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.
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 Shuichi, a commutator to a school outside of the village, senses this sickness and begins to become more withdrawn and fearful of the town’s sickness.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.
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.
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.