Story and Art by Tsutomu Takahashi
Original Publisher: Shueisha (2002)
Length: 3 Volumes
Blue Heaven was, at times, an engaging manga that I kept me connected throughout my read. Its ability to combine unrelated themes in way that was succinct and flowing was very impressive, and made it hard to predict what was going to happen next. However, what is considered to be its best trait, its characterisation, was a big let down for me, with most characters being stripped down to an appeal for emotion.
Our story takes place on the worlds largest luxury ship, the “Blue Heaven”, which has taken off on a glamorous voyage. Not long into their journey, the vessel comes across a ship wreck, and are able to rescue two male survivors. The destruction left on the ship seems odd, but is ultimately overlooked in the heat of the moment. One of the rescued men, after being rescued, joins in with the thousands of passengers, and begins to slaughter other patrons and staff. It becomes the job of the crew to uncover this man’s identity, and save the unknowing passengers from a grim demise.
The story was… something else. When I think about it, I laugh, but I also commend the Takahashi because somehow he pulled it off. The plot seems pretty cut and dry. A serial killer has entered the ship, and its now the job of the crew members to capture him before he finds his next victim. However, as more characters are introduced, and their intentions for being on the ship are revealed, the line between right and wrong is blurred. We go from a classic murder-mystery to a resurgence of nazism, and then to a recreation of the Titanic. On top of that it also tried to explore themes of humanity, particularly the inherently evil aspects of it.
It’s a lot for 24 chapters, and all in all it wasn’t always pulled off well, though I think these little arcs were necessary. Based on other plot points, an example being how early the author revealed the serial killer’s backstory, meant that more mysteries/dangers had to be added so the audience still felt a sense of anxiety about the direction of the story. I wont go into too much detail – so if you are interested in reading it you can without too many spoilers – but if you ask me to explain the entire plot to you, I would probably sound like a person slightly unhinged.
One issue I have observed in both long and short manga series are the importance of characters/characterisation. In longer manga series, authors feel compelled to insert new characters into their series as a method of refreshing the piece. After a few hundred chapters, creating groundbreaking storylines becomes more difficult, and adding something new like a character seems easier in order to entice readers to continue. In Blue Heaven, and other shorter manga, the complete opposite is more likely. We have a ship full of people, 99% of which I don’t know and the other 1% I’m still not that attached to. It will always be harder in shorter manga to have good characterisation, as one of the most important elements for development, time, is not on their side. Because of this, the characters in Blue Heaven, are treated like commodities. At first it was great; I didn’t know who was going to be killed next, and that made the story enticing. But after a while, you feel nothing for the deaths of characters you don’t know, and desensitise yourself to the ones you do (not that you’re that attached anyway).
The other major gripe I have with the characterisation can be summed up by something one of my friends said to me the other day; there is a difference between something personal and something creative. Due to the limited time a viewer will have to connect with the characters, Takahashi makes every backstory extremely traumatic, in an attempt to speed up the emotional connection a viewer may have with these characters. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on me; it either didn’t feel real enough to be taken seriously, or like purposeful angst coming from the author. I continued reading the piece out of interest for the story, but the characters themselves didn’t do much for me. The most I could say when someone go killed was ‘oh, was that the guy who…’ or ‘oh, I know that one!’
The art work was well done and remained consistent throughout the piece. The way in which the author shaded the characters added a sketchier vibe to them, and after reading it came across as a way to portray morality through outlines (which sounds quite bizarre to say). After all the heinous acts they partake in, the little black flicks emanating around the body look like evil auras, and while I doubt purposeful, could in someway reflect the internal nature of the characters. The way Takahashi played with scenes and plot development meant that he never shied away from gore, but it was never to the point where I had to separate myself from the manga to continue. I also really, really enjoyed the ending. The last few panels were both shocking and satisfying simultaneously; it felt like an ending fitting for this manga, which had fear weaved throughout it. It was the first time I read a manga and felt like the ending was so indicative of the manga that I almost wanted to continue reading.
Blue Heaven is a quick and anxiety-ridden read, capitalising on many fears inherent to humanity. The art isn’t what will bring new readers in, but it’s story is well worth the experience (even if it’s just to see how crazy it is). I would have liked some more authentic characters, not just ones that were created for the sole purpose of empathy, which made them feel like disposable card-board cut outs. It tried a bit too hard to do everything, and juggling all these ideas, even if they were great, really hindered this piece.