6000: The Deep Sea of Madness 6000 ロクセン
Author: Nokuto Koike
Launched in 2010, 4 volumes and completed
Somewhere in the Philipines Sea, 6000 metres under water where neither the eyes of God or man can see lies a scientific facility once owned by a Japanese company. A tragic “accident” occurred in this underwater lab and it was abandoned for three years until a Chinese company buys the Japanese business and re-activates the facility.
Taking the ride is Kengo Kadokura, our lead character. He is a liason between his Chinese bosses and the Japanese workers but even before he takes the plunge under water he has misgivings about the endeavour not least because the two sides he is working with distrust each other.
At first, things seem to go well as Japanese engineers are hard at work getting systems restored, people placed in their quarters, and storerooms restocked. Kengo finds allies with engineer Miwa Kusakabe and computer programmer Nozomi Xia who aid him in getting things done but strange things trouble different people. Systems break down and lights go out in entire sections. Weird things are glimpsed outside the facility. Terrifying hallucinations and disturbing voices are reported in the station and the psychologist Sakura Amakasu is increasingly dealing out meds to keep people sane. Kengo himself is victim to some of these problems, more specifically visions of some of the previous workers on the facility, victims of the “accident,” appear as spectres hovering in corridors and speaking to him.
Things get a lot worse when a survivor is found in an abandoned storeroom. This man reveals what the accident really was and tells tales of the horrors that took place in the facility and company intransigence in dealing with it. As news spreads that the company hasn’t been too honest about what happened, people start dying in freak accidents as contact with the surface is cut. To get out Kengo, together with Miwa Kusakabe must discover the secret of the accident…
This being a horror manga, the secret is a bloody one and of course, being trapped underwater means that there’s nowhere to run when the chaos and carnage start. Nokuto Koike’s 6000: The Deep Sea of Madness takes its time to get to that point and builds a highly atmospheric world in the underwater facility.
From the start there is grumbling beteween people which acts as a drumbeat throughout the story. Kengo, as liason, we see being buffeted by the current of animosity running between the Japanese crew and their Chinese bosses over the dangers involved. The spice of nationalism is interesting, China’s reputation for authoritarianism and poor safety standards adding to the sense of threat faced by characters being pushed to their limits. With the rush to get systems working Chinese overseers act with arrogance, riding roughshod over individuals and keeping secrets. There is the sense that Kengo’s the bosses on the surface world view the workers under the sea as expendable and health and safety laws are going to be flaunted. Paranoia builds throughout the story before a drop of blood is spilt.
The paranoia is, at first, a workbased one and it is easy to relate to. It’s all about the difference between the blue and white collar workers and the lack of communication and trust between them and the acidents that occur. That paranoia then runs rampant and feeds into the growing sense of unease once we get down to the facility and there’s danger and no escape.
Once in the facility Koike’s meticulous art captures the high-tech and functional nature of the place with heavy machinery and workstations dotted in cramped corridors and tight crew quarters creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia and isolation.
The lack of sunlight, the constant energy blackouts, and the poor lighting ensure we get lots of black in the frames to show the shadows and darkness. Anybody who has been in total, absolute darkness will know just how disorientating and frightening this can be and you really do feel the sense of being unmoored and vulnerable when the lights go out and people are stuck in the middle of a non-descript empty corridor.
It’s a murky soup that characters peer into, something that allows the hallucinations to swim in and out of view.
Corridors stretch off into darkness and the facility seems like a labyrinthine pit.
It becomes extremely disturbing to turn the pages and view the frames as spectres from the past incident do turn up and haunt the characters. Nothing and nowhere feels safe. If being stuck 6000 metres under the sea sounds bad then this manga illustrates it excellently!
The feeling of being trapped and isolated with some unknown threat grows with the frequency of breakdowns and the ghosts that play on everyone’s mind. We see how the delusions make already tense relations between people fracture through arguments and fights, their paranoia and fear making them commit irrational and disastrous acts which happen frequently over the course of the four volumes of the manga.
The facility begins to warp as corridors alter forms, rooms become the locations of horrific flashbacks to the previous incident, and stairways become elongated beyond reason. Worse still, monsters start appearing.
The story loses steam when we find out the exact details of what happened three years’ ago, why this creepy facility is the site of hauntings. When it is a story of tensions growing because of the psychological strain of being undersea and paranoia over the surroundings and circumstances, when the dangers and the delusions are teased and shown, it is effective because without reason or context we are unmoored from reality and presented a series of nightmare visions and accidents that are unexplainable but then we get the reason for everything and it turns out to be supernatural and becomes a schlocky spectacle of bloodshed and grue.
That’s not necesarrily a bad thing but the careful tension and build-up is replaced by a story which becomes rushed and a little non-sensical. Characters start disappearing (and to me it feels as if it’s not because they turn into monsters or get killed but they get forgotten about), arbitrary rules are made and broken within a few pages, and characterisation is thrown out, most notably in Kengo’s female colleagues who start out tough and professional and sag into emotional wrecks.
Which is not to say that the manga gets bad, just that I felt it was disappointing that the atmosphere and the characterisation was short-changed in favour of a chase and escape from under the sea which is hurried through.
We still care because the art holds up and the atmosphere already built is potent. Kengo and Sakura’s race up a stairway, fleeing hoards a flesh-eating monsters, is heart-pounding stuff!
We also like the characters. Kengo as a hero is easy to relate to. One gets the sense that he is a normal guy who lacks a degree of confidence and is somewhat resentful of the difficult situation he is in but determined to get on with things and for the reader a good way into discovering the horrendous story at the heart of the facility. That he seems slightly inept at social interaction also helps make him human and feel vulnerable.
He forms respectful, though tense and interesting relationships with his co-workers, expecially Nozomi Xia, Sakura Amakasu, the engineer Miwa Kusakabe who emerges as something of a hero after she manages to hold everyone on the Japanese side of the facility together for most of the story.
I enjoyed reading this story because of the atmosphere and the psychological horror. The initial physical horror hits hard but as the manga accelerates towards its end and becomes a volume-long fight with a somewhat silly supernatural foe it loses what makes it great in terms of characterisation. The atmosphere saves it, though, and I recommend it just for the setting and paranoia of the initial volumes.