By Yomi Sarachi. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Aria. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Christine Dashiell.
I admit that it’s been years since I last read Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and I don’t think I ever did get around to seeing the Disney version beyond clips of “Under the Sea”. But that’s OK, because the new shoujo title Mermaid Boys owes a lot more to standard shoujo manga than it does to the classic fairy tail. The initial plot beats are sort of there, but gender reversed. Boy mermaid meets girl, falls for her, goes to the upper world to be with her. But honestly, if he’d been a sudden transfer student who met the girl when she was on vacation and then ended up at her school, much of the story would be the same. But that’s OK, the story is still a lot of fun. What the book really ends up being about is preconceptions of love, learning not to put your crush on a pedestal, and (of course) growing up.
Naru is the hunky mermaid on the cover. He’s actually a Mermaid PRINCE, and has a bevy of gorgeous young suitors to choose from. He’s not interested in them, however; he’s obsessed with the human world, and has various trinkets of human life that he’s scavenged and whose purpose he’s gotten completely wrong. Then one day he sees a cute young schoolgirl on the surface, and rescues her when she almost drowns. Determined to be with her, and despite his mother locking him up for interacting with the humans (his aunt apparently died this way), he makes a deal to be able to go to the surface as a human in exchange for “his beauty”. It’s a pretty good exchange, as it seems to mostly involve him getting his hair cut so he looks “cute” rather than “hot”. Unfortunately for him, if he goes back in the water he’ll transform back. Also unfortunately, the sweet young girl he fell in love with turns out to think he’s a pervert (mostly as he has no clue how humanity works), and he now has to deal with who she really is, a young woman dealing with the death of her father and the financial instability of their family inn.
Naru’s over the top reactions are the best reason to read this so far. He’s so overexcited about humanity, but at the same time he’s unprepared for things like personal space, thinking about others, and wearing pants. You can tell that his journey is going to be leading him to mature. He’s getting there slowly, and would have looked pretty cool defending Nami from a bunch of jerks who are bitching about her inn if he weren’t standing there bottomless. Nami too is interesting, as her father’s death (he died in the water) has led her to have a fear of swimming, which she used to love. This, of course, allows her to contrast well with our hero, a literal mermaid. (I wonder if her dad’s death has something to do with Naru’s aunt’s death?) And of course there’s the obligatory rival, as well as the semi-villain, a sneering young man who finds out Naru’s secret and forces him to be a lackey.
This isn’t lights out shoujo, but it’s a very good start, and there’s a lot to develop for future volumes. I’m not sure how long it will run (Aria Magazine just folded), but the start of Mermaid Boys is certainly worth your time.