By Satoshi Kon. Released in Japan as “Kaikisen” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Young Magazine. Released in North America by Vertical.
I must admit, I’ve never really been into Satoshi Kon’s directing work. I saw Perfect Blue years ago, but never got around to his other movies. I do know that many of them are considered works of art by anime fandom, though, so it was intriguing to see this title licensed, a manga that he wrote before he did any of the titles he’s now famous for. I liked what I read, too. This is a solid, mellow, and sometimes preachy story of a young man growing up by the sea in a small town, having to deal with progress, tradition, friendships becoming romance, and mermaids. Most of us have dealt with the same things. Well, maybe not that last one.
The story is quite simple, and fits very well in this single volume release. Yosuke comes from a long line of priests, whose job it is to care for a mermaid egg – and return it to the sea every 60 years, as part of a pact to keep the sea filled with life and healthy. His father is a modernist, and thinks that they could also raise some money with the publicity of this egg. His grandfather is a staunch traditionalist. Yosuke, meanwhile, seems to fall in between the two camps – much like the rest of his life, where as a teen getting ready for exams he can’t quite decide if he wants to escape his hometown or not. This is not helped by the return of Nami, an old friend who had gone to the big city, and who has an obvious bond with Yosuke.
I really liked the way this manga kept a balance between everything it’s trying to do. There’s lots of reflective, quiet scenes, but there’s also several exciting action pieces and a big chase climax. Yosuke can be reserved, but he’s not repressed or anything, he’s just a normal kid who is dealing with a lot right now. I loved the not-quite-romance with Nami, which has just the right touch, and his relationship with his little sister also rang true. Essentially, despite this title involving mermaids, the fact that your suspension of disbelief never comes into play is the most praiseworthy thing.
It’s not perfect, of course – something I’m sure Kon would be the first to acknowledge. The lead villain comes from a stock template of ruthless businessmen who will get what they want without thought of the little people or environment that get trampled underfoot. I suspect Kon didn’t want to end this volume with anyone actually being killed, but that makes the villain’s conversion – oh, I’ve seen what really lives in the sea, and it has made me a better person – the one thing here that’s really hard to swallow. The ending also does seem a bit rushed, for all of its excitement.
But those are just quibbles. Tropic of the Sea is simply evocative, and makes the reader want to walk out along the beach at night and smell the salt water. It’s no surprise that the creator went on to big things.