Manga Review – Uzumaki, by Junji Ito

by King on October 31, 2014

I’m not by any means a manga nor anime aficionado, but whenever I explore a medium I try to look into its past to see where it’s headed as well as to better understand the foundation of said media. That being said, growing up part Asian and having watched my fair share of shounen anime, the first things that popped into my mind when I hear the word “Uzumaki” are the fish cakes my mother would sometimes garnish our meals with, and the eponymous character from the popular anime/manga “Naruto” – surprisingly, Uzumaki (the manga) has more to do with the former, rather than the latter.

I stumbled upon the title Uzumaki, by Japanese master of horror and dementia Junji Ito, almost entirely randomly while reading a Reddit AMA by Guillermo del Toro, who cited Junji Ito as one of his favorite mangaka (particularly titles Gyo and Uzumaki). I’m a bit of del Toro fan myself, having loved Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and of course Pacific Rim, so I was intrigued by anything that he would claim to have actually scared him. This prompted me to go to my school library, grab all three volumes (20 chapters in total, 1 of which is an ‘extra’), and plow through them without hesitation. I spent a good part of that weekend reading and digesting the story and its themes and I’d have to say – it more than delivers on its hype.
Taking place in the modern day (modern as per 1998-1999, when it was in serialization) in the small town of Kurozu-cho, Japan, Uzumaki delivers an unyielding tale of horror and madness through the perspective of high school students Kirie Goshim and Shuichi Saito, who begin to realize there is a much more sinister, hidden nature to the town in which they’ve grown up. Trouble starts as Shuichi notices his father gaining an uncanny obsession with spirals, and spiral shaped objects/phenomena. This obsession persists and evolves to the point of the father’s behavior becoming more and more fanatical, to the point of worship of “the spiral,” and his family’s relationships becoming more and more strained. This is probably the tamest of the occurrences detailed throughout the series, as “the spiral” makes itself more and more present as the chapters carry on, to the point of full blown supernatural occurrences. When dealing with the madness that is “the spiral,” all sense and reason are quickly lost.

The series is strongly interconnected and while several chapters have a more isolated story to them, most of the chapters serve in feeding into the overarching plot and themes. The events of the story all revolve around spiral shaped objects, occurrences, events, and the like, even if such things are more metaphorical in nature, rather than bearing the true semblance of a “spiral.” This all builds towards the grand motifs of the story such as madness, obsession, and attraction, which all build off of the same symbolism of the spiral shape. Of course this is where our title is derived from, as ‘uzumaki’ (うずまき) can be translated to mean spiral, whirlpool, or other similar words/concepts.

Overall, this is one of the best manga, as well as graphic novels, that I’ve ever read. It screams of the traditional Japanese horror vibes present in “The Ring” (Ringu) and “The Grudge” (Ju-On) and honestly some scenes were so disturbing to me that they’re basically etched into my mind. The only complaints I would have about this would be that for come cases the stretching of the “spiral” metaphor and symbolism seemed a little forced; but regardless this was not present enough for me to discredit the manga as a whole. I recommend this for fans of graphic novels in general, ESPECIALLY those who are more inclined to horror works, and this series was good enough that I plan on adding it to my personal library once I have a bit more disposable income.
Story:                          4/5
Art:                              4/5
Re-Readability:          3/5
Novelty:                      5/5

Total:                          4/5



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