Today I’m reviewing Uzumaki by Junji Ito. This beautiful hardcover is the 3-in-1 edition, containing all three volumes of the series.
This one has been on the to-read shelf for a while. I’ve heard a lot about Junji Ito, but haven’t tried any of his stuff out until this month. I don’t usually go for horror stories. That’s true of any medium: books, comics, manga, TV, movies, but I’ve heard so many good things about Ito that I figured I had to at least give it a shot. My first exposure to his work was actually Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, which as the name suggests is a slice-of-life comedy about his cats. It was hilarious, and you could tell right away that his native genre is horror. It was good enough that it made me want to dive right into Uzumaki.
Uzumaki is an idea that sounds strange at first glance. A small coastal town in Japan that’s hypnotized by spirals? Sure why not. But, as is the case with any good author, Ito takes the story in interesting directions and his illustrations bring horrors to life. The story hits the ground running, with little time and effort spent trying to explain the absurd premise and just forcing you to accept that this is the world you’ll be a part of for the next few hours. I love that about stories. It’s something that I feel manga, in particular excels at. Don’t bother trying to justify the existence of your strange story, just force the reader to get on board and if it’s good enough they’ll enjoy the ride.
To call Juni Ito a master of body horror illustration would certainly be selling him short. His style is so finely tuned to express the strange and terrifying. Not only does the art in Uzumaki excel at the truly weird, but perhaps the most notable aspect of Ito’s artwork is the incredible hand he has at crafting expressions. There is no need for characters to speak a word to display their terror when their wide, bloodshot eyes and gaping mouths do more justice to their feelings. There are so many weird and wonderful splash pages and Ito lets the truly horrific displays breathe and speak for themselves.
The first of the 3 volumes in this all-in-one edition is all about the mystery of the spiral and is focused on more on a connected tale of mutation and body-horror. Volume 2 functions as a second act, telling a series of one or two chapter arcs that are more isolated compared to volume 1. Volume 3 brings everything together in an apocalyptic final act. The large amount of ground the series covers in just three volumes is pretty incredible, moving from a small and contained narrative to a full-scale dystopia, all centered on the spiral theme in the same small town.
As I expressed at the start, it takes a lot for me to get invested in anything in the horror genre, but Uzumaki really drew me in. I’m sure I’ll be returning to more of Junji Ito’s work in the future. His style is distinct and his writing and ideas are strange and fascinating. Sit down with this one for an afternoon (or maybe in a dark room at night if that’s your thing) and let the horror take you away to a strange Japanese coastal town. By the end of it you’ll be seeing spirals everywhere you look.