First off let's get one thing straight, Uzumaki has nothing to do with a certain blonde spikey
haired ninja, if You're looking for that you'll need to go elsewhere. If you're looking for one of the best horror themed graphic novels you can get your hands on, you'll be right at home.
Uzumaki isn't what most Americans would think of as your typical Japanese Horror manga. There aren't long haired shrine
maidens, no forbidden rituals, haunted video tapes, or vengeful ghosts, in fact pretty much no religion and no hauntings. What is does have though, is disturbing imagery, bizarre paranormal events and a complete descent into to madness.
Uzumaki translates into Spiral and tells the story of how an entire town becomes fixated, contaminated and possessed by the evil of the spiral. The concept seems completely silly at first, barring the hypnotism angle, spirals seem pretty benign. They are among the common and most primitive of human symbols Additionally, if you believe in Fibonacci's Spiral the entire world is possessed by spirals and most of us to seem to have gone crazy yet. But Junji Ito really pulls it off and while you may not be quaking in your bed after reading it, you should definitely be feeling some mental discomfort.
The story is told through the main character, Kirie. A pretty young girl who lives in the town with her parents and younger brother. One day she comes across her boyfriend's father staring at a snail shell on a wall, she attempts to talk to him, but he ignores her and she chalks it up to a case of mistaken identity. She tells her boyfriend, Shuichi about the incident who is sure that it was his father and that lately he has becomes completely obsessed with spirals and has been collecting them. Shuichi also confides in her that he feels that there's something wrong with the town, something that will drive them both crazy if they stay there. His father's obsession becomes worse and worse, until he decides he no longer needs the spiral collection, because he himself has the ability to become a spiral. This culminates in a particularity disturbing scene of his death. Stranger still, he is when cremated a column of black smoke spirals into the sky before spiraling down again into the dragonfly pond in the center of the city, and right next to Kirie's home. Shuichi's mother is driven mad after her husbands death and fears spirals. She becomes determined to rid body and environment of them, dying in the process. When she's cremated, the same smoke incident occurs and that's just the beginning.
Soon the towns people become stranger and stranger. More bizarre events and unexplained deaths begin happening and with every death and cremation the column of smoke spirals into the sky and down into the pond. Shuichi tries to convince Kirie that the town is contaminated and possessed by the spiral, things happen there that don't happen in other towns: swirling of the clouds, whirlwinds, whirlpools, and curled plants and begs her to leave with him before it's too late. Naturally Kirie believes he's just stressed after the deaths of his parents, but soon she founds out he was right and she and her family become contaminated by the spiral, but it's too late to leave.
The story gets progressively darker and more disturbing chapter by chapter as the true madness of the "spiral contamination" really starts to grip the town. As you follow the characters, it very easy to like them and really feel for their plight. Their circumstances are completely fantastic and not something we'd every really expect to see, but the character themselves react in ways that are human and normal. You believe that these people could really exist, they just happened to have been caught in a wave of bizarre and frightening circumstances. Which is exactly the sort of thing that scares us the most. That being said I do think a couple of chapters were missteps. Medusa in particular was just absurd as far as I'm concerned and really broke the mood. Having a hair battle isn't scary, it's funny. To be fair there's a bit of dark humor throughout, but a whole humorous chapter (if even that wasn't the intent) definitely breaks the suspense. I wasn't a big fan of the "mollusk people" either, it seemed to be going for something Like Kafka's Metamorphosis, but instead of conveying the sort of bleak misery and desperation of that story, the mollusk people just seem silly.
Graphically this manga looks older which might be a turn off to some readers. The character themselves remind me more of old shoujo characters than the sort of gritty style that I'd expect to see in horror. And there's it's not the same slick heavily shaded gore you'd find in something like Battle Royal. However, the imagery is fantastic, it's dark, detailed, disturbing and highly effective. The Mosquitoes, Jack in the Box and Black Lighthouse chapters in particular have some of the worst (the image is from black lighthouse). I won't post it here but there's an image in the mosquitoes chapter that gives a particularly warped and disturbing look at at childbirth and motherhood, probably one of the most disturbing images in the entire series and one that will stick with you long after you've closed it. The characters are extremely expressive, Ito does fantastic job of showing their wide range of emotions. Fear, disgust, horror, sadness, concern, determination and even love are all portrayed with accuracy and believability.
Uzumaki deserves it's place among horror classics, it's go great writing and fantastic imagery. Even if you're not interested in "traditional"J-horror, anybody with even a passive interest in the horror should read this. I've read a lot of horror comics and I can say this is one of the finest examples of the genre, from east or west.
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