Mermaid Forest Vol. #1 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: C+
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • Running time: 75
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Mermaid Forest

Mermaid Forest Vol. #1 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     May 15, 2005
Release Date: July 05, 2005


Mermaid Forest Vol. #1 (also w/box)
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
An ancient Japanese legend says that if one were to partake of the flesh of the mermaid, one would be granted eternal life and youth. Yuta ate the mermaid's flesh 500 years ago and became immortal. Since then he has had to deal with living a lonely never-ending life, watching his loved ones grow old and die. Wishing to have a normal life, to live and to die like others, he searches for a mermaid for centuries, thinking she may be able to tell him a way to become mortal again. When he arrives in a village, he meets a girl named Mana, who also became immortal by eating a mermaid's flesh. Together, they start their journey in attempting to find a mermaid and regain their humanity.

Original story by Rumiko Takahashi of Inu Yasha, Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura, and Maison Ikkoku fame.


The Review!
Previously done as an OVA release, the dark horror story from Rumiko Takahashi finally gets the space to breathe it deserves with a TV series.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The Japanese track is a fairly active stereo mix due to the show having a good number of action sequences and lots of water to work with. The show has a decent wide feel to it across the forward soundstage during a lot of areas but the dialogue itself is generally fairly well centered, though it does move about at key times. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems on either language track with dropouts or distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003 as the second half of the Rumiko Takahashi Anthology series, this show is presented in its home video aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this release looks really good considering the number of dark blues and blacks throughout it that could otherwise be a problem. The colors for these areas are really well done and have a certain vividness to them in a number of scenes that really stand out nicely. The materials in general avoid a lot of the usual problems such as cross coloration and aliasing, though there's a touch of that in one or two scenes that's obvious, and they especially avoid any color gradation problems. While not a standout transfer just due to the source material not being something that's so incredibly flashy, what is here looks really solid and only enhanced the presentation.

Packaging:
Using artwork not found on the Japanese release, I think we get a better first volume cover here with a nicely with a very attractive looking illustration of Mana and Yuta that's beautifully colored and layered while behind them you have the golden tail of a mermaid and the great coloring of the water from below. I really like how this looks with its distinctive colors and the strong hint of nudity without really showing anything truly tantalizing. The back cover carries over the blue feeling though it's less detailed and provides the usual in a decent summary for the shows premise as well as a number of good but small shots from the show to see how the animation actually looks. The features and episode listings are very clearly laid out while the production information fills out the bottom. The insert replicates the front cover on one side while the reverse side lists the episodes for this volume and the upcoming release months for future volumes.

Menu:
The main menu is nicely done in a lot of ways but also features a short cut to save a few bucks. The menu is done with a good blue water color where the background shimmers and shifts about with the mixture of white to provide light bouncing off it. Behind there is the image of Mana that shifts and shimmers along with it. In the foreground you get a non-moving image of her and Yuta in full color, all of which is set to some water gurgling noises. The short cut with this design is that they avoided creating an actual set-up submenu and just have you selecting the two basic language options from the main menu (so you English listeners who use the subtitles from the Japanese track at the same time will have to set that up on the fly). It's an odd choice and not one I would make, but then again I'm not much of a fan of Blink Digital's menus for the most part since for some reason their work on the previews section always results in an area where the black is more gray and they lock out skipping in getting to the previews. Access times are good across the board and the layout is easy to navigate once you get past the surprise of language selection being on the top. The disc also correctly read our players presets properly and played accordingly.

Extras:
The extras a pretty minimal here with just some production sketches, but with hardly anything on the Japanese release I'm not surprised.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Many years ago, a few stories from the overall storyline of Mermaid Forest were animated in a couple of OVA releases which were brought over here. For the most part, they differed greatly from what most of Rumiko Takahashi's other works have been like and while they found an audience, it was never a terribly large one nor one that seemed to spur on a fan following like Inu-Yasha or Ranma . What it did provide though was a look at Takahashi doing something much more darker than normal for her and something that felt much more closer to the viewer than the larger epics and comedies she's famous for. The mermaid stories have always been sort of like the cousin nobody talks about but those that do are fascinated by it.

Mermaid myths are something that I've found fascinating when it comes to Japan as there are some really unique ones and a number of different ideas and interpretations about what they're all about. Most of what westerners are used to is the classic one where they're all good looking buxom women who wink and seduce sailors, sometimes with bad results, but for the most part you think mermaid and you end up thinking of a particular red headed lass from Disney. Japanese stories about mermaids have some similarities but they also tend to be much more detailed and involve more than just the mermaid itself. Rumiko Takahashi's take on them was one of my first introductions to the Japanese legends of mermaids and with her bent being something that ties closely to actual myths and stories, one that's resonated well over the years.

As it's told, if you eat the flesh of a mermaid you can gain immortality and eternal youth. This has set people onto looking and hunting mermaids for hundreds of years but it doesn't tell the whole tale. When you actually eat the flesh of a mermaid, you're taking a great risks in the outcome. For most people, their flesh is considered an incredible potent poison that will cause them to die within seconds after feasting upon it. For the truly unlucky, the flesh will cause their bodies to change horribly and warp into what's called Deformed Ones, disturbing looking creatures with no remnants of humanity left in them. But for the unluckiest of them all depending on your point of view, eating the flesh gives you immortality. The only thing that can end your existence is your head being cut off. Everything else causes a temporary death where it just takes time to come back to life.

Some five hundred years prior, Yuta and a couple of his friends tried a meat that someone claimed was mermaid flesh. Only Yuta survived the experience and has been living his life ever since. Initially he just kept to living in his village where everyone else grew old around him and his wife practically cursed him on her grave as she was quite old and he never looked any more than his best. Since he wasn't truly looking for eternal life he decides to find out how to become human again so that he can live a normal life and began traveling all over Japan to find another mermaid so he could question her on it. His travels at one point led him to one old woman who told him that if he could eat the flesh again it would return him to normal, and this only set him to redouble his efforts.

In this series, there's a mixture of stories that get told. The opening tale takes place in the present where he comes across a group of mermaids and Deformed Ones who are operating in an almost cult like existence in a remote location where nobody ever goes. They've created an interesting cycle of life that allows for them to continue their existence and to take care of their needs as they all initially ate the mermaid flesh when they themselves were old so their bodies stayed that way. Using one young woman now to help continue their life cycle, Yuta comes onto the scene and ends up smashing it all down but not before she becomes immortal like him. Named Mana, the two begin to travel together so that they can undo the curse that they're under. Future stories continue on with the pairing, which if is similar to the previous tales such as Mermaid's Scar, will be rather spooky and creepy but also amusing in its own ways since Mana is very much a babe in the woods.

With a story set with a man who is as old as Yuta is, we get to spend time with him in the past and see his previous attempts at finding mermaids. This volume works some of that magic with a two-part storyline that shows him on his journey and into a particular argument between two villages that's centered around mermaids itself. Going into the past gives the show something of a Highlander feel to it that works well since it lets us see the variety of experiences that Yuta has had but also the way the mermaid myth is different and similar in the various villages and people he encounters. With it being so much earlier in time and kept from larger events that may have surrounded the country at the time, the tales feel much more focused and personal, something that doesn't affect the future of a nation as other shows continually put forward.

With just about everything that has the Rumiko Takahashi name on it, the character designs are almost always something that you can look at and peg as hers without a doubt. Mermaid Forest in its previous incarnations played it very close to those designs but in this TV series, it's a bit more loose I think, not quite as tied to her design style as other series have done. That's not to say you can't pick out the Takahashi standards in the designs, but you don't watch it and think of any particular character as "so and so" from another series with different hair colors, or a different cowlick or something. The animation for the show is well done as well, with the blues for the caves and water coming across very well. Since a lot of the stories take place in older residences and villages as well as several hundred years ago, it all has a very earthy tone to it and a minimalist feel. When dealing with the earlier times, the characters are very minimally dressed as would be expected based on where they live and what they do. The designs for the backgrounds and the sets in general just look really good here and help maintain the right feel for the show.

For the US release, it looks like we're getting the same as the Japanese release. When the show was broadcast, eleven episodes made it out there and they were done in a standard 1.33:1 format. The home video release, which is what we're getting, was in the original 1.78:1 format and anamorphic. Not only that, but they also included a two part story that wasn't broadcast for some reason. According to the Japanese release, those two episodes were placed on the last volume since they're out of place to begin with. Many places still list this show as eleven episodes due to what was broadcast but it really is thirteen and since Geneon has the home video versions it's presumed they have those two unbroadcast episodes as well since I can't imagine them releasing the fourth volume with just two episodes on it.

In Summary:
Rumiko Takahashi's famous for generally quite different reasons here and in Japan and especially depending on your age. While most people now are more familiar with her Inu-Yasha work than anything else, I hope that those fans are the ones that will check out her other works as well since when she gets away from the big epic cash cow property, she can do a lot of really good small works that I think have more of a punch to them. Mermaid Forest in particular is one of her darker and more serious pieces that has very little humor in it at all and just goes right for the eastern horror style. I'm very happy to see this property revived and done in what I think is a better format than any of its previous incarnations and I can't wait to see more of it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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