YALSA GGNT Top Ten Manga: ‘Tropic of the Sea’

In a small seaside town there is a legend: Once every 60 years the Yashiro family receives a mermaid’s egg. They protect and care for it, and in exchange, the mermaids give the town calm seas and good fishing. The tradition is threatened now by a large commercial developer that wants to turn the town [...]

In a small seaside town there is a legend: Once every 60 years the Yashiro family receives a mermaid’s egg. They protect and care for it, and in exchange, the mermaids give the town calm seas and good fishing. The tradition is threatened now by a large commercial developer that wants to turn the town into a resort town. The development divides the town, turning friends against friends and even father against son. But for Yosuke Yashiro, it becomes a race against time to fulfill his family’s promise made to the mermaids ages ago.

YALSA GGNT Top Ten Manga: Tropic of the Sea
tropicofthesea YALSA GGNT Top Ten Manga: Tropic of the SeaBy Satoshi Kon
Teen
Vertical, Inc., September 2013. ISBN: 978-1939130068
236 pgs., $14.95 USD

At the 2014 American Library Association Midwinter convention, YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced their Great Graphic Novels for Teens list for 2014. Of the 78 titles listed, ten were manga. Tropic of the Sea is a single-volume title created by the late Satoshi Kon, who is well-known for his work as an amine director. It is the first of his manga works to be officially translated and released in the West. Tropic of the Sea is a coming of age story with action, mystery and a touch of the supernatural.

Tropic of the Sea occurs over one summer in the middle of the growing chaos in the town of Ada. Yosuke is fulfilling his duty of changing the water for the “mermaid egg” when a TV crew appears with his father, Yozo Yashiro, who is priest of the shrine, to show off the egg. This starts an argument between Yozo and Yosuke’s grandfather over the use of the land and the revelation of the mermaid’s egg to the world.

Yosuke doesn’t see these things a problem at first. He studies for college exams, goes out with his friend Tetsu on Tetsu’s boat and hangs out with Nami, an older girl who has returned after living in Tokyo for 5 years. He isn’t concerned with the aggressive development being pushed by the Ozaki Group and its president Kenji Ozaki. Their development is ambitious, looking to modernize the small fishing village into a resort town. But his plans and work have the local fishermen up in arms about losing their livelihood and the protection of the mermaids. Previous friendships are torn apart over the development and the mermaid legend. Yozo never truly believed in the mermaids, but Yosuke’s mother did, instilling much of that belief in him as well. Even though he scoffs at times, deep down Yosuke does believe.

He does need a little nudging, of course. As the time to return the egg grows closer, Yosuke starts seeing things out at sea. Things only he sees at first. Small reminders of the promise his family made. He doubts them at first, but soon they become impossible to ignore. Yosuke becomes determined to return the egg, just as Ozaki is determined to keep it for himself. It’s a dramatic conclusion, but with a happy ending.

I really enjoyed Tropic of the Sea. The characters are complex with realistic motivations. Ozaki is set up as the bad guy, destroying the natural beauty of the area for his resort and wanting to keep the egg for himself. But he turns out to be more reasonable at the end, especially when confronted by the extraordinary. Yosuke’s father too, is portrayed as pushy and uncaring of the fishermen’s concerns, but his personal loss has motivated him towards the modernization, even at the cost of the promise. Yosuke has the greatest growth though, as he moves from just floating through life to realizing the importance of the promise his family made. His drive to get the egg back and return it is remarkable, as are the extremes he’ll go to in order to succeed.

I really liked how Kon handled the mermaids. They are never shown completely. Only little glimpses are given at first, and only to Yosuke. But as their desperation grows, it soon affects not just Yosuke but all the fishermen and then the whole town. Even when they are finally shown, they are kept otherworldly. They don’t look human, but neither are they unrecognizable as mermaids. There is never a question as to whether the mermaids are real, only whether Yosuke will step up and take the responsibility to keep the promise to them.

Kon’s art has a realistic feel, with little comedic touches here and there, such as Yosuke’s dog Fujimaru getting his tail stepped on in a crowd and the cloud of dust he leaves behind as he runs away. Most of the people are drawn realistically, and everyone is recognizably different. There is a lot of nice detail in the background and even the in the construction sites. The realism of the art really anchors the mythic elements, making them more believable.

Tropic of the Sea is an entertaining book with some good messages about the importance of a promise, both to others and to the world at large. There is an environmental message in the story, but it is subtle, making its point without waving a flag. Teens will really like and relate to Yosuke, though older readers will enjoy the story as well for its strong narrative and well defined characters. It’s another great addition to a teen and/or graphic novel collection.

Review copy provided by publisher.

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