearly flawless, bringing across darker colors without
grain or distortion while presenting the vividly colored artwork crisply and
without noticeable defects. Sound, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 in Japanese
and English, is dynamic and clean. The English voice acting is not bad,
especially for secondary characters, but Justin Gross's performance as Yuta
doesn't quite seem to fit the character, and Karen Thomson as Mana is spirited
but not especially memorable. The voice actors on the Japanese dub tend a little
too far toward the melodramatic end of the
scale, though, so I can't recommend one track over the other.
Special features are minimal, consisting solely of a small gallery of production artwork, and three previews for Geneon releases.
There isn't much about Mermaid Forest so far that I don't like; my
disappointments stem mostly from comparing this series to the previous
adaptation. I much preferred the English voice acting in the
earlier incarnation; that version was also far more faithful to Takahashi's drawing style, and more readily identifiable as her work. The slick but less distinctive style of this new version makes for a less idiosyncratic and more generic product, and the appeal of the original manga series is harder to find here,
though it's still quite faithful to the original.
The first volume of Mermaid Forest makes for a terrific introduction to the series; I can't wait to see more. This is the kind of story that you don't necessarily have to be a hard-core anime fan to love. Not just an action show with monsters, Mermaid Forest offers intriguing mysteries and ever-deepening suspense, with moments of true horror. It's solid storytelling that should be accessible to anyone who loves a good, spooky campfire tale.
Mermaid Forest, Vol. 1: Quest for Death is found not guilty, and is to be immediately released back to the sea to spawn further volumes.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bryan Byun; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Art Gallery
* Geneon Previews