Manga Reviews Reviews

Manga Review: Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand (2023) by Yoko Komori

A deceptively complex coming-of-age tale set in a sleepy seaside town surrounded by mystery.

“When Tokiko's parents break up, she and her father move from the bustling city to a sleepy coastal town to live with her grandmother. Starting sixth grade in a new school where everyone has known each other their whole lives isn't easy. Things start to look up when local boy Yosuke, another outsider, wants to be friends. But then strange memories start to surface. Swimming in the ocean… Drowning… Getting saved by…a merman? Yosuke denies the presence of merfolk, yet the townspeople hold a festival to honor them every year. Can Tokiko solve the mystery of what is real and what is fantasy…?” (Viz Media)

Part of the Viz Signature collection, Yoko Komari's “” presents a deceptively complex coming-of-age tale set in a sleepy seaside town surrounded by mystery. This comes from the childlike reflections of the young protagonists along with a playful visual style that perfectly captures the innocent wanderings of youth, yet the book itself deals with themes of loss through interweaving superstition with a disrupted family structure.

Notably, the manga contains an intriguing flow as the young girl's desire to see her mom again is inter-spliced with images of mermen and local cryptids which occupy the neighbourhood's obsessions. The truth behind both the absent mother and the lore of the small coastal town is not as fantastical as the children's recollection of elements, but does a wonderful job of straddling that line between childhood wonderment and reality in a way that paints a very touching portrait of the struggles of Tokiko.

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Exploring themes of ‘family' is where “Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand” excels, and Tokiko's relationship with her father paints a portrait of a young girl with a unique intuition and empathetic nature. Essentially, Tokiko chooses her father out of a sense of duty and understanding that the split between her two parents was initiated by her mother and that, while she has a stronger connection to her, Tokiko's dad is in greater need of having her in his life to move forward. Not only is this a refreshing change of pace that speaks to the importance of family in childhood, but it makes the challenges the two face in connecting in the new environment an endearing tale of two people dealing with loss in different ways. While the story of the merman and the investigation of Tokiko into the local legends surrounding them is the catalyst for pushing the story forward, the relationships Tokiko builds with those around her is the true draw and the reason why the work will resonate with readers.

The art of Komori is, undeniably, charming in how it captures a time and space with clarity, despite its somewhat simplistic approach. Character expressions and forms are relatively limited in their actions and the seaside town feels open and devoid of much activity. However, the work feels focused on conveying the children's view of the world around them, and the book, undeniably, captures the flow of time for children where days are spent wandering and just existing in ones surrounding–entertainment coming from making-up stories to explain the world around them. The flow is almost cinematic in its execution, evoking a constant sense of calmness that even stays evident when conjuring images of monsters. Ultimately, Komori's art will resonate with readers in surprising ways, capturing a moment and the atmosphere of small-time life through children's eyes.

Yoko Komori's “Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand” has great depth hidden behind its serene visual direction and childhood flights of fancy, it is one of those series that resonates with the reader long afterward, due to how sincere it is. A strong and unforgettable single omnibus book whose appeal should speak to a larger audience, its themes are grounded in the very experience of wonderment growing up with hints of loss that all children have to face at one point or another when starting to understand the world around them. An easy recommendation, wonderfully presented under the Viz Signature collection.

About the author

Adam Symchuk

Adam Symchuk is a Canadian born freelance writer and editor who has been writing for Asian Movie Pulse since 2018. He is currently focused on covering manga, manhwa and light novels having reviewed hundreds of titles in the past two years.

His love of film came from horror and exploitation films from Japan that he devoured in his teens. His love of comics came from falling in love with the works of Shuzo Oshimi, Junji Ito, Hideshi Hino, and Inio Asano but has expanded to a general love of the medium and all its genres.

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