This second, and final, volume of Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga continues to follow Yuta and Mana on their journey to rid themselves of the curse of immortality given to them through eating the flesh of a supernatural mermaid.
While the first volume’s set of stories varied between the pair looking for a cure for their predicament and exploring the fates of others that happen to have consumed mermaid flesh, this second volume focuses solely on the latter, with Yuta and Mana frequently throwing themselves into the face of danger in order to protect ordinary people from both their fellow immortals who are out for blood, and the mermaid flesh that will turn them into monsters.
Going in this direction has led the manga to become a lot more action-oriented, which honestly works in its favour, as it gives it more to do with Yuta and Mana. While they are still quite bland and are very much the weakest characters in the series, it at least tries to hoist them up by painting them as solid action heroes that will be there to save the day, while also working within each story to develop the close bond between them as they have to help each other fight their way out of tight spots. The first story in this volume for example, “Mermaid’s Scar”, has a young immortal boy come at them with axes, knives, and a whole host of other weapons, which might seem utterly preposterous at first, but turns into a very tense page-turner as our heroes have to fight for their lives, which will be over if the kid manages to behead them. It’s simply great how it frames these action sequences, with heavily shaded panels giving them a very dark and menacing tone that feels like it could have come directly from an 80s slasher film.
While this may raise concerns that the manga has moved away from its more mysterious elements, these are thankfully still there, with each story starting with some mysterious goings-on that Yuta and Mana must find the truth behind. “The Ash Princess” takes us back into Yuta’s past where he encounters a Buddhist monk with the ability to bring the dead back to life, as well as a girl he claims to have revived, in a clever story wrapped around the legend of the Fiji Mermaid. Meanwhile, “Mermaid’s Gaze” has the pair investigate why a man is stalking an old woman and demanding she hand over the doll displayed in her upstairs window, and finally, “Mermaid’s Mask” presents us with two characters called Nanao, a young boy and a middle-aged man, and an ageless woman that both believe to be their mother.
The mysteries in these stories all focus more on the examination of the dark side of humanity that the first volume excelled at, and while that is still the case here with some brutally delivered dark tragedies, I do wish it went a bit more into the mythological side of things, which is an element I feel that is rather missing from most of these.
In addition, its episodic nature means that it lacks a conclusive ending, which is a little frustrating as this volume really leaves you wanting more. Originally published irregularly in the pages of Weekly Shonen Sunday, by the time the series stopped in 1994, Takahashi was already deep into Ranma ½, so creating such a long-running work may have left her little time to work on what is essentially a quirky side project. It’s a shame as there are some great ideas in here, and the events of “Mermaid’s Scar” in particular feel as if it was trying to set things up for a future story.
Nevertheless, it remains a great read with some fantastic artwork that feels very consistent with the first volume. The print edition, released under VIZ’s Signature label, is very nice too, with a beautifully designed cover, and a mix of monochrome and full colour pages presented on good quality paper. The series continues to be translated by Rachel Thorn, is easy to read and has no issues to speak of.
Overall, Mermaid Saga continues to offer a very dark and mysterious take on the mermaid myth while producing a fascinating examination of the dark side of the human condition. While I’d heartily recommend this to anyone looking for a quirkier take on the horror genre, whether you are a fan of Rumiko Takahashi or not, it does come with the big caveat that this is all we get, even if the story is clearly left open for more.