Horror Lurking on the Next Page

Junji Ito – Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror

 

Tea: Camomile

 

This is a first time, isn’t it? The first review of a manga. But in search for something truly terrifying I did not stop at games, movies, or books. It should be said first that the title is, of course, in no relation to a particular drawn-out series about a ninja wearing orange. Ito has made a name for himself as a master of horror with lots of chapters and series. One of which happens to lie before me now. The question now is whether this work can convince on an artistic level, as well as a horror one. Let us follow the spiral to its end and see whether Ito can truly scare us.

Uzumaki tells the story of a young girl returning to her quiet hometown, a place where nothing seems to have changed, the usual introduction to the bigger picture of how everything has changed. The first signs of impending danger come in the form of a man oddly obsessed with spirals. He collects everything remotely spiral shaped, only wants to talk about those, and tries (also succeeds) to twist his tongue into one. So spirals really are his thing. This obsession soon infects other inhabitants of the town, be it in the form of affection or fear, but the spiral becomes the dominant concept of the story and just like it, the plot is in a constant motion downwards. Every chapter bringing up a worse way people are affected by this shape. The content becomes bizarre, obscure, revolting, violent, grotesque, and flat out nightmarish. All the while following the girl and her friend as they try to escape in downward momentum of their lives and the lives of all those around them.

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– From a visual standpoint, this is a stunning introduction to the story, hinting at the darkness lurking in the town. –

Visually Uzumaki is a masterpiece and in that too detailed for its own good (or rather your own good). The style abandons the typical manga look of big eyes etc. and instead opts for an eerie realism. This does not mean that people are portrayed in a realistic manner, but rather the uncanny element of drawing them is used here. Characters walk the fringe of manga and portrait at times and thus gain an undeniable aura of horror. A lot of elements build on human anatomy and thus the importance of relatability to oneself is key. It is not inhuman enough to be unrelatable and not too realistic to be ridiculous. As an addition, every character becomes suspicious as his human nature is called into question. With exception of the main cast who are somewhat excluded from that rule, every other person is a potential threat only hiding skin-deep.

The horror in Uzumaki is, of course, a visual one. Spirals are worked into all manners of monstrosities, all stemming from human origins. It is important how the spiral affects these people and the gradual process of transformation. That is why most chapters will use the approach of showcasing this change over time. Starting with small signs of change and ending in grotesque finales. All the while the other human characters are transformed as well, albeit be it far less visually and rather behaviourally. Their actions often reflect the downward spiral as well, starting with small acts of mistreatment and going even beyond cannibalism later on. One thus has to wonder whether the profound horror of Uzumaki stems from the frightening transformations of the body or the mind. A mixture of both is the solution.

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– It starts as a little half-moon shaped scar, but will you be shocked when you see what she turns into…-

What also elevates Uzumaki is the almost consistent invention of new “monsters”, I say that, but there is one exception. My least favourite chapter because it seems a bit out of place and even the spiral is only marginally involved. Every other manifestation of the shape, however, is a new vision into the darkest parts of your imagination. Working on a 2D plane drawing 3-dimensional horrors will at first confuse the reader and it is used by Ito to great effect here. The first sight will confuse and shock you, but you will need to linger on the image longer to understand what is being tried to convey here. This also helps to do away with the old problem of established ways to get rid of certain monsters, since all of these are unique and oftentimes not even monsters per se. It is the act of wrapping your mind around these beings which is the most horrifying aspect of Uzumaki.

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– One of the more eerie rather than grotesque moments, but an amazing page-turn none the less. –

Ito is aware that a manga cannot scare you the same way a game or movie can. Rather he uses a way to instil tension that only this medium can use: the turning of a page. It comes at your own free choosing at the exact time you want to. Horribly nightmarish images always await after a page turn, often covering both pages. The horror is always hinted at in the last corner of the previous page, making the tension all the more unbearable. Thus the manga can both build a good tension and atmosphere, but can also have some true shock moments, even if they are all controlled by the reader. This is why Uzumaki works this effectively, since it uses the medium to its fullest. Both accepting the limitations and at the same time turning them into a strength. Sometimes you might even slam the pages shut after turning it, I know I did at least once.

Not everything is perfect in Uzumaki and some chapters come across as a bit over the top and thus ridiculous, but those are far and few between. For the most part it offers a horror ride from beginning to end you will beg to get off of, but secretly you will be craving more. The ending follows a similar tradition as Ring by leaving a lot for you to discover on your own, a storytelling trick I am very fond of. There is not much like the experience of reading Uzumaki and I can only recommend trying it out for yourself. If you thought only movies and games could scare, you will be pleasantly surprised. Or unpleasantly, depending on which way you see it.

 

 

Images sources in order of appearance:

 

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