The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Prince Naru of a mermaid kingdom off the coast of Japan's Miyako Island is a flippant playboy, dissatisfied with the beautiful mermaids who throw themselves at him, unwilling to choose a bride despite his duty as royal heir. Peeking up at the human world above, he falls in love at first sight with Nami Sakuragai, a spunky high schooler who slips into the ocean while trying to rescue a fish. Arrested for coming into contact with a human, Naru proves unrepentant, so his mother refuses to lessen his sentence.
Fortunately, he's in the same jail as a sea sorcerer, who strikes a bargain with the prince, allowing him to become human in exchange for a portion of his good looks to try to win Nami's heart. Unfortunately, this literal fish out of water prince has no idea how to act like a normal human, immediately putting Nami on guard around the guy she considers a pervert amnesiac. Now Naru's not sure if he even wants Nami to fall in love with him, but if he doesn't want to turn to sea foam, he only has a year to win her heart—and keep humanity from finding out his secret.
Mermaid Boys was published in April; it's an original manga by Yomi Sarachi, available in paperback for $13.00 by Yen Press.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Prince Naru is an arrogant, entitled jerk. There's no getting around that. However, his cocky attitude is precisely one of the many reasons why this first volume of Mermaid Boys is so hilarious—in addition to all his clueless, fish-out-of-water moments where he mucks up what's what in the human world. There are more than a few shades of Disney's The Little Mermaid here, even if the bulk of the story stands on its own. Naru needs to be taken down a peg, but there's a softer side beneath all the bluster, and he's already making strides to progressing as a character. Nami is an excellent foil for him, quickly evolving past the put-upon young woman who has to deal with his erratic behavior and sexual harassment to a three-dimensional character with goals of her own. Many of the secondary characters stand out, too, though they haven't had much time to establish themselves outside of their defining characteristics. Ryou is a definite highlight, another character with a terrible personality who nonetheless entertains through his hijinks.
The overall story is pushed largely to the background of this volume as Naru adjusts to the human world and customs, but there are plenty of hints that sorcerer Mellow didn't grant the prince's wish out of the kindness of his heart. Even Ryou's backstory is bound to prove intriguing as the story progresses, and Nami's desire to make her family's inn popular gives her plenty to do as well.
Sarachi's bishonen and bishojo character designs suit the quirky comedy and cozy atmosphere, though making even Mellow come across as lovely and soft doesn't quite suit his brooding, malevolent nature. There's no diversity in designs, either—everyone's good-looking, though that doesn't really detract from the story, per se. Setting the action on a coral-rich real world island is a great idea, though the backgrounds are more often than not just simple screentones. When the locale does appear, though, it's lovely and contributes to the cozy atmosphere of this beachside town.
Mermaid Boys volume 1 is shojo, but between the humor and the hints at a larger story, there's plenty beyond the budding romance to keep a wider audience entertained. Readers who aren't particularly fond of jerk characters may be unable to stomach some of Naru's actions, but his willful stubbornness is part of the appeal. Truly a modern fairy tale, Mermaid Boys does the old stories one better by tacking on plenty of comedy.
Hans Christian Andersen's original ill-fated romance gets a new coat of paint in Mermaid Boys. What could have been just another variation on the “monster lover” phenomenon instead is pretty fresh thanks to a few change-ups that play with readers' expectations. Yomi Sarachi introduces Naru, a red-haired prince that has all the merladies fawning over him. His looks and the story itself seem closely influenced by Disney's The Little Mermaid, although its hinted that his “aunt” met a fate similar to Andersen's original story.
So when the long overdue bachelor spies a beautiful human, the original story's plot is set in motion with help of a sea warlock that saps some of Naru's beauty (instead of his voice) so he can cozy up to the human girl and live happily ever after. This is where the manga takes a turn out of “same old story but genderbent” to something else entirely. Naru's crush is a girl named Nami and she's no dashing Prince Eric or demure beauty.
Naru learns pretty quick that he'll have to adjust to the fact that Nami is a real girl who isn't going to fall into his lap. She has other potential suitors to consider, like her inn's housekeeper Hikaru and her childhood friend Arashi. In a way, Mermaid Boys is a reverse harem told from the perspective of one of the potential boyfriends instead of from the heroine's perspective. This makes for its own unique point of view for a female-targeted romance. Naru is exactly my favorite type for these sorts of stories; he's the embodiment of 'fish-out-of-water' and comes off as both kinda dim and haughty at once. He's not unlikable but his mileage as “fish prince of your dream” may vary.
The volume closes with some set-up for more potential drama as additional Mermaid Boys appear and at least two are out for blood. Mermaid Boys evidently isn't content being a school romance with a supernatural twist; it has its sights set on some Mermaid Kingdom upheaval and a take on Ursula's bid for the throne. There's enough to chew on here to keep the story from getting dull even if one too many elements seem directly lifted from Disney.
Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Mermaid” has never been one of my favorite stories – it's needlessly cruel to its heroine in the name of “saving” her, among other issues. That's probably at least part of why Yomi Sarachi's Mermaid Boys is so much fun: Sarachi doesn't just gender-swap her mermaid into a merman, but she also uses the story to point out some of the issues with Andersen's original. The most obvious of these is the way Prince Naru is so totally convinced that he's in love with Nami that he rushes to throw (almost) everything away to be with her…only to find out that he was in love with a fantasy version of a girl he'd never actually spoken to, and the real Nami isn't quite the girl of his dreams. It's a great statement on the whole love-at-first-sight element of fairy tales (and one a bit reminiscent of the musical Into the Woods), to say nothing of the hasty decisions often made by shoujo romance protagonists in the name of what they think is love.
Mermaid Boys isn't just interested in pointing out the issues with fairy tale romances, however. It's first and foremost a romantic comedy, and the comedic portions just so happen to largely come from the issues with the source material. Naru is an appealing mix of very smart and a total idiot, and Nami's hardly perfect herself, making both of the main characters feel much more real than they otherwise might have. That Naru trades the sea witch Mellow his good looks instead of his voice turns out to be not as brilliant a plan as he had hoped, but it does send the message that ultimately personality is bigger than physical beauty, something that Naru's already learning as he realizes that he doesn't actually know Nami at all. Like the character development, this also grounds the comedy and the romance nicely, making things move smoothly.
The story is clearly just getting going here, and Naru's got a ways to go before he even really understands humans, much less convinces Nami to fall in love with him. But the story's off to a good start, and the art is clear and attractive, which helps it along, even if the mermaids' tails don't look quite right. If you've ever had issues with any version of “The Little Mermaid” or if you just really like mermen, this is a series worth picking up.
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