by Whitney Grace
Let’s delve into the way back machine to one of Satoshi Kon’s earlier works. Anime fans will recognize the name as directors behind the films Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, and Millennium Actress. Kon passed away a few years ago, leaving behind a remarkable legacy, but before he became a famous director he got his start like many creative minds in Japan as a manga-ka. Tropic of the Sea is a manga from 1990 and is a trip down memory lane for art style, themes, gags, and, of course, technology. The story is pretty simple and is a typical pattern repeated in both the east and the west.
Yosuke Yashiro is at a crossroads in his life, he must decide if he wants to remain in his small seaside town or go away to college. Amidst his personal decisions, his hometown is faced with its own challenges. A commercial developer is interested in transforming the town into a tourist trap at the expense of posterity. The townspeople want thins to remain the same. At the heart of the conflict is a legend about a mermaid who grants the fisherman nets full of fish in return that the town protects her egg. She reclaims the egg after sixty years and the deadline is up soon.The manga is a message about environment protection along side the life changes that come in early adult hood. Yosuke sees his town being ripped apart same as a local legend that has comforted him for years. Despite the overriding themes, the fantasy elements are artfully placed to give enough speculation that the mermaid is real and ignite that sense of wonder so often attributed to our younger days.
Tropic of the Sea is definitely a work of its time. Environmentalism was getting its first big spur in the 1990s and the world was coming out of the Cold War, so there was a sense of curiosity about what would happen next in the world. The art shares characteristics common to the time: less cartoony characters, heavy on the dark pigments, and fine grain details. It also demonstrates Kon’s early storytelling attempts with an result that is between “it has been done before” and “a good first try.” Putting aside the overused bits and Tropic of the Sea is a nostalgic manga attached to a big name and ends on a quiet, pensive thought.