August 1, 2009

Uzumaki, or: Junji Ito ruined my sleep AGAIN

Okay, I know I've written two "I'm not REALLY dead" posts and now it's time to prove it. This is how I've been spending my time not being dead.


It's true, I was a little bit of a manga freak when I was younger, it took over my anime obsession until I could basically no longer afford both of them. Fortunately, the internet exists and says I don't actually have to pay for anything if I don't want to.

So while I was going through ALL of Neon Genesis Evangelion from the beginning (don't ask, the urge just took me) I came across Uzumaki. You may know if it because of the film. I've not seen the movie yet myself but I've heard good things, about it and the manga. So after I finished NGE and it's tour-de-OMG I went on to Uzumaki and prepared myself for mindfuckery. AND THAT'S WHAT I GOT.

Uzumaki is the story of a seaside town called Kurozu-cho that's haunted not by specters or poltergeists but spirals. Fucking spirals. How does that work? It manifests itself in strange ways. People become obsessed with the spiral patterns and trying to recreate them in buildings, whirlpools in water, even with their own bodies. The people of the town descend into madness, slowly turning into grotesque depictions and often dying violently and horribly.

EVERYTHING is connected to the spiral, even if you think it isn't.

Our main characters are Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi Saito. The two of them remain the only barely sane people in this fucked up town, even as their families are devastated by the spiral obsession. I'd go so far as to say Shuichi becomes infected with it in his own way even though he tries to stay as far away from the thing. Kirie on the other hand, well...she never really seems to take heed until it's too late.

You see, Shuichi's family is hit first. His father is shown to be obsessed with spirals, collecting them and sitting at home all day staring at his spiral collection. He flies into a rage when his wife throws the spirals out because frankly the family finds it creepy that he does this. No matter, however, because by this point the man can turn his BODY PARTS into spirals. Just...think on that for a minute.

Eventually Shuichi's father happily turns himself into a spiral, dying in the process. This in turn drives his wife insane and she develops a phobia of all things spiral-y and takes great pains to remove every spiral from her body: hair, finger tips, toes...ears...

From there the spiral obsession spreads like wildfire and affects everyone in the town, even those coming from neighboring towns & cities, going so far as to transform those too slow to get away from it into snails. SNAILS. In a few humorous afterwords the spiral obsession seems to affect the mangaka himself as he & his editor search for the true meaning of the spiral.

You should also keep in mind that Ito is the same man that brought us Tomie, the evil bi--erm, beautiful girl that drives men (and sometimes women) wild with love & madness then rudely refuses to die when killed by former lovers. Ito presents, in Uzumaki, Tomie & Gyo (about evil fish. Yes, fish), a uniquely realistic style that you don't see often in manga and/or anime, even in the titles aimed for older readers. This makes the gory deaths the people of Kurozu-cho all the more disturbing and effective. At times it put me more in the mind of a Western cartoon or comic book. My only problem with the art--and this might just be me--is that occasionally characters start to...well, look alike. Sometimes it gets hard to tell minor characters and some major ones apart. It's not a big issue but in some chapters it makes the story a little weird. If only someone had blue or pink hair...!

Overall though I found realistic depictions of Japanese people that look like Japanese people in Japan *whew* kind of refreshing since I'm used to reading shojo manga where everyone has the characteristic huge, shiny eyes & exaggerated bodies and, of course, blue & pink hair.

Other than that point, my other only qualms with this manga are, well, for one thing it gets a little long winded. After we've established that the spirals are indeed driving everyone mad, the answers still take a long time to come and they're STILL a little ambiguous and weird. So it's not quite the reward I was looking for after being subjected to pure horror. But I suppose we're never really meant to understand what the fuck is going on.

It's also a bit of a downer, just warning you.

Lastly, Kirie got on my last goddamn nerves. She starts out as a normal girl who doesn't believe in the power of the spiral--and who would? It's kind of, you know, weird--but after all the damn evidence thrown in her face she still takes denial and obliviousness to the next level. I thought Shuichi was going to have to draw her a fucking diagram every other chapter. She doesn't quite fall into "helpless damsel", she can take initiative when she wants or absolutely has to, but that was only when Shuichi wasn't there or needed HER. Hell, she was so worried about Shuichi and his reclusive self that she almost got herself killed a few times there. Girl stop it!

There's also the issue of that random "lost" chapter on One Manga, it doesn't seem to fit into the rest of the story...if you must I would probably put it right before the Scar, not sure where Ito was planning for it to go originally.

Other than that, if you like horror, manga, extreme body horror, nightmare & paranoia fuel, hate spirals already, and have about an hour, hour and a half to kill, you should spend it on Uzumaki. You can read it here.

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