Nov 10, 2009
Archaeon (All reviews)
Most people will probably have heard of the 2005 Hollyood movie called "Dark Water", starring Jennifer Connelly. At the time, this was the latest in a stream of horror movies, the most famous of which is The Ring, that were originally spawned in Japan, China, Korea, etc, and had been remade because of their popularity with Asian audiences. It's unfortunate then that, while Hollywood may be capable of better special effects, the atmosphere in the original Eastern versions of many of these films is often far more gripping and, at times, terrifying.

However, Dark Water didn't begin as a movie, nor did it begin as a manga. Originally, the tale called "Dark Water" was part of a collection of short stories published in 1996 by Suzuki Koji, and was originally titled "Floating Water", while the original book was called "From the Depths of Dark Water". The collection was released in English in 2004 with the title abbreviated to just "Dark Water".

The manga adaptation, released in 2002, had an enormous amount of input from Suzuki himself. Working with manga illustrator Uchiyama Ko (Meimu), the pair managed to rework Suzuki's original collection into something easier to read. Now, one of the problems with adapting an existing written work into a visual form is that the end result will never be as the writer visualises it, and because of this there are quite often alterations made to plot development, setting, characterisation, etc, so that at least the essence of the tale is told (you know, all the important bits).

Because of this (and other), issues, the manga only features four out of the seven short stories, and while the spirit of the tales remains true to Suzuki's original work, each of the stories has been changed in certain, sometimes major, ways.

As with the original collection, each of the stories share no common ground other than that they all involve water in some way. The four stories - Dark Water (originally Floating Water), Island Cruise (originally Dream Cruise), Adrift, and Forest Beneath the Waves (originally Forest Under the Sea) - place a heavy emphasis on certain aspects of human behaviour. While it's true that there are some supernatural elements to certain stories, Suzuki downplays these in favour of a far more elemental perspective (i.e. that how humans treat each other is far more horrific than any supernatural entity could manage).

The tales, originally well crafted pieces of fiction, have made the transfer to manga reasonably well, even with the changes. The important aspects of the original stories have been maintained, and in some cases, enhanced (given the visual format). This makes certain scenes far more dramatic than they were in the original work, however the tales themselves do suffer from a certain "flatness", which is one of the biggest issues with adaptations of this kind. The reason for this is simple - the images created by our imaginations are always far more vivid and "real" than any pictures we see - "the book is always better" so to speak.

The artwork is pretty good throughout the manga, and is particularly suited to the content of each story. Although the imagery may appear "dark" because of the heavy black tones, stark contrasts, strongly defined lines, and "swirly" dark background effects, this is actually a purposeful measure to provoke a degree of "empathy" from the reader. Many manga with similar themes utilise similar techniques, and while there is nothing new or groundbreaking here in terms of art, what is there is well crafted and used.

The characters represent something of a problem. I could talk about characterisations and development, and the lack of it withing each tale, however doing so would completely miss the point of the entire work. The characters are simply tools for the story, nothing more, nothing less, and in this context they aren't bad at all. Each story, being a completely individual tale, naturally features different characters, each of whom are pretty decent within the confines of that story. That's not to say that the characters are excellent as, to be honest, most of them are fairly wooden. However, the important aspect of each tale isn't about how the characters think, feel or act. Instead, it is about getting the reader to think about what is actually going on.

In essence, Dark Water isn't so much a collection of short stories, but a collection of morality tales - parables if you will - about how a person's thought processes can become distorted, no matter the cause, and in these sorts of stories it is the message that is important. "The Good Samaritan" is a great example of how this process works, as nobody ever considers the Samaritan or the man he helps as "characters", while everyone remembers the message itself.

So, will you enjoy this? I certainly did, but then I'm partial to story that have a good degree of catharsis, and each of the tales in the collection do close off nicely. Dark Water is a long way from being a collection of "horror" stories though, even with the supernatural bits included, however fans of the original collection, or either of the movies, should definitely check this out. Fans of psychological tales may find this a rewarding read, especially with it's emphasis on human behaviour and distorted thinking.

On the whole, this is a good effort at adapting an existing work (I've seen worse, believe me). While there have been some alterations to settings, characters, plot points, etc, the essence of the original tales remains true. Although the movie adaptations placed more emphasis on the "horror" aspect of the titular story, it's nice to see that the manga has kept the focus firmly on the human perspective.

Whilst there are some issues with the plot development, the decidedly wooden characters, and the fact that our imaginations are "always better", the collection itself is more than the sum of it's parts. While each of the tales is pretty standard in their own right, as a themed collection they work very well together, imbuing the element of water with mysterious, humbling, and sometimes frightening, aspects.

All I need to do now is find another collection of one-shots that are just as good, and that aren't cheesy shoujo highschool romances.