You might have remembered part of my comics haul a while back that I picked up the hardcover omnibus of the horror manga Uzumaki by Junji Ito. Out of all the items I picked up that day, this was one of the first that I dug into simply because I had heard about it for so long and seen some of the panels prior. My interest was already very much piqued. I finally shelled out the $32 to get the hardcover (go big or go home, right?)
I have to say, from the very first story entitled, “The Spiral Obsession”, I was hooked. The book tells the story of Kirie, a high school girl who’s town has become the center of the supernatural curse focused around spirals. This isn’t your traditional horror story filled with the expected horror tropes and usual scares. Full disclosure: There are creepy kids and the walking (or bouncing?) dead. However; one of the elements that make this manga so terrifying is it how it crosses into territory which is rarely explored. Things that make you uncomfortable. Irrational parents who lose their minds and their children’s lack of control over their parent’s own well being. Slow and uncontrollable transformations into grotesque creatures. Spiral clouds made from the cremated ashes of loved ones circling the sky seemingly calling your name. The fear of not knowing where, when, and how the spiral will appear in your life and torment you next. Nothing is expected in this book.
The tone and themes also reminded me of some other similar material I’ve been interested in as of late. Specifically, a book called Fen, which is a compilation short stories by Daisy Johnson came to mind. I wouldn’t call these horror stories, but they are set within a place bordering fantasy and reality in which characters transform into creatures, crones seduce young men, and people return from the dead to find their loved ones. The overall tone is damp, dark, and brooding. In addition to Fen, I would not be surprised if Uzumaki inspired portions of the podcast Tanis. The podcast deals with the conspiracies surrounding the myth of Tanis and the host’s journey to find out what Tanis truly is and why it seems to have a mysterious connection to his northwest home. It’s a docudrama akin to War of the Worlds. Stories surrounding Eld Fen, King Wurm, a cult called the Grackles all echo similar themes from the Uzumaki manga.
On top of the absolutely primo horror content, the artwork in this manga is absolutely stunning and disturbing. I recommend not reading it at night before bed. I’m not a huge fan of manga in general, but Uzumaki seems next level. Everything with the exception of a few intro pages in chapters is done in black and white ink. I prefer the black and white to the color excerpts. It’s incredibly effective in showing emotion, despair, and transformation within the characters faces. You can see this specifically in the chapter, “Medusa”, when Kirie’s self-proclaimed rival, Sekino, is having her energy drained by her spiral cursed hair. The shading below her eyes and cheekbones show how depraved and weak she’s become. You can see a similar treatment of Kirie’s boyfriend Suichi throughout the manga as he endures more and more stress. This manga is could easily be viewed as an art book you place on your coffee table (albeit in a weird, weird house) in comparison to being a manga that you sit down and read. It’s well worth purchasing for the artwork alone.
I will say only one story out of the 18 felt somewhat out of place and forced. “Jack-in-the-Box” stood out to me as different from the tone of the other chapters. Without giving away spoilers, it hits upon more traditional horror themes with a bit of a twist (no pun intended!) However, the panels in this chapter are some of the most grotesque and graphic panels of the entire manga. It’s interesting that this was left in considering at the end of the omnibus they made the decision to add some cut stories as a bonus. This definitely feels as though it could be one of the chapters on the same chopping block since it didn’t do much to further the plot or overall story.
Overall, I was so disappointed when I finished this. I genuinely looked forward to having a quiet moment each day where I could fuel my nail biting habit with genuinely terrifying thoughts. I appreciated how carefully Junji Ito has paid attention to those deep dark recesses of the human consciousness that allow us to think the unthinkable. Also, I’ll never be able to eat escargot again, so thanks.