A Slow Spiral Into Madness | Uzumaki Manga Review
It is almost impossible to delve into the horror genre of manga without ever coming across the name of Junji Ito. As a renowned Japanese horror mangaka, Junji Ito’s works have gained popularity both in Japan and abroad. He employs phobias and fear of the unknown as the basis of his stories, and coupled with his skills in storytelling and horrific imagination, creates uniquely unsettling tales that can leave the reader with both feelings of dread and wonder. And one of those stories that has made Ito known in the horror genre, which I’ll be reviewing for today, is Uzumaki.
Fact: Uzumaki was chosen as one of the 2009 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels For Teens by the American Library Association (ALA).
Published in January of 1998 and completed in August of the following year, Uzumaki (The Spiral or Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror) is a horror manga series by Junji Ito, with 3 volumes and 19 chapters. The story is set in the town of Kurouzu-cho where a young girl named Goshima Kirie lives a normal life with her family and her boyfriend Saitou Shuichi. One day, while walking to the train station to meet Shuichi, Kirie spots an old man crouching in an alley, staring at a snail shell. It was her boyfriend’s father and was so focused on the spiral-shaped shell of the snail that he ignored her presence. Kirie mentioned the incident to Shuichi, and the latter told her that his father has been acting strange lately. He also claims that the town is “contaminated with spirals” and even asks Kirie to leave town with him. This incident with Shuichi’s father proves to be just one of the number of weird and unexplained events that start occurring in Kurouzu-cho, revolving around a natural shape, and trapping the town’s residents in a spiral of madness.
What makes Uzumaki, and all of Junji Ito’s works of horror, so good is the combination of various factors which includes his distinct art style, storytelling, ideas and imagination, and the sub-genre employed.
Distinct art style. There’s something about Junji Ito’s art style that immediately radiates horror vibes. Just looking at the character designs, with all their somber expressions and contorted faces, you can quickly tell this is going to be a good scary manga. Not to mention how it complements Ito’s body horror portrayed in his books, which serves as the first images that you’ll see when you look up his name on the search bar.
Ito’s art style helps deliver that unsettling atmosphere in Uzumaki, the combination of lines, shadows, and detailed features communicates an eerie feeling as the readers experience the events unfold from Kirie’s perspective.
Storytelling. I’ve only just read Junji Ito’s manga series recently (just this year, actually) and I’ve noticed that Ito follows some sort of storytelling pattern. Uzumaki begins by introducing the normalcy of the setting, such as the normal life of Kirie. She is a high school girl living an ordinary life in the town of Kurouzu-cho. But gradually, things take a strange turn, as a chain of terrifying and unexplainable events start happening. From her boyfriend’s father’s obsession with spirals, her friend’s scar, her own air exhibiting weird features, and even pushing the whole town into the pit of madness. The normalcy first presented in the story slowly changes into something far from normal, thus creating a sense of dread as the reader witnesses how the story evolves into a disturbing, yet captivating, tale.
Turning mundane things into something extraordinarily horrifying. One thing I like from Junji Ito’s works of horror, as shown in Uzumaki, is how he turns ordinary things in life and uses it to create a story with it at its center. Something you wouldn’t normally expect to have any frightening meaning is given a new perspective, from the eyes of an imaginative horror mangaka. Ito’s ideas and vast imagination is displayed in his books and is one of the main sources of inspiration for his stories. In Uzumaki’s case, it is a Spiral. A somewhat ordinary, yet interesting, shape turned into a source of fear that becomes the center of the story. This shape is given a new meaning, and with Ito’s creativity, he is able to portray that meaning throughout the events in Uzumaki.
Lovecraftian Horror or Cosmic Horror. One of Junji Ito’s inspiration as a horror author is H.P. Lovecraft, and as a recent reader of the latter’s works I’m happy to know this fact. The Lovecraftian sub-genre is clearly seen in Ito’s horror manga series, including Uzumaki. As the events become bigger and grander, the truth of the Spiral unfolds before Kirie and her boyfriend’s eyes. They soon realize that the Spiral holds some sort of cosmic meaning and that it is something bigger than they could ever imagine. Making them feel mundane, and giving the Spiral much more significance than it ordinarily has. This is what I love about cosmic horror. Not only does it bring about a sense of existential dread, it also shifts our perspective towards what we deem significant and what we deem as mundane. It allows us to think about how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Uzumaki does this in the end, when all hope of survival was taken away from our main characters, as they lay alongside the piles of elongated and twisted bodies deep beneath the town of Kurouzu-cho.
Kirie and Shuichi’s Relationship. I also would like to mention how I really love Kirie and her boyfriend’s relationship. It’s really wholesome how she never left him despite his constant depressive behavior, and even took care of him when he couldn’t take care of himself. Also, I like the way they helped each other whenever one of them is in danger of the cursed Spiral and how they protected each other from the people influenced by the curse. But most of all, I really appreciate the fact that they were together till the very end. Best couple.
Junji Ito’s Uzumaki is one of his most famous works and is my favorite among his other horror manga series. Despite the “hanging” ending of the series, compared to Gyo or Hellstar Remina, Uzumaki feels more “complete” as it closes the story with the literal end of Kirie’s life, despite the implication of the Spiral Curse starting all over again. Uzumaki is a short manga series and is worth the read. I gave it a score of 10/10 in MAL, as it clearly deserves.
An anime adaptation for Uzumaki is in production and is set to be released next year in October of 2022. I’m excited for that, and I hope you are too. Thanks for reading.