Uzumaki ~ A Mesmerizing World of Spirals

Spiral Obsession

I first heard of Ito Junji through the recently released Gyo OVA. Intrigued and somewhat amused by the premise of dead fishes on walking mechanical legs, I decided to check out some of Ito’s horror manga titles, which include the likes of Gyo, Hellstar Remina, Black Paradox, Mimi no Kaidan, and Museum of Terror. But one title in particular caught my undivided attention for its dizzying and mesmerizing premise: Uzumaki, literally translated as Spiral. So do join me in a powerful Lovecraftian horror fest and my first manga post…

I have always had a fascination with spirals, as there is something so mystifying about this curve mathematically and naturally occurring. When you look at a spiral, your eyes are inconceivably almost always drawn to the center, following the curve to that infinitesimal unknown center point. The spiral is everywhere around us in nature, from shells to plant structures to the helix-shaped DNA, and has been a special subject for a great many artists and scientists alike. This hypnotic shape holds a unique position in symbolism, and Ito incorporated this shape to its greatest effect in Uzumaki.

A premonition

Read left to right.

The main protagonists, Kirie and Shuichi, are portrayed as typical high school students with a normal relationship. Then they are thrust into a situation where the entire village becomes unnaturally obsessed with spirals and one can no longer escape from the town. It manifest in everything, from the lines on a plate to the ripples in a pond to the coil of a snail’s shell. Shuichi, a commutator to a school outside of the village, senses this sickness and begins to become more withdrawn and fearful of the town’s sickness. We are taken through a spiraling journey, with the dedication to stick together by one’s friends or family becoming literally contorted. This sense of obligation combined with the disorientating supernatural control over the town makes for a strong compelling and sympathetic read, particularly near the conclusion.

Spirals in the body

Read left to right.

There is one tale that I’d like to point out in this manga that’s of cringe-worthy to me, and that’s the story of Shuichi’s mother. Shuichi’s mother, after the bizarre death and cremation of her husband, develops an extreme phobia of spirals to the point that she even cut the fingerprint skin from her fingers and toes. However, while consulting the doctor about treating this phobia, Shuichi, upon on looking at an anatomical picture of the ear, realizes that there is a spiral in the ear. Needless to say, it does not turn out very good for Shuichi’s mother in the end at all, and while I’m glad the whole gory portion is omitted, I still cringe at the thought of her grabbing a pair of scissors and plunging them into her ears. She became deaf and lost her sense of balance, forever in a constant state of vertigo until her death. In the end, insanity prevailed, and she could no longer bear it.

The completion of the spiral

Although there is a minor lack of development for characters and holes in the plot, the execution of the story is what makes up for most of it. The artwork is rendered beautifully and hauntingly. The storyline is totally bereft of humanity’s power to force positive change in this situation, and all one can do is succumb. There is no hope of escape, no chance for resistance. A grim narrative very capable of pulling readers in to witness the despair, it evokes an eerie mysticism and otherworldly forces acting upon humanity. I could not drag my eyes of the story unwinding itself and looping all the way to the end, and it has become one of my top favorite manga all-time. If you’re looking for a powerful, compelling manga that will transport you to a world of misanthropy, this is the manga for you. It is so bizarre, it’s hauntingly beautiful. It’s so foreign that it’s scary and yet so mesmerizing.

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11 Comments

Filed under Manga, Uzumaki

11 responses to “Uzumaki ~ A Mesmerizing World of Spirals

  1. My, that does sound Lovecraftian. After your recent Mushishi post concerning the ear, all I can imagine when I think of the mother doing that is the green ooze mushi bursting out like it did when Maho put his arms to his ears. That just seems kind of funny to me (maybe it’s my brain’s self defense mechanism against the rather frightening thought of the inident as it would really happen).
    Nice post, and a good foray into manga review.

  2. tsurugiarashix

    I am fairly familiar with Junji Ito’s work (despite not having much time for manga)/ Too bad most of his work is not translated or available to the western masses. H.P Lovecraft was one of Ito’s influences which how he spawned Uzumaki and to a lesser extent Gyo and Yami no Koe. His works are definitely worth digging into if you like horror – albeit the stories might not be that good (but that is just me).

    • After reading Uzumaki, I looked up and read a lot of his other works such as Hellstar Remina, Gyo, Black Paradox, and Museum of Terror. I enjoyed these horror stories, and I thought they were pretty good but not as great as Uzumaki. They’re still worth checking out though! ^_^

  3. The artwork is really something, but I think I’ve tried reading something horrorish in the past and I failed to finish it miserably. It’s not my cup of tea. I get scared easily.

    Spirals are a very good ‘shape’ for a manga associated with madness. It has that psychedellic edge to it. – It was a good review all in all. Good job!

    • I also get scared very easily, and it’s not exactly my cup of tea as well. But I think the spiral theme was what kept me going through with this manga, and I’ve since then became a big fan of Ito Junji. I don’t think I’ll be checking out other horror works for a while. Thanks! ^_^

  4. Yi

    This is one of the best and certainly most mesmerizing horror manga I’ve read. It’s intense when it needs to be, creepy, fascinating, beautiful, scary, and hopeless. I just love Junji Ito!

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  6. jreding

    Excellent review! The artwork looks awesome. I haven’t read any horror manga yet. Based on your description of the plot it seems to be quite like the Japanese horror stories I’ve come to appreciate in live-action movies: Some mysterious evil which is no further explained creeps into people’s lives. I’m thinking e.g. of the Kairo – The Pulse or of Suicide Circle. Btw, there seems to be a live-action adaptation of Uzumaki as well but it doesn’t look so cool.

    In any case, as I’m not that good with self-mutilation of the kind described in your post I’ll wait for a sunny and calm day and read it then 😉

    • Oh yes, I’ve heard that there’s a live-action movie of Uzumaki, but I’m a bit afraid to watch it, ahaha. I have never seen any Japanese live-action horror movies, so it’s interesting to learn from you that Uzumaki’s plot has a similar style in live-action movies.

      I’m very interested in watching Kairo, since that apparently has ghosts invading over the Internet? Suicide Circle, hmm, I’m not too sure about wanting to watch that since I dislike the idea of suicide (after all, one of my friends did try to commit suicide, but he’s living happily now thankfully).

      Yep, it would be good to read Uzumaki on a sunny day if you don’t want to be kept up all night! But, you know, nighttime does give it that extra entertaining and thrilling factor. 😉

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