Mermaid Forest Vol.1: Quest for Death
They say that if you happen to see a mermaid, you will have good fortune. If you eat the flesh of one of these mythical angels of the ocean, they say that you will obtain eternal youth; you may even become like a god. However, they also say that not everyone who eats mermaid meat will become immortally young -- there is the possibility of turning into a hideous demon upon consuming the meat. While one will inevitably become immortal after consuming the flesh of a mermaid, whether or not such immortality comes in the form of youth or that of a demon depends on just a little bit more than luck.
Mermaid Forest is the story of a man named Yuta, and his journey to rectify a mistake that he made several hundred years ago. Some five hundred years ago, Yuta half-jokingly ate what may or may not have been mermaid flesh with a few of his comrades. Luckily, he was blessed with eternal youth. His friends, however, either died from the powerful toxins within the meat, or they were transformed into unintelligible demons, forsaken to roam in the earth's shadows for eternity.
Now, hundreds of years later in contemporary Japan, Yuta searches for a "cure" for his eternal youth. Feeling the need to grow old like a normal human being, and tired of suffering time and time again from the anxiety of humanity, Yuta sees his eternal youth as a curse. His only hope is to find a mermaid that is able to reverse his curse of eternal youth, regardless of how far he must travel and how long he must search.
Itís not exactly an original premise, but Yuta is an interesting character. With knowledge that comes from decades upon decades of experience, he's rather easy to relate to.
Yuta comes into contact with a girl named Mana while searching a mountain spring for mermaids. Mana has been kept indoors for a good ten years, and aside from the elderly women that takes care of her, Mana is a stranger to company. While it may sound like the classic tale of a stranger coming to sweep the girl off of her feet and onto the road to freedom, Yuta saves Mana from the villagers for some rather vague motives. Sure, it's nice to know that Yuta saves the girl, but the only reason that he has for doing so is sheer coincidence: Mana was in the area where Yuta was searching for a mermaid to help him, and she had the appearance of needing help. Yuta does not really seem to feel pity or concern for Mana, but rather, he simply takes her along with him as if he had nothing better to do.
I could say that he takes her with him so that he will not feel alone anymore. However, considering that Yuta is looking for a "cure" for his eternal youth so that he can finally die, this seems to me a bit of a paradox. I have my reservations about whether or not Mermaid Forest is able to keep any viewer's interest, given the way that the anime delivers very rough and random action and unexplained character motives. The story of Mermaid Forest could benefit greatly from a narrator, for there are a lot of moments, such as this scene, where the show moves far too fast for its own good.
The animation quality of this anime is rather nice. The character designs are very bold and detailed, and they add a playful realism to the circumstances and events of the animation, akin to most Takahashi-related projects. The coloring is excellent, and it offers very fine set design and background artwork occasionally. If you are familiar with other Rumiko Takahashi animated or manga properties, then you have an idea of what to expect.
Mermaid Forest could be a very interesting series, but chances are that this anime will never be too engaging due to its overly simplistic dialogue and unchecked melodrama. There are a lot of moments when characters will act brashly and without sentience, and likewise, there are a lot of moments when characters just stand around, reiterating an obvious point of relative interest for a second or third time. Yuta's occasional flashbacks of his lives over the past five hundred years are interesting, but considering that we spend more time with his character in his flashbacks then we do with him in the present time, it is difficult to take his story seriously at times. While Yuta is a likeable character, he isn't a character that lends well to drama or spectacle.
I am hoping that Yuta and Mana become more developed in future episodes. Right now, because of the concentration of flashbacks over present-time events, the single episode featured characters are better rounded than these two main characters, mostly for the fact that they are more motivated. Single episode characters have a limited amount of time for exposition, action, and resolve; this is very apparent in Mermaid Forest. It is also apparent that it's going to take a long time for the audience to uncover an emotional attachment thorough plotting and pacing, and sensible drama from what are supposed to be our lead protagonists. Right now, the plot of Mermaid Forest is meandering; everything that Yuta is involved in seems to occur at random.
There isn't any aspect of this anime that really stands out as something capable of keeping me intrigued for future releases. Those interested in this anime will be investing a lot of hope in what they imagine the series will turn out to be, because from only one DVD volume, that's all you can do: hope for more.