Manga review: Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

I wasn’t sure about writing this review at first, because, well, I usually don’t review manga. Then again, I usually don’t read manga. I’ll freely admit it’s a ripe storytelling medium, and one I’ll indulge in from time to time, but not my go-to source of entertainment. And then there’s the matter of my blog itself- there are a lot of other blogs out there that cover Japanese media in far more depth than I ever could.

But today, I think I’ll make an exception for Junji Ito’s Uzumaki.

Uzumaki is a series I’d heard about in my various internet roamings before, and I’d even seen a few scanned pictures here and there- just enough to give me a general idea of what it was about. I found the first two volumes of the manga (the 2001, mirror-flipped to read like western comics release by Viz) in a used bookstore, and I figured I’d check it out.

Fast forward a week or so, and I’d devoured those volumes, which prompted me to bite the bullet and buy the fancy ass hardback collected edition so I could find out how everything ended. I suppose if a work can inspire me to do something like that, it must be doing something right.

Anyway, Uzumaki is the story of a sleepy coastal town in Japan that’s haunted. Haunted by spirals.

This isn’t a euphemism or anything- it’s the shape of the spiral itself that’s haunting the town. It sounds like a somewhat ridiculous concept…and that’s because it is. At the same time, Ito does all kinds of fun (read: horrible) stuff with the idea, touching on the various ways in which spirals show up in both technology and nature. Springs, snail shells, weather patterns, and so on. They’re all springboards for Ito to go off on some grody tangent.

This sort of thing can get absurd- and that’s just fine, as the best works of Horror can take something wonderfully mundane (and thus familiar) and twist it to the point where it becomes gloriously disturbing to the audience. Heck, one of Lovecraft’s best stories is about an alien color (sorry, colour).

Uzumaki is Lovecraftian…but only in the best ways. There’s no mention of Great Old Ones or the Necromonicon or Arkham or any other old tropes, which have been subsumed into general geek culture. Even better, there’s none of Lovecraft’s bad-even-for-his-period racism. Too many original Lovecraft stories rely on “Oh no, it’s the degraded negroes/chineeman/moslems/dutch/other non-WASP’s!” as an element we should be horrified by.

Instead, The Spiral Curse (and it kind of cheapens the whole phenomenon to list it as such, but I digress) is strange, alien, and inexplicable. There’s little explaination of how or why the spiral manifests in Uzumaki, it just…happens. And when it does happen, it typically leaves someone horribly twisted in its wake. Ito really has a talent for drawing gruesome body-horror. Seriously, I’m being good and not posting the REALLY greebly stuff.

It gets worse than this. Isn’t that neat?

I will say I enjoyed the first two volumes of Uzumaki more than the third. It starts off fairly episodic, with each chapter ending on a properly stomach-turning little kicker, one way or another (my favorites are the chapter about the snails and the one about the girl with the scar on her forehead). The third volume kind of slowed down a little bit, in my opinion…but I think that’s mostly ’cause there was a few chapters that had more of a post-apocalyptic vibe as opposed to the ‘creeping horror,’ feeling. The series still ends strong, though- and again, it’s wonderfully Lovecraftian without having to name-drop Cthulhu or Nylarhotep or whatever.

Another interesting thing about this manga is the fact that it shows, well, poor Japanese people. Maybe Japanese poverty is just not something I’m familiar with, so I don’t know what to look out for- or maybe it’s just because most media (no matter what the country of origin), tends to focus on the rich and fabulous. Regardless, there are a couple of characters laid out as explicitly poor throughout the chapters of Uzumaki, which requires them to live in cheap and dilapadated row-houses…which, naturally, are haunted. By spirals, natch.

In any case, Uzumaki was a rather fun (if messy) read, and a pretty solid introduction to Junji Ito’s work- I’m gonna keep an eye out for more manga by Junji Ito in the future- I’d like to read Gyo sometime, at least.

Though, as much as I enjoyed Uzumaki, you’d at least think someone would notice after the second or third spiral-mutant started running around town. Just saying.

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