REVIEW: Beware of Spirals: Uzumaki, Junji Ito

Uzumaki by Junji Ito, manga, horrorUzumaki by Junji Ito, 2nd edition published October 2007 by Viz Media, 208 pages. Ito is the master of manga horror. Oh, yes, I’m very familiar with his work having read Museum of Terror about a young woman men are mesmerized by and who end up killing her only to have her come back to life again and again. In Uzumaki, Ito manages to make a simple “spiral” into a thing of sheer terror for a small town off the coast of Japan. There are six chapters in this first volume and the artwork and story was good enough to leave me still thinking about it after the last page was closed.

The townspeople of Kurozu-cho have been experiencing some weird and unexplainable events of late. The story is narrated by Kirie Goshima, a high school student who witnesses these weird and inexplicable events with her boyfriend, Shuichi.  Shuichi feels that the town is cursed and wants to leave. He’s been agitated, withdrawn and depressed. He pretty much sets the eerie tone of the story leading readers to think that something just isn’t quite right here.

There have been increased whirlwinds and dirt devils throughout the town. The sky has a weird spiral shape to it as does the ocean. Shuichi’s father has been acting strange, seemingly obsessed with spiral patterns – in everything. It’s an obsession that has kept him from work and makes him respond violently towards his family when they try to intervene. Needless to say, these strange events start to get really creepy with Shuichi’s father. He starts doing things that isn’t humanly possible and eventually this causes his wife to develop a phobia of spirals that ultimately leads to her own self-destruction.

Ok, I know what many of you are thinking: what could Ito do with a spiral to make it so scary? I was quite cynical myself thinking this would be a quick read that wouldn’t scare me. Wrong. It’s not so much that the artwork is brilliantly creepy but that the author is able to psychologically get inside your head and make you believe in the bizarre. Ito does make you squirm in your seat. I know I muttered a “you got to be kidding me'” more than a couple of times throughout the stories and any time a panel would show the characters being freaked out by what they saw, I dreaded turning the next page to see what it was they were horrified to see. Of course, I was rewarded with disturbing images of spirals that are anatomically impossible to duplicate on the human body.

The weakest story for me was “The Scar” about a young girl who purportedly has a scar on her forehead that has the power to seduce men unwillingly. Turns out her scar is a spiral that mesmerizes young men. It wasn’t as creepy as say the first two stories, “The Spiral Obsession: Parts 1 and 2″ respectively, which gets an A from me just from the brilliant portrayal of someone who loses their mind and then self-destructs.

The power of the mind to make you believe in what is not there is truly amazing and mysterious. Then there’s the story titled, Twisted Souls, of two star-crossed lovers whose parents insist on keeping them apart; the spiral seems to be portrayed as some type of infestation that has the power to control the behavior of people and to make them do things that the body isn’t capable of doing. In this case, the two lovers elongate and twist their bodies tightly together like two snakes and disappear into the ocean.  Illustrations like that will give you chills and there is more of that throughout all the stories.

Next story that I enjoyed was “Medusa” which was another creepy tale where Kirie gets up close and personal with the spirals that have been plaguing the town. One day her hair has grown curls that she cannot control. They are spiral shaped and when she tries to cut her hair, the spirals try to strangle her. The story ends with a cliffhanger and I’m torn: I want to read it yet I don’t. I really don’t but I know I will.

If you enjoy horror then you shouldn’t miss this one. I keep telling myself that I should really stick to all that is sweet and light but I can’t help it. I enjoy the weird and the bizarre from time to time. Ito is amazing, to take something so simple as a spiral pattern by taking that image and terrorizing you with it. The terror is more cerebral than anything else. The artwork is excellent but then what do I know as I am still navigating this genre.  There is graphic violence which is to be expected within this genre. I think I may visit this town again; it’ll have to be short-term visit as I see Ito has a third volume coming out next month. Usually, I could only read one or two of these types of books a year, tops. Looks like I’ll make an exception here. 

My grade overall, B+ because I was surprised that this graphic novel surpassed my expectations of a silly horror novel and elevated it to one that was downright scary, unpredictable and well written. I did enjoy the afterword by the author at the end where he discusses with illustrations, that had an added touch of humor in discussing his research behind the “spiral.”

On it’s face, spirals are boring and harmless patterns. The fact that the author manages to make it menacing and terrorizing is what got me.  After reading this book, I’ll never look at a spiral the same way again (if I look at one at all). Thank you Ito, for that. Not.

[tags]Graphic Novels, Junji Ito, Spirals, Uzumaki, Manga Review[/tags]

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Grade B Reviews, Graphic Novels and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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