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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mermaid Forest 1- Quest for Death
Mermaid Forest 1- Quest for Death
Geneon // Unrated // July 5, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted July 14, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: In all, I haven't seen a lot of quality horror shows over the years, particularly not in the wonderful world of anime, the best of the batch being the sole volume of Requiem from the Darkness I reviewed not long ago. Part of the problem lies in how adult material is sometimes "dumbed down" for the younger audience and another problem probably lies in the cultural difference we share with the Japanese. In many ways, their long standing traditions towards demons, ghouls, and other creepy critters and spookies are so vastly different on various levels that we tend to appreciate the blood, guts and gore more so than the cerebral level they seem so comfortable with. That said, I lucked out and picked up another such series this week, one with a lot of potential, called Mermaid Forest 1: Quest For Death. Here's what the back DVD cover said about the show:

"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 beings.

With that as a starting point, the first three episodes of the series (I greatly prefer four or more) set the stage for some of the general myths involving Japanese mermaid legend. In episode 1: Mermaid Does Not Smile, the lead character, Yuta, eats the flesh of one when some friends bring him a chunk to dine on. Apparently, the immortality bit doesn't work on everyone, only a small percentage of people, and the rest either die a horrible death or become monsters. Needless to say, he seems to luck out while they fare less well in this matter. This sets the stage as he seeks out other mermaids who might be able to unlock his dilemma which we join after 500 years have past. Apparently, watching everyone you love die of old age gets old after a few hundred years, although I'd be willing to give it a whirl myself, and his quest begins from there. The latter part of the first episode shows that there's a definite culture among mermaids and they aren't too enthusiastic about folks eating them for dinner. After a series of harrowing escapes involving a gal he meets, he confronts a group of them only to learn his curse can be cured, but at a nasty price.

The following episodes, 2 & 3, Village of the Fighting Fish I and II, were a bit better at exposition and character development as they detailed Yuta's travels to a small fishing village where he encounters a group of natives trying to find (and dine on) mermaids in between piracy missions on passing travelers. Needless to say, there were numerous plot twists the initial episode couldn't handle due to the length (and need to set the stage for the series). Yuta has to make a series of split second decisions and live with the consequences as he attempts to save a village from rival factions' intent on following in his footsteps, not knowing the loneliness of immortality. How the situation was resolved is spoiler material but it was not cut from the same cloth as most anime series I've watched in the last thirty years and for all the minor limitations, I thought it was a refreshing breath of fresh air. As such, I'm going to cave in a bit and award the DVD a rating of Recommended, even though it needed more episodes and extras to make me truly happy with it.

Picture: Mermaid Forest 1: Quest For Death was presented in a very nice 1.78:1 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 three 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 give the nod to the original track as some of the dubbed voice actors just didn't mesh well with the material (sorry, I didn't keep track of them this time) as well as others but once again, I thought the music and special effects sounded better on the dub than on the original. 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: With only three episodes on the DVD, I fully expected a great company like Geneon to offer some sweet extras with this release but other than dropping the price a little bit, they sure didn't offer much else. There were some sketches, some trailers, and a paper insert with minimal artwork (and a list of the release dates for the remaining three volumes in the series). This is a pet peeve of mine so if I seem a bit irritated, so be it.

Final Thoughts: Mermaid Forest 1: Quest For Death was something a bit off the beaten track with the legend of mermaids explored in a manner that was all but alien to be. As food for thought, the concept of mermaids is said to derive from a universal need (read between the lines folks) and the technical aspects definitely contributed to the stories presented here. I thought the creativity of series originator Rumiko Takahashi (creator of Inuyasha) was in full swing here and fans of the macabre horror will find it an interesting show to check out (with lots of replay value). In all, it showed the series will dance to the beat of a different drum and that type of diversity could appeal to those of you not necessarily fans of anime in general.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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