Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand is an omnibus release of the two volumes that were released in Japan.

Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand
Written by: Yoko Komori
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: February 21, 2023

The main character of the story is a sixth grade girl named Tokiko Aoyama. She and her father are moving from Tokyo to a village by the sea to live with her maternal grandmother after Tokiko’s mother left her father. The last time Tokiko had visited the village, she was four years old. At that time, she almost drowned in the sea, but she swears she was recused by a merman. After arriving at the village, she goes to the sea in the hopes of finding the merman to thank him.

When she starts at her new school, Tokiko has to work at making friends with her classmates, in addition to dealing with the stress of moving to a new location and the separation of her parents. Since it’s a small village, the kids in her class have grown up with each other and aren’t used to kids moving there from Tokyo, which makes things a little awkward at first. One of her classmates is a boy named Yosuke Narumi, who had seen her at the beach the previous day. He’s a serious boy who also has an interest in the sea, but for a different reason that’s revealed later in the story.

In addition to dealing with some of the typical pre-teen drama, Tokiko and her new classmates start becoming curious about a tunnel that they’ve been told is haunted and that they’re not supposed to go in. They get curious and try to go through it at one point, but they’re scared off by strange noises. The reader quickly learns after this that the adults in the village are hiding something from the children of the village, and that the secret they’re hiding is connected to the haunted tunnel.

The story reaches its climax during the Wadatsumi Festival, which is a festival held in the village each year to show appreciation for the spirit of the sea. During this section, Tokiko and Yosuke stumble upon the secret that the adults have been hiding, and it ties in with the reasons why both Tokiko and Yosuke are looking at the sea.

When I saw that Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand was 400 pages long, I was a little concerned about how long it would take to read. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that for a manga this length, it went relatively quickly. The fact that the main characters are pre-teens probably helped with that, since these characters are not at an age where they’re going to be giving long speeches or anything like that. While this story combines slice of life with a mystery and potential supernatural elements, it still feels grounded in reality and authentic. As I read this manga, the characters felt like natural pre-teens and not like they were pre-teen characters being written by an adult.

While Tokiko and Yosuke get the primary focus in the story, we also see that some of their classmates get some development as well. One of those classmates is a girl named Sayu, who has a crush on Yosuke and has a previous history as a compulsive liar. At one point, Sayu becomes jealous of Tokiko spending time with Yosuke and falls back into her old habit. I thought this felt realistic, and that Tokiko handled the situation well when she realized what was going on.

When it comes to the art, I thought Komori did a great job on the character designs for the kids. The kids each had a unique design, and as a reader, I really didn’t have to struggle to figure out who was who. Komori’s main weakness for character design is older women, because the grandmothers and elderly women that appear in the story look relatively similar, and it can be harder to distinguish between who is who.

I think that Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand will appeal to readers who enjoy dramatic stories featuring pre-teen and young teenagers that also include a mystery. It was a strong story that was told over the course of the 400 pages in this volume. When I finished reading it, the manga didn’t feel like it was too long or that any parts of the story felt rushed.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media