Tropic of the Sea by author Satoshi Kon
I’ve discussed my relationship with Satoshi Kon before in my review of his manga, Opus. After reading Tropic of the Sea I think I can say with confidence that he’s more suited for the big screen than quick books.
Tropic of the Sea is about a family that has for generations guarded a mermaid egg in order to maintain calm seas and high fishing yield for their town. As the legend goes, the great-grandfather was given the egg by a mermaid and was told to return it to the sea 60 years later in exchange for a new one and that this would bless them.
At this point, coming into the third generation, the family is no longer certain they believe in this mysterious egg. Is it worth protecting just for superstition? Should they just get rid of it? Sell it?
It is easy to understand that people lose touch with why they started traditions over time. Without any of the living generations having seen this mermaid it makes sense they would doubt it. Some people blindly continue rituals, others don’t. When is it dangerous?
I believe that Tropic of the Sea is rooted in Japanese folklore that my American self is largely unfamiliar with. We don’t have a lot of mermaid legends here, especially where I am in land-locked Colorado.
But the story seems to serve as a loose allegory for oceanic and environmental conservation as well as upholding sacred family traditions. It’s an interesting enough story but I don’t think a manga is where it belongs.
If this had been a movie with beautiful long shots of glimmering ocean waters with glimpses of shining mermaid tails it could have been far more mesmerizing. However, in simply drawn black and white manga panels I think it loses it’s luster.
The short book flies through the plot points quickly and doesn’t take time to develop any of the relationships or characters. I think that if I knew more of the Japanese tropes maybe it would’ve felt a little more developed but once again I think it’s an issue of medium.
When dealing with something as large scale as the ocean you need a bigger vessel. This manga seems diminished. Oversimplified. The characters are blank slates and only have a relationship to the egg, not really to each other. They are mostly interchangeable and serve only to move the allegory along.
Overall, it’s a read that is not regrettable but also not memorable. I know that Satoshi Kon has much more depth in him but his inexperience shows in this early work. It’s okay, simply okay.
3/5 mermaids 🧜♀️🧜♀️🧜♀️
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