I read Uzumaki as my next October “Scary.” Uzumaki is a manga by Junji Ito (b. 1963) – I read the 3-in-1 hardback collection. I happily paid full price for it and took my time reading through it starting the day I bought it. It is a large book, well over 620 pages of artwork and story. I do own Junji Ito’s Remina, but I have not read it yet. Reading something classified as horror manga was a new one for me and, overall, I enjoyed the experience. I think horror does work as a genre for manga format. I think Junji Ito has a decent understanding of horror/horrific. So, I am glad I read Uzumaki since it is probably his most famous work. In any case, now I have a referent for all of the spiral-talk regarding this work.
The gruesome parts are very gruesome. I mean, even in black & white drawing the images and the situations depicted are often just beyond sanity. Really. I mean, if any of this was even remotely real, I do not think there would be anyone writing/drawing/reading anymore. Its kind of precisely what horror is about – pushing boundaries and “confronting” (as per Alan Baxter).
The most gruesome part, in my opinion, is Chapter 11 “The Umbilical Cord.” There is so much gruesome, gory, horrific, awful in this chapter – honestly, it was a little difficult to read through and I did skim a little bit, because yikes. I cannot honestly say those are images I want to “eye-digest.”
For the first bunch of chapters the book reads as collected, related, but independent stories. Like any good episodic television. I really liked how the book started with serene frames/pages of the narrator/main character Kirie. I really like Kirie as a character. She was loyal, brave, but had that deadpan honesty that was a bit strange, too. I think, maybe, we could have been given a few more scenes and storyline regarding her and her boyfriend. We are just told Shuichi is her friend and then a few frames later he is asking her to leave their town – the town they grew up in. It seems sudden and kind of extreme at that time. It takes a few chapters and I think then for the rest of the book I was lamenting the fact that Shuichi and Kirie did not leave town that very frame. Just pop home to grab a backpack and then leave. I mean it – every dang page afterwards: aw, why didn’t they follow Shuichi’s suggestion?!
There are some good spiral segments – The Firing Effect, The Black Lighthouse – that show how the “spiral” presents in a variety of ways. It is not all snails and whirlwinds. When, finally, the episodes start to carry over into other chapters, let’s say, that is when the reader sees the full effect all of these variations of spirals have on the town.
Chapter 6 – Medusa is somewhat light-hearted in a ridiculous high-schooler sort of way. Its probably the most amusing/ridiculous of the chapters. Granted, I mean, calling anything in this work “light-hearted” is very relative and strained. Medusa touches on storylines about those competitive high-school girls for whom popularity is everything. By the way, Shuichi is the hero!
The problem is, and I am sure Kirie would agree, no matter how super, really, massively bizarre an event is the townspeople seem to be on a totally wrong level of reaction. Oh look – that old man turned into a long coiled spiral-y thing. Huh. Weird. Instead of: what kinda diabolical, twisted, alien, Lovecraft, madness is dis stuff?! While I would expect the townspeople to be running, not walking, to their nearest exit, life just kind of goes on. The chapter that highlights this the most, for me, is Chapter 8 – The Snail. So, high school students turn into snails. Really large snails. And I guess everyone just puts them in a cage outside like its a normal snail farm. No, they should not have classes or continue doing homework or slipping notes to each other in class. Are you kidding me? Where is the reaction that is appropriate to the fact that your classmates are now in a fenced in area out back with the mud? Yeah, but did you finish your math homework? C’mon!
So, it is my opinion, that this is the “out” that Junji Ito gives readers. He is allowing us to say its all a dream. Its all just a horrific stupid nightmare. We can say this because just like in the best dreams, everyone just is not reacting in the way we deep down know that they should.
Anyway, from Chapter 16 to the end, the storyline is all connected and it details the final story arc of the whole book. There are some mighty gross parts here, please do not think that the gruesome level has let up at all. For example, when the “creatures” in the row houses tell Kirie and friends that there is no room inside, but could they please dispose of the dead creatures – yikes. All of the frames in this section are just… mind-hurtingly gruesome. But it is horrific, for sure. Even if some of the gruesome is hidden from view or just given brief glances.
The ending was nothing for me. I did not care for it – I am not even sure it suited all the stories and mania that came before that. Finally, yes, I was still sad for Kirie and Shuichi – they should have left town. It was a sad moment when Kirie found her parents. (Also, whatever happened with her brother? I mean, he went down that mountainside and then, I guess, he’s off doing spiral things?)
I do not know the Japanese word that was used, but there is a line in the story that the town is contaminated with spirals. I like that phrasing in English – contaminated with spirals. Its not the same as overrun or overwhelmed or controlled by or any other word. Its contaminated – and it fits the story perfectly.
This is good for horror fans who enjoy different, varied takes on the genre. Its got some gruesome gory scenes for those persons who like (??) to collect such imagery. I am very glad I read this – it is a different read, sometimes shockingly horrific. I like that it is also a slow burn. I miss Kirie already – 600+ pages and I was content to run around the town and find spirals with her. This is not a book for children or people who are squeamish or non-horror fans.