(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Picture a mermaid.
Most people imagine a beautiful woman whose lower body is that of a scaled, green fish. Maybe she can sing real swell and maybe she is longing for love. But regardless, she is two halves that make up an entire whole.
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid is the same. Mermaid is one half sex and one half tale, making it one not-as-bad-as-you-may-imagine anime.
Anime has its fair share of strange premises; Mermaid’s premise gets added to this list.
A virus, the “Armed Virus,” infects women, granting them special abilities. Society deems these women dangerous, so they get sent to isolated islands to fend for themselves. The kicker is that these special abilities remain latent unless the women classified as “Liberators” make the women classified as “Extars” achieve orgasm. (Intriguing, no?)
Understandably, then, Mermaid is rampant with sexual content. Girls are constantly kissing and fondling and canoodling. But they are not swapping spit because the audience wants to see it (although that is one reason for doing so), they are tongue twirling because it is an essential part of the plot. In other words, the sex is not just pleasurable but also purposeful.
The season, with sex in tow, takes a standard approach. The first few episodes mostly establish the setting and the characters. The next few after move into slice-of-life territory with more character-oriented material. And the final few episodes are where the major conflict occurs.
Throughout the season, Mermaid is prone to repetition. The fights are usually one-sided triumphs rather than full-fledged duels. But even worse is the repetition in the sexual asides. Surprisingly, the anime does not get very creative, using the same means to sexually arouse the girls’ partners with each iteration. Admittedly there are not a whole lot of ways that making out and touching can be depicted, but the actions almost never come off as unique for the individuals involved.
In order to combat this repetition, Mermaid dabbles into other areas besides sex. One episode follows a girl who grows gigantically. (The size of her breasts have to have broken an anime world record of some kind.) Another episode has the women participating in a beauty pageant. And all the while, the anime injects bits of comedy, like Mamori getting called a “virgin” or Meifon having a “Foreclosure” sign censoring her crotch.
Repetition is further fought when the anime continually includes more and different details. Liberators and Extars that can switch roles. Artificial Extars. New abilities and powers. The introduction of enhanced “Soldiers.” And massive robots. The anime does a decent job of constantly introducing new material even if said material is only around for a brief period of time.
The general amount of fun that Mermaid takes part in mistakenly pushes away the relevancy of the major conflict until the end of the season. The Soldiers and their organization are very briefly mentioned in flashbacks or in passing, and it is only near the end of the season where they finally reveal themselves. Since the show did not buildup to this conflict, when it finally appears, it almost feels out of place.
The ending has tonal issues, too. Before, the anime could get dire, but it was never grim or overly dramatic. The major conflict, however, does away with this notion: rape, underhandedness, and lots of losing become the norm. On the one hand, the tonal shift is welcoming because Mermaid did not seem to have a coherent narrative in mind. On the other hand, the tonal shift is rather jarring when it gets as dark as it does.
The ending also has two more problems.
One, it is too contrived. Not just that the virus essentially cures itself, but also there is no precedence for it. Momoka brings up the idea at the end in passing only. And nothing really changes between Mamori and Mirei over the course of the season to constitute them achieving “Valkyrie Drive” at the end as opposed to the countless other times.
And two, it goes against the plot of the anime. The entire time, the girls on the island were trying to prove that they could be reinstated into normal society by exemplifying order and stability. But the solution given instantly saves everyone, meaning that the events leading up to the ending were mostly for naught.
When all is said and done, there are about two ways to view Mermaid. The first view is the simpler one: A grander message does not exist. This anime is all about action and boobs and girls and not much more. This interpretation is fine; a show does not have to be deep to be worthwhile.
The second view, however, gives the anime a bit more credit: Always have hope. Placed on an island far and away from normal civilization, the girls still hold out hope that they will someday make their way back home. Until that time, they rely on each other. They do so more intimately than one may think, but, as they prove, hope is made stronger when it is held by many rather than when it is held by few.
Or one can believe in the third, hidden, and arguably best view: Yuri is a blessing. What saved the girls and cured the virus was not some newfound piece of technology or a breakthrough in medicine. What brought peace and comfort was the beautiful love that two girls shared between each other.
If that is not a wonderful message, then no message is.
Mermaid is best watched (perhaps obviously) while uncensored. The uncensored version does away with nearly every single light beam that shines throughout the censored version. “Nearly every” because the one in episode six, where Mirei performs a rather lewd exercise, exists.
Given that Mermaid is watched while uncensored, it focuses its art and its animation where it counts the most: the girls, the boobs, and the near-fornication.
Downtime in the anime hardly sees extensive animation such as with hair or limb movements. However, the anime almost always makes sure to have the breasts jiggling. Battles, in contrast, do try their best to keep up in animation. Flying fire birds, colorful laser beams, and difficult-to-pull-off acrobatics, while lacking in tight choreography, create a lot of movement on the screen. Mermaid knows it cannot always keep up, so, to compensate, the cinematography hones in on risqué shots of the characters’ butts and bosoms wherever necessary (or unnecessary).
Where Mermaid diverts most of its animation is into the sexual content, and, more specifically, the scenes where the Liberators have to use their Extars. Extra frames for turgid nipples, dancing tongues, and locked legs are more than welcome, creating steamy scenarios that even the people in the anime cannot help but blush at.
The rest of the art is similar to the usual amount of actual animation in that it is not that impressive. Island terrain makes up the vast majority of the art – jungles, hot springs, and ocean fronts – but the castle, a hidden abode, and an underground factory attempt to shake up, however slightly, the usual offerings.
And to be fair to the anime, the characters are on an island. Meaning, it may be silly to expect anything else besides a lot of trees and the sea.
As for the character designs, while the characters rarely change outfits, they are diverse and detailed enough to be considered interesting. Furthermore, each character wears lipstick or has their lips colored, accentuating their beauty that much more.
For example, Mirei’s long, blonde hair, too-short skirt, and ample figure maximize her attractiveness. Meifon’s signature pink cowboy hat symbolizes her fun and carefree nature. And Akira’s different designs contrasted well: While disguised as a male, she wears a professional, commander suit with cropped hair, and, as her regular self, she wears a summer gown with long, red hair that undeniably proves she is female.
Also, a special shout out goes to Charlotte’s design. Her styled, pink hair, purple, regal outfit, and exposed, ample bust turns her into quite the sexy minx.
The cast of Mermaid could go either way.
The characters do not have a discernable theme that connects them all. An argument exists for the characters protecting or fighting for a partner, but, since many of them do not have partners or do not uphold this sentiment, the theme is not that strong.
Looking more closely at the cast, Mamori, the oft called “virgin,” appears to be the main protagonist of the anime. But she quickly makes it clear that she is not entirely fit for the role. She is wimpy, scared, and unable to fend for herself. However, what makes her a tried and true protagonist is that she is perhaps the strongest Extar on the island. This detail is only made known when her Liberator finally appears.
Said Liberator is none other than Mirei, the actual main protagonist of Mermaid. Mirei does not speak much: for her, “actions speak louder than words.” She also contrasts with Mamori (and not just in size). Mirei is strong. She is confident. She is able. (“Opposites attract.”) On top of sharing a dislike for violence (this trait of Mirei’s is revealed later) with Mamori, Mirei is the perfect match for the tiny, redheaded girl.
Thus, the two become a team. They work together to protect each other and to help the other denizens of the island. Although not everything is serene. Mamori longs to go home; she misses her parents. And Mirei has a past that remains mysterious to the audience for quite some time.
It is not until a very harrowing situation that Mirei reveals her secret: She was part of an “Enhanced” project that altered her body. As further flashbacks reveal, Mirei used to be with another partner, Momoka (codenamed “A3”). When Mirei refused to fight, she was deemed “useless” (the anime’s words), and she was nearly terminated. But the doctor (in a slightly contrived manner) wanted to make amends for his sins, so he did not kill Mirei. He sent her away.
Having abandoned and been abandoned, Mirei was lonely. She was lost in a world that did not want her. She was eventually caught as an Armed Virus holder, and she was once again whisked away. Only this time, she met the person who would save her: Mamori.
Mamori was there for her and kind to her. But, most importantly, she became her friend, her lover in arms. It is Mamori that drives Mirei to go the distance. Mirei defeats Momoka, saves the girls of the island, and leaves with Mamori to be together forever.
The negative side effects of Mirei’s enhanced form are brought up, but Mermaid mistakenly does not use this detail for any purpose except to conveniently force Mirei to retreat. Still, it is apparent that Mirei is the strongest character of the show. She gets a lot of focus, and, more specifically, she gets a lot of focus in the final few episodes of the season. This development is nice for her, but Mermaid almost seems to forget about its other characters.
For example, Mamori hardly has a presence. After she reveals how much she wishes to go home, her character receives very little attention. Literally right at the end, however, she demonstrates her newfound courage. When presented with the chance to finally go home, she decides not to, opting to help the other girls affected by the virus all around the world.
Lady Lady are characters that likewise lack presence. They believe that people should be allowed to do what they want, and they repeatedly show this by acting of their own volition. It is an interesting trait, but since Lady Lady never have their characters elaborated on, they are more like convenient plot devices than actual characters. They are arguably heavy side characters, meaning them not receiving a lot of attention is understandable. But having at least a background would have been nice.
And then there is Shigure who is yet another example of a character lacking presence. Her character acts as a mediator between Akira and Charlotte as well as a stern yet forgiving leader for the other girls on the island. She has a subplot involving Hibiki, a girl whose initial arrival on the island causes her severe mental trauma. This detail is minimally referenced throughout the season; the audience is only made aware of the full background near the end. Still, Hibiki gets inspired by Mirei to finally help and thereby giving the audience its first look at Shigure’s Armed state and bringing this meager subplot to completion.
The rest of the characters follow the trend of not completing their character arcs. The most glaring example is Akira. Her character represented hope. She was instilled with hope, she provided hope, and she believed in hope. When she was exposed to be a woman and not a man, her defeat is symbolic of hope being lost. And as the events show, hope is lost.
Yet the anime does not revisit her character, i.e., her arc does not complete. She shows up at the end, but very little time is given to her and her message of hope. The same happens with Charlotte. Charlotte was not much of a character; she was relegated to being a thorn in the sides of everyone. Later on, she takes over as Gouverneur, gets smacked around by Momoka, and loses thoroughly to Mirei and Lady Lady. Yet, like Akira, her character does not have a complete arc. The last line she speaks is “Now we can go home,” but that does not demonstrate if she changed or if she will change.
As for Momoka, besides not showing up until the end of the season, she was setup as a nice antagonist. Indirectly betrayed by Mirei, she was forced to undergo further experimentation, turning her into a “monster” (her own words). She is conniving, cruel, and crazy, but it is her unfathomable need for revenge against Mirei that made her seriously sinister.
What results is her taking over the island, kidnapping Momoka, and nearly wiping out Mirei and the others. The final fight against her involves most of the cast – as well as a combined, “Valkyrie Drive” Momoka and Mirei – and it seems she is defeated. She is even the first one to get cured with a kiss from Mirei that also symbolizes the apology to her and the reformation of their relationship.
But, again, what happens to her afterwards is not shown. It is alluded that she is taken into custody, but whether or not she lives a happier life, tries to be nicer, or simply matures is not shown or known.
Thus the cast could go either way. However, since the anime was juggling many characters (and boobs) at once, and taking into consideration what the anime set out to do, they turned out rather okay.
One of Mermaid’s top strengths is the effects and music that it uses.
Starting with the effects, two in particular stand out. The first is the breasts. The anime likes to have the breasts moving, and, to let the audience know that said breasts are jostling, the anime adds a breast-jiggling effect. No matter if Mirei is doing sit-ups, Torino is running to Meifon, or Charlotte is simply shifting her body sideways, the breasts are not just seen but also heard.
The second effect is heard most commonly when Mamori goes into her Extar form: a metallic moan. Including this effect is not necessary, but doing so made the transformation that much cooler.
Moving away from the effects and towards the music, the opening track for Mermaid is rather nice. The vocalist is on point, the hard guitar is rockin’, and the background choir is in harmony. The OP, while not the best part of Mermaid, is still pretty strong.
The ending track contrasts completely with the OP, and that is only part of what makes it so awesome. The lyrics move at lightning speed. The onomatopoeia enhances the song. And the repetition makes it easy and fun to follow. Combined with the various vocalists and the catchy beat, it is clear just how “super-ultra-hyper-miracle-fantastic-romantic” this ED is.
The rest of the original soundtrack offers a nice array of tunes. Trumpets and violins for the silly times. Guitars and fiddles for the tense ones. And chimes and flutes for the sexual yet gentle moments. The other effects and music are stronger than the OST, even making up for some of the OST’s weaknesses, but the OST does what it has to.
And because why not, the voice acting performances within Mermaid are generally above average. Yuka Iguchi as Mirei uses a husky and attractive voice for the mature girl. Mikako Izawa as Mamori uses an adorable voice for the small and shy girl; a nice performance for one of her first major roles. And Yuna Yoshino as Akira uses low- and high-pitched voices for her male disguise and female self respectively, demonstrating her vocal range.
Also, a very special shout out is more than deserved for Yurika Kubo who gives a fantastic performance as Meifon. The voice she provides can only be described as perfect for the carefree cowboy. Her line in episode six – “Hip raising training!” – in particular is spectacular.
Yuri is my jam.
Ergo, I had a lot of fun with this one. The repetition did not phase me because that meant I got to see more naughty moments between Momoka and Mirei as well as the other pairings throughout the show. The bountiful bare breasts were likewise welcomed whenever they appeared on screen (which was practically every other minute).
This anime is pretty much designed for someone like me: a fan of yuri and bosoms. Disregarding these factors, I was honestly impressed with the show’s ability at attempting to be meaningful. It did not do anything groundbreaking, but I appreciated the anime spending time on the characters, the world, and the action.
Charlotte was easily the most attractive to me, but the character that I found to be the most fun was Meifon. She was not around a whole lot, but, when she was, she brought the laughs. Trying to whistle unsuccessfully, getting scared by Mirei, and screaming while raising her butt in the air as Lady Lady used their massive gun were just a few of her hilarious antics.
Mamori gets a nod, too, for being so darn cute. But she (indirectly) also has my two gripes with the anime. Firstly, I was disappointed that the anime dropped the “virgin” joke with her name. I found it to be a simple yet silly running gag, so when it disappeared I was bummed.
Secondly, I was not a fan of how she developed feelings for Akira and how she got forcefully used by Momoka. The first one had nothing occur between them. The second one was not her fault. And Mirei never lost her status as the girl with the highest compatibility with Mamori. Regardless, both instances came off as betrayals, betrayals that made me sad to see.
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid has enough girls, boobs, and yuri to last a lifetime. But, surprisingly, it has some substance. The story, while finishing poorly, is interesting. The characters are competent. And the visuals and music do exactly what they have to. Mermaids may not be real, but, thankfully, this one is.
Story: Bad, repetition of the sexual content and a contrived ending do too much harm for the narrative to overcome
Animation: Good, the art and animation remains high where it counts the most but not much elsewhere, with nice character designs
Characters: Fine, while the characters lack a consistent theme, their mixture of both positive and negative qualities make them at least competent
Sound: Great, nice effects, good OP, great ED, nice OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, lots of yuri, branching out, and many laughs made for an almost entirely fun time
Final Score: 6/10