I didn’t grow up with Manga.. I was attracted to the flashy animation and colors of anime, but the black and white panels of its literary counterpart held no interest despite their promise of story. My main experience with Manga up until recently was a single volume of Neon Genesis Evangelion I purchased as a thirteen year old, and watching videos about Junji Ito. The Enigma of Amigara Fault was my first real introduction, and while I found it terrifying, it failed to galvanize me further. But I decided to change that this year both with starting my dive into Berserk and being given Uzumaki by The Quill To Live’s very own Brandee. Now I’m hooked.
Uzumaki is a truly horrifying treat for those able to stomach the grotesque images Junji Ito provides. It’s a slow and winding journey to the edges of one’s sanity delivering smaller shocks as Ito’s pace builds and accelerates. There is never a dull moment as Uzumaki swirls through absurdity at greater and greater speed, pulling the reader in like a whirlpool. Admittedly, I felt in the first several chapters a lack of fear, beyond the psychic damage of Ito’s art. But that easy acceptance of the horror built a complacency that drove me deeper into his unavoidable pull. As many others have said, and many others will continue to say, Uzumaki is a masterpiece that will stay with you for months, and probably years, after finishing it.
Kurozo-cho is a small town along the coast of Japan that is haunted by a pattern. Kirie Goshema, a high school student, has witnessed some weird goings on, but thinks nothing of it. However, her distant boyfriend has been trying to point out the obvious. Spirals have infected everything, and it’s slowly starting to infect everyone. But is Kirie even safe at this point? Or is it too late to leave her hometown?
I never found particular shapes horrifying, and while trypophobia irks me a little after extended periods of gazing at it, it doesn’t create a visceral reaction. After Uzumaki, I still don’t find spirals particularly scary, but Ito has clearly awed me with the power of the spiral. It’s such a simple shape that conveys deep meaning and symbolism, regardless of how one looks at it. Spirals represent both an endless cycle and the feeling of spinning completely out of control. Every chapter digs into those ideas as Ito pulls the lens further and further out.
As the story continues, the absurdity begins to become the noise. The horror doesn’t lie in the individual stories so much as how they begin to connect. Even scenarios that are horrible to contemplate lose their particular horror and just feel like the arm of a larger spiral. As more people die in gruesome ways, more people find themselves in the trap and begin to commit unspeakable acts on their own. The law of the land becomes the spiral as everyone becomes infected by its power. From a pottery worker, to reporters from other towns, and to the most popular girl at school, no one is safe.
I think one of the more powerful aspects of Uzumaki is who Ito centers the story on. Kirie is just a young high school girl who barely suspects a thing. Every chapter brings new fascinating horrors, and while she is affected by them, she does not see the pattern. I found myself a little frustrated, lambasting the classic horror trope. But it wasn’t until I was over half way through the story that I looked myself in the mirror and saw the spiral shaped clown nose on my face. I too, had fallen into the spirals trap, running around the long maze, seeing the walls that held me prisoner without hinting at the big picture. And when I realized the cycle I had fallen into it was too late, Uzumaki was not letting go.
Ito’s story is one of falling into the endless cycles we all are prone to. Of discovering the fear that those cycles produce that perpetuate themselves. Of seeing the maze instead of the hedges and realizing it might be impossible to break through the walls of the spiral you helped to build. It is satisfyingly existential built from the simple act of drawing a circle slightly larger each time you’re about to close the loop. But isn’t that all life really is? A series of unclosed loops of our own making?
Rating: Uzumaki – Let Go, and Let The Spiral Consume You