Sophia Uy ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In every genre in every medium, there are always certain series that are recommended as ‘must-reads’ or ‘must sees’ over and over again. The weird and wonderful world of manga has countless examples of this, but one of the most memorable and one of the most-often recommended is the horror series Uzumaki.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the manga, Uzumaki is the story of a small, coastal town called Kurouzo-cho that suffers from a horrific curse. This curse isn’t in the form of a ghost or monster, but of a spiral, which is a little predictable considering Uzumaki literally translates into ‘spiral’. The series focuses specifically on a young girl called Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi Saito, and as the story progresses, it depicts how the curse affects them and the people around them. The series is written and illustrated by Junji Ito, a man well known in Japan for his affinity for the horrific and the gruesome. And man, is Uzumaki gruesome.
We can’t possibly review a series like Uzumaki without first addressing the art. Simply put, the art is beautiful. Junji Ito has such a distinct and vivid style that while there are still very clear manga-like characteristics to his drawings, there’s also an uncanny realism lingering just beneath the surface. That sense of realism which Ito manages to capture so well is vital to Uzumaki’s effectiveness as a horror story. Realistic anatomy is pushed to its limits to accommodate Ito’s (often times literally) twisted imagery, while still maintaining that semblance of possibility. For example, there’s a wonderfully horrific image at the end of the first chapter that will be stuck in your head for days after you finish reading it. While Uzumaki is full of several noteworthy visuals, this one in particular encapsulates just how perfect Ito’s style is for the series. It’s thanks to Ito’s amazing ability to bring the profoundly creepy to life on paper that pushes Uzumaki from unsettling to outright disturbing.
However, the core of Uzumaki’s story is the effect the curse has on the small town and the people living in it. Reading and experiencing the psychological deterioration of the townsfolk is one of the best parts of this series and one of the reasons Uzumaki is one of the best horror stories out there. A good chunk of the series is fairly episodic in nature as it looks at Kirie and Shuichi’s everyday lives, following a ‘monster of the week’ formula. This kind of structure does a pretty good job of setting up the tone of the series, as well as establishing and foreshadowing certain events that come into play much later on. Overall, those first few chapters are fun and enjoyable little vignettes. These small, isolated events read a little like horror stories you’d exchange around a fireplace, but after a while they can get a little tiring.
As the chapters near the midway point, the episodic nature of the chapters can make it feel as if the series has no continuity apart from a few throwbacks here and there. It can feel slow and it can feel irrelevant. The series only really starts picking up again when it shifts to a larger, overarching plot. This is when the true story of Uzumaki starts to emerge. All the past events, all the developments that have been set up start culminating together is an unsettling and overwhelming climax. Kurouzo-cho evolves from a quaint little town with a few supernatural quirks to a post-apocalyptic wasteland where nightmares are born and bred. The latter half of Uzumaki forces the characters to confront the reality of their unfortunate situation, taking on an almost existentialist tone as the story nears its conclusion. This larger story is what elevates Uzumaki from a fun, generic series to something unforgettable.
The weakest aspect of the series are some of the one-off chapters in the first half, and while another strength of Uzumaki is Ito’s grasp of dark and absurd humor, there are certain monsters and events that can fall flat. There are times when readers might not know what they are supposed to feel. Are these moments supposed to be funny? Scary? In horror, that feeling of ambivalence can absolutely ruin a story and there were definitely chapters in Uzumaki where this rang true.
Overall, Uzumaki is a great horror series. It’s definitely one of the best, not only as a horror story but as a manga series in general and it would appeal to anyone interested in horror, or anyone looking for a unique and unforgettable read. At the very least, give the first chapter a read. For days after, the conclusion of that first chapter will send chills down your spine.