Is it odd to license a sequel manga when the original has been out of print for years and its anime adaptation never got licensed? Undoubtedly yes, especially since the first Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch from 2003 wasn’t particularly well received by critics when it was published in English by Del Rey. We could argue that kiddy catnip-filled titles are rarely critical darlings (and with its combination of mermaids, magical girls, and pop idols, that’s definitely what Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch is), and it just may be that enough fans of the first series remain to make this one an under-the-radar hit.
The big question is, of course, whether or not you need to have read the first series. The answer is a wobbly “maybe?” – Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch: Aqua follows the daughter of original heroine Lucia and her romantic interest Kaito, and a one-page synopsis of the first series is included, complete with a brief intro to the seven mermaid princesses. Lucia and Kaito, as well as a few of the mermaids, are present here, so you’ll doubtless get a little more out of the volume if you’re familiar with them. But the plot is largely its own thing, with danger in the form of the merman Laurent coming for the oceans of the world, and new heroine Lukia needing to step up and face them down.
Naturally, that means Lukia first needs to figure out that she is a mermaid and the new Princess of the North Pacific. Her parents have kept this information from her, but now that she’s seventeen, they’ve moved back to Kaito’s coastal hometown, presumably to clue their daughter in on her heritage. Before they can do that, Lukia spies handsome surfer boy Kurosuna swept by a rogue wave. She jumps in to save him, but to her annoyance, he thinks that a mermaid has done the deed. What Lukia doesn’t realize is that she actually is one, and probably the one he played with as a little boy. Submerging herself in the water seems to have triggered her ability to transform, and now every time she gets wet, she loses her legs and gains fins, long hair, and a seashell bikini top.
This is also the point where logic more or less flies out the window. Lukia dives into the ocean fully knowing how to swim, but getting wet (or at least completely wet for the first time) is what turns her into a mermaid. Does this mean she knew how to swim without ever getting in the water? Did she never bathe? And how was she a little girl mermaid in the past but unaware of what goes in the water would do as a teenager? It’s probably not all that important to the story, but it is an odd little issue and one that’s symptomatic of the larger problems with the book. Creator Pink Hanamori (who was only the artist for the first series and is now both author and artist) seems keener to stuff the volume with pretty girls, hot guys, and a tenuous storyline than to tell a coherent tale, and while that may work for some readers, it isn’t the sign of a well-created book. There’s very little lead-up to Laurent, no explanation of his reason for wanting to do evil, and Lukia and Kurosuna’s relationship goes from negative numbers to one hundred very fast. Is it fun? Sure. But it isn’t well done.
The art style is another barrier to overcome. Lucia and Kaito both still look like teenagers and even Hanamori notes that Lukia in mermaid form is identical to Lucia, to the point where you can’t tell whether you’re looking at mother or daughter without context clues. Mermaids don’t look like organic beings, but instead, human girls wearing cloth fins, with visible thighs, knees, and calves detracting from the illusion. (Mermen, somehow, fare better.) The art is also stiff, with very little sense of motion, and bodies are often drawn in an off-perspective, with weirdly foreshortened legs and bobbleheads. (In one image, Kaito appears to be missing an entire thigh.) There are some nice details, like the pearl anklets the mermaids wear, but it mostly just feels off. It’s also a little more fanservice-oriented than you might expect from a series in Nakayoshi, although honestly, it feels like a way to titillate young readers with kabe-dons and mild kissing.
Despite sounding so down on it, this is still a fun enough book. Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch: Aqua may not be high-brow literature or even particularly brilliant manga, but it is what it sets out to be: a fun, slightly racy (in the middle-grade sense) story about a mermaid and a handsome boy. It’s very by-the-numbers and at times a full-on rehash of its parent series, but it’s also not trying to be anything else. If you liked the first series, you’ll doubtless enjoy – or at least be caught up in – this sequel. I’m not sure it will hold a ton of appeal for older readers who never experienced the original, but younger readers should still find plenty to enjoy. It’s average, but the right kind of average, and there’s something to be said for that.