Itokichi’s Merman In My Tub blends fantasy and reality in an unexpected way. A high schooler named Tatsumi saves a merman named Wakasa, and then proceeds to house Wakasa in his bathtub. Despite the fantastical nature of the plot, the series is largely slice-of-life. Merman In My Tub has the kind of lighthearted humor one might expect from a relatively realistic manga starring high-school-aged protagonists; think less The Shape of Water and more Azumanga Daioh. The series’ first volume, published by Seven Seas Entertainment, includes the series’ first fifteen chapters and introduces most of its recurring cast members. Is it good?
The characters in Merman In My Tub all have fairly distinct personalities. Tatsumi is responsible and kind-hearted but also has a scathing sense of humor, Wakasa is self-centered with a one-track mind but also shows moments of compassion for others, and the various supporting cast members (who are mostly half-human/half-sea animals) have their own quirks as well. The consistent voices throughout are good, and lead to some good comedic moments. Unfortunately, these distinct personalities don’t get much fleshing out. Most of the characters have at least a handful of traits so they don’t feel super flat, but they still don’t feel as dynamic as possible. This sense of stasis is made worse by the extremely limited degree to which the characters seem to change as a result of plot events.
There’s a definite sense of continuity to this volume, but there isn’t a sense of build-up to match. Characters get introduced and then pop up again sporadically, but their inclusion doesn’t spur much coverage of new ground. This isn’t exactly surprising–the manga’s slice-of-life style creates an expectation for short, mostly self-contained stories. Nonetheless, that lack of events having future impacts is still frustrating. It’s one thing for a series to more or less reset itself with each new chapter or episode if the installments are satisfying on their own, but that’s not the case here. Merman In My Tub Vol. 1‘s biggest failing is that large portions of it aren’t enjoyable; most of the humor isn’t actually very funny, and the characters are seldom engaging. For a slice-of-life series to be successful, it must elevate the charming or unusual aspects of everyday events. Merman In My Tub doesn’t do that.
The artwork in this volume is a mixed bag. On one hand, Itokichi shows a lot of talent. Their rendering of shadow and lighting is consistently good, and the half-human/half-animal characters have solid designs. Unfortunately, the composition choices throughout make these elements hard to appreciate as everything feels cramped. Tiny panels are frequently laid out in grids that don’t leave enough room for the action to breathe; text and imagery overlap each other in an ugly, smushed fashion and it’s frequently difficult to tell what is actually happening. A lot of Itokichi’s raw skill is evident throughout this volume, but their page layouts render said skill moot.
Overall, Merman In My Tub Vol. 1 is a disappointing read. Itokichi’s work shows a lot of potential, both artistically and when it comes to crafting unique characters. Unfortunately, the actual execution throughout is poor. The page layouts are detrimentally cramped, the characters don’t grow, and much of the humor is flat-out unfunny. I can’t in good faith recommend this volume.