One of Rumiko Takahashi's most successful "side projects" is the Mermaid series, about a pair of immortals struggling to find a way to become mortal again. Don't expect the wacky action of "Ranma 1/2" or the mythic fantasy of "Inuyasha." Instead, this is a gritty, melancholy fantasy story.
It centers on mermaids, and what eating their flesh does to human beings. A tiny number become beautiful immortals who never age and can't die, unless their heads are cut off. But most people either cough up blood and die, or turn into bug-eyed purplish monsters.
In "Bone Princess," Yuta and Mana are camping by a river when he has another flashback. When he was only 120 years old, Yuta encountered an old man and his immortal daughter. But he realizes that there is something odd about Natsume when she attacks him and bites his stomach. An old monk gives him the answer: Natsume is not even a true immortal, but an undead creature who preys on the livers of animals -- and people.
"The Last Face" takes us to the present, where Mana and Yuta encounter a young boy who narrowly escaped a kidnapping. When the kid swallows a "special medicine," his scrapes heal. As Yuta investigates the man who was seemingly abducting the boy, he uncovers a horrifying story from twenty-five years ago -- where a mother tried to force-feed her child mermaid flesh.
In the second part, Yuta ponders the question of what is happening, with the woman with two faces. The mother attacks Mana and switches faces, only to be interrupted by Yuta and her adult son. And they learn of her new plot to create an immortal child -- this time, using her "special medicine."
The previous volume of "Mermaid Forest" explored the best and worst in human nature. And in the third volume, "Unquenchable Thirst," the series focuses on the loss of children, and how obsessed people can become with keeping their children with them -- no matter what the cost.
In the first story, we get another glimpse of Yuta's lonely life before he met Mana. It's a bit on the gross side, but the story explores not only the loneliness of an immortal, but the desperation that a parent who has lost his child can feel.
Things get less bloody -- but even more guesome -- as we are are brought back to the present. It gets even nastier here, since the latest immortal is mentally ill, and is in conflict with Nanao's real mother. The climax of this two-parter, in which the demented woman is forced to confront the truth about her actions, is quietly powerful.
Inhuman children and wicked grandmothers crop up in the third volume of the "Mermaid Forest" series, where immortality is not such a gift.