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Tropic of The Sea Paperback – September 17, 2013
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About the Author
Satoshi Kon was born on October 12, 1963. While in college, at the Musashino Art University, Kon made his debut as a manga artist with the short manga Toriko (1984) and earned a runner-up spot in Kodansha's 10th Annual Tetsuya Chiba Awards. Afterward, he found work as Katsuhiro Otomo's assistant. Kon is credited by some, including TIME, magazine as one of the faces most responsible for bringing Japanese pop-culture to America. His feature length films Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers We're all distributed in theaters across the States and saw critical acclaim worldwide earning a number of awards in the process.
Kon died on August 24, 2010 at the age of 46.
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Top Customer Reviews
Kon's work is generally adult in nature. He tends to get a little more philosophical, even more preachy, than most other writers, which is definitely not for everyone. There is not much cheesiness or camp to Kon's stories, so don't expect any stylized action or over-emphatic gestures; Kon's work tends to start with reality, and any deviation into fantasy is always treated seriously. Tropic of the Sea is perhaps his most straightforward work I've delved into, but it's also one of his earliest. It's a simple, beautiful story about a family's supposed pact with a mermaid. It has elements of a coming of age tale. There is, of course, a message about environmentalism as well, and materialism, modernism, rationalism, and many other -isms, all tightly packed into this very short manga (Satoshi Kon loved making points with his work). There's a great retrospect, written in 1999, included in the back of the manga that explains what point Kon was in his life during the writing of Tropic of the Sea.
It doesn't say it anywhere in the book, but I would like to point out that the author passed away in 2010. He left behind a letter to the public, and some unfinished work that hopefully will one day be released.
With apologies to the great departed Kon, I find this to be a very mediocre work. In fact, if nobody told you this was by Kon, you wouldn't even bother reading this, given the high standard of one-volume manga these days. The very ordinary story suffers from an excruciatingly slow pace, so different from his animated films. Two thirds through the manga, the reader may be suffering from "foreshadowing fatigue" and would still be waiting for the punchline. None of the characters are deep or endearing: you do not root for any of them.
The art is very dated as well. The characters' rough, chunky look reminds me of the days of Legend of Kamui (1980s). Sure enough, I looked up this book and although it only came out in this edition in 2013, it was originally published in 1990. So if you want 1980s artwork, and think it is retro-cool, you probably wouldn't mind the aesthetics.
The death knell to this edition is the poor English translation. The translator simply has no ear for dialogue. On the same page, you will see both a clumsy attempt to translate Japanese into casual, idiomatic English ("this is helluva ruckus") and an earnest effort to do a straight translation into stilted English ("that thing is now beyond you people's domain"). Do people really talk like this: "it's unmistakably alive...and it's likely a heretofore unknown lifeform." I have never heard anyone say "heretofore" aloud in my life. I'm guessing the original Japanese sentence this came from. Wouldn't the line be something more like, "It's definitely alive. What's more, it's an unknown life form". Think about it.
English editions of Japanese manga - especially of serious manga for older readers - are a precious and scarce resource. They are hard to sell, hard to make money, and are a labor of love. Therefore, any effort to select something to translate from the giant mountain of good manga in Japan must be thoughtful and tasteful. This edition does not do Kon justice. To its credit, the same publisher has done a better translation project of The Drops of God (albeit only a few volumes). Reading this clumsily-translated edition makes me realize how I should be thankful for the translation efforts that went into Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (by another publisher). I never realized how bad English editions could be, and I took the good ones for granted.
Don't waste your money on this volume. If you are interested in modern one-volume manga for serious older readers, Tetsuya Toyoda's Undercurrent is truly beautiful and amazing - what I thought Tropic of the Sea was going to be. Unfortunately, Undercurrent has not yet been commissioned in English translation - it's been issued in French, though, and other Asian languages.
I love it when a great read comes right out the blue and completely catches me by surprise. I received a review copy of Tropic of the Sea, and was instantly interested in it for two reasons. One, it’s complete in one volume, which is always a plus, and two, it’s about one family’s promise to protect the egg of a mermaid in exchange for the prosperity of their village. As times change, and the pressures of a modern economy squeeze the village, Yosuke’s father has sold the family’s land and turned the shrine into a tourist trap. His father doesn’t believe that the object their family has cared for over the last sixty years is really a mermaid’s egg, and he wants his hometown to experience the prosperity he feels has been passing them by. As the young people leave for the city, with no plans of returning, he begins to fear for the future of his village, so he makes a deal with the Ozaki group, commercial developers chomping at the bit to turn the sleepy town into a luxury resort.
I love character driven stories, and Tropic of the Sea is filled with empathetic characters. Even Yosuke’s dad, who I thought was a complete jerk at first, turns out to have the best interests of the town at heart, even though his misguided attempts to modernize it have sharply divided the townsfolk. The fishermen are deeply opposed to the development, which will destroy their traditional fishing grounds. This conflict has turned neighbors against each other, and is so volatile that the threat of constantly simmers, destroying the peace of the town.
Yosuke just wants to pass his college entrance exams and get out of Dodge; he doesn’t really believe in mermaids, but he performs the shrine tasks out of a sense of duty and out of respect for his grandfather. The old man is ailing, and the stressful situation with the construction isn’t helping him. He is deeply committed to keeping the promise his family made to the mermaids generations ago, but he’s helpless to stop his son from selling the land and destroying their traditional way of life. To add to his unease, it’s been 60 years since he received the current egg, and according to the agreement with the mer-people, the egg has to be returned to the sea.
There are no real bad guys in Tropic of the Sea, just characters motivated to make their lives and the lives of their friends and families better. Everyone behaves in a believable way, even though I didn’t agree with some of the decisions being made, and the reasons behind them, but I could certainly understand them. Through it all, Yosuke is torn. He doesn’t believe in the mer-people or the promise that his family has kept for all these years, but he loves his grandfather and wants to make him happy. As events begin to spiral out of control, he’s forced to choose sides and to fight for what’s important to him.
The pacing is phenomenal, and I was completely sucked into the story. I couldn’t put it down. I started to get worried – did the mer-people really exist, and what was going to happen if Yosuke’s family broke their promise. Though the tone is quiet and introspective, the emotional kick is compelling. The ending is a tad over the top, but it wrapped up all of the questions and all of story lines in a neat and satisfying way. Vertical is putting out some great stuff, and I wish I had more time to really dive into their library.