Uzumaki Review

 

Uzumaki cover art

Uzumaki cover art

Uzumaki by: Junji Ito

208 Pages

4Q – 3P – S – G

Grades 9-12

 

Original: Japan, 1998 by Shogakukan, Inc.

English: America, 2001 by Viz Media LLC.

Uzumaki is a manga book for older teens chronicling a series of strange events that occur in a seaside Japanese town called Kurozu Cho.  The manga is narrated by a former resident and the main protagonist: Kirie Goshima.  She’s an average high school student until a series of terrible events consumes her life.  The manga’s first story follows the “gruesome” tale surrounding the deaths of Shuichi Saito’s parents.  Shuichi is Kirie’s boyfriend and confidant.  The theme of “spirals” begins to emerge as the spiral symbol consumes Shuici’s father and mother in two separate psychological break downs which lead to the commission of strange acts of self-mutilation and their deaths.  Shuichi’s father literally bends his body into spirals in a large basket and Shuici’s mother succumbs to the visions she has of her late husband haunting and telling her all the places on her body that have spirals.  Her demise arises when she realizes that the human ear has a small organ that is spiral shaped.  She jabs scissors into her ears and suffers debilitating injuries that slowly kill her.  

This first story is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the manga’s style and theme.  Teens will be quickly engulfed in it’s well played psychological drama in the classic japanese anime style.  The obsession with a spiral leads two people to commit insane acts of self-destruction.  The rest of the stories in the book become almost too outlandish in my estimation.  But for a teen reader this will give a respite from the intensely dramatic ideas portrayed.  Story two follows a young girl from Kirie and Shuichi’s town who becomes obsessed with Shuichi.  The “spiral” eventually consumes her as a scar.  She thinks helps her attract boys, but it turns into a spiral that consumes her from the outside in.  And while extremely strange things happen in the town, none of the adults seem to panic.  But this outlandishness is also a reason I believe that this book would appeal to teen readers; parents and other adults often view them of being melodramatic and don’t see the need for much of their emotional distress.  To quote the young and fresh Will Smith, “parents just don’t understand”.  Besides, the fantasy aspect is a major part of the Manga genre.

The vivid manga style animations give the book a creepy feel which enhances the story telling.  Done in black ink, with only a few colored panels at the very beginning, the story gives the entire novel the dark, creepy feeling of a decent psychological horror film.  Some of the pictures, for all there artistic merit, are grotesque and disturbing, which adds to the horrific psychological spectacle.  When Shuichi’s father is discovered “spiraled” into the basket we are shown the artists graphic representation of a twisted man crushing himself, contorted into a tight round spiral.  On the dust jacket the book is described as “Poesque” in nature which I think is an excellent comparison and also gives an insight into the audience that might find this book engaging.

The strength of this book as a teen novel stems from the books handling of rather mature, psychological and morose themes.  The “descent into madness” is a phenomenon that I think interests many people and the graphic and fantastic treatment makes it appealing to younger readers.  The stories are also thoughtful in the treatment of the disturbing.  The graphics are well drawn and the height of the stories always have gory imagery, but certainly not too much for a teen.

The artwork on the outside (and inside) is excellent.  Just as in most Japanese manga novels the artwork is surrealistic.  The artists’ grasp of setting, nuance and atmosphere is spot on.  Uzumaki’s all black cover with special shiny inks to set off a portrait of Kirie while red letters announce the title.  The cover art gives an excellent idea of what is in store for the reader.

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