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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mermaid Forest: Bitter Flesh
Mermaid Forest: Bitter Flesh
Geneon // Unrated // September 20, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted October 15, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Finding decent horror shows these days, particularly in anime, is akin to finding balanced views on George Lucas and his Star Wars series; almost impossible and nearly a waste of time. There are some exceptions to the general rule, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette and Requiem from the Darkness being a few, but most such shows center their attention on gore over quality writing. A few months ago, I found another exception to the quality rule, albeit a series with some significant flaws, Mermaid Forest 1. Today's review of the sophomore volume, Mermaid Forest: Bitter Flesh, continued the misadventures of Yuta and Mana in more contemporary times, with some interesting ideas too. Here's a brief look back at the original volume to situate your mindset on 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 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. Here's what the back cover said this time about the show:

"Get ready for more gothic horror, Japanese style! Mana is hit by a truck and taken to the hospital. Yuta rushes to be at her side, but she has mysteriously disappeared by the time he arrives. His search leads him to the Mermaid Forest, with an old mansion rumored to have a mermaid cemetery, where he finds two women, one old, the other young but white-haired. The sad fates of the women, who live in the Mermaid Forest are revealed."

The episodes were 4) Mermaid Forest (Part 1), 5) Mermaid Forest (Part 2),, and 6) The End of the Dream. The initial story arc involves two sisters, one that has consumed a very tiny bit of mermaid blood that has had some interesting effects on her and the other a withered old hag in charge of the family fortune. When Mana was hit by the truck and presumed dead, she ended up as part of a scheme to restore one of the gals to health. Yuta and she have somewhat of a differing opinion about what's going to happen and fight to protect their interests against treachery and a mermaid flesh afflicted dog. The last episode showed a somewhat different look at a guy whose dealings with mermaids wasn't quite as gruesome as most but certainly lacked the longevity without ill effect that the wayward couple had too. In a manner of speaking, it provided more insight than much of the story to date but was too short to fully flesh out the character (sorry for the pun).

So, did I like the show? Yeah, a little bit but it didn't grab me this time for some reason. Too much emphasis was placed on the initial arc with little development of the main characters in favor of the sisters that won't be coming back to the storyline. Focusing on secondary characters is a sure way to dive off a cliff in a story, especially so early on in a developing series. The second story couldn't taken twice as long to establish the characters but it also seemed to fall short. So, while it was pretty good, I felt compelled to give the DVD a rating of Rent It this time.

Picture: Mermaid Forest 2: Bitter Flesh 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 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: With only three episodes on the DVD (again!), 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 four volumes in the series). This is a pet peeve of mine so if I seem a bit irritated, please understand that 3 episodes amounts to about half a single sided DVD; a waste of precious space in my opinion.

Final Thoughts: Mermaid Forest: Bitter Flesh was kind of run of the mill compared to the initial release and most other anime on the market these days. I think many of you will find it watchable but not as special as it could've been given the unique circumstances. The concept of immortality goes far back in mythology, even before the story of Prometheus or the Christian story of Lazareth, and contains a wealth of potential but it simply wasn't used to full effect here. Yuta could've been born twenty years ago but for his exposition and repeated healing when hurt but the interesting way to handle the story would've surely been to show how he has grown over the years or learned from mankind's mistakes yet he never appears to act any differently than the rest of the characters and seemed very much a contemporary of them. In all, the show looked and sounded decent but aside from some minor interest as a one time view, most of you will find it tame, for all the blood, guts, and gore shown.

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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