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Steven J. Mepham

Spoilers for Castle Swimmer Season 1 and mini season. If you have not read Castle Swimmer I strongly urge you to check it out before reading this post.

Since my discovery of Castle Swimmer, I have become somewhat of a stalwart fan of Wendy Lian Martin’s creation. Castle Swimmer is an endearing tale of overcoming adversity accepting one’s place and fighting for what you believe in. It poses a simple yet robust question that centers around where a person’s worth is found. A question that Wendy Martin explores in a clever, brilliant and exponential way.

The beauty of Castle Swimmer is found within its flirtation with grey morality. Should the beacon fulfil his duty for the happiness of others and live his life in servitude to the prophecies that bind him? Should Siren be protected relentlessly by his people so he can live up to the expectations prophecy has given him. Should he take a life in order to end the suffering of his people? These are but a small selection of the thematic essence of Castle Swimmer and the reason I am a keen fan of the series. This is the first of series that examines the world of Castle Swimmer and the elements that constitute it. In this part, I will look at:

  • Siren’s people & The curse
  • The beacon’s Prophecies.

Siren’s People & the Curse

The Shark people’s curse is an affliction that has no shape nor logic but is mercilessly vindictive. It causes even the most trivial of everyday tasks to be dangerous and as a result, beholding the Shark people is quite a harrowing affair. Whether old, young or in-between, they are all marred with an assortment of scars. As the tale of Castle Swimmer unfolds, we come to learn a lot about how the curse operates. But one thing above all else is certain: its cruelty is absolute.

The Shark people, Castle Swimmer Episode 3

The direct ramifications of the curse are reflected not only in the scars that its victims bear but in their home and culture as well. While the Shark’s Castle is an undoubtedly beautiful place, it is also showing vast signs of decay. We know that the curse has decimated its population, reducing it from over 20,000 to a few hundred within a century. In a similar vein to Nago the Boar god turned demon in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, Neris cursed the shark people on his death. But is this curse eroding not only their physical bodies and well being but their culture and history as well?

You will regret killing me. My blood is a poison that will curse you forever.

Feel my Hatred and Suffer.

The most striking thing about the curse is that in itself, it does not seem to affect the shark people. Whereas Nago’s curse (Princess Mononoke) left a brand on Ashitaka, Neris’ curse has no discernible mark. The marks that maim the shark people are not directly caused by the curse itself. If anything the curse operates by afflicting the Shark people with extreme bad luck, and low aptitude. I recall on my first read-through of Castle Swimmer I pondered whether the curse existed at all and if the wounds and injuries Siren’s people suffer was due to the state of their home. This belief was shown to be fallacious by the end of season one. There were enough examples of the curse at work for it to be incontrovertible that the curse did indeed exist and it was destroying its victims mercilessly. We see that the curse will often strike at exactly the wrong time, causing a spear to irrationally break, a wall to collapse. It seems to strike at the Shark people’ senses. Many are missing an eye, the pink scars that take them are often large. It made me wonder whether the curse not only causes accidents but hinders the Shark people’s ability to heal making their wounds maim them worse than one would expect. Wendy Martin has done an incredible job of making the ramifications clear, yet I cannot help but wonder if there is more we have yet to uncover. The biggest elephant in the room for me is why does Siren’s blood alone make it stop?

The Shark people, while constantly maimed, suffering and dying, are a cheerful and happy people. Their situation has forged a deep connection between them and even when they are suffering their instinct is to reach out to ensure others are ok, always putting the welfare of those around them, above their own. It is an endearing sight, one that makes the curse’s rampage harder to bear. In essence, these people are fundamentally kind and do not deserve the suffering and tragedy they endure. Or perhaps there is more to it. The Shark people, while undoubtedly burdened, endure their hardship, because the one thing they have that the curse has not soiled is their hope and their connection to each other. It seems to me that this has united them and makes the burdens they carry lighter. It is also why I suspect that the revelations in season one are going to have some severe ramifications on Siren and his people.

The problem with the Shark people’s curse is that it is difficult to define beyond actually existing. It isn’t like Ashitaka’s brand which slowly erodes his body, a creeping mark that we know will result in his death. No, for all purposes the Curse is invisible its effect a collection of accidents that seem more bad luck than malicious intent. Yet despite this, that is the very definition of a curse. The examples we have of the curse’s direct influence are few, but they are each powerful in their own right. First, we see Skiff’s spear shatter as though it was cut which causes the Barracuda to land a strike on him claiming his eye. We see a cave in bury some guards while Siren and Kappa are trying to escape finally, some stalagmites fall revealing Siren and Kappa. When considering these, there is an odd irony in the way the curse is operating. Siren never gets injured and yet, it is almost as if at times the curse works against itself. If the curse needs Siren’s blood to be broken, why would it shatter Skiff’s spear when he was protecting Siren from the Baracuda? Doing so would have inevitably led to Skiff’s defeat and then to Siren’s blood being spilt had Susca not intervened when she did. During the collapse which buried the guards, Siren could have been injured, it is possible this was the curse trying to help Siren to get away, after all freeing Kappa from the castle would delay the fulfilment of the prophecy and ensure the curse would endure. But this assumes the curse is sentient which I think is unlikely. Ultimately, the curse seems to be more than a mindless affliction as if it embodies the will and malice of Neris himself.

The Beacon’s Prophecies

Prophecy underpins Castle Swimmer ion a fundamental level. Inextricably connected to not only Kappa: The beacon but every denizen of the Castle Swimmer world. Kappa is the first Castle Swimmer character we meet in episode one. Where we swiftly learn that his purpose is to fulfil prophecy.

The first prophecy we see him fulfil is that of the Moorish, where he is prophesied to bless their castle with yellow flowers that will grand them the power to heal and eternal life. While Kappa is little more than a pup at this point when he fulfils the prophecy, his blessing bestows not yellow flowers but blue and the Moorish people reject them outright blaming Kappa for doing something wrong. This ends with an emotionally distraught Kappa running away from the Castle and finally asking an empty blue sea. (though aimed at the god of the surface)

Why were the flowers blue? Did I do something wrong?

This segment is important not only because it sets up Kappa’s purpose, but also because it underpins how the prophecies operate. It gives enough suggestion to foreshadow that the prophecies are not as accurate as they seem and therefore cannot be fully trusted. It makes us question the veracity of what we know. Our subsequent exposure to prophecy is along a similar vein to the Moorish people. Episode two set twenty years later introduces us to the varied prophies of Queen Nee, Queen Krilli and the over denizens of the castle colonies each of whom have individual prophecies. Looking at these from an objective standpoint each prophecy is intended to bring similar benefits to their respective people – prosperity. The Shark’s prophecy, however, is the exception to this. Its sole purpose is to redeem the Shark people, to release them from their curse by the shedding of blood.

Prince Siren of the castle of the Sharks. You mut kill the beacon. According to prophecy. Our only prince will slay The Beacon with a spear,And the curse that plagues our people will be broken. The Beacons divine blood will flow through our Castle. And bring all our suffering to an end. Thus, our prince will be known as the Shark’s savior

Queen Susca relating the Prophecy to Siren.

The first thing that strikes me about the Sharks prophecy is that it is directly related to its people. Whereas the other prophecies promise glowing yellow flowers that grant healing and eternal life, magic sand and an orb that will bring prosperity. While each of these is boon to their respective people, they are also only adding to the seeming peaceful lives of those people. Compared to these, the Shark’s prophecy is distinct first because it requires blood to be fulfilled and second that it provides a direct release from a preexisting phenomenon (the curse). While the other Prophecies are concerned with providing something. The Shark’s is the polar opposite and instead takes something away or perhaps restores the Sharks to how they were meant to be.

This then begs the question, why are the prophecies so different. The obvious answer is that the Sharks were cursed by Neris. We know the minor god attacked the Shark Castle allegedly unprovoked, but we do not know why. We were told that in a hundred years the Shark people’s population has been thinned from 20,000 to a few hundred and that the curse follows them no matter where they go and yet, there is a glaring problem with this claim. The Shark Castle is not new, it is dilapidated, contains ruined statues of the castle ancestors. Arguably, the statues could have been built in the early days when they first gave up moving from castle to castle and settled in the depths of the cave. but why then would stone statues, even those underwater look so aged? Though it has to be acknowledged they have no barnacles, or sea plants growing on them either. Which suggests they are either maintained or the Sharks have not resided in the castle for very long. If the latter is true, then the castle has undergone a higher rate of decay and dilapidation than one would expect unless of course they never tried to leave the castle itself which then raises the question of why would they believe that they did?

Looking at the Shark prophecy itself yields little clue to the conundrum. But there are a few clues within Susca’s words. However, any conclusion we gain must be tempered by the knowledge that she altered the meaning of the prophecy, though perhaps not its substance. Swapping Siren and The Beacon around we get

According to prophecy The Beacon will slay our only prince with a spear, And the curse that plagues our people will be broken. Our Prince’s blood will flow through our Castle. And bring all our suffering to an end. Thus, our prince will be known as the Shark’s savior .( or Thus, The Beacon will be known as the Sharks savior.)

While Susca swapped the roles of The Beacon and The Prince, the overall substance remains the same. Siren’s blood is proven to prevent the curse so we can consider the first three sentences to be valid. For the final sentence: ” Our Prince will be known as the Shark’s saviour” or “The beacon..” it does not matter who the subject is, both can be viewed as being valid. If Kappa did kill Siren, then the curse seemingly would be lifted and Siren’s sacrifice would mean he had become the Sharks Savior. Kappa’s act in slaying Siren would also make him the Shark’s Savior.

Another aspect to consider is the wall paintings themselves. We know that these were painted by Susca – that the walls were bare before Siren was born. However, episode 3 revealed the scrolls that Siren read as a child, and in them, the beacon was a multi-armed deity

While Susca’s paintings of the Beacon gave him a form similar to a Shark. The question that springs to mind is why? Why would the beacons depiction in the scrolls, which we know are the doctored source material be vastly different from their depiction within the other species prophecies? In each prophecy, the beacon is depicted as being similar to appearance to the species the prophecy relates to.

Whatever the reason may be, hopefully, some of these will be answered in Season 2. One thing is certain. Castle Swimmer may on the surface appear to be a coming of age love story between two individuals struggling under the weight of their duties. But scratch the surface but a little and you find a world brimming with character, creativity and above all depth. Wendy Martin has forged an exceptional series that is as thought-provoking as it is endearing. Keep an eye out for part two where I will be examing Prince Siren and Kappa and focusing on the dynamics of their development throughout season one.

Have something to say? Join the conversation by commenting below!

Castle Swimmer is available to read on Webtoons. Check it out by clicking the image below!

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