Title: Tropic of the Sea (Shinsouban Kaikisen)
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Vertical Inc. (US)
Artist: Satoshi Kon
Serialized in: Young Magazine
Translation: Maya Rosewood
Original Release Date: September 17, 2013
My experience with Satoshi Kon I’d say has been mixed. My first experience checking out a Satoshi Kon work was with Paranoia Agent, which was about as weird and trippy as an animated work could be. I think I lasted 7 episodes before getting tired out of it for some weird reason. Maybe it’s because I watched it on Adult Swim and couldn’t devote time to it after a certain point. Then I watched Tokyo Godfathers. It’s amazing. Not much more to be said after that. Then I watched Paprika. I felt let down. It had some stuff I like, but then it had some stuff I couldn’t actually get/overlook, so my temperament on Kon died down a bit. Now I get to take a look at one of his manga–
Yep, that’s right, his manga. He actually did manga before he became known for his feature films, and in checking out Tropic of The Sea, he maybe could have been a pretty solid manga artist too.
An ancestor of the Yashiro family found a mysterious egg on the beach when he soon came across a half-fish, half-human mermaid looking for the egg. This ancestor made a promise to the mermaid to worship the sea, replace the egg’s water once a week, and return the egg to the sea after sixty years, and then take care of the next egg that comes by. The reward? Being blessed with calm seas and catching great fish. The Yashiro family has taken care of the egg for generations since that moment, except now the head priest of the Yashiro family is set on ruining said tradition by not only advertising it to the public, but using that and the entire area as a front, as commercial developers set to turn the seaside town into a luxury residence. It’s up to Yosuke Yashiro, a somewhat aimless young man, to understand the egg’s importance before it’s too late.
Immediately, you’ll understand from reading the first 15-20 pages what the situation is like in Tropic of The Sea. It’s a sleepy town near the sea that apparently needs to be remodeled into something entirely new, in order to attract others to come to the area. At least that’s what Yosuke’s dad Yozo is trying to sell to a number of people, and that includes his grandpa, who doesn’t believe him at all, especially now after the stunt he pulled advertising the egg to the media. Yosuke however, doesn’t have an input in this, as he’s not even sure the mermaid egg story is even believable.
From there the story takes a turn into attempting to break old customs versus understanding that developing large scale resorts and hotels can be a bad thing, in a number of ways. It brings forth general arguments, attempts to practically go ahead with their plans without bothering to discuss at all, and even summons forth the only fantasy element in the story, the mermaid, into a pretty crucial and almost destructive situation. It does this with such surprising realism that in thinking about it, it literally felt like this can happen in real life…just minus the mermaid part. And even when it seems to get unrealistic and fanatical, it’s grounded with some good choice words and a nice design.
Actually, the design part is probably what makes this manga tick. The drawings are wonderfully detailed, from the characters to the trees to the sea, etc. It really makes all the moments where we get a full page shot at the sea and the moments where the characters interact seem natural and serious, even in not so serious moments (one example is when Yosuke gets hit by a towel from his friend, Nami, after staring intently at her chest area. She happened to have taken a dip in the water.). The panels flow well too, so it’s hard to say you can be confused at certain moments in this manga.
What might just be a dealbreaker is the characters. The good news is they’re mostly likable (except one guy. You don’t become likable after kicking a dog). The bad news is their development feels a bit messy, mostly for the other characters that do appear in the manga. Yosuke is the main character, so generally we’ll get his perspective for most of the work, and we’ll also learn more about him (like what happened to his mom, his interactions with the egg, etc). But we get introduced to two other characters: Tetsu, the typical best friend, and Nami, a young woman who came back to town after an apparent breakup, and while they hang around Yosuke a lot, I don’t believe they change at all, or at least, they’ve been given enough chances to be fleshed out a bit more. There was also what I felt was a development between Nami and Yosuke (they had gotten into an argument) that was resolved a bit too quickly for my taste. And then you’re introduced to a few more people that you can’t really care to remember after finishing it. But again, I say the characters might be a dealbreaker; for me, the cast I find is pretty varied, though I wish for some their stories were expanded upon more.
It’s pretty interesting also how Kon ended up creating the manga. Well, it actually doesn’t tell of how he came up with the idea, but of Kon literally whining (yes, I’ll call it whining!) about the process of working on the manga in Young Magazine, and how he would stay up all night and draw and then collapse, then realize he had to work on another storyboard. And when the manga was slated to hit stores in Japan, he would go correct certain passages and all of a sudden get a desire to redo everything. Basically, it makes me wonder how he managed to do any of this weekly, but I guess most manga artists say the same thing…
Anyways, Tropic of The Sea may seem to be a bit dry to some, but for others, it’ll be seen as a pretty chilling, memorable tale by Kon about tradition, being an adult, and also coming to terms with the consequences of development. If you’re made of money and you’re in need to take a gander at a Satoshi Kon manga, then you should definitely consider getting it.
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