Movie: One of the problems I've had reviewing anime series that were released a disc at a time has been how to describe the events of a particular volume while not giving away too much of the story for newcomers. Let's face it, if you read the review for a middle volume of a series, you'll probably be just as lost as if you'd picked it up at the local rental store and popped it in the DVD player if you haven't checked out the earlier chapters in the series. Rating them can be tough too since fans of the first three volumes will undoubtedly be anticipating the final volume while a lukewarm reception is probably not going to generate a lot of excitement. Such has been the case with the Mermaid Forest series I've reviewed over the last year. From Quest For Death, to Bitter Flesh, to Unquenchable Thirst, the characters grew little and the situations seemed to be very similar so I really didn't expect a lot from Mermaid Forest: Unending Nightmare, the last in the series. The series is the story of Yuta and Mana, a couple of people from Japan who have consumed the flesh of mermaids and lucked out as to how the magical substance interacted with them. They will live forever unless someone severs their head from the body and the driving theme of the show is to showcase their quest to find a cure for their longevity. They meet a selection of others with similar problems, each trying to vie for their own brand of cheating the concept of death. Here's a bit of background on the subject to bring newcomers up to speed:
"Butchering a mermaid and consuming her flesh seems like a small price to pay to escape death. However, Yuta recognizes the curse as he buries the withered corpses of friends and family and searches for a way to undo his fate. He soon meets the beautiful Mana, who shares his curse and his desire to be cured of living. Unfortunately, until they can die, they must suffer a deadly world of selfish humans hiding terrible secrets and horrible crimes." I'll be the first to admit that all my knowledge of mermaids come from the old western European tales from sailors that were probably drunk and horned up from years at sea without any relief and the classic (though far darker than Disney's version) Little Mermaid. The idea of a beautiful woman on top with a fishy tale also probably has some other connotations that I won't go into (involving material of an adult nature) but with Japan as a traditionally sea-based culture, I suppose it makes sense that they'd have their own legends about these creatures.
Okay, so watching Yuta, a 500+ year old man who has set about finding a way to regain his humanity and start aging at a normal pace again (he can die but like most of us, he wants to have his cake and eat it too) has had some ups and downs. That he was hooked up with a far younger, but similarly afflicted gal, Mana, was what kept it interesting as the couple find plenty of pitfalls to the miracle known as immortality. By the time this final volume came out though, the exploits of the duo were not exactly special, with the couple caught up in two more stories where they have to deal with situations brought on by others cursed in one way or another by the flesh of mermaids.
Episodes 10 and 11 comprised one arc called Promised Tomorrow while episodes 12 and 13 comprised the Mermaid's Scar arc. One story is about another mother and son (a reprise form a couple of other tales in this short lived series) with Yuta getting involved with a boy named Masato whose mother is said to have revived from the dead. When Yuta sees her attacking the child, he intervenes but as in most stories these days, everything isn't what it appears to be and this puts both him and Mana in danger from the situation. The second story involved a sea of beautiful flowers and the myth of a nun who was said to have been carrying a miracle in the form of mermaid flesh that was either used to curse or cure a town that Yuta had visited long ago. When the intrigue of the situation nearly causes him to lose his head, he quickly decides to assist the townsfolk in solving the mystery behind the matter, at great peril to him and Mana. Still, old friends remember him and come to his aid but will it be enough?
No one knowledgeable in anime will convince me that manga creator Rumiko Takahashi isn't one of the most creative people in Japan, especially when darker subjects are the heart of the matter but the conversion into the anime series seems to have relied too heavily on compromising the original visions and watering down the concepts employed. Director Masaharu Okuwaki did a fairly decent job in trying to mainstream the stories of the series but it always seemed to come up short for my interests due to the look of a low budget and the repetitive nature of the stories. Surely the stories didn't have to be so similar each time. In any case, while this volume in the series closed out the show, it was still worth a rating of Rent It or maybe even better for fans of the macabre trying to find something lighter than average in this regard.
Picture: Mermaid Forest: Unending Nightmare was presented in a very nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I knew from the press releases that this series would have a lot of darker scenes (at night, in the ocean, and such), giving me pause that I'd see lots of limitations in the material but it was surprisingly clear in most ways with only a bit of grain and light video noise from time to time. The animation style itself seemed to cut some corners at times but it served the nature of the source material fairly nicely with solid backgrounds, decent detail, and a range of interesting visual elements to hold my attention. I saw no compression artifacts and the overall visual aspects of the four episodes were nicely handled.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choice of the original Japanese track or the English dub, both done in a 2.0 Dolby Digital presentation. In terms of overall quality, I thought the dub cast did a better job this time than in the last volume. Apparently, the second stringers either learned to provide better performances or the direction was better but it amounted to an improvement nonetheless. I still thought the music and special effects sounded better on the dub than on the original too so fans of dubs may be able to reclaim some dignity with this one. There was some fairly pleasing separation between the tracks on both versions and the dynamic range managed to convince me that someone was paying close attention to the production of both, making it a good series to listen to.
Extras: There were only some sketches, some trailers, and a paper insert with minimal artwork (and a list of the release dates for the four volumes in the series).
Final Thoughts: Mermaid Forest: Unending Nightmare ended the series on a tame note with the threat of "deformed ones" attacking and the curse of never ending life still plaguing the protagonists of the series. Leaving things unsettled made the series fairly limited and perhaps a closing bit where they found their cure or came to terms with one another, if not their predicament, would've made it more appealing to me. In all, the series started off with some interesting ideas but the reality of the concept was that it wasn't truly inspired in any way and the stories just didn't show any spark for a guy like me that wished better writing could've been used. Check it out as a rental if you must but keep in mind that the thematic limitations were too much to save this one.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.