Though there may be a few anime fans that don't recognize Rumiko Takahashi's name, I doubt that there are many who aren't familiar with her work. Known as the "Princess of Manga" she's the woman behind such manga (and anime) series as Urusei Yatsura (also known as Lum), Maison Ikkoku, and fan favorite Ranma ½. She's created many popular series over her 25+ year career, and is known for her humorous stories that have a lot of heart. But Takahashi is a very talented artist, and she's not limited to one story type as is shown with Mermaid Forest. Darker and less light-hearted than her other series, this story of immortals and monsters will surprise many of her fans. It's very unlike her other works, but that doesn't mean it isn't good. (For another look at this series, check out Don Houston's reviews of the individual volumes here: One, two, three, four.)
Yuta looks like a nice, handsome, young man. But looks can be deceiving. He's really over 500 years old, and immortal. Centuries ago he was just a common fisherman, but then he caught a mermaid, a vile evil creature, and ate some of its flesh. That act would let live forever, only he doesn't want to. He's seen his loving wife grow old before his eyes and die while he stayed eternally young. Now Yuta searches the seas for mermaids, hoping to find one that will tell him how to remove the curse of eternal youth.
In his journeys he encounters Mana. This young girl was being kept hostage by a group of mermaids. They fed her mermaid flesh so she'd be eternally young, and they planned on eating her in turn. The only way a mermaid can live on land and have legs is by occasionally eating a human who has eaten mermaid flesh, so this group of ex-mermaids raises young women on the bodies of their sister mermaids and harvests them every 20 years or so. That is until Yuta arrived and ruined their schemes. Now Yuta and Mana travel together, both looking for a cure to their situation.
The interesting part of this show is the contrast of the two main characters. Yuta has traveled the world for centuries and is very street smart. In contrast Mana has been locked away since she was a little girl and knows nothing of the world. She hasn't even seen a cat before. Their relationship, though they look about the same age, is more one of father to child rather than as equals.
The series doesn't only focus on Yuta in the present day however; there are episodes that take place years ago before he met his traveling companion. These episodes don't really work however. First off they're confusing. At the end of one show he's running off with Mana, and the next one he's by himself with no explanation given that this happened earlier. Just when you figure they are going to stay in the past, Mana pops up again. The reason these stories were put into the series is to show just why Yuta wants to become mortal again, but it's not that convincing. I never really saw a convincing reason for Yuta to yearn mortality.
There are a few other problems with this show. Mermaids are very rare, though every time Yuta turns around he's encountering one or someone who has eaten a mermaid. After a few episodes it doesn't seem that they are as rare as everyone claims. The legend surrounding these creatures doesn't make a lot of sense either. Everyone repeats the tale of eating a mermaid to gain immortality, but that's not really what happens. Mermaids are very, very toxic, and the vast majority of people who eat them die instantly. An unlucky few lose their minds and turn into monsters, and then a very, very small minority, "one every century" get the gift of immortality. You'd think that people would have passed that little tid-bit of information down with the legend as well.
That's not to say the show is bad, it's not. It just isn't up to the standard of other Rumiko Takahashi shows. Each story was interesting enough, but there wasn't much momentum pushing the viewer forward. I was never really excited to see the next show and find out what happens. While it's not a horrible show, it's nothing to write home about either.
This boxed set contains all four volumes of the series in a nicely illustrated thick board slipcase. The individual DVDs come in standard keepcases and seem to be identical to the earlier releases.
The series offers viewers the choice of stereo mixes in both English and Japanese. I sampled both of them and preferred the original Japanese thought he English dub is very good. The show makes use of the soundstage during the action sequences but for most of the series the dialog is centered on the screen without much directionality. This isn't a big problem and the soundtrack fits the series well. There are also English subs.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 video looks pretty good. The colors are pleasing and the level of detail is fine. The black could be a bit more solid, but the image is sharp overall. On the digital side, aliasing is a problem in several scenes, especially when the camera is panning over a static image.
The extras are really disappointing. The only thing this set comes with is a series of production art galleries, one on each DVD.
This show based on a manga by superstar Rumiko Takahashi is just okay.
I liked the way she portrayed mermaids as evil, noxious creatures, but
there wasn't much pushing the story forward. With characters that
aren't that engaging and just average plots, this is a good way to kill
some time but you won't be jumping up and down with excitement as you watch
it. Add to that the MSRP of $70 for a mere 13 episodes, and you've
got a show that would make a better rental than a purchase.