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Manga / Mermaid Saga

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"Rule 20: Don't eat mermaid flesh. Period."
Livin' and Lovin' In The Anime Universe: A Basic Guide.

It is said that eating the flesh of a mermaid can give one eternal life. Yuuta, a poor fisherman, didn't really believe the tales, but when the rest of his friends tried some, he ate some as well. Less well-known is that mermaid's flesh is fatal to most, and almost all those who don't die are transformed into hideous mindless immortal beasts called Lost Souls. Within days, Yuuta was the sole survivor of his friends. 500 years later, he is physically no older, but has grown weary of his lonely existence, and seeks the one creature that might be able to restore his mortality — a mermaid.

In the first of the linked stories, he meets a new immortal (the first he's met in his life) — a beautiful 15-year-old named Mana, who's been raised since childhood in utter seclusion while being groomed for immortality. The two travel together, in search of a cure that may not even exist — after all, what else is there for them to do? It's not as if they don't have all the time in the world. The other tales are divided among Yuuta's reminiscences of his past adventures over the centuries, and their new adventures in their quest for mermaids.

Mermaid Saga (Ningyo Series in Japanese) is a manga by Rumiko Takahashi of Ranma ½ and Inuyasha fame, which was serialized from 1984 to 1994 (starting out in Shonen Sunday Zoukan, and moving to Weekly Shonen Sunday in 1987 until its conclusion). This manga is far darker in tone than most of Takahashi's works; there are no romantic hijinks or over-the-top comic antics here, only the terrible consequences when humans seek immortality. Two OVAs were made of individual stories during the 90s — Mermaid's Forest in 1991, and Mermaid's Scar in 1993. The former name was used as the title for a 2003 TV anime series which covered almost all the stories note . Most of the stories took 2 episodes.

It's important to note that these are Japanese mermaids, with fangs, fish-eyes and an appetite for human flesh, rather than the siren-like western version. The mermaids are also immortal and (at least in the manga version) can likewise only be killed by beheading or poison. Some can take on human form, but this does mean slowly aging, and they need to feed on an immortal woman to take on a new human form (that of the woman they feed on).

This show provides examples of:

  • Applied Phlebotinum: Mermaid's flesh, blood, ashes and liver are all used at some point. Also, a magical Buddhist ritual called hangon is used in one story.
  • And I Must Scream
    • While most Lost Souls are mindless beasts, at least one of them still had a conscious mind.
    • One mermaid's corpse is seen impaled by a huge wooden beam and must have been there for centuries. Turns out it's still alive.
    • It's implied that Akiko is not a non-decomposing corpse, but actually alive and merely paralyzed.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Isago is the only villain to get what she wants in the end, having manipulated the Sakagami pirates into finding a mermaid for her so she could eat the flesh for her unborn baby's development.
  • Blessed with Suck: Immortality is pretty horrible (not immune to pain, outliving everyone you know, having to move constantly), even without having to deal with Masato forcing you to be his replacement Mommy. Also, due to the reveal that the rate of conversion is different for everyone, there's no guarantee that an immortal won't become a Lost Soul at some point in the distant future.
  • Body Horror: The process by which a victim is transformed into the hideous, hulking abomination known as "Lost Soul." Sometimes the process is incomplete, leaving only part of the victim's body changed.
  • Broken Bird: Akiko Kiryu, gradually broken over years of her monstrous brother blaming her for his actions until he murdered her fiance and she was Driven to Suicide.
  • Cain and Abel: From Mermaid's Gaze, Akiko is Abel, Shingo is Cain. Played with in Mermaid's Forest in regards to Sawa and Towa, as it turns out Sawa had used Towa as a guinea pig to test the mermaid's blood before she used it on herself, and this led to Towa's embitterment.
  • Came Back Wrong: Mermaid's ashes used on people already dead have this effect, reviving the person but without their soul. At least, according to one version of the legend.
  • Canine Companion: Shiro to Towa. The reason they are so close is because Towa feels like Shiro is the only one who understands her, as they are both deformed due to the effects of the mermaid's blood.
  • Celibate Hero: Yuta has actively shied away from any romantic relations after his first marriage due to his immortality. Too bad that he also seems to be a bit of a...
  • Chick Magnet: Not played for any laughs. In fact the story behind Mermaid's Promise was that Nae was murdered by her jealous fiance when he realized that she was in love with Yuta instead of him.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Mana's actions around Yuuta when he is with another girl seem to come off as jealousy, which she herself appears to be unaware of.
  • Creepy Doll: There appears to be a life-sized one of a girl Yuta used to know. Turns out, it's the actual body of that girl. Which, thanks to the mermaid's flesh she used for poison on herself, hasn't rotted at all since the day she died.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than most of Takahashi's other works, at least.
  • Death Seeker: When an old woman mentions decapitation as a surefire method of killing mermaids, Yuuta says he doesn't want that, he wants to grow old and die just like everybody else.
  • Decapitation Required: The traditional way of disposing of immortals and Lost Souls. Others get more creative.
  • The Ditz: Mana displays evidence of this at times due to her extremely sheltered upbringing, not knowing what cats are, how to make tea or the first thing about romance — the last of which adds an interesting element to her relationship with Yuuta.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • In Mermaid's Gaze, Akiko gave her brother and herself mermaid's flesh as a poison in order to kill themselves, although Shingo didn't know this. Akiko did so because Shingo was an uncontrollable sociopath who often relied on Akiko to get him out of trouble, until Shingo killed her fiance. It didn't work though, as Shingo became immortal and Akiko's corpse was perfectly preserved, though it's implied that she's fully conscious yet locked in her own body.
    • At the end of Mermaid Gaze, Shingo cuts off his own head when he realizes he'll continue to see visions of himself reaching for his sister's eye even after her corpse has been decapitated.
  • Enfant Terrible: Masato
  • Evil All Along: Sawa Kannagi and Masato.
  • Evil Twin: In Mermaid Forest, we meet Towa and Sawa Kannagi. Towa is a frightening young woman who hasn't visually aged in sixty years and cuts off the arms of female corpses to try and replace her cursed arm while Sawa aged normally and seems to be a put upon old woman by being a frequent target of Towa's insults (though she seems to be good at poisoning food). It's not until near the end of the story that the true evil twin is revealed: Sawa, who gave her sister the mermaid's blood to drink and cursed her merely because she was too much of a coward to use the mermaid's blood on herself.
  • Eye Remember: In Mermaid's Gaze, Shingo Kiryu steals his sister's eye and puts it inside his empty socket. Whenever Shingo murders someone, he's briefly haunted by the image of him stealing the eye from Akiko's perspective. Chopping off Akiko's head and possibly killing her for good doesn't stop this from happening, and the idea of being forced to see his own wretched self for eternity drives Shingo to kill himself.
  • Eye Scream: Masato pokes out Yuuta's eye.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The first story claims that there may be no cure after all — but Yuuta doesn't see any better options than to keep searching.
  • Fan Disservice: There is quite a bit of nudity in the series, not all of it is played as something beautiful or innocent. Some of it is juxtaposed with blood and guts, characters in major peril and other sinister imagery.
  • Flying Dutchman: Yuuta can't stay in any one place for too long for fear of his eternal youth causing resentment.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Pretty much the only positive aspect of surviving eating mermaid flesh is the Healing Factor for everything save decapitation.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Misa. At first it looks like she's an Abusive Parent trying to kill her son Masato. Then it's revealed Masato is the one who gave her the Mermaid's Flesh and has been doing the same thing to countless women for 800 years. She's actually been trying to find out where he's been keeping his supply of Mermaid's Flesh to stop him from ruining the lives of other women.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most (though not all) of the episodes are named Mermaid's <noun>.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Not only do mermaids and humans eat each other's flesh, but mermaids in human form need to feed on the flesh of their own kind when pregnant before they can give birth.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: Our main immortal characters are served some nasty treatment (as in "Hey, I need your liver, so I'll just take it out while you're still alive and conscious") if not outright death a couple of times.
  • Irregular Series: It was periodically released in episodic stories over the course of ten years.
  • Is It Something You Eat?: When Yuta asks Mana if she is jealous, she is unfamiliar with the concept and thinks he was asking if she wanted Jello and asks if it tastes good.
  • Locked into Strangeness:
    • Towa Kannagi was left with snow white hair and a deformed hand after drinking mermaid's blood.
    • Nanao's mother got a painful scar over her eye thanks to the mermaid's flesh. The scar eventually manifested on the new face she'd given herself.
  • Longest Pregnancy Ever: Isago is after mermaid flesh for the unborn child of her previous husband. This confuses the chief, as her husband's been dead for quite awhile. She's actually been pregnant for three years, due to her being a mermaid.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Averted, unlike most of Takahashi's other works. Yuta had been married once when he first ate the mermaid's flesh, and over the span of his lifetime he's met other women who've fallen for him, yet none of this has had an affect on his standing with Mana since they were all dead before he met her. And even then, it's not clear as to whether or not Mana's feelings are platonic or not.
  • Mad Woman In The Attic: Towa's main grief with Sawa is that the latter locked her away to prevent other people from seeing her, while Sawa herself lived a full and happy life with a spouse and children.
  • Mama Bear: Deconstructed via Love Makes You Evil in Mermaid's Mask.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Yuuta's marriage 500 years ago became poisoned by his wife's resentment of his eternal youth. Since then he's refused to become seriously involved with mortals, although there have been several women interested in him.
  • Million to One Chance: Unlike most, the chances of becoming immortal from eating mermaid flesh seems to genuinely be one in a million.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Regeneration variety — all immortals and Lost Souls can be killed only by beheading, burning down to ash, or a poison made by rotting mermaid flesh in certain herbs. Everything else they just heal. Missing limbs and the like can also be replaced by grafting a replacement on, which leads to some particularly gruesome scenes...
  • No Name Given: Masato's current mother, Nanao's mother in Mermaid's Mask, and the old woman from Mermaid's Gaze weren't given names. In the Mermaid's Scar OVA, Masato's mother was called Misa, and the old woman can be referred to as Mrs. Kiryu.
  • Offing the Offspring: Mermaid's Mask is full of it. A woman force feeds her son mermaid's flesh in an attempt at double-suicide, though both survive with scars. The mother stops aging and watches her son from afar, who grows up and has his own child. The mother proceeds to kidnap her grandchild and raise him as her own, giving him powdered mermaid's flesh as medicine for years, just so she can feed him the flesh itself when her grandson is at the age her son was during the first incident.
  • Older Than They Look: Naturally.
    • Special mention may go to Towa, who only looks young on the outside. Her internal organs are those of an old woman.
    • Mana is physically 15, but probably around 30 by the end of the series.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Very different.
  • Parental Favoritism: Played with in Mermaid's Gaze. Akiko and Shingo Kiryu's father favored Akiko and hated Shingo, but because Shingo was an uncontrollable sociopath responsible for murdering several young women. The only reason Mr. Kiryu hadn't got rid of Shingo years ago was because Akiko would plead for Shingo to be spared. After Akiko died from the mermaid's flesh, Mr. Kiryu wasted no time in trying to murder Shingo, exclaiming Shingo should've died instead. When Shingo came back from the dead, Mr. Kiryu had him locked in a basement cell.
  • Razor Floss
  • Really 700 Years Old: Probably about half the characters, thanks to the premise. Yuta is about 500 but looking about eighteen.
  • Replacement Goldfish / Artificial Human: "The Bone Princess."
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Yuta does this several times, to the point that he is told to do it to prove his immortality or he lampshades it when Mana hands him a pair of scissors to give another demonstration without being asked.
  • Skinship Grope: Takes on a chillingly sinister tone in Mermaid's Forest.
  • To Become Human: The main goal of the recurring characters.
  • The Virus: "Lost Souls."
  • Walking the Earth
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: When Yuta outright asks Mana if she's in love with him, she answers she doesn't know what being "in love" means.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "The Village of Flying Fish" and "The Bone Princess."
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Played very straight. Subverted, possibly, by the Mermaids Do Not Smile story; Yuuta discovers the cure really was just a myth, and is then very nearly Killed Off for Real in a rather gruesome fashion—the final scene seems to imply that after that harrowing experience, death no longer holds the same appeal for him.