Mermaid Saga (volume 1) by Rumiko Takahashi published in English by VIZ Media, LLC, San Francisco 2020
Yes, Rumiko Takahashi, the ‘princess of manga,’ published these stories in 2003, but now Viz has a beautiful, “signature edition” in English and with color inserts that is truly special! The second volume is being published this month, so I rushed out to get the first, and I LOVE it. You can read a free preview at the Viz website (viz.com)!
Mana is a lovely girl, being affectionately raised in a remote village of women, but must live in shackles. She is being raised… for a purpose that hasn’t been disclosed to her.
Yuta has watched his wife and loved ones die of old age while he remains young, after inadvertently eating the flesh of a mermaid. While his fellow diners died horribly or turned into miserable monsters, he received the immortality and endless youth that so many others will kill for. But he doesn’t want to live forever.
Unlike Takahashi’s light-hearted, comedic manga like Ursei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, Mermaid Saga is a dramatic horror story. There is violence and plenty of death; monsters are real; humans behave monstrously; and people ruin the lives of people they claim to love through betrayals, violence, jealousy, murder, and imprisonment.
The artwork is lovely, which may seem like a funny thing to say when Yuta is constantly filthy and bleeding from some new wound! Takahashi’s work is beautifully composed; the fabrics are all lovingly rendered; the landscapes and cityscapes are all evocative; there is a convincing amount of detail (just enough, exactly where it should be); the action lines are bold, and anything that flows has lovely curves; everyone has FANTASTIC HAIR; old people are super, super old… The color and toned work in certain sections are an added bonus. SHE IS SO GOOD! I want to call her the QUEEN of manga, though they don’t historically have queens in Japan, but she deserves all the accolades.
Mana and Yuta didn’t CHOOSE their situation, but they are actively choosing to change it! It’s a compelling, serious set of stories. I’m hoping I’ll have volume 2 in my hands later this month!
Appleseed Book One: The Promethean Challenge Appleseed Book Two: Prometheus Unbound Appleseed Book Three: The Scales of Prometheus Appleseed Book Four: The Promethean Balance by Masamune Shirow and Seishinsha (and many translators) published in English by Eclipse International (books One and Two) and Dark Horse Manga (a part of Dark Horse Comics) (not shown, Books Three and Four) 1989, 1990, 2008, 2009
I was recently chatting with an architect, and discussed how 1980s manga from Japan had some interesting conceptual architecture. The 80s were an era when the idea of “arcologies” (large sustainable, self-contained or partially self-supporting construction projects) was all the rage in architecture theory magazines, and some famous Japanese architects made some wild sculptural drawings which got a lot of press. On this topic, I loaned him the first two volumes of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed manga.
Now it’s my fault that architecture students at a local UC have to create an architecturally-themed manga as one of their assignments. (Sorry, kids!)
The architecture in the manga IS really detailed – these aren’t just backgrounds for wild action, but an entire portfolio of theoretical architectural design work in its own right. The end papers of each comic are always architectural, and whether the images are of the ruined high rises of the old world, or the solar-paneled developments of the new one, they are all done with pleasing attention to detail.
There are also lots of 1980s touches to the futurism – there are tons of 45 degree angled walls and buildings just because that’s what we all thought was cool at the time, and things are only barely rounded, just a tad. Our futurism always gives away when we really made something! But it’s NICE. It’s internally consistent from a design standpoint. It’s always done ALL THE WAY.
Should I say something about the manga itself? (What, there is a story?) Okay. Shirow, who is more famous for Ghost in the Shell (which has been turned into feature films at least four times now) was really at his peak (architecturally – ha!) for the Appleseed story. It follows a pair of soldiers, Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires, who were living in the ruins of cities in the aftermath of a devastating world war, as they are recruited to live in a new civilization that has risen from the ashes. They become police in a seemingly utopian society, but are put off a bit by the fact that most of the peaceful, educated residents of their new home are bio-engineered, and no longer completely human.
The first two volumes are world-building: Shirow explains world history, the rise of Olympus, the purpose of its population, and the political tensions that arise when you try to decide whether or not humans are really, you know, SAFE.
The second two volumes rely on the first (you can’t just start there), and show the ongoing struggles of our protagonists with their dangerous jobs and complex political entanglements. These are mostly action sequences, and less philosophical than the first two, which had so many meaning-of-life debates among engineered bioroids that they required footnotes. (No, really.)
I have objections to some elements of the manga. A big one: Women’s Bodies. The men are covered from head to toe, or are encased in robotic bodies, but the women show skin all the time, to the point that there are shower scenes (because of course). So, you 100% know this was drawn by a man, what his preferred body types are, and also that he is damned near obsessed with the female pelvic region, because of how often you can see it rendered in great detail even during fight scenes. (Once you see this theme, you can’t unsee it. HOW MANY HIGH KICKS DOES A WOMAN REALLY NEED TO PLACE IN EVERY DAMNED BATTLE, HUH?) I now know that later in his career, Shirow turned to what we (Americans) call softcore porn drawings of shiny, oiled-looking youthful girls/women, so please be careful with your image searches!
Also, as a part black woman, I’m not a fan of how he draws black people. Since most of the characters appear to be heavily stylized pseudo-European (rather than Asian), there is a hazy stylized ethnic ambiguity until black people arrive, and they are suddenly VERY different. I’m not saying we aren’t bigger or can have different features, but between the one black character in Macross/Robotech, or in the more recent Castlevania, there are some great manga-stylized renderings that I find more attractive. I realize that I have access to black people in my own family, and Shirow may not, but I was… confused by several of them, honestly.
So I have positive architectural feelings about Appleseed, and especially appreciate the buildings, machines, and industrial design of the first two books.