This Week: Muromi-san on the Shore (Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san).
Earth Day was this week, so I tried to fish up something almost topical.
When reflecting on a nautical show which already goes to great lengths to show off fishy puns liked prized catches, there is a high desire to do the same. To fight back as good as it gives.
But the art of fishing also comes in ones ability to maintain patience. A sense of calm. There is a certain handling even when returning something to the sea.
I thought about that a lot as Muromi-san went about its ways.
The central idea of the series is a secure staple of situational comedy. The fundamental clashes of two separate worlds colliding. In this case, the titular Muromi is a Japanese mermaid (ningyo). As a result of biting on the high school aged Takurō’s fishing line, our lead characters meet. She figures she wants to spend more time with him, much to his confusion and on-and-off dismay. Furthermore, Muromi has a whole party of stories and friends to bring along for the ride. Being a mermaid, her associates are others of her species as well as a small collection of other legendary creatures.
If things sound a little on the paint by numbers side, I would not blame anyone for that particular takeaway. In manga form Muromi-san is the first major publishing series of note by Keiji Nashima. Reliable and familiar structures are not themselves a bad thing though. They do provide a framework for exploring other areas of one’s craft.
In the process, the print version of Muromi-san did manage a wholly respectable run from 2009 up until 2014.
This 2013 anime adaptation interested me primarily because Tatsunoko Production’s corporate logo is a seahorse.
The studio name also has a double wordplay meaning, one of which comes out as “sea dragon.” Tatsunoko has a remarkable back catalog stretching back to the 1960’s. Anime defining characters and franchises line their armory. That said, their overall output has fallen to a drastic degree. Granted, this has allowed select shows like Ping Pong The Animation or Gatchaman Crowds to better rise up through their ranks. There is then the curiosity. Their having reeled in what sounds on paper to be a rather ho-hum little romantic fantasy comedy property. But, because Tatsunoko has those links to the sea, more than perhaps any other major Japanese animation studio, there is an unmistakable air. A sense that another studio with the same series would not be able to evoke.
A particular hopeful nexus point of the team having fun, given who they work for.
To that end, on the animation side Muromi-san achieves everything I feel I was hoping it would go for.
The aesthetic of the series is already steeped in a sense of 1990’s-esque style. How it goes about its curved cheeks and handling voluminous hair. Added to that, the staff put extravagant amounts of energy into numerous smearing effects per episode, and a lot of dynamic camera work. If one pokes around a bit on Sakugabooru, they will find some other choice examples. But it is for sure a series with more than just a few frontloaded highlight reel shots. Muromi-san, as both a television show and a character, is one of near constant movement. Flopping tails. Wagging arms. Historical flashbacks to events that made history burn.
Whether it is in the source material or not, I do feel it is of note that near every mermaid in the show is presented as a heavy alcohol drinker. To various degrees at one time or another.
These are high partying mermaids. Mermaids of near endless and virtually indestructible youth. Most are teenage to twenty something in how we would interpret their present state. Up and down the board, I feel the visual production team upheld the positive aspects of that. To just wholesale pour themselves and their vitality into something, again and again. There are a lot of folks who are going to be able to use their cuts from this show in their portfolio presentations for a long while.
And I am sure they drank a whole lot themselves, either at the time or later on. Of that, I have no doubt.
On the actual character and screenwriting end, I do enjoy how Muromi-san did not end up as a harem series.
While there are some harem shows which do hit their marks for me, the hit rate is not great. With Muromi’s mermaid and other friends, I can see a world where it could have gone in such a direction. And to be fair, “mermaid harem show” would still have made it stick out as a curious oddity. But the series never turns into Takurō’s Mermaid Maidens or some such, which I feel is welcome. There is a good tone in long stretches of the show. The other mermaids are at several points referred to as something of a peanut gallery, and it is an apt enough description.
They interact with and around our lead characters, in (exaggerated) ways one may when a longtime friend is going out with someone new. Some have opinions on the new boy that may go as far as the “I don’t get what she see in him” variety. Some thoughts go in another direction. One does want Muromi herself in a badly handled (literally) yuri subplot. But nobody is pining after Takurō via awkward blushes or otherwise trying to replace Muromi, which I feel is nice. Likewise, while the species are at times different due to her mermaid status, I think presenting Muromi as someone who has had lost loves before is also a keen factor.
These are legendary beings who have been around for millions of years. One would hope Muromi would have a few crushed crushes in her closet.
This also removes presenting insertable everydude Takurō as some sort of impossible Once In Forever man dream throughout all of Earth’s existence.
That would be a huge burden, to the extent I feel it would have snapped the series.
All that said, there were aspects of Muromi-san which did make me feel like I had fallen into a tackle box of lures, hooks, and other painful objects.
Chief among these is one character. On a certain level, they exist to worldbuild why the mermaids have advanced technology like cell phones. That alone would be unnecessary. Such things could just be hand waved with something like “Oh, they came from Atlantis” or a similar reference point. But it would just be awkward and deprive wonder to have a set character for that, not a dealbreaker. What does cause serious harm to the show is this technology provider element is used to shoehorn in an entire character dedicated tooth and nail to nothing but pedophilia jokes.
They feel like a dire holdover from the source material in every way possible. Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, who had Series Composition duties here (and they of Miss Monochrome, Hells, etc), seems to have tried to at least quarantine this character. They take up the focal bulk of a single episode late on, and then only a bit outside of that.
But, there is also a reason devastating toxins are often reported with terminology like gram parts per million or billion of solution. Even a little goes a long way.
In the case of this show, it is damaging and breaks a large level of comedic trust. It ravages the entire ecosystem. I felt the series had a hard time recovering momentum after that episode. This is despite and perhaps especially because Muromi-san concludes just a few episodes later. Meanwhile, the OVA bonus episode to consider as a separate entity from the television broadcast doubles down on having even more pedophilia jokes. Perhaps, again, as a containment measure. For “fans of the source material” and all that. But, as someone who did like the early and middle material of the show well enough, it was a rather tragic turn of events to see unfold.
When it was just mermaids, their legendary friends, and long histories throughout human events, the series had a certain groove to it.
Director Tatsuya Yoshihara is extremely young, by major broadcast anime director standards. He was born in 1988, which actually means even I am older than he is, which is very unusual at this stage. He does have a vast array of Key Animation and other credits under his belt already. But in top level directing, only an Anime Mirai short (Aruvu Rezuru) prior to Muromi-san. He is still developing his industry clout, how to craft and cut for tone and pacing. It seems obvious (even if not excusable) why Muromi-san has at least two to three full on Bad Idea Bucket episodes. Those approaches taken versus alternative solutions. Or even being unable to reject such holdover content all together.
It is worth noting both Yoshihara and Fudeyasu have each in the time since been picked up by Lerche for the upcoming Monster Musume television adaptation. Which actually is a harem series about monster girls, mermaid and otherwise.
One hopes they too will look back on their time with Muromi on the shore. To remember the good times, for sure. While also keeping an eye out for what went wrong. How to improve their next relationship.
Even, or perhaps especially, if there will be a whole lot more creatures fighting for the heart of the same person.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.