by Ali Raffaele Matar

Back available in a new editorial guise, 24 years after the last Italian publication, Mermaid Sagathe Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi, which tells the story of Mana and Yuta, who became immortal after tasting mermaid meat. Printed for the first time in 1994 by Granata Press, the work sees the light in its complete (but reversed) version only in 1998, thanks to Star Comics, which for years has held the exclusive right to publish the works of the “Manga princess”.

Announced in September 2021on the occasion of the inaugural live of the Star Versus column, the re-edition of Mermaid Saga is part of the Perugian publisher’s plan to make the works of the teacher Takahashi constantly available to the public and comes after the re-proposition of Maison Ikkokurepublished in 2015 in 10 volumes, by Ranma ½reissued in 20 volumes between 2017 and 2018, Lum – Urusei Yatsuracollected in 17 volumes in 2019 and Inuyashawhose wide edition is still being published.

On the heels of the 2020 US Viz omnibus edition, Mermaid Saga includes all arcs of the series, previously divided into three issues (respectively titled: The forest of the mermaid, The Sign of the Siren And The mermaid mask), with the addition of a gallery of unpublished color illustrations and an apparatus of notes explaining the meanings of the characters’ names. While maintaining the same cover graphics of the American edition, Star Comics, unlike Viz Media, has chosen not to modify or adapt the tables in any way, leaving the onomatopoeias in Japanese intact, as a sign of fidelity with the original layout thought by the author.

For the occasion, we have compiled a series of reasons why we show you that this classic is a must-read for any enthusiast:

The first horror is never forgotten

mermaid saga rumiko takahashi

It seems that those born in the Niigata prefecture have a strong talent for comedy. Otherwise it would not be explained why the best known gag manga authors in history, such as Akatsuka Fujio (Osomatsu-kun), Kobayashi Makoto (What’s Michael), Maya Mineo (Patalliro) and Takahashi Rumiko herself, are all originally from Niigata, where a museum was founded a few years ago that celebrates the life and works of these legends of humorous comics: the Niigata City Manga House.

Yet, even if Takahashi has stood out for her sharp humor and absurd sagas since the beginning, it is only with the Siren Saga that the author appropriates the narrative paradigms of the horror genre, showing the world an almost completely new face. . “Almost”, because in reality already in 1983 Rumiko had written a story with horrific hues: Warau hyoteki (The laughing target), contained in the first volume of the collection Rumic Worldfrom which an OVA animated by Studio Pierrot was also taken.

Unlike other horror manga authors of the same period, such as Shirakawa Marina, Takahashi opts for a more human and psychological horror, less splatter, non-sense and bizarre than that of other industry insiders. In Mermaid Sagaeach story has its own precise meaning, just as the presence of body horror elements is pertinent, found in the repulsive aspect of the “unfinished” beings, who became such after greedily eating mermaid flesh.

Many of the original ideas developed by Takahashi for Mermaid Saga they then converged and reworked differently in Inuyasha and Mao, making the three works in a certain sense a trilogy of mystery horror.

Je suis toutes les femmes et parfois femme fatale aussi

Mana, the female protagonist of the saga, grew up tied to a futon, in a village inhabited only by mysterious old women. She knows nothing of the world, so much so that she cannot distinguish a cat from any other animal, yet she has the courage to stand up to the elderly women of the village when she discovers the truth that she hides behind her to her captivity. lasted fifteen years.

Isago is a femme fatale, as fascinating as she is ruthless, who uses a wiry brute and his band of bandits for her own purposes and has no qualms about killing an elderly patient in order to find the mermaid flesh she is looking for. The pirate Rin, behind her tomboyish appearance, hides a fragile soul and a woman’s heart. The icy Towa, on the other hand, lives only to achieve her revenge and to do so she is not afraid to desecrate graves or cut off the body parts of women who are still alive.

However you put it, women are the masters in Mermaid Sag. Whether they are brave or wicked, the women portrayed by Takahashi in these pages show all the complexity of the female soul and, in a certain sense, praise its dual essence of creators and destroyers. Vengeful, selfish, disturbing and wicked unscrupulous killers, but also fascinating, sensual and ethereal, at any age.

It is not difficult to find a parallelism with the way of portraying women of Umezu Kazuoauthor of Baptism And Orochi and teacher of Takahashi, who worked for a very short time as his assistant. Commendable, then, is the care that the author has put into the decoration of the splendid kimonos worn by the protagonists of these stories. An elegance never seen again in her later works.

Life doesn’t end, it’s like the dream

mermaid saga rumiko takahashi

“What fools! Why can’t those men be satisfied with the life they have been given? You have to eat without exaggerating. Work without exaggerating. Live without exaggerating”.

Eating mermaid meat, according to the legend told by Takahashi in these pages, there is the possibility of obtaining immortality and eternal youth. Yet, this hope is only dim because, in most cases, one dies instantly, or turns into hideous deformed monsters.

The melancholic stories that follow each other in the mermaid saga have in common a profound reflection on life. Why wish to become immortal if the consequence is an eternal solitude, made up of infinitely repeated wanderings and suffering? According to Takahashi, man is nothing but a greedy being who has been pursuing the impossible since the dawn of time.

In the solitude of the immortality of Yuta and Mana, forced to travel forever due to their condition, the saga vaguely recalls the sad tones at the base of the Poe clan by Hagio Moto, centered on the perennial solitude of the vampires Edgar and Allan Poe.

However gloomy, Takahashi’s work occasionally hides glimmers of hope with which it seems to encourage the reader to try to live despite suffering because, after all, every piece will find its place in the great tragedy of life.

A lot has happened in ten years

In July 1984, when the first chapter of the Mermaid Saga, Ningyo wa warawanai (The mermaids never laugh), appears on the pages of Shonen Sunday, Rumiko is simultaneously working on three comedies of misunderstandings: Urusei Yatsura (Lum) on Shōnen Sunday, Maison Ikkoku and the oneshot happy talk on Big Comic Spirits.

The last chapter of the saga, entitled Saigo no kao (The Siren Maska), is published on Shōnen Sunday exactly 10 years later, in January 1994, while the author is grappling with other comedies: Ranma ½, One Pound Gospel and the annual short story of the Rumic Theater, Senmu no Inu (The CEO’s dog), published in the same days in another journal, Big Comic Originalto target seinen.

The serialization of Mermaid Saga therefore, it unraveled occasionally over a decade and, in the meantime, the tireless “Princess of manga” grows, changes, experiments with new ideas but, above all, refines her storytelling.

The first volume of the new edition shows the graphic and stylistic progression of the author over the course of 9 chapters, created between 1984 and 1990. The structure of the tables changes, just as the way in which the characters and their clothes are drawn changes. Compared to the earlier story arcs, the later ones have a more diluted layout, with fewer panels spread across the page. Even the backgrounds become less detailed than in the beginning, leaving room for expanses of white that highlight the characters and the emotions painted on their faces.

Leaps into the void and film direction

mermaid saga rumiko takahashi

The Saga of the sirens hides exquisitely cinematic scenes here and there, with a different flavor compared to the typically comic storytelling of the remaining Takahashi production. The finale of the second arc of the opera, Togyo no sato (The Warrior Fish Village) shows the leap into the void of one of the most charismatic female characters in the entire saga. The zoom on her face, her hair swinging and vibrating in the air, the kimono that opens in the water revealing the nature of the character, screams cinema from every detail, so much so that it seems to hear the solemn soundtrack that would accompany the scene.

Mermaid Saga – 2 vols.
by Rumiko Takahashi
paperback, b/w and col, pp. 392,
€18.00 per volume
(buy online vol. 1 And vol. 2)

Read also: The third age in “Rumic Theater” by Rumiko Takahashi

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Re-read “Mermaid Saga” by Rumiko Takahashi