Dark Water (Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara)
Original story by Koji Suzuki, art and adaptation by Meimu
Original Publication: Kadokawa Shoten (2002)
Length: One volume (5 Chapters)
We have now entered October, AKA the month of spooks. And what better way to celebrate the halloween month than by discussing a completely underwhelming horror manga that really shouldn’t exist. Dark Water is an adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s novel of the same name. Suzuki is a very established author, known for “The Ring” series, which inspired the 2002 cult film, widely considered one of the most frightening films to date. From this standpoint, you may think that nothing could go wrong here. We have a talented author providing a frightening story (I must assume I haven’t read the novel), and all we needed was a talented author to add the visuals to create a truly horrifying experience. Somehow, the adaptation has the complete opposite effect, maiming what is considered by many as an exceptional horror anthology. I’m going to discuss the themes Suzuki focuses on in his work, and how effectively they were portrayed in my experience with the manga.
Dark Water contains a series of unrelated short stories, all of which revolve around water. Whether it’s out on a boat or in a tank, the compound transcends its chemical routes and plays a key theme in the stories. All the stories take place in modern suburbia, which emanates madness, betrayal, and most importantly, horror.
When discussing this adaptation, it’s also important to remember that Suzuki worked closely with illustrator Uchiyama Ko (Meimu) in order to rework the stories as effectively as possible. This was a complete surprise to me, because my read of it would indicate otherwise. The artwork was… lacking. There were no gripping visuals that left me hooked to the stories. When reading a novel, the language used creates a world, but based on reader interpretation there will be thousands of unique worlds based on each person’s perception. Your language must be effective to create an immersive scene, but sometimes the form it takes is entirely up to the reader. When using a visual medium, this imaginative world building is in some ways limited, as the world has been displayed for us. When a world full of blank panels and awkwardly drawn movement is revealed, it cuts the tension from the story for the reader, creating a very disappointing experience.
The stories themselves feel horribly paced. In each story, all non-creepy parts are rushed through in order to get to horror-related scenes. In a way, it seems ironic. The manga doesn’t realise that what makes many of these scenes so frightening is the more mundane scenes, where both characters and a sense of stakes are established. It focuses so much on the scary stuff that there really isn’t any, and below average visuals don’t help with a lack of tension.
Suzuki has stated that these stories were an attempt to explore various themes concerning morality and humanity. While each piece is seemingly unconnected, the inclusion of water links each tale while discussing different ideas. It was very difficult to extract these themes from the stories, as every aspect of this manga tries to bury them. The characters are completely hollow – they’re only used to progress the plot, and to have a human character that can interact with the supernatural things that the manga focuses so much on. The world depicted is incredibly dull, and a lack of artistic depth prevents the creators from subtly implying these deeper themes visually. Even when it shies away from horror and tries to focus on the complex psychology of humanity, it fails at that too. It’s hard to create tense psychological tales with characters who, at times, lack any form of cognition.
Dark Water was not a good piece. Nor was it an enjoyable piece. Considering the foundations of this manga, that being a novel to base all of its content on, I’m surprised this was the final product. If you’re looking for a scary piece, or even a piece that has any form of substance to it, this probably isn’t for you. I’m sure there are positives to be extracted here, I just couldn’t find them.
Art – 4
Story – 5
Writing – 4
Overall – 4/10