Tropic of the Sea

Tropic of the SeaCreator: Satoshi Kon
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781939130068
Released: September 2013
Original release: 1990

Satoshi Kon is probably best known as a phenomenal writer and director of anime, especially in the West, but he started his career working in manga. Tropic of the Sea, serialized in Young Magazine in 1990, was Kon’s first long-form manga. Vertical’s release of the English-language edition of Tropic of the Sea in 2013 marks the first, and hopefully not the last, of Kon’s manga to be translated into the language. The volume also includes an afterword by Kon excerpted from the ninth anniversary edition of Tropic of the Sea published in Japan in 1999. Vertical’s edition of Tropic of the Sea is actually based on an even later Japanese release of the manga from 2011. Already a fan of Kon’s work in anime, I was thrilled when Tropic of the Sea was licensed. I was even more excited for the manga’s release when I saw the absolutely gorgeous and captivating cover. Added to that the manga’s focus on legends and the sea and I was sold.

For generations, the small fishing village of Ade has been blessed by calm seas and bountiful catches. This good fortune has been attributed to a promise made between a mermaid and a priest—the village receives protection and in return he will worship the sea and care for the mermaid’s egg for sixty years before returning it to begin the cycle anew. But times are changing and very few people believe the old legend to actually be true. Yosuke Yashiro’s family is responsible for guarding the egg and its shrine, but his father does the unthinkable and reveals the secret of its existence to the world. The sacred relic has now become a draw for tourists, only the most recent example of the increased commercialization of Ade. Although there have been some good things to come from the village’s development, many people are upset with the extent of the changes that have been made and what they may be losing in exchange.

At first the pacing of Tropic of the Sea is fairly leisurely, appropriate for a story that takes place in a quiet seaside village, but as the manga progresses the pace steadily quickens. The role that Ozaki, Ade’s most prominent commercial developer, plays as the manga’s villain is somewhat predictable—desiring the mermaid’s egg for his own purposes while claiming to be interested in the good of humanity—but he does have slightly more to him than first appears. One of the greatest things about Tropic of the Sea from beginning to end is Kon’s artwork. A tremendous amount of attention has been give to the backgrounds and landscapes, granting the manga a very real sense of place which is crucial for the story. The illustrations also convey a feeling of mystery and wonder, awe and foreboding, surrounding the mermaids and the sea. Some of the scenes involving water are simply stunning, the realism strikingly rendered. The artwork in Tropic of the Sea is wonderful.

What impressed me the most about Tropic of the Sea, though, is how subtly complex and deceptively simple the narrative is for such a short work. Thematically, Tropic of the Sea has many overlapping layers and the story can be viewed through a number of different lenses. Tropic of the Sea explores generational dissonance, familial disputes, the values of modernity and tradition, the tension between science and religion and skepticism and belief, the human struggle both with and against nature, the power of legends and their impact on reality. (And that’s just to name a few of the many elements in play.) Any of these aspects of Tropic of the Sea can be focused on individually but they are all interconnected and influence one another to form an engaging story with a surprising amount of depth. Out of the various conflicts portrayed, no one side is ever entirely in the right. I enjoyed Tropic of the Sea a great deal. It may be an earlier work, but Kon’s talent was already evident.

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  1. Great recommendation! Totally added to my tbr ^^ I liked how cool the story seems to be for such a short manga xD

    • Oh! I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it! As you can probably tell, I really liked Tropic of the Sea. ^_^

  2. How would you respond to critics who say the protagonist is “bland and unmemorable” (not my criticism I have yet to read it I’ve just heard people say it).

    • Ash Brown says

      I can see where they’re coming from. Yo is a very normal high school kid and not much stands out about him. He doesn’t even have strong opinions, being at a stage in his life where he’s still trying to figure things out for himself. On his own, Yo isn’t really that interesting. But within the context of the story, I think his normalcy plays an important role as a contrast to the strangeness surrounding him.

      • good point although I still wonder if Satoshi Kon’s name wasn’t attached to it whether this would have gotten licensed or not

        • Ash Brown says

          I think for many Kon is one of the big draws for the manga, but I also know some people have picked up Tropic of the Sea without even knowing who he is.


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