Yeah, that basically sums it up.
Anko-san of the Deep Sea Fish (深海魚のアンコさん, Shinkaigyo no Anko-san) is a slice of life manga series by Inuinu (犬犬) with yuri undertones. It’s about mermaids! However, the mermaids are a little strange here. Unlike the ordinary “generic fish tail” appearance, the mermaids in this tale take on the features of real life sea creatures, and their features don’t end at their tail fins.
As with many slice of life series, the story is centered around girls; high school girls, in this case (as with many slice of life series). As a character quickly explains at the start of the manga, the town the girls’ high school is in is very accepting of mermaids, the high school now being about one-tenth mermaid in population. So yes, mermaids exist in this world, and it’s not seen as strange. The series also takes a “realistic” approach to them rather than a magical one, even giving them a scientific reason for being able to walk the earth instead of a fantastical one. Tsutsumi Anko, the titular Anko-san of the series, is one of the mermaids living in this town and also the protagonist. Anko is an Atlantic footballfish mermaid, complete with an illicium (shiny lure) dangling from her head, and it seems she recently moved onto land with her family from the deep sea. She’s still having a few problems living here.
Cats aside, she has some issues with self-consciousness as well, and it’s thanks to Otomi Wakasa (pictured above in the final panel) that she’s become a little better. Wakasa is a human and friend to Anko, but before we continue let’s stop for a minute and talk about yuri.
As I mentioned in my review of Hitoribocchi no OO Seikatsu, I like yuri quite a bit. Yuri is the Japanese word for “lilies”, and in the context of manga/anime and such it is used to refer to a genre about lesbian romance. The name “yuri” might have its roots in the mirror opposite genre of “bara” (meaning “rose”) but, uh…I don’t like bara. I’m not going to discuss bara.
At any rate, yuri has a few settings, I think. There’s…let’s call them subtext yuri, standard yuri, and hard yuri, for simplicity’s sake. While I call standard yuri “standard”, the most common type you’re probably going to see is subtext yuri, which basically applies to Anko-san. This is a setting of yuri where the way girls interact with one another might make you raise your eyebrow and think “are these two going to kiss or something?”, but as this is subtext it never goes beyond that. You’re not getting any kisses, just lustful stares, blushing, and maybe (friendly) confessions. I consider myself a pretty big yuri fan, so I’ll take it where I can get it and delve into subtext yuri regularly. That said, most of what I read is standard yuri.
Putting it bluntly, standard yuri is what I’d like most subtext yuri to end up as. You might have heard “subtext yuri” referred to as “shoujo ai” to differentiate from this, but I don’t really know about that, and matters regarding the so-called “girls love” genre are contentious. Anyway, this is outright homosexual romance between girls, no ifs ands or buts. Forbidden love! The purest form of love! I like it, I love it, but this review isn’t the place to explain why.
Hard yuri is porn.
Returning to Anko-san, the manga wastes no time establishing the yuri subtext, because Wakasa is a… “fan” of mermaids.
Now, although I share some of young Wakasa-kun’s spirit on these matters, I don’t believe Anko-san is just another slice of life series with some gay teasing. There are a lot of those. Arguably every girl-based slice of life is such a series, and there is an appeal and comfort in that, but Anko-san is more. I would call this a remarkable series, and a bit of a standout of its genre. I’m not about to call this manga a work of genius or something, but it’s definitely different, and not at all in a bad way.
Before we get into that properly, I’ll briefly sum up the introduction of this series. After we meet Wakasa and Anko, the two characters go to school and encounter Touna Suzuki, a fighting fish (betta) mermaid and the third of the main characters that sticks around. Her (unwanted) nickname is Betako. She is a “rich girl” (ojou) sort of character and a tsundere. I’m not explaining what a tsundere is. You know what a tsundere is.
After dealing with Betako Anko’s day proceeds as usual until, during class, she starts suffering all of a sudden. We learn here that the reason mermaids are able to walk on land is due to taking something called mermaid medicine (“mermeds”, as the translator for this series calls them) and Anko’s are running out. The medicine changes one’s tail fin into a pair of legs, and once it’s run out the fin returns. Anko doesn’t want this to happen, especially not in front of others, because she’s embarrassed by her tail fin’s appearance. Wakasa rushes her to the infirmary where she can get some medication, but it’s a little too late and her tail fin reappears.
And here is where I’ll explain why I think this series is remarkable. This scene isn’t played for laughs. Earlier in the chapter, Anko explains to Wakasa that asking to see a mermaid’s tail fin is essentially sexual harassment. The thing is, the author, Inuinu-sensei, thought about the premise of their manga to some extent. With mermaid characters comes mermaid culture, which I must say is a surprise appeal for this series. So, an unexpected tail fin outside of a body of water is embarrassing (and also, somewhat lewd), but in Anko’s case her fin is clearly atypical. Basically every tail fin in this series is unusual in comparison to standard mermaids, but Anko’s is a bulbous, somewhat bumpy, somewhat spiky fin. She thinks it’s ugly, and even cries about it. Now, I’m not about to oversell this and say this is like some Kotoura-san tier sudden left turn where now the the manga becomes a somber and staid take on the heavy implications of mermaids living among humans — this is a lighthearted series pretty much through and through — but what I’m getting at is that “culture” is a factor of this series. In fact, it’s a big factor in the series. If I’m being honest, it’s basically actually what the series is about. This elevates it a little from simple meandering slice of life. As I said, there’s more to it.
After Anko’s tail fin is exposed, the nurse of the infirmary (a deep sea mermaid as well) and Wakasa surprise her by complimenting her fin with not a drop of sarcasm. The nurse explains that from its shine it’s clear Anko takes great care of her fin, and Wakasa is simply captivated by it entirely (and not in the usual perverted way she reacts to mermaids). And so here we see a hint at what the series will mostly be about: helping mermaids with their problems.
Anko-san of the Deep Sea Fish is indeed a slice of life series, but it’s also a bit of an episodic series in which Anko and Wakasa aid other mermaids when they have social problems. After helping out an eel mermaid with love troubles (heterosexual troubles, mind you — it’s not all gay) who comes to her for her “expertise”, Anko becomes something of a guiding figure for other mermaids who aren’t entirely self-assured. Thus, about every other chapter or so, the series adds a new mermaid with a new problem and Anko and Wakasa do their best to help out. As they say, there are many fish in the sea, so readers will learn a lot of facts about fish along the way. Every mermaid takes cute little design cues from the fish they’re based on, and each carries some sort of cultural/biological inclinations based on that fish’s behavior. For example, the mermaid from the picture at the start of this article just can’t help herself around shining things. Some, like Anko, also have curious abilities similar to what their animals might have, adding a fantastical element to the series. All of it makes reading Anko-san a real treat. It’s interesting and fun.
I’d like to talk about yuri again, because of course I would, but first I should mention the fourth main character in this series. Most slice of life series have four girls as the core group, for some reason (it’s a precedent set by Azumanga Daioh‘s notability, maybe?), and Anko-san isn’t an exception. It is a bit strange, though, in that the two aside from Anko and Wakasa don’t really get as much play as them. This is surely because of the “solve the problems” format of most of the chapters; the ones where no real problems need solving feature a four man band as usual.
So yes, meet the last of the four: Fukuda Akame, a pufferfish mermaid.
The poor girl suffers from chuunibyou (eighth-grade syndrome), a condition many have suffered from to some degree. It is characterized by feeling you are unique and incredibly special, and that you perhaps have magic powers. It is also worth noting that in cases of chuunibyou there is typically a distinct lack of shame. Called “eighth-grade syndrome” because it tends to happen in middle school, young Akame-kun has it in high school.
Akame is definitely the least significant character out of the main characters, and the chuuni gimmick is one that can often be pretty obnoxious, but honestly Akame is my favorite character in Anko-san.
I don’t think she’s the best character, and I don’t even pair her with anyone in the series, but heck, she’s great. Most of the times she appears she’s just doing something a bit peculiar in silence while making a face like this, and that’s enough to bring a smile to my face. She’s rather a coward but can also stand against intimidation despite herself (like a pufferfish, I suppose) and her design is…hm, puffy (like a pufferfish, I suppose). Therefore allow me to declare with all my might: Akame is cute! Cute!
So yuri, right? These two:
Behold, the ship (that is, heh, relationship for you uninitiated) I support.
I didn’t really touch on Betako before because the time simply wasn’t right. She’s actually my second favorite character in this series, and a big reason why is her relationship with the main character Anko. Anko and Betako’s relationship is antagonistic. They almost, almost always fight when they happen to spend any length of time together (usually instigated by Betako’s insults). But really, their relationship, it’s like this:
See? Do you see?
I’m an absolute sucker for this sort of dynamic. It gets me every time, whether it’s hetero or homosexual in nature. I’m sure many of you have had this sensation overcome you when seeing two characters that constantly butt heads in fiction butt heads once more: the desire to shout “KISS ALREADY”. The reason for this is that like love, hate is PASSION. It’s surging and powerful emotion! Negative or positive, that’ll get your blood pumping. Whether or not Anko and Betako will readily admit it, they enjoy their back and forth, and genuinely appreciate things about one another’s character.
I can only pray that one day they hold hands.
Now, I didn’t say it at the start of the review, but I am very fond of this series. I think it’s pretty dang good. This could be classified as a monstergirl series, a genre that I regularly dismiss, but I was easily swayed by the factors of 1) mermaids, probably the most recognizable “monstergirls” of all and 2) the twist of them being based on real animals. I’m amused by those fish facts. Like any good slice of life, Anko-san of the Deep Sea Fish makes for a pleasant read, and is quite funny on the regular. As a bonus, I think the art is actually really solid. Inuinu-sensei has “cute” down pat, but can also draw intense things well when the need arises. I think their interpretations of how all these fish would look as mermaids is great as well, not lazily done at all (if it was, I’d take great offense to it; designs without effort put into them get under my skin). It’s a good manga. I’d say read it if you don’t mind (or you do like) yuri and want a SoL series.
Two more things before the review ends. First, this series is not at the most secure of places with translations into English. The series ended at four volumes (which makes me somewhat sad, by the way), but not even the second volume has been fully translated. I don’t have a bad opinion of scanlation, although I did think it might be a faux pas to mention it in a review context. Then I remembered, doi, scanlation is how most people are introduced to series! You can always buy volumes whether or not they’re translated; it’s not as though reading a scanlation voids your ability to purchase the manga afterward (in fact, buying the volumes is what those working on this series encourage you to do). So, if you are able and would like to assist at all, get in contact with the guy working on it. It seems the biggest hold ups, generally speaking, are getting quality raws and also translations themselves.
And speaking of raws, the second thing: this is actually a really great series to import/read the raws from. Observe. The page I linked to is in the original Japanese. Those of you with some knowledge of Japanese should be able to recognize that all the kanji of this series are accompanied by furigana (characters that dictate how a kanji is to be read). Those of you with some knowledge of Japanese should be able to recognize how invaluable that is, because looking up a kanji you don’t understand without furigana is a huge pain in the ass (you have to look it up using the stroke order, something I only ever barely began to understand). I’m not certain why Anko-san has furigana, since from what I can tell it ran in a seinen (adult men’s) magazine rather than a shounen or shoujo (young boys or girls, respectively) magazine for kids where that would basically be necessary. Maybe some information is just wrong. It doesn’t matter, though, the point is you can use the raw chapters and/or volumes of Anko-san of the Deep Sea Fish to improve your Japanese. With its several fish facts, there ought to be plenty of unusual words, too. Give it a shot if you need some practice, that’s what I’m doing! You can buy the volumes from CDJapan or honto (guide). Honto link is digital, so no shipping.
Next time, I’ll be discussing what is widely regarded as one of the most important and seminal entries into the yuri canon. A true great. See you then!
In the meantime, let’s look at mermaids.