Tropic of the Sea (Kaikisen)
Story and Art by Satoshi Kon
Originally published by Kodansha (1 volume, 1990)
This story is set in the town of Amide, a place where a sacred pact was said to have been made between a Shinto priest and a mermaid. This pact has been honoured by priests for generations, and the village has seen prosperous fishing seasons ever singe. However, this legend has attracted both media and property developers, and the acting priest has succumbed to their demands. Yosuke, youngest of the Yashiro family, has doubts about the existence of the mermaid, but will soon change his opinion as strange occurrences begin to unfold.
Tropic of the Sea is one of the rare Satoshi Kon titles that finds itself overlooked. Sure, its story of “a seaside town fighting off modernisation in order to save the environment” feels like a cliche, but Kon makes it so enjoyable that I forget I’ve experienced certain plot points before. Not to say that it’s necessarily different, but the way that the same is presented still feels unique in its own special way.
While they are separate mediums, I genuinely felt like I was experiencing a movie. It read like a classic mid 90’s animated movie; the reader is introduced to the protagonist and his lifestyle, including his own struggles (the “micro-issues”) that must be overcome in order to develop positively as a person. As the protagonist becomes familiar with side characters, they usually link him to an issue outside his life, one with much higher stakes (town, village, world, ect.). In solving the major problem, he also solves the micro issue (he becomes brace, selfless, ect), thus concluding the story on a high.
In regards to storytelling, Kon was not attempting to challenge his readers. There were no controversial themes explored, nor were there abstract storytelling techniques implemented. It is very much a linear story where what you see is what you get. Aside from, of course, “the manga about the monster actually proves humans are the real monsters” theme. While it does touch on the battle between industrialisation and tradition in modern Japan, it’s very biased. The small village represents tradition, with its literal tradition of keeping the mermaid’s egg safe leading to warm weather and safety all year round, while the evil modernisation intends to commercialise the town and strip it of its identity. It would be interesting to see a more fair representation of modernisation, though it may not have fit this manga’s narrative. Its unchallenging story isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, a lot of the manga doesn’t stick out to me because of this fact, but I still really enjoyed it in the moment.
The art in this piece is spectacular. While no where close to Kon’s best work, his ability to use both minimalistic portrayals and detailed shots effectively proves he is one of the best artists the medium has seen. His technique also hints at experience in animation; while some scenes aren’t drawn in incredible detail, Kon is able to portray movement with frightening accuracy. In particular, his ability to draw characters floating or swimming in the water, using intricate positioning of joints and limbs was very impressive. His depiction of the mermaids was also awe inspiring. I never would have thought to draw them the way he did, but it shows why he’s the genius and I’m merely writing about him. When the protagonist finally interacts with one, and after 200 pages of buildup, I felt a series of emotions; awe, fear, tranquility and wonder.
Kon’s biggest set back in presenting a linear story is linear characters. It would have been more difficult to create complex characters presenting the narrative in the way he did, and it shows. Most people within this world aren’t incredibly fleshed out, with really their moral affiliation (good or bad) and maybe one other trait summing up their development. I was particularly disappointed with the protagonist, who looked so generic I can’t remember a single thing about him. It didn’t affect my reading, but in hindsight leaves me with a blank cast list in my mind.
Tropic of the Sea is a really fun and wholesome read. It has a great blend of coming of age story mixed with mythical fantasy. Almost every reader is interested in exploring an urban legend in a secluded town. Everything looked beautiful and felt relatively realistic. However, if you go in with a critical mindset, it will be easy to find linear plot points and sub standard character development. In saying that, I still recommend this piece to everyone who enjoys manga, and a must if you’re a fan of Kon’s films.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Writing – 7
Overall – 8/10
http://goodokbad.com/index.php/reviews/tropic_of_the_sea_review, http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2013/10/tropic-of-the-sea-not-the-way-to-remember-satoshi-kon/, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17412813-tropic-of-the-sea