Rumiko Takahashi is one of the most achieved authors in anime & manga, making it a personal embarrassment how little of her work I have actually interacted with. In fact, Mermaid Forest and its sequel Mermaid’s Scar are the first anime adaptations of her work that I’ve ever seen. Both are based on Rumiko’s Mermaid Saga manga and, fortunately, both are pretty dang good.
In the world of Mermaid Forest, there exists a legend that eating the flesh of mermaids will grant you immortality. To most, those mermaids are nothing but a myth. To 500-year-old Yuta, they most certainly are not. Decades of loneliness and being repeatedly being murdered has turned Yuta into quite the cynic. He feels detached from the world, until he finally meets someone like him in the late-20th century: a young woman called Mana.
Mermaid Forest and Mermaid’s Scar both adapt random chapters of Rumiko’s manga. In Mermaid Forest, Mana “dies” in an accident. The local doctor rushes her corpse to the estate of a local family, who turn out to have quite the dark secret.
Mermaid’s Scar is set sometime later, which is reflected in Yuta being more optimistic and Mana more expressive. This chapter takes them to a remote village where the two of them take up work. Life is peaceful at first, until they grow to suspect that there may be another immortal among them.
Some choices in these adaptations are unfortunate. Firstly, the plot of these two chapters overlaps in several places. Both feature rural settings, influential local families, and Mana being kidnapped. It’s also a shame that Mana’s origin story is not included at all. Instead we get an intro for Yuta where he dreams of finding someone like him, only for the next cut to be him together with Mana. There’s not even a good indication to mark the passage of time, so that had me very confused for a moment.
In spite of that, I found both OVA’s to be gripping stories. The lore of the Mermaid Saga is really cool and Yuta & Mana make for great protagonists through which to explore it. Seeing how they journey around and try to prevent mermaid flesh from causing harm in the world, it’s interesting stuff. Overlapping themes aside, both stories have their own surprising twists, memorable characters, and emotional moments. I was hooked enough that I now kinda want to read the actual manga.
The presentation does not lag behind. Pierrot adapted Mermaid Forest and MADHOUSE took care of Mermaid’s Scar, both doing a pretty dang good job of it. Much of the anime is fairly calm and suspenseful, punctuated by explosions of action and horror in the later parts. The violence is intense, though not in the usual way you’d expect from an older OVA. There are no gorefests to be found, as Mermaid Forest (and Scar) instead aim for discomfort. Especially Mermaid Forest and its focus on amputation had me feeling squeamish.
While both OVA’s are definitely horror, most of this comes from the suspense. The actual monster designs feel too cheesy to be really effective. Even the transformations struck me as looking tamer than they could have been.
If you’re looking for gruesome horror this Halloween, then Mermaid Forest and Mermaid’s Scar are probably not your best choice. However, they are definitely worth watching for their gripping storylines. I had a great time with them and look forward to seeing more of Rumiko Takahashi’s work.