Last week's work was...well, not so pleasant. This week, though, let us descend into madness with the poor souls of this week's review...
UZUMAKI (Spiral), by Junji Ito. First published in 1998, and first published in North America in 2002.
PLOT: Kurozu-cho is a sleepy, dreary seaside town. It would be, under any other circumstance, completely unremarkable, but Kurozu-cho is slightly different. Its residents are slowly being consumed by a collective obsession about spirals. It begins with Shuichi Saito's father, who becomes so obsessed with spirals that he begins to physically take on that form himself. The madness spreads from person to person: Shuichi's mother, his classmates, even his girlfriend Kirie is not immune. The obsession manifests in different ways, but it always results in twisted minds and equally twisted bodies. Will the entire town surrender to this downward spiral of insanity?
STORY: Uzumaki is a strange, distrurbing manga to read. I was not suprised to learn that one of Ito's influences was H. P. Lovecraft, as their works both share a claustrophobic, paranoid tone. Instead of horrors too great and interdimensional to describe, though, Ito's work focus on body horror, on what happens when emotions such as obsession, vanity, and paranoia twist the body as well as the mind, dragging the victim towards ruin and death. It's a somewhat obvious metaphor to base your manga around, but I can't deny that it's an effective one.
Sadly, this manga sacrifices deep characterization for that masterfully spooky tone. The stories are episodic, so outside of Shuichi and Kirie there aren't any other characters that carry over the chapters, so they don't get a lot of development outside of their single chapter. The one exception to this is Shuichi himself, who is probably the closest thing to a main character in Uzumaki. Even before the spiral madness begins, he is restless and yearns to leave the town. His family are the first to be affected by the spiral, and after their deaths Shuichi becomes gaunt and paranoid. He goes from a relatively normal young man to Kurozu-cho's equivalent of Cassandra, a prophet who tries to warn others about the danger of the spiral but is never heeded until it is too late.
It also doesn't offer a lot of explanations as to where and why the spiral madness began. It clearly manifests itself in physical, organic forms such as smoke, clay, and the human body itself, but does it come from an organic source? Is it inorganic? Supernatural? Future volumes may provide an answer, but I wouldn't be surprised if that answer never comes. After all, what is more frightening than a horror with no apparent cause and no apparent cure?
Uzumaki is a fascinating and dark mood piece, a whirlpool of physical and psychological horror that is nigh impossible to resist once you start reading.
ART: The most notable thing about Ito's artwork is his skill in bringing out the physical horror of the story. We see these characters twist their limbs into spirals, stab and slice them off their bodies, and even see their hair turn into a living, hypnotic mass of spirals and it's always fascinating and awful to behold. It's just a shame that he's not so great with more subtle emotions. The character designs are very realistic looking (to provide all the better contrast to their unrealistic transformations), but they're also rather stiff and inexpressive. The backgrounds are nicely drawn, with plenty of detail to spare and practically drenched in shadow and hatching, highlighted by the larger panel sizes. Overall, the artwork for Uzumaki is dark, detailed, but rather stiff until the horror begins. Then Ito lets loose and that stiffness is twisted into unearthly abominations of nature.
PRESENTATION: There are a couple of color pages in the front, as well as a brief omake in the back about Ito doing research for this manga. The copy I read was from the first printing, so it is both oversized and flipped, as typical for older Viz releases.
Uzumaki may be notorious for its body horror, but it should also be noted for crafting a masterful slow-burning tone of creepiness and despair that makes just as much of an impression as the twisted limbs and screaming faces.
This is published in the USA by Viz. All 3 volumes were released, and are currently in print.
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