Manga Review: Uzumaki

Note: the following is a review of a manga. I don’t normally get to read manga, but when I do, I review it in a method similar to my anime reviews.
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Title:Uzumaki (note: Uzumaki is Japanese for “whirlpool” or “spiral”)
Creator:Junji Ito
Genre: Lovecraftian Horror
Publisher: Viz
Suggested Age: 16+ (note: Viz uses their 13+ rating, but because this manga is quite disturbing, I am using the 16+ rating)
My Rating: 9/10
Summary: The town of Kurouzu-Cho is isolated by water from the rest of the country of Japan. It is a town plagued by a “spiral curse”–a curse that can grotesquely distort those affected by it. Some are driven insane. Some are turned into snails. Some have other disturbing fates. No one in the town is spared. The story is mostly told from the POV of two high school students–Kirie Goshima and her upper-class friend Shuichi Saito, who attempt to survive the horror.

Review: Before I begin, let me give you some background. Notice I didn’t classify this as horror, but a genre called “Lovecraftian Horror”. What’s “Lovecraftian” horror, you ask? Lovecraftian horror refers to HP Lovecraft, a horror writer who lived from 1890-1937. Lovecraft didn’t just write horror, he redefined it. Most of his writings were originally published in magazines such as Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and other sci-fi/fantasy anthology magazines. (Weird Tales is still being published today, actually) Lovecraft influenced such creators as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Arthur C. Clarke, and Neil Gaiman. In Lovecraft’s stories, the horrors didn’t just defeat his characters, it consumed his characters. His horrors were the abyss that Friedrich Nietzche warned about in his famous quote, the abyss that stares back into you if you look too long into it. Have you ever heard of Cthulu? Cthulu is a monster that was created by Lovecraft and first appeared in his story “The Call of Cthulu”, and is his most infamous creation. Cthulu was a monster with its own insane cult. Batman’s Arkham Asylum, where many of his enemies are held because they are too insane for prison, is named after the town where many of Lovecraft’s stories were set. Junji Ito is continuing in Lovecraft’s mad tradition with this manga.
The artwork fits the story well. It has a disturbing and surreal feel to it. This is not done for pure schlock, it has a purpose–to show how our darkest fears can drive us insane and turn us toward sinister ends.
Not even the two main characters are spared by this horror. Kirie’s own hair turns into medusa-like spirals that have hypnotic powers. While Shuichi is not personally affected by the horror, he is a witness to it, and merely being a witness drives him insane.
I do have a minor complaint. Early on, the chapters seem to have little continuity, almost making this seem like an anthology with connected stories. However, later chapters connect to the earlier ones. There is a slowly building arc, rather than one that is present from the beginning.
Is this a story, I’d recommend? Not necessarily. Lovecraftian Horror is grotesque, and not just suspenseful like Edgar Allan Poe or Ambrose Bierce, who preceded Lovecraft. I’d suggest that before you read Uzumaki, you acquaint yourself with the man who influenced it. I recommend the following stories written by Lovecraft:

  • The Lurking Fear
  • The Rats in the Walls
  • The Nameless City
  • The Dunwich Horror
  • The Call of Cthulu
  • The Color of Space
  • The Whisperer in the Darkness
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth

If you like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or any of the other writers I listed above, I think this would be a great manga to check out.
Language:(3/10)
Violence:(8/10)The story isn’t extremely gory, but enough to warrant caution if you can’t stomach gore.
Nudity: none
Sexuality: some mild sexual humor.
Religion:(5/10) It’s hinted that the curse has a supernatural origin, but that origin is never explored. (Lovecraftian horror is never fully explained anyway)
Related Media: Akira’s director Katsuhiro Otomo made a live-action movie out of Uzumaki, and there’s also a virtual novel as well.

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