The Downward Spiral


Uzumaki is a horror manga by an artist named Junji Ito. It’s set in a small town called Kurôzu-cho, and our lead characters are a pretty high school girl named Kirie and her bookish older boyfriend Shuichi. What’s it about?

Bear with me here, okay?

The book is about the horror of spirals.

I know how it sounds, so let’s talk a bit more about it. We start out in the first chapter with Shuichi’s father strangely obsessed with spiral shapes of all kinds. He collects spirals, sits in alleyways staring at spiral shapes on walls, and generally behaves really, really strangely. His family wisely tells him to cut it out, and he responds by learning how to make his own spirals — by spinning his eyes in opposite directions and by doing this to his tongue.

You can just imagine how well that goes over. He later commits suicide by climbing into a wooden tub and contorting his entire body into a spiral. Shuichi’s mother acquires her own obsession with spirals after the funeral, but instead she’s utterly terrified of all spirals, including the ones inside her own body.

Later elements in the stories include a classmate’s horrifying spiral scar, a boy who is run over by a car and ends up wrapped in a spiral around the front wheel, people who slowly transform into giant snails, and a gang of pregnant women in the hospital who have begun using hand drills to kill patients so they can drink their blood.

Yeah, Kurôzu-cho is a really messed-up place.

What seems like a completely innocuous image ramps up quickly from something you notice in ferns or snail shells or eddys in water into something that you see almost everywhere and that grows more and more ominous as time goes by.

It’s not perfect, of course — the chapter with the spiral hair is a bit underwhelming until the end, and as the town starts to decay after the typhoon, the story hits a lull for several chapters — but on the whole, it’s really intensely freaky stuff.

Junji Ito’s artwork is absolutely nightmarish, in all the good ways you want from a horror comic — every gory, bizarre, terrifying moment is there in all the gruesome detail you could dream of. And it all adds up to a climax that casts the village of Kurôzu-cho as a modern-day Japanese counterpart to H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth, Massachusetts or Stephen King’s Derry, Maine.

“Uzumaki” is available in three volumes, starting with this one. Remember, Japanese manga reads, for Western readers, backwards — it takes a little doin’ to get used to reading a book from back to front and from right to left, but the brain-breaking horror in this story is definitely worth the trouble.

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