Review: Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon

 

Title: Tropic of the Sea

Author: Satoshi Kon

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Yosuke’s family has a strange tradition – once every sixty years they receive an egg from a mermaid. When the egg matures his family dutifully returns it to the sea, where the whole process is then repeated. In exchange for this favor, the mer-people bless his coastal town with bountiful catches of fish and calm seas.

But as a commercial development encroach on the sleepy seaside village and Yosuke’s father is lured away from tradition towards modern prosperity, and turns the egg into a tourist trap, what will happen to the promise their family made to the mermaids generations ago?

Tropic of the Sea Satoshi Kon’s first feature length manga, includes a dozen black and white art plates from his original release, along with a 5-page essay written by Kon in 1999 detailing his transition from the manga industry to the animation business.


Review:

I love it when a great read comes right out the blue and completely catches me by surprise.  I received a review copy of Tropic of the Sea, and was instantly interested in it for two reasons.  One, it’s complete in one volume, which is always a plus, and two, it’s about one family’s promise to protect the egg of a mermaid in exchange for the prosperity of their village.  As times change, and the pressures of a modern economy squeeze the village, Yosuke’s father has sold the family’s land and turned the shrine into a tourist trap.  His father doesn’t believe that the object their family has cared for over the last sixty years is really a mermaid’s egg, and he wants his hometown to experience the prosperity he feels has been passing them by.  As the young people leave for the city, with no plans of returning, he begins to fear for the future of his village, so he makes a deal with the Ozaki group, commercial developers chomping at the bit to turn the sleepy town into a luxury resort.

I love character driven stories, and Tropic of the Sea is filled with empathetic characters.  Even Yosuke’s dad, who I thought was a complete jerk at first, turns out to have the best interests of the town at heart, even though his misguided attempts to modernize it have sharply divided the townsfolk.  The fishermen are deeply opposed to the development, which will destroy their traditional fishing grounds.  This conflict has turned neighbors against each other, and is so volatile that the threat of constantly simmers, destroying the peace of the town.

Yosuke just wants to pass his college entrance exams and get out of Dodge; he doesn’t really believe in mermaids, but he performs the shrine tasks out of a sense of duty and out of respect for his grandfather.  The old man is ailing, and the stressful situation with the construction isn’t helping him.  He is deeply committed to keeping the promise his family made to the mermaids generations ago, but he’s helpless to stop his son from selling the land and destroying their traditional way of life.  To add to his unease, it’s been 60 years since he received the current egg, and according to the agreement with the mer-people, the egg has to be returned to the sea. 

There are no real bad guys in Tropic of the Sea, just characters motivated to make their lives and the lives of their friends and families better.  Everyone behaves in a believable way, even though I didn’t agree with some of the decisions being made, and the reasons behind them, but I could certainly understand them.  Through it all, Yosuke is torn.  He doesn’t believe in the mer-people or the promise that his family has kept for all these years, but he loves his grandfather and wants to make him happy.  As events begin to spiral out of control, he’s forced to choose sides and to fight for what’s important to him.

The pacing is phenomenal, and I was completely sucked into the story.  I couldn’t put it down.  I started to get worried – did the mer-people really exist, and what was going to happen if Yosuke’s family broke their promise.  Though the tone is quiet and introspective, the emotional kick is compelling.   The ending is a tad over the top, but it wrapped up all of the questions and all of story lines in a neat and satisfying way.  Vertical is putting out some great stuff, and I wish I had more time to really dive into their library.

Grade:  B+/A-

Review copy provided by publisher