Kaiten Mutenmaru (回転むてん丸) is a trading card game series sold at Kura Sushi in Japan, a large chain of conveyer belt/revolving sushi restaurants. They also have a few US locations, called Kula (the cards are not sold there). The cards feature a range of colorful characters to collect, with a regular cast and ongoing storyline.
Shamu Meruruusa (シャム・メルルーサ, also Siam Merluza), the catgirl, is of note in particular – much like Astaroth of Shinra Bansho, her surge of popularity in Japanese fan art led to English speakers becoming aware of the character despite the lack of access to the Mutenmaru series. (More info on her specifically is further below)
Take a look at the early cards/characters and it may become apparent that, although it is aimed at children much like Shinra Bansho, it seemed to be going for a younger demographic. Stout, cute, and generally non-threatening little characters populate the world, revolving around the titular Mutenmaru. Joined by his childhood friend, the pink-haired Kurara, and granary mascot thing Kurayoshi, they fight the horned Tsubukante, with their stories told outside of the cards in a web comic. Sushi related puns abound.
Card packs contain only 4 cards, but go for a mere 50 yen. There are no starter packs necessary, as games can be played with only a few cards. Interestingly, the rules and accompanying card templates have changed completely on a few occasions – the links at the bottom of the series list provide the rules for each iteration.
The seventh chapter of the series, “Decisive Battle! Revival of Tsubukante”, marked the final appearance of the then regular archnemesis. Also, a tie-in with idol group Morning Musume was featured, with a few of them forming a unit called “Muten Musume” – Mutenmaru-style caricatures of its members appeared on a few cards as well as a music video for a Kura Sushi promotional song. That in itself wasn’t too unusual, but the addition of the rather blatantly named “Lolitako” character (tako = octopus) perhaps told of things to come…
The eighth installment marks a major shift for the franchise: Titled “First Chapter – The First Sea” (using “daiishou” for the chapter indicator rather than “daiichidan” like in the very beginning), Mutenmaru and friends now travel the world, facing a new group of antagonists and gaining new allies. While he and his old pals remain the same as ever, prominently featured are new, taller character designs with longer limbs – that is, more cool and sexy characters.
It appears to be an effort to retain the interest of aging fans, although it is speculated the considerably wilder characters are also intended to shoot well beyond such demographic lines (in other words: Helloooo otaku!)
So who is Shamu Meruruusa?
Introduced in the aforementioned “First Sea”, in the web comic, she appears in a dream of Mutenmaru’s foreshadowing the appearance of the new cast members. Following that, a series of events lead to Mutenmaru and his friends traveling overseas.
When they finally reach port at a city, his pals are almost immediately kidnapped and held for ransom by the Neko Neko Gang (Goutou-dan), led by Shamu. After a brief scuffle with Mutenmaru, they team up to fight a boxing pug terrorizing her gang members, and she’s introduced to the joys of sushi. Although they part ways, as the previous dream indicates, she’d be back soon.
She loves freedom and fighting strong enemies. This seems to be part of her motivation when she leaves the Neko Neko Gang to travel with Mutenmaru’s posse in chapter two (well, nine) “Journey of Light”. Ever since, she’s remained a part of the regular crew, and been featured just about as prominently as Mutenmaru himself in products and materials.
The “Siam Merluza” name writing is closer to the joke – a Merluza, of the Merlucciidae, is a type of fish. The popular rendering of “Shamu Meruruusa”, however, follows how the name is actually pronounced by the Japanese.
Where to Buy & Other Merchandise
Since the whole objective of the trading card game is to get kids to want to eat their sushi at Kura, you won’t find packs at places like Amazon or AmiAmi – but more than that, you won’t even find previously owned cards (so far I’ve only ever seen any on Yahoo Auctions). Search 回転むてん丸 on Japanese sites.
Kura does sell packs in batches online, although it is reasonably safe to assume they don’t offer international shipping. A proxy service or friend in Japan will likely be necessary.
On August 28th, 2014, the Z/X – Zillions of enemy X- trading card game (by Brocolli and Nippon Ichi Software) had a booster set release themed around Kaiten Mutenmaru, called Extra Pack 3 Kaiten Mutenmaru. This is a completely separate trading card series whose annual “Extra Pack” line has featured other franchises – as such, these cards are compatible with other Z/X cards, but not the actual Kura sold Mutenmaru cards. The art on the EP3 cards is a mix from the original series and some new artwork by various artists. The Z/X Wikia has more info, like card names and some translations.
This booster pack can be found at many places that stock hobby goods, including AmiAmi. These cards are also much easier to obtain second hand, and as a result, the cards you’ll see at places like Amazon.co.jp are all from the Z/X line (like this). This is important to keep in mind if you’re looking for ones from the actual original card series. Fortunately, the Z/X logo in the upper left is a dead giveaway.
Card protection sleeves, available with this article’s top image or Shamu herself. The latter is easily available through a number of normal channels, such as (American) Amazon and eBay at a various prices.
A mook, released in 2012, features images of all the cards up to that point and other material, like early character sketches. New copies include a pair of exclusive cards: One of Lolitako, and one of Shamu. (See photos of those cards here) It’s also on Japanese AmiAmi and Rakuten.
There’s a pair of books compiling the “First Sea” story arc of the web comic, in full color. They also contain additional material, like character profiles and previously unpublished artwork. The first and the second are both available on Amazon, and potentially other venues.
The Z/X booster pack also brought with it a slate of card accessories, including play mats, deck cases, card boxes, and even more character card sleeves. An AmiAmi search gives a good overview of what’s available. They’re also on Amazon.co.jp and other locations.
This being a bit of a simple info page, if you have any questions or information of your own to submit, a thread has been set up in our forum for all things Kaiten Mutenmaru. Of course, general talky talk is welcome too, so come on down!