I find that there isn’t enough media depicting evil mermaids these days. I mean typically mermaids were very unhelpful and encountering one usually meant death, the few stories that showed them in a positive wish giving kind of way tended to be a tragic romance or end horribly. I have rarely found media that depicts them as both beautiful and deadly, generally preferring if they’re horrible to make them look horrible as well so no hot, sexy and potentially damning feelings occur. But most (especially anime) just depict them as attractive women with fish tails helping our protagonist on the underwater part of their adventure.
Well in storms The Mermaid Forest (an odd title as I imagine most mermaids take residence in the sea) which is actually an OVA for a series called The Mermaid Saga. It was written back in the 80’s by the lovely Rumiko Takahashi whose notable works include Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2 and boy can you feel her style from the very start. Also spoiler warning I will go into the end of the film so if you wanna watch it, do it before reading the rest!
Our story begins back in the 1930’s, a particularly dodgy time in history, with our protagonist Yuta lamenting the fact that he can’t die and so he is looking for someone to share eternity with. His point is proven quite quickly by him being shot and walking it off. You see the main theme of this film (and series) is the folktale that if you are able to eat mermaids flesh you will become immortal. I mean you can still be horribly murdered but you’ll brush it off like it was nothing in no time, meaning our protagonists die a lot and are resurrected and healed? It’s not really explained how or why mermaid flesh does this but just go with me on this.
Meanwhile in a house on a hill, a woman named Sawa is pleading with Dr Shiina to save her twin sisters, Towa, life. But there is no hope for her and so Sawa accepts this and the film is over. Just kidding, she offers her sister mermaid blood which is totally not what everyone was talking about so I had no idea what it was going to do. Towa not seeing much choice downs some, even after seeing a mermaid swimming in it, and immediately grows a horrifying arm. Her hair turns white and there is also complaints of burning so mermaid blood is basically cheap whiskey.
Fast forward to modern day… Well the 80s modern day. Yuta has found a companion in a girl named Mana who has also eaten mermaids flesh, how he meets her is elaborated on in the actual series but for the OVA she just pops up and that’s it. Yuta is totally jaded, I mean the whiny guy doesn’t even let Mana adopt a kitten saying it’ll just die soon. She plays with it regardless and falls off the cliff! Making the cat possibly the most evil villain in this film. Dr Shiina, now an old man, sees her and thinks she’s dead and takes her away.
Yuta wakes up from his seemingly 4 hour nap and can’t find Mana, checking the local hospital Dr Shiina informs him she only had a mild concussion and left. But oh shit! Dr Shiina then drives up to the spooky sister house with poor Mana in the boot of his car. Sawa who has also aged seems upset at his corpse robbing but accepts it as necessary when Towa appears. Towa hasn’t aged a day but damn has she got salty! (Lol mermaid jokes) Her horrible arm is bandaged and causes her a lot of pain, she has been getting the doctor to amputate dead girl’s arms onto her to relieve it for a time before it infects that part as well.
Mana then rather rudely comes back to life. Although I wonder why her immediate reaction wasn’t “Who the hell are you people and where are my clothes?!” I mean seriously she is butt naked with her boobs out and everything. Yeah should say that breasts are on full display here but it’s not very fan servicey so I let it slide. I mean mermaids have their boobs out all the time so it’s cool. Mana even happily stays in the house for a time waiting for Yuta. Yeah Mana is completely derp, she is sassy but kinda just let’s stuff happen and reacts to them.
Eventually Towa decides that she can’t live in this agony any longer and wants to put her head on Mana’s body. Yuta finally finds her but Towa sets her now fish mutant dog on him to kill him before inappropriately touching then killing Mana. Seriously this girl doesn’t mess around. At least Mana slaps this bitch but it’s not enough to stop her getting captured again.
SPOILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLERS time, if you don’t wanna ruin the plot of the film, back away slowly, no one needs to get hurt here!
Ok so just before the Doctor cuts off her head Mana again comes back to life, death is just a revolving door to these people. Finally Sawa steps in and says she will take them to where she got the mermaid blood all those years ago, my first thought was why the hell didn’t she show them immediately anyway? Her sister was clearly in absolute agony, surely the mermaid flesh couldn’t be any worse? Well whatever, they go to the creepy ass cave and see a nasty ass mermaid body that’s clearly been there too long and would have stunk the place out by now. Towa throws Mana down to it and demands a piece of flesh. Oh and there is also some scary sea monster down there, just to make things awkward.
Luckily Yuta comes to save the day, which is good because he’s been pretty useless the whole film. He tells Towa that the mermaid flesh won’t help her as it is poisonous for humans. Only three things can happen when you eat something mermaid related; you either die immediately with blood spewing out every orifice (as did Yuta’s fishing buddies), you don’t eat enough/your body rejects it and you become a horrible sea beast like Towa and her dog or you gain immortality like Yuta and Mana (this is the rarest outcome if you couldn’t tell xD).
After the monster is violently killed, Towa goes to get some tasty flesh from the mermaid which is actually still alive! Until she immediately cuts its head off, yeah Towa is cold. Just as everyone is going noooooooooo don’t do it, she turns and says it was never for her? Dun Dun Dunnnnnn. It is for her sister Sawa.
This is where I actually realised I liked this film. Turns out Sawa wasn’t the caring sister as we all thought, trying to save her sister’s life, looking after her after everyone was gone. ALL BULLSHIT. Sawa as a young woman heard the legend and wanted to eat the mermaid flesh, she hated the thought of growing old, Towa on the other hand had no issue and was happy with life. Sawa at some point discovered the cave their grandfather had hidden the mermaid body, but she realised the creepy ass monster in there was what their grandfather had turned into after consuming the flesh.
Afraid but still desperate to have immortality, she decided to test something less (the blood) on her twin sister, figuring as they are genetically so similar if it was safe for Towa, it would be safe for her. Besides Towa was dying anyway so what the hell. Jeez Sawa, what an asshole. Then after seeing poor Towa’s reaction she left! She got married, had a kid, grew old, basically everything Towa had wanted. Towa all this time had been trapped in the house, in agony as her beauty remained but her insides aged, her hand becoming more and more painful each day. So Towa waited till one day she could force Sawa to eat the flesh, then she would gain immortality but not as a beautiful woman as she wanted, but the old woman she is now. Or you know die in agony.
You know what happened next?! Damn Sawa has a heart attack and dies… Seriously, Towa doesn’t get her revenge, or a happy life, or anything. She tries to kill herself but the Doctor stops her. He’s loved her all his life so he’s also a victim in all this. She asks them to burn the place and everything in it. Then she runs into the flames to end her suffering, the Doctor following after. This leaves Yuta and Mana to close the film with some bullshit about being released from bitterness but it’s the end. Or is it?
A glowing pool appears before them in the sea and a mermaid shoots up, it’s Towa! With her black hair restored and part fishy. Yuta comments that her soul is immortal and has returned to be a mermaid… What the hell does that even mean Yuta? Is this because she drank the blood? Cause maybe she should have just died a long time ago then, could have solved a lot of issues? Whatever, the movie closes on some cute scene between our protagonists with Mana saying that she’ll never be lonely with Yuta.
That’s Mermaid forest, it was actually a much better film then I thought after the opening. My one disappointment was the lack of mermaids but I think it actually made the film stronger keeping them completely alien and mysterious with us only seeing the after effects in their wake. The protagonists were completely vanilla, I did get the impression that it was an OVA you should probably watch after the anime series so you can have some background personality on them as they were bland as cream wallpaper.
But I think they were really just vessels for us to just hop along in while we looked at the real main, Towa. They were clever to keep her mysterious and also sympathetic, it was never implied that she enjoyed causing pain to others, she was just in so much agony herself she couldn’t bear it. After all pain and fear are mankind’s biggest motivators. I wish Sawa had been developed more or we’d seen more interaction between the sisters as although she seemed caring in the flashback when they were younger, she barely does anything in the second half.
The Inuyasha vibe is strong so if you enjoy the sadder episodes of that series you’ll enjoy this. The music was ok but nothing stood out particularly. Art style was also very similar to Inuyasha as you can probably tell and was consistent. However I would try to find a subbed version, I could only get dubbed and while it isn’t terrible, it’s just not very emotive. So if you don’t like subs you can get by but I feel the Japanese original would have a little more power to it.
Overall it was a great film looking at the problems with immortality and the price you pay for messing with things you don’t really have a clue about. It’s also less than an hour long so perfect evening viewing. A definite watch for any mermaid fans out there, or fans of folklore and mythology in general.