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REVIEW: Uzumaki by Junji Ito

REVIEW: Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Author’s note: This article contains spoilers for the manga Uzumaki.

Uzumaki tells the story of high school students Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend Shuichi Saito and their experiences of the spiral phenomenon in the fictional town of Kurouzu. A perfect read for Halloween, each chapter is an individual story about the town’s inhabitants and their struggles against the unexplained, supernatural spirals that appear everywhere. From the grass to the river, from snails and fingerprints to Shuichi’s mother’s IV bag, spirals inundate the town.

For instance, the manga opens with a handful of chapters about Shuichi’s father, who quickly becomes utterly consumed by the spirals, collecting everything he can with a spiral on it. He stops going to work, has to have spiral-patterned fishcakes in his miso, and even swirls his bath water before getting in the bathtub. Shuichi’s father’s fate is the main reason why Shuichi becomes so paranoid throughout the manga and wants to leave the town. After this brief story arc, the manga continues along with additional tales of spirals making people go mad or transforming people into unnatural things, like giant human-snails and mosquito-like vampires.

Something explainable draws more and more of the supernatural spirals to the town, something that appears to be centered on Dragonfly Pond. Ash from the local crematorium disappears into the pond, as well as entire typhoons. And as the manga continues, it becomes more and more apparent that something is not right. That something is never really explained, even at the end of volume three when things finally reach a climax of sorts. The old-style long houses that pepper the town seem to have a connection to the spirals, but this is never fully explained either. Ito was apparently inspired by his own experience living in one of these traditional terraced houses, but he also wished to incorporate the spiral into his story, because in Japan, it often represents something good.

The story, overall, is absolutely absurd. Terrible things happen to Kirie and Shuichi, and yet, they never leave the town. There are plenty of opportunities for them to do so, even before it becomes impossible later on, and yet, even after Shuichi’s parents die, Kirie’s father does some immoral things, and Kirie ends up in the hospital (which is full of pregnant zombie mosquito ladies sucking people’s blood), they still don’t leave. This manga falls into the horror film cliche in which you’ll find yourself yelling at the characters not to tempt fate and not to go into the dark room where the disgusting monsters are waiting for them, even though you know they will anyway.

The story requires you to willing suspend your disbelief, otherwise there’s no point in reading the tale. It’s a “come for the story, but stay for the art” sort of manga. Ito’s drawings are truly vile. You wouldn’t think that a spiral could induce so much terror, but Ito’s art will make you never look at a spiral the same way again. The strange things that happen to character’s bodies are especially disgusting. Ito’s art will make you uncomfortable, even though they’re only drawings on a page.

I’m not really into horror films myself. Overly grotesque imagery, violence against the body, and things like torture are just not for me, but something about Ito’s clever use of the spiral to induce so much terror was truly fascinating. It kept me turning the page even after almost losing my lunch.

Uzumaki was originally serialized in Big Comic Spirits magazine in Japan from 1998 through 1999. It is available in English from Viz Media in a single omnibus edition.

Story: 3 out of 5 stars
Art: 5 out of 5 stars
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads | Indiebound | RightStuf

This review contains affiliate links. While Girls in Capes does make revenue from purchases made at affiliate links, reviews are not paid, and all reviews contain the staff writers’ honest opinions of the work.

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Rine Karr
Anime Writer at Girls in Capes
Rine Karr is an Anime Writer at Girls in Capes. She's a writer and aspiring novelist by moonlight and a copyeditor by daylight. Rine loves good food, travel, and lots of fiction, especially novels, anime, manga, video games, and films. She's also the Chief Copyeditor and an occasional contributor at Women Write About Comics.
Rine Karr
Written by Rine Karr

Rine Karr is an Anime Writer at Girls in Capes. She's a writer and aspiring novelist by moonlight and a copyeditor by daylight. Rine loves good food, travel, and lots of fiction, especially novels, anime, manga, video games, and films. She's also the Chief Copyeditor and an occasional contributor at Women Write About Comics.