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"Uzumaki" by Junji Ito: Review

Wadi considers himself a bit of an expert on storytelling. The truth is he buries himself in fiction to keep an existential crisis at bay.

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Horror is often accused of being a stale genre with little originality. Anyone with that opinion need only pick up any of Junji Ito's works to have that belief shattered. Ito is not only a great in the world of horror manga, but he is also one of the best minds to ever grace horror in any medium. And if you are a fan of horror or manga, you need to check out Uzumaki, and that's about all you need to know going in.

The following review will have two sections, starting with non-spoilers, followed by a full spoilers section in which I will talk about the story in some detail.

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Non-Spoilers

Uzumaki is set in the fictional Japanese town of Kurouzu-cho and follows Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi Saito as they start realizing that something truly strange is happening to their town.

What I appreciate most about Uzumaki is just how quickly it goes in mysterious and often horrifying directions. The gory body horror comes in from the very first chapter and the manga only gets more terrifying from there. However, Uzumaki is far from a one-trick pony.

The gruesome visuals are always supported by some very good characters and genuine relationships between those characters as they navigate the horrors of a town that is devolving in front of their eyes. And boy, does the town devolve into some truly bizarre scenarios. Ito deserves all the praise for the originality of the horror he presents here, often coming from unexpected places and going to extremes you couldn't have imagined.

While the characters dealing with the horror of Uzumaki themselves aren't exceptionally original, the way they respond to the insane scenarios they find themselves in feels genuine. I often found myself hoping for the best for a lot of these characters, especially Saito.

All of this is supported by a highly intriguing mystery at the center of the story that holds everything together exceptionally well.

If you are still here, I assume you either need a bit more motivation to read Uzumaki, or you have read his work already. Either way, I assume that if you choose to read any further, you don't mind the spoilers. You have been warned.

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Spoilers

Ito wastes no time getting into the horror and mystery of the spirals infecting Kurouzu-cho. The two-parter, "The Spiral Obsession," starts the story off at exactly the right point, letting us in on the fact that something strange is happening and letting us know that it is going to get a whole lot worse. We are instantly placed in the same situation as Shuichi Saito.

You might read the entire manga and think that Shuichi avoided being cursed by the spiral until the very end. I believe that he was cursed from the start. He was cursed with the knowledge of the strangeness settling on the town and cursed with the disbelief of people around him. Despite being cognizant of the threat, he finds himself trapped in the town, not by any physical bonds but by the relationships that do not allow him to escape on his own. The tragedy of Shuichi is one of my favorite parts of the manga.

Another one of my favorite elements is the escalation of the horror, both in its repulsiveness and the scale. The image of Shuichi's father folded up into a spiral in the basket at the end of "The Spiral Obsession: Part 2" is a great first horror visual. "The Scar" then instantly escalates the body horror. The image of the girl with half her face covered by a spiral-shaped wound is one of the most horrifying I have ever seen. The two lovers twisted around each other, the jack-in-the-box, the snails, the baby mushrooms; Uzumaki has no shortage of truly stomach-churning visuals.

However, the art would not have been anywhere near as impressive if it hadn't been supported by a great underlying mystery. The truth behind the spirals and why they have infected the town is unwound at exactly the right pace. While most chapters leading up to the second half of the manga do not directly feed into each other, the horrors they introduced return for the final parts of the story.

The snail people become an integral part of the main plot; the abandoned hospital is referenced, the old community houses become central to the main plot behind the curse of the spiral. After "The Storm," everything in the plot starts connecting a lot more directly too.

Chapters lead from one to the next directly, and the history of the subterranean ancient city of spirals is a perfectly bizarre and disturbing sight to end a manga filled with such sights. However, I found the final image of Kirie and Shuichi holding each other as they are frozen in time to be strangely heartwarming. It felt like a brief moment of respite from the relentless horror these characters had been facing for months. And I really appreciated that.

That brings me to my final praise for Ito. Uzumaki was full of moments that in the hands of a less talented storyteller would have come across as ridiculous. But Ito is so good at entrenching the readers into the uneasy world of the manga that those moments add to the dread of the story. That is a difficult balance to strike, but Ito manages it in all his other manga I have read, and he manages it especially well in Uzumaki.

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Final Thoughts

Uzumaki is a truly bizarre tale filled with many stomach-churning moments that will leave you horrified and infinitely intrigued at the same time. A must-read for any horror fan.

Comments

Wadiur Rahman Hisham (author) from Aligarh on August 01, 2021:

That's a tough question because of how vast manga is as a medium. But if I was to recommend the manga closest to my heart and one I think people should experience regardless of their interest in the medium, it would be A Silent Voice (Koe No Katachi). There's also an anime film adaptation which is available on Netflix that you can watch first if you need convincing as to the quality of the story.

Maybe I'll write up an extended review of A Silent Voice someday.

Saquib on August 01, 2021:

Neat. What will be the one Manga novel that you would recommend as a must read to understand and enjoy the genre the most.

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