Yosuke Yashiro's ancestors have been Shinto priests at the local shrine for generations, and the high school boy is poised to take over the family tradition. Their shrine is different from most - it houses the mysterious "mermaid's egg", which is said to ensure the town's safety and the sea's prosperity. However, mere stability isn't enough for some people, and one day Yosuke's father shows the egg to reporters in order to increase tourism for the small town. Soon, crowds of tourists start to accumulate, and huge buildings spring up along the shoreline. But there's not much room for the old beliefs amidst this rapidly urbanizing and tourist-obsessed town, and as the surrounding sea becomes increasingly volatile, it is apparent that certain local legends are real, and do not approve of recent developments.
Tropic of the Sea / Kaikisen was Satoshi Kon's first serialized manga. Despite that, it's not very well known, and the reason is simple: it just isn't all that great (even Kon himself didn't really like it). Story The story starts when Yosuke's father, who is the head priest of the local shrine, exposes to the world the secret of their shrine: it houses a mermaid's egg, given to them almost 60 years ago. As a result, tons of tourists come to visit their little town, which brings money to the town... as well as Kenji Ozaki, who takes the role of greedy land-developer. He is planning on creating a city out of the town, but gets a lot of protest: both the fishermen and the people who believe in the legend of the mermaids don't want to see the town changed. What follows is a quite linear plot which delves into the local legend and the discussion of environmentalism. I can forgive that to a degree because of the manga's length. However, the climax of the story is unforgivably unimpressive. It's a pity, because Kon did manage to create a nice atmosphere of "a town by the sea which might change". Characters The biggest problem in this conflict of "should the town change or not" is that the characters are all portrayed badly. Yosuke's father has motivations for wanting to change the town, but looks like a complete idiot throughout the manga, while Ozaki had to look like a bad guy so badly that he either had to have sunglasses on his face (even indoors) or an evil grin. And then I'm not even talking about his "catharsis"... On the other hand there are old-fashioned townspeople who refuse to see that change can also be for the better. Ultimately, the only person who actually has conflicting feelings about the modernization is the main character, Yosuke: he sees positive points in modernization, but after it was pointed out that he was blindly copying his father's opinions he's no longer certain of what's best. But then his dilemma is quickly shattered because "the legend might be real", so instead of an internal solution we get an external - and weak - one. This characterization might work to make the environmentalist message easier to convey, but it doesn't make the manga any better. Art Apparently Satoshi Kon worked as an assistant on the manga Akira before writing Kaikisen, and it shows: the artstyle is undeniably similar. And good god mermaid, it looks good. It's definitely the strongest point of this manga. Overall Tropic of the Sea is a short, environmentalist manga about a town by the sea, modernization and legends of mermaids. The linear plot and bad characterization make it a not very exciting read, but the atmosphere it creates and the artwork push it up to the level of "ok manga".
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