Kurouzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: Uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people’s bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi’s father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurouzu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!
Junji Ito is often cited as the master of horror manga, and after reading Uzumaki, my first from this creator and my first manga experience, it is easy to see why!
Uzumaki takes place in the small coastal town of Kurouzu-cho, a town that slowly becomes more and more obsessed by spirals. Partly inspired by a time in Ito’s childhood in which he himself became obsessive over spiral patterns, we follow main protagonist Kirie Goshima, as she gets drawn deeper into this pattern that is seemingly haunting the town.
This whirling tale is essentially a series of connected short stories. Where the main characters rarely differ and act as the main through line between each story, the supporting cast from each story are who arguably make this book stand up as the horror masterpiece that it is often referred to as. It is these characters that we get to see succumb to the lure of the spiral in excitingly gruesome and richly detailed ways. Where Kirie and Shuichi are sometimes seemingly just accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time (especially for the first half, but they both become more integral to the lore of the land and the story as a whole in the latter half, and thus much more memorable), seeing these other members of this small town turning themselves in spiralling monstrosities or seeking to rid their own bodies of any spiral like patterns is truly stuff of nightmares, and each story introduces something more twisted than the last.
Uzumaki also triumphs in the melding of multiple horror subgenres to create its own unique taste. Whilst body horror is the most prominent of these, we also get to experience cosmic horror, psychological horror, ghostly horror & apocalyptic horror, amongst many others. If you are a fan of horror and have your own preferences as to how you like your scares, I guarantee that you will find it in here.
As previously mentioned, this is also my first manga experience. I know some people say it can be hard to adjust to, such as reading right to left, but I found I acclimatized very quickly and found it easy to read & understand. I am not someone who has read a lot of Western comics or graphic novels either, so reading anything like this is pretty much completely new to me. I am not used to having my stories be accompanied by incredible artwork, lets put it that way. And the artwork in Uzumaki is amazing! There are so many hidden details, hidden spirals, ridiculously well drawn full page spreads of some of the most vile, gruesome, and incredible looking body horror images I’ve ever seen! I won’t say what I saw as I think part of this books appeal is the unknown, and not knowing how the spiral will affect certain characters and watching that play out adds to the enjoyment. But pretty much all the “creature” designs are phenomenal, the people themselves are at times unsettling (even just simple things like someone smiling can be creepy), and the way that the book hides its most important reveals behind a page turn leaves you with the knowledge that something is going to happen, you just don’t know what.
In short, Uzumaki is deserving of its accolades. Although it took the main cast some time to come out of their shells a bit, every other element of this manga was done so brilliantly I can look past its few faults. With incredible artwork, genuinely frightening moments and scenes and events that will stick with me forever (and I know for a fact it will inspire my own writing), I urge all fans of horror or dark manga to give this a go. I will definitely be checking out more Junji Ito and other mangas in the future!