Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Uzumaki [3-in-1 Deluxe Edition]
There's something odd about the small town of Kurouzo-cho. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, the town is home to many strange old, abandoned row houses, and its inhabitants are quickly becoming strange. One day local teenager Kirie Goshima finds her boyfriend's father staring intently at a snail shell, and before long he appears to go mad, utterly obsessed with spirals. Kirie's boyfriend Shuichi begins to talk of the town being contaminated by spirals, but Kirie isn't sure she believes him...until it is too late.
In the town of Kurouzo-cho, strange things are happening. One day on her way home, teenager Kirie Goshima comes across her boyfriend Shuichi's father, crouched down in the road staring intently at a snail. When she asks him what he's doing, he responds with something about spirals. Before the end of the first chapter, he has slipped into a spiral-induced madness, seeking to become one with the shape in a way that is utterly bizarre and disturbing. To this man, the Spiral is All.
In his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote that “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” This is sound advice for the inhabitants of Kurouzo-cho, who at first see beauty and fascination in the many depictions of spirals that haunt their towns. This is best seen in the chapter about Kirie's father, who is a potter by trade, but it is suggested by Shuichi's dad, who asks for a special spiral pot. Essentially this is the bite that allows the disease to take root in others. By inviting the potter to go beneath the surface, he issues an invitation into the the spiral that will cause untold horrors.
As a horror manga, Uzumaki is very effective, something that readers may already be aware of, as this single omnibus volume is Viz's third release of the series; it was previously released in 2001 and 2007 with a live action film in 2000. If you've missed it, however, and a fan of horror stories, or simply never got around to buying it, this is a great opportunity to rectify the situation. With smooth hard covers and color pages, as well as the afterwards and lost chapter, the book is pleasant to the touch and looks good, although it is very heavy. The large size allows for almost all of the small details of Junji Ito's artwork to become apparent, and the observant reader will see small spirals everywhere, increasing in size as the terrors increase. Ito's artwork is heavily reminiscent of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s and 30s, with clear tributes to Vincent Van Gogh's well-known painting “The Starry Night” in many of the sky scenes. There is also a definite Surrealist note as well, to say nothing of horror imagery that could have been pulled straight from a hell scroll. All of these styles combine to create a highly unsettling visual world, one that is recognizably our own, but with touches of terror that imbue even the quieter scenes with a nightmare quality. It truly feels that to go beneath the surface of this art is to imperil your sanity.
Much as Uzumaki's art draws from earlier sources, its story has become something of a baseline for more contemporary horror series; perhaps the one that most quickly comes to mind is Shiki. There is a slow, ominous progression to the story that begins to snowball in the second of the compiled volumes, and by the end we can feel the inevitability of the outcome. Kirie serves as our entry point into the town, and the spiral's effects on her and those close to her is markedly slower than on others, creating a tenser atmosphere than all-out, fast-paced destruction of her world would. Shuichi is the Cassandra of Troy figure, something we as readers can recognize while the characters remain horribly oblivious. This grants Uzumaki elements of both horror (physical recoil) and terror (emotional recoil), creating a very effective piece of work.
Sight-sensitive readers will find Uzumaki overwhelming, and even those who are accustomed to the more habitual horror fare released by English language publishers may find themselves having trouble with the graphic nature of this book. The gruesome imagery runs the gamut from people turning into gelatinous mollusks to rapidly deteriorating zombies to some truly upsetting pictures of pregnant women, ensuring that there's something to make everyone uncomfortable. Volume two is the worst for my money, but it really will depend on what creeps or grosses you out. Chances are that whatever it is, Uzumaki has it.
Junji Ito's tale of a town possessed by a simple shape may have been written in the 1990s, but it has lost none of its impact. With art that draws from a variety of historical sources to create a disturbing scene to a story that mimics a spiral in the way it grows faster and tighter as the volume progresses, this is horror done right. It is not recommended for pre-bed reading or before you go beachcombing for periwinkles, though…because when you close your eyes or pick up that snail shell, you may see the spirals, waiting for you.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Fascinating and terrifying in both art and story. Plot mimics the pace of a spiral, getting tighter towards the end.
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