7 Fishy Tales of Merfolk in Anime
by Lynzee Loveridge,
Before The Little Mermaid recast seafolk as tragic romantic heroes, sirens were creatures you never wanted to encounter on the open ocean. Spotting one or more appropriately hearing one meant you and your fellow shipmates earned a one-way ticket to the frigid depths. Mermaids were far more interested in luring men to their doom than shacking up with them in a beachside castle.
Formidable as they were, there are still dozens of variations of some fisherman getting wise and deciding to coerce one into becoming his wife. Usually this involved stealing something from her during a vulnerable moment, an alternate skin or robe, that would allow her to return to the sea. Her agency stolen, plenty of seafolk went domestic but the story always ends with them regaining whatever item it was and ditching their husband-captor immediately. Maybe all the sirens, selkies, and melusines were malicious in response? Who knows. But it's these legends as well as Japan's own unique myths about women of the sea that give us the variety of mermaids found in anime.
Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch Michiko Yokote is a popular anime scriptwriter with credits spanning tons of genres. She's worked on Rumiko Takahashi anime adaptations, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., and this season's Tsurune. In 2003, she wrote a manga series for the shojo magazine Nakayoshi based loosely off Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. That manga, and subsequent anime series, was Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch. The anime is takes some of the elements lost in the Disney version (namely the mermaid's fate to turn into seafoam) but then adds a bunch of extra elements as anime is wont to do. The heroine Lucia is already a mermaid princess in her own right but she'll need to hone her singing powers to become an idol with fellow mermaid royalty if she's going to stave off the invading water demon force. I wonder why Andersen didn't put that part in his original story?
Muromi-san Mermaids are caught in one of two nets: beautiful otherworldly beings or terrifying flesh eaters. Muromi-san managed to escape from both and dive deep into slapstick stupidity. I say this with the kindest intentions, but Muromi is a big ol' dummy and the poor guy that reeled her up on his line is stuck with her. And all of her outrageous friends and foes. Muromi-san's world is one of not just mermaids, but also kappa, harpies, and yetis. None of these monsters will get in between Muromi and her professed love for Takurō, the miserable guy who wants nothing more than to go back to his peaceful fishing life.
Mermaid Forest Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Scar and Mermaid Forest tap in to the darker side of siren mythology. Takahashi's story is based on the Japanese myth that if a mermaid's flesh is consumed, it will grant immortality. Japan's mermaids have more in common with P.T. Barnum's Fiji mermaid than the half human creatures usually associated with mermaids. The ningyo was supposed to taste pretty good under all those gold scales but catching one was a gamble that was thought to doom a ship to treacherous seas. The characters of Mermaid Scar and Mermaid Forest meet similar ill fates. The gift of immortality is likened more to a curse that plagues its victims with continual sorrow. Protagonist Yuta attempts to alleviate his own curse of immortality by searching for a cure.
Merman in My Tub Tatsumi is a stoic guy that likes his "me time" but that becomes increasingly difficult as more and more seafolk take up residence in his small apartment. First it starts out simply enough. Tatsumi is walking home and finds what he thinks is a half-drowned human on the shore and takes him home. Of course it turns out Wakasa isn't a injured man, he's a spoiled merman that takes up residence in Tatsumi's tub. One supernatural being attractions more and before he knows it, Tatsumi's home has a fishman, octopusman, jellyfishman, and sea snailman all stopping by or staying over whenever they want.
Umi Monogatari Junichi Sato's coming of age drama has origins in pachinko, if you can believe it, and the character is still used in Sanyo Bussan machines. Sato and the anime's writing team took the sea-dwelling Marin character from her gambling roots and revamped her for a magical girl style story. Marin's origins mix well-known mermaid lore with a bit of Greek Venus and Inuit mythos. She and the rest of her ocean brethren are born from clams and live underwater, but they don't have any fin-like appendages. Marin and her "sister" Urin attempt to return a ring thrown into the water by a human a girl, but in the process Urin accidentally awakens Sedna, an evil spirit that threatens the island community. The name "Sedna" is taken from Inuit mythology where she's a major part of their creation myths. She's known for her appetite and temper, a deity that is supposed to both feared and respected for providing the tribes with a major food source.
One Piece The Straw Hat crew spend so much time out on the open ocean, it was only a matter of time before they encountered a few mermaids. Fish-Man Island is the primary home of fishmen and merpeople and is an "island" in a technical sense despite being located underwater. It's ruled by Neptune, the father of Fukaboshi, Ryuboshi, Manboshi, and Shirahoshi. His personality is less tumultuous than his namesake, but it's his daughter's power that humans need to keep an eye on. Shirahoshi inherited the weapon "Poseidon" (yeah, that's synonymous with Neptune but moving on) which allows her to communicate with the leviathans of the deep. She could feasibly ask them to destroy whole islands if she was inclined to do so.
Fairy Tail Aquarius of Babylonian myth wasn't originally a merman, but a humanoid god that carried a vase overflowing with water and symbolized seasonal change and destructive flooding. Babylonia had great garden views but life was rough in 3,000 B.C. The name and its obvious association with water makes it an easy choice for the Celestial Spirit Aquarius in Fairy Tail. Like legendary mermaids, Aquarius is temperamental and often threatens Lucy with death when she's in a bad mood. Her attacks are water-based and usually focus on drowning an opponent outright or overwhelming them with a torrential wave that will carry a foe far away from the battle site (and still probably drown them).
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When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.
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