Review: Uzumaki (Manga)

Since it is October, the month of spooky ghosts and monsters, I thought it would be fun to write a blog on something frightening! Uzumaki might not make you scream or jump out of your seat, but it will certainly make you uncomfortable with its insanely detailed art. Hope you guys enjoy me talking about it!

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Story and Art By: Junji Ito

Published By: Viz Media

For those not in the know, Junji Ito is known somewhat iconically in the manga industry for his amazing work with the horror genre. Most of his work are just one chapter shots, each one telling its own unique (and disturbing) story. I haven’t actually ever gotten around to reading all of his works, even though they are all pretty short yet incredibly interesting reads. One of the few works of his I have read over the years is his most notable work, Uzumaki. In it, Junji Ito takes a fairly mundane and normal construct and twists it into a dark tale of a town gone mad and the supernatural events that occur.

Story

At its core, Uzumaki is the story of the town Kurôzu-cho and all of the crazy, frightening events that transpire there as the town descends into madness. It all starts when Shuichi Saito’s father becomes transfixed with looking at things with spiral patterns. It doesn’t matter what it is, be it snails or works of art with spirals on them, Saito’s father spends hours upon hours looking at them and analyzing them. This becomes a central theme to Uzumaki, which literally translates to spiral in English. The spiral is mesmerizing, causing the viewer to follow the pattern to its center.

Other people in town soon start to exhibit strange or outright frightening behavior as they too become cursed by the spiral. Some people walk in circles, supernatural events involving a birthmark turning into a tunneling spiral through someones head and a lighthouse that turns on every night for no reason all happen one after another. These events keep piling up and escalating to the point where it is clear nothing in this town is normal, and it is clear that the citizens need to leave immediately. The problem is no one really knows about all the happenings going on, and those who do are already cursed or try to explain the events away with logic.

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This brings me to one of my main complaints with the story of the manga, being that it follows the stereotypical horror thread that all the characters don’t believe what is happening. Those who do know whats going on choose to stay in the town for some reason I cannot comprehend, leaving it hard to believe anyone who was not already under the influence of the spiral would actually be still living in the town. The main characters are two such people, who are constantly seeing some of the most horrifying stuff imaginable. Why they just didn’t pack up and leave is beyond me.

Aside from the rather stereotypical plot structure of Uzumaki, I quite enjoyed Ito’s take on a town gone mad as supernatural forces take hold. Most of the events that take place in the town were unique and twisted, showing interesting ways in which a spiral pattern can be used in horror. The overarching plot that starts to take shape in the later half of the manga is also interesting and gives off vibes of lovecraftian horror. As the town spirals more and more into madness (in a very literal sense) we start to see that there is some greater being or power at work here that is warping the entire town of Kurôzu-cho.

Characters

The characters of Uzamaki were not very interesting to me. Most side characters that are introduced outside of a handful were introduced and killed off in the same chapter. It made it hard to really get to know much about these characters outside of the few quirks Ito shows off that usually relates to their eventual demise. As for the main characters, I never really cared for either of them.

Kirie Goshima’s defining trait is her ability to not lose her mind despite the insane supernatural events that happen to her. Everything from zombie attacks, hair that moves on its own and sucks the life from you, and witnessing people turn into giant slug monsters happen before her eyes. For some reason though, no matter how insane these events are the thought of just leaving the town never really crosses her mind. Instead she just shrugs it off as “another weird thing that has happened in town” and continues on as if everything is normal.

Kirie’s boyfriend Shuichi Saito occupies the opposite end of this spectrum, as he is incredibly paranoid about spirals and thinks that the town is cursed. He acts in a way I would think most characters would act in these situations. He refuses to think that the events transpiring in town are weird misunderstandings or his imagination. He tries to get Kirie to leave town with him because he is afraid of the curse. He acts like a reasonable person would under his circumstances. Out of all the characters, I thought Shuichi was the most believable and interesting of the bunch, as his reactions and thoughts on the incidents occurring in town were what I was expecting.

Art

The art of Uzumaki is where the series shines, and this holds true for all of Ito’s works. He is the master of drawing horror, creating amazing panels full of grotesque and disturbing images. His art is greatly detailed, often making excellent use of shading and realism to make sure his art is able to maximize the horror it strikes in readers.

There are many instances of jaw dropping, unsettling images throughout Uzumaki. Some have become somewhat iconic, such as the lady with half of her face missing as a spiral bores through her head. These images stayed with me long after I first read Uzumaki, and still creep up in my thoughts every now and again causing a spine shivering cringe. It’s not that Ito’s art is frightening, its just so unsettling that I often just wish I hadn’t seen it so the images wouldn’t be stuck in my mind.

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The normal panels that don’t have anything horror related are also very well done. Its not the case where his art drops off during less crucial scenes and ramps up as the climax of each scene comes up. The artwork remains excellent throughout, and I would be hard pressed to try and remember any particular scene or panel that stood out as having less than gorgeous artwork. If there was no other reason to give Uzumaki a read, I would still tell people to give it a shot based off of its amazing visuals alone.

Personal Enjoyment

Uzumaki was a crazy ride that kept me hooked from beginning to end. The disturbing imagery used was unsettling to say the least, and Ito’s ability to perfectly layout his panels to maximize its impact really shines in this manga. Ito is the master of suspense when it comes to manga, creating a visual flow in his panels that often keep the reader on the edge of their seat right up until they have to flip the page, only to be greeted with some grotesque monstrosity.

Uzumaki is a unique horror experience you aren’t going to find anywhere else. Though it may be lacking in character development and the story progression takes a back seat for a good chunk of the middle section, this brand of horror isn’t something you get to experience all too often. It takes a relatively mundane thing (a spiral pattern) and twists it into all kinds of crazy stories. Uzumaki is the type of horror that will stay with you for quite a while, lurking in the back of your mind. I may not have had to turn on the lights or watch my back because I was so scared, but every now and again I’ll think of one of the many images Ito constructed in this manga that sends a shiver down my spine. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Recommendation: Read It

If You Liked It, Also Try

Gyo: Another one of Junji Ito's works. More grotesque imagery, and another unique take on horror. Also, check out Junji Ito's one shot's for more of his work (and some of his best).
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