Mermaid Prince Review

Readers may recognise mangaka Kaori Ozaki as being the creator behind The Gods Lie or The Golden Sheep. Now she returns to the English market with a short story collection in the form of Mermaid Prince from Kodansha, but does it prove as interesting as her other manga? Let’s find out!

Mermaid Prince contains three stories, the first of which is Ametsukigahara which follows middle-school student Akari who is struggling to decide where to go for high school and looking for a place in the world. Best friend Fumika wants her to follow her to her high school of choice, but Akari doesn’t think she’s smart enough and has a very different outlook on life compared to her friend. Akari is simply hoping for her ordinary days to go on as they are, but things soon change when Fumika starts dating classmate Kaji…

The second story, One Snowy Day follows a librarian who encounters an unusual father and son who are seeking shelter from snow. While another customer complains that the two are homeless and simply seeking warmth, our protagonist sees differently as they sit quietly reading a book together. Later, she reads to the boy and realises there may be more to the two than she first anticipated.

Our third tale is the one this collection is named after – Mermaid Prince. Coming in at three chapters it’s the longest of the stories included and follows Mugi who moved from Tokyo to live on the island of Okinawa with his sister Aoi and new brother-in-law Kotaro (nicknamed Kototo). At school, Mugi’s in the art club and keeps to himself, besides hanging with classmate Matori who has taken a shine to him.

The two have bonded over their family issues. When Mugi transferred in, Matori’s parents had just gotten divorced leading to her family name changing and her father moving away to remarry in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Mugi feels out of place living with Aoi and feels he’s getting in the way of the newlyweds, so he finds solace in being able to spend time with Matori who understands him.

Mugi finds himself fascinated by the sea and the idea that a wish-granting mermaid lives out there. Due to having asthma and living in the city, Mugi currently can’t swim well and is sensitive to the heat in Okinawa. Still, Kototo runs a diving shop and has allegedly met a mermaid, so Mugi is eager to learn more about it if it could lead to having a wish granted…

Those who have read Ozaki’s work before will be familiar with her whimsical way of storytelling that bridges the gap between fantasy and reality. And of course, the theme of being adrift in the world is something we’ve seen before in The Golden Sheep and to some degree in The Gods Lie. Still, it’s the familiarity with this subject matter that means Mermaid Prince as a collection truly shines.

Except perhaps for One Snowy Day, which features an adult lead, Ozaki is juggling complex teenage emotions in relatively short chapters, especially in Ametsukigahara where our lead is coming to terms with life-changing events around her and in Mermaid Prince where Mugi is struggling with his new family dynamic. I quickly came to appreciate each of these tales for what Ozaki was trying to convey and never felt they overstayed their welcome or ended too early. This is especially true in the case of the librarian story which was only one chapter compared to the two or three the others were granted. However, I do think some readers may be put off by the melodrama of Ametsukigahara as it’s not as easy to sympathise with Akari or Fumika as it is with Matori and Mugi in Mermaid Prince.

In many ways, One Snowy Day was my favourite instalment; not because of the cast or the length but simply because it showcases Ozaki’s talent for creating mystical atmospheres the best. I’ve always loved Ozaki’s attention to detail and her ability to draw expressive, cute characters and backgrounds that set the scene and give you plenty to think about. And those scenes in a library surrounded by snow and when the main character walks home once the sun has gone down are picturesque. This is worth reading for the art alone, especially if you’ve sampled and enjoyed any of the mangaka’s other works.

As mentioned earlier, Mermaid Prince comes to the West thanks to Kodansha under their Vertical imprint. This book has been translated by the excellent Emily Balistrieri with lettering by Mercedes McGarry (I was pleased to find Vertical finally credited a letterer!). There are no translation notes compiled at the back of the book like we’d usually find; instead, they’re largely in the margins between panels where relevant. I think this choice was helpful here as there are quite a few phrases left untranslated in the latter half of the book due to Matori’s Okinawa dialect and the importance of Mugi not understanding her.

This release comes complete with colour pages at the beginning and some more toward the end, which I was happy to see, as some of these aren’t even in the original Japanese release that I own (I presume they’re from the serialisation version). It certainly feels like Vertical has gone the extra mile, which makes this a release well worth having in a physical edition.

Overall, Mermaid Prince is an excellent collection of short stories that convey Kaori Ozaki’s strengths as a creator. The tales are varied enough in content that I think there’s something for everyone here as we follow these characters simply looking for a place in the world.

A free preview is available on the Kodansha website.

Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).

9 / 10


When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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