It’s so important in supernatural storytelling that there’s a shred of truth that grounds the story in a believable reality. Sometimes it’s stronger than a shred. in Satoshi Kon’s manga Tropic of the Sea, the idea of taking care of the ocean, or something from it, to reap benefits for all is a key theme. When a boy takes up the tradition of caring for a mysterious egg, he isn’t even sure he believes it and in this complexly woven story, you might just believe mermaids exist by the end. Recently released digitally, this new series is well worth a purchase thanks to its expertly told story that feels more real than some of the best sci-fi and supernatural movies.
It’s not often a story like this feels so whole and perfect all in one volume. Manga traditionally runs multiple volumes, stretching out a serial story so as to keep the sales coming in. Here, Kon tells a story that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end that delves into the young lives of a boy and his friends, a town’s need to fish the sea and a corporation that is trying to turn all the quaint beauty of the town into a cash grab of hotels and attractions. It’s a confluence of characters and plots that come together into a rousing final chase scene, the desire of a boy to act on a thing even if he doesn’t believe it, and every character having good reasons for why they have made choices up until its end.
One of the strongest elements of this story is how it weaves a family legacy into the needs of a town and the greedy nature of outsiders who only see money instead of a way of life. There’s a sense of imperialism deep at its core that’s unmistakable. While some see a way to make millions, others see a way of life, and a healthy unpolluted environment, as something to protect. Through the egg and the notion that mermaids exist you get just enough magical elements to kick the story into one centered around the myth. A passing down of the story is another theme that’s fascinating about this story.
The pacing of this story is quite good too. You aren’t held from any secrets for too long and Kon gives us enough visual hints to keep your imagination going. Most of the characters in this story don’t really even believe mermaids exist, but it’s in the act of believing that their faith lies. At one point the main character’s grandfather says, “You only believe things you can see?” Telling right from wrong isn’t always black and white, which is an element many characters must deal within the story.
This is an excellent story that can be read in one sitting with satisfying results. I wouldn’t be surprised if a science fiction director takes this story and makes it into a movie. Its message, and how it plays out, is already perfectly written for a major motion picture. Now, if we can all take a moment and reflect on its message of preserving the environment and following traditions of our elders we might be a bit better off too.