{Guest Post} "Edible Mermaids: Ningyo and Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga” by Author Sarah Cross

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 "The Fairy Tale Princess You Don't Want to Be."

Sarah Cross is the author of the fairy tale novel KILL ME SOFTLY and TEAR YOU APART (coming January 2015), the superhero novel DULL BOY, and the Wolverine comic "The Adamantium Diaries." She loves fairy tales, lowbrow art, secret identities, and silence. 

If you want to know more about her, read one of her books. Her soul is in there somewhere. 

Current art inspirations & obsessions can be found at tumblrFairy Tale Mood, or pinterest.

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Edible Mermaids: Ningyo and Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga

by Sarah Cross

Most mermaids fit into one of two categories: friendly or dangerous. Friendly mermaids have colorful tails and shell bras, are fond of combing their hair with forks (Ariel), and want to experience life on land so badly that they'll trade their voices for legs. Dangerous mermaids are siren-like creatures who lure sailors to their doom, stir up storms, and drown anyone who falls into the water. Why collect statues of princes when you can decorate your sea cave with their skeletons?

The mermaids of Japan (ningyo) are in a category of their own. They have no more interest in the human world than a salmon does, and their meat is much more alluring to people than their voices are. According to Japanese folklore, eating the flesh of a mermaid will give you eternal youth and longevity. The most famous example is the Eight-hundred-year nun (Yao bikuni or Happyaku bikuni), who ate a portion of mermaid meat her father brought home and went on to live for eight hundred years.

©Monkey-fish 'Merman' from The British Museum
The idea of carving up Disney's Ariel or the lovelorn mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen's tale might strike you as completely disgusting, closer to cannibalism than a sushi dinner. But if you look at early depictions of ningyo, you'll see that they're very different from the pretty creatures we associate with the word “mermaids.” Ningyo were believed to look like large fish with human heads, sometimes with arms and claws. Faux mermaids displayed at fairs and oddities clubs were Frankenstein'd creations made from monkey and fish parts (usually a monkey head and torso attached to a fish tail). These monkey-fish were big business. The so-called “Feejee mermaid” exhibited by P.T. Barnum was originally sold to a collector for $6000—and this was in 1822.

Okay, enough gross mermaids. Let me tell you about Mermaid Saga, which was my first taste of Japanese mermaid lore.

©Mermaid Saga covers from VIZ Media
Rumiko Takahashi's Mermaid Saga (published in the U.S. by VIZ Media) takes the “gain youth and longevity from eating mermaid flesh” story and makes it even more twisted. In Mermaid Saga, not everyone who eats mermaid flesh gets that fabled prize. Some die, others become hideous monsters called Lost Souls, and it's the rare individual who gains near-immortality. (Those who have eaten mermaid flesh and survived can only be killed by having their heads cut off, or via a special poison. Normal wounds heal, and if they are “killed” but not decapitated, they come back to life.) For Yuta, a 500-year-old former fisherman, not aging stopped being fun a long time ago. He wants to live and grow old like he was supposed to.

©Mermaid Saga covers from VIZ Media
Yuta believes that if he finds a mermaid, she'll be able to make him an ordinary man again. During his search he stumbles upon a mountain village full of old women who are taking care of a 15-year-old girl named Mana. Mana is treated like a princess—everything is done for her, and her caretakers shrug off her tantrums and verbal abuse. But Mana is also a prisoner whose legs have been shackled to ensure she can't walk, and who's been fed mermaid flesh in preparation for another twisted transformation . . . because it turns out that mermaids aren't the only ones being eaten. The old women in the village who have been caring for Mana are really mermaids, and if they eat the meat of a girl who has eaten mermaid flesh and survived, they'll regain their lost youth. Yuta helps Mana escape, and their adventures begin.

©Mermaid Saga covers from VIZ Media
The series follows the pair as they travel through 1980s Japan, and also flashes back to Yuta's past to show us just how cruel an immortal life can be. Yuta and Mana can't go anywhere without encountering someone who's been corrupted by mermaid flesh or by the desire for it. Like the woman who stays young as her twin grows old, thanks to a dose of mermaid blood she took in her her teens. Or the dead girl who was revived by a sprinkling of mermaid ashes, but now lacks a soul and switches from calm to murderous without warning. Then there's the little boy who's been alive for centuries, who feeds mermaid flesh to unsuspecting women in his search for someone to replace his long-dead mother.

It's a wholly different, dark look at mermaids that left a lasting impression on me; I highly recommend it. And while I don't do mermaid-flesh immortality in my fairy tale books, if you see a line about “mermaid sashimi,” that's the influence of Mermaid Saga coming through. Mermaids can be nice or wicked, curious or vicious, but I'll always think of them as edible.
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Sarah Cross
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Egmont USA

Pitched as a modern Snow White reimagining, in which a teen with a murderous stepmother is trapped in a dangerous game of love, jealously, and hate with her best friend and lover, who is destined to decide if she lives or dies...until a mysterious prince from a strange Underworld offers her an escape.

Author: Sarah Cross
Release Date: January 2015
Publisher: Egmont USA

Pitched as a modern Snow White reimagining, in which a teen with a murderous stepmother is trapped in a dangerous game of love, jealously, and hate with her best friend and lover, who is destined to decide if she lives or dies...until a mysterious prince from a strange Underworld offers her an escape.