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04 May 2013 @ 02:21 pm
MG Project: Mermaid Melody Vols 1-4  
POP QUIZ: Name a bunch of narrative elements guaranteed to make pre-teen and teenage girls fork over all their money.

-mermaids
-princesses
-pop stardom
-Sailor Moon
-foofy dresses
-shirtless surfer dudes
-forbidden romance
-Gackt

In 2003, Michiko Yokote and Pink Hanamori had the bright idea to mash all these things into one guaranteed-to-sell manga. In fact, it's possible they were a little too confident in the failproof nature of their brainchild, because they don't seem to have put much effort into making it, y'know, not suck.

Mermaid Melody is bad. More than that, it's incompetent. I've read plenty of bad manga in my time, but even so, it's rare that I come across one that's fails on such a basic level of "how to tell a functional story with words and pictures." I hate to say it, but it's a lot like Hen in that sense. It's like...

Okay, so modern-day Hollywood puts out plenty of bad movies, like the Transformers films. But at least those films were made by people who grasp the basics of film-making and could probably have made something a lot better if they'd tried harder. On the flip side, you have the films featured on MST3K and Cinema Snob where the creators were so incompetent that they couldn't even keep the boom-mike out of the camera's view.

What I'm saying is: In Mermaid Melody, that boom-mike has a starring role.

Oh fuck these analogies, I'll just show you:



Here's a scene where Lucia (the heroine) is working up the nerve to give Kaito (her love interest) some Valentine's chocolate she made. Since Kaito's usually not interested in such things, his wingman swoops in to nab the chocolate and then... um.



I didn't delete any panels there. That chocolate just teleported into Kaito's hand. See this is what I mean by "telling a functional story with words and pictures." This manga's narrative flow is incredibly clumsy.

The art is also pretty poor, with a wretchedly overdone shojo style that does little to rescue all the wonky anatomy. Plus stuff like this:



Where is he looking? Lucia bumps into the villain, and I get that he's supposed to be looking at her all like "I have you now my pretty," but they fucked up the angles so that instead he's just vacantly staring off into space.

Those are mostly art/composition problems, but the writing in MerMelo is similarly botched. The comedy in particular is painfully by-the-numbers, almost like the writer copypasta'd comical scenes from other mangas without understanding how or why they worked. For example, there's an inane running gag where the mermaid heroines will be bathing in their mermaid forms and their male penguin mascot will barge in with some important plot-related news, and they'll screech "Pervert!" and punch him into the stratosphere. HAR HAR HAR what a kneeslapper. And by the time you get to the second volume...



...it's like the mangakas have stopped caring. Like, whoops better stick that running gag in, we'll just put it in a small panel off to the side. You could delete that little panel and lose nothing.

Another scene that really blew me away with how bad it was: A young mermaid who's probably about 10 or 11 years old is visiting the heroines on land, and she becomes smitten with Kaito and starts flirting with him, and he flirts back which makes Lucia jealous. Let's be kind enough to overlook the absurdity of 13-year-old Lucia feeling romantically threatened by a prepubescent child and instead examine the aftermath: Kaito's teasing Lucia, saying that the little girl acts more mature than her, and Lucia's getting insecure, all like "You can't be seriously attracted to her, right?" and Kaito's all "Maybe I am, neener neener" and then this:



Wow, I'm getting whiplash here. In three pages, we've abruptly shifted from Kaito teasing Lucia into admitting her feelings for him to Kaito pushing Lucia away because "it's not you, it's my enemies." And then of course Lucia just screams "You jerk!" and runs off without taking even a moment to ask him why the hell he's acting so weird.

And of course there's that old writing canard, "show don't tell," which MerMelo consistently misses like a champ. For example, Rina (the third heroine) is introduced when Lucia overhears some other students gossiping:

Student 1: Huh? Just on the other side of the teacher? She's actually showing her face at school?
Student 2: Hey, it's her! It's that transfer student who's the source of all the rumors!

Wow. That actually hurt to read. Yeah guys, remember all those rumors? The rumors that have never been mentioned until now? Well now you know: there's some rumors and here's the girl they're about. What's the content of the rumors? We never find out.

And remember that young mermaid I mentioned before? Her name's Meru and she cuts a deal with the villains: she'll betray Hanon (the second heroine) to them and they'll find her missing mother. The villains predictably go back on their deal, the heroines show up to beat the villains, and Meru is very impressed. On the next page, we cut to the next day and this conversation:

Meru: Thank you for putting me up. And I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused.
Rina: I'm just glad to hear that your mother managed to get to Lucia's country.
Hanon: Yeah, we found out through the music box. It can tell me where any aquamarine mermaid has gone anywhere in the world! Kura-chan the jellyfish [who we'd never seen before] let me know its power.

Well, you sure did explain that. I'm glad that her mom was fine all along and all that conflict was totally pointless.

But let's leave the details aside and widen our scope a bit: What about that failsafe premise I was praising before? MerMelo is about a bunch of mermaids who transform into idol singers and fight the forces of evil with their voices. It sounds like a pretty winning concept, but it's brought down by one big problem: MerMelo's heroines fight by singing. In a manga. Manga being a solely visual medium.

This ensures that nearly every single fight scene in MerMelo lasts a mere two pages. Each fight consists of three steps: 1) the heroines show up and say their In The Name Of The Moon speech, 2) the villain-of-the-week grimaces and yells some variant on "I'll get you next time, you meddling kids!" and departs, and 3) the heroines say their closing catchphrase: "How'd you like an encore?" That's literally it. Seriously, between steps 1 and 2, they may as well write the words "Insert song performance here" because we never get to see the girls sing for more than a page, nor do we see any of the lyrics. It's possible to depict singing in a soundless medium and still make it interesting — Full Moon Wo Sagashite did a pretty good job with that — and a few of MerMelo's battles at least make a vague attempt at being cinematic, but most of the time they don't even bother.

This also has the side effect of making villains look even more ridiculous and trivial than they usually are in this genre. The villain keeps sending his minions out on missions to kidnap the mermaids for use in his evil plot, but the minions always attack the mermaids head-on instead of using subterfuge, and the mermaids' songs always defeat the minion-of-the-week in one hit. These villains are so easily beaten and so disorganized that they can't possibly pose a threat.

Speaking of laughable villains, the main villain's consort is the resident Dark Magical Girl, a fallen mermaid princess named Sara. Her deal is that she was in love with a human who dumped her, and most of her dialogue is wangsty moaning about how no one can possibly understaaaaand how she feeeeels oh woe is me, I am literally the first person to get dumped in the history of everything. It's pretty insufferable, especially when we find out that he only dumped her for the sake of her kingdom.

Back to what I'd tentatively call the "combat": Fighting one's enemies via song is already a rather shaky concept, but MerMelo exacerbates this towards the end of the first story-arc by throwing in a bunch of shallow nonsensical bollocks about believing in yourself — for example, Lucia's given a magic harp with no strings, but she's able to play it because she belieeeeeves hard enough. Belief as a weapon can work, but here it's almost insulting how pastede on yey it is.

Another plot element that annoyed me: In the first volume, Lucia finds out, to her surprise, that she's a princess. She's spent all thirteen years of her life as a mermaid, and yet her caretakers and friends failed to tell her that she rules the top half of the Pacific because... she's still young? We never get a clear answer. Given the melodramatic tone of this manga, I assumed they included the "I'm a princess?!?" reveal in the name of creating cheap drama, but no, it's totally underplayed. It's like, "Oh by the way, you're a princess," "Oh that's a surprise, I guess." We don't even see the full reveal — it's shown in a flashback.

As for the non-plot parts of the manga, aside from the feeble comedy I already mentioned, it's mostly just a hurricane of fanservicey shojo clichés. I even started playing "spot the clichés" to entertain myself, but I'll need a separate post to list 'em all.

Anyway, final verdict on Mermaid Melody: an evil genius concept sunk by embarrassingly incompetent execution.

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth.
 
 
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(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
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