Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Uzumaki, Volume 1 by Junji Ito Review

The small town of Kurozu-Cho (a Japanese version of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth) is haunted by… a pattern! Wooooo! Yup, spirals - lines going round and round - are deadly. It sound silly but that’s pretty original really. I don’t think I’ve read a horror that’s got so abstract a big bad, AND Junji Ito manages to make them disturbing too so kudos!

Our hero is schoolgirl Kirie whose boyfriend’s father is obsessed with spirals – and then terrible things happen to him! Then later the boyfriend’s mother is obsessed with spirals – and then terrible things happen to her! Then another girl is obsessed with the boyfriend and gets involved with spirals – and terrible things happen to her! And so on. Spirals are bad news, people! 

So there’s a pattern about this book about patterns. The book is made up of several short stories that build up to a big spiral-centric horror reveal and then ends only to repeat in the next story – an approach that gives it a bumpy stop/start rhythm. Short story collections are often like this except Uzumaki uses the same characters/events/settings, so they’re all meant to be connected. Instead of there being an overarching storyline though it’s a series of isolated stories, almost self-contained given how little the events in each one affects the recurring characters. 

Maybe that’s the intention, that you’re supposed to wind up at the end where you began, the structure itself mimicking a spiral, but I thought it was unsatisfying how we never know why spirals are so important or why any of this is happening. It’s just one horror story involving spirals after another until it’s over. 

That said, the stories for the most part are interesting with some nightmarish body horror imagery. The first story involving the boyfriend’s parents was my favourite with some amazing art – Shuichi’s father’s fate and the smoky visuals of the crematorium were chilling! The boyfriend’s mother’s madness was disturbing too even if I didn’t buy that a hospital would allow scissors anywhere near a patient with severe mental problems. 

The last two stories are definitely the weakest. Two teenage lovers who want to be together but whose parents disapprove take their desire to an extreme, and Kirie’s hair becomes haunted with spirals – bah, so stupid! Kirie’s gone through so much in this book, she has from the same problem as all horror protagonists when they’re in a haunted place: why don’t they leave? Why doesn’t anybody leave this obviously cursed place!?

Even though the series is only three volumes long (extremely short by manga standards) there’s not much incentive for me to keep reading. I wonder, is the whole series going to be like this – one story after another of evil spirals taking the lives of these townspeople? That approach, as seen in this book, is effective only for so long before the formula becomes overly familiar and predictable. But there's no indication otherwise that the series will be anything more than these people getting it from the spirals ad nauseam! 

Uzumaki Volume 1 is a fine horror manga with some good stories mixed in with some mediocre ones and featuring excellent black and white artwork throughout - definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre but don’t expect a masterpiece going in.

Uzumaki, Volume 1

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