Review: Uzumaki, Vol. 1

Uzumaki, Vol. 1
Uzumaki, Vol. 1 by Junji Ito
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first introduced to Uzumaki at my birthday last week, which just so happened to be Friday the 13th. The movie was weird, campy, and creepy. Happy birthday to me indeed. If I still wrote for The Agony Booth, I would’ve been on the forum saying, “Albert! I got a new idea for a recap. Get this: a Japanese town goes insane from….wait for it….SPIRALS. At times it’s artsy: Hey look, there’s a computer-generated spiral! Ah! Made you look! Then it gets creepy: Ever wondered what a man climbing into a washing machine to spiral himself to death sounds like? Eating pretzel stick in a microphone, actually. And then, WACKY HIJINKS. FUNKY CAMERA ANGLES. A cigarette that explodes LIKE A MINIATURE DEATH STAR when it gets stubbed out. FOR NO REASON WHATSOVER.”

Ahhh…I do so miss writing for the Agony Booth.

Anyway, I read up on the movie afterwards and learned that the movie was done before the manga was finished, so the ending is supposedly different from how the manga ended. This is no big deal–anime does it all the time **coughFullMetalAlchemistcough**. But the movie still managed to piss off the die hard manga folks, who said it was too goofy and too low budget to take seriously. The manga was far more disturbing and creepy. Glutton for punishment that I am, I took that as a challenge to read the manga to see for myself and betook myself to the library.

The manga is drawn beautifully. Ito is a good artist. There’s a color print of Kirie, our plucky girl protagonist, standing in a field of ferns. SPIRALLY ferns. The town she lives in is artistically detailed. You can feel the claustophobia of so many houses close together. His drawing of people looks good too, except the eyes. Ito has this thing for drawing eyeballs. Red-veined, bulging eyeballs. Eyeballs that make you want to reach for a bottle of Visine.

As expected, there are differences between the movie and the manga: movie Kirie only lived with her father, whereas manga Kirie also has a mom and a younger brother. Movie Shuichi was played by a vaguely creepy actor with all the emotional range of a broom. In the manga, he is unhinged from page one, when he bursts out how much he hates the town and freaks out when the five o’clock bell goes off. Plot points are more fleshed out. In the movie, it’s not clear how Shuichi’s father’s dies in the washing machine . Does he drown? Centrigual force? The manga makes that clearer. Shuichi’s mother’s demise is also fleshed out, and horrible as it sounds, it was my favorite chapter (her death is more prolonged, but with less gore.)

Up to that chapter, the manga had retained, perhaps even elevated its creepiness without any of the campiness of the movie. But as the chapters went on, I began to detect a sort of…pattern. Shuichi, now an orphan, spends his time lurking and brooding, and every so often declaiming “SPIRALS ARE EVIL!” And Kirie…wow. At least in the movie, she had the range of emotions of scared, bewildered, and that one scene where she has…ahem…paroxysms of happiness in eating a melon. In the manga, she’s as dumb as a rock. Repeatedly. As in, yes-I-just-saw-demons-fly-out-of-my-father’s-kiln-and-burn-it-to-the-ground-but-that-doesn’t-mean-anything-I’m-off-to school-tee-hee dumb. Her best friend develops a spiral in her forward and implodes, and the next day, Kirie’s acting like nothing has happened. A teenage couple elope ala Romeo and Juliet, and by that I mean entwining themselves like snakes and throwing themselves in the ocean. And Kirie acts like nothing is wrong. It became sort of ridiculous, and I was thinking, man, there might be two whole other volumes of this where Ito just finds entertaingly creepy ways to kill people through spirals. But the last chapter breaks the pattern when the spiral infects Kirie herself and WACKY HAIR HIJINKS ensue. Hijinks on the same par of hilarious creepy idiocy as the movie and ending on a nice, uh, twist, that makes me want to read the next volume. There’s even a cute omake at the end of Ito himself that shows that even he doesn’t take this seriously.

So, I give this volume four spirals out of five, and off to the next volume.

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Review: The Arrival

The Arrival
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Shaun Tan’s story about a man immigrating to a new land is simplistic in story, but the pictures are breathtaking. I loved how Tan uses a fantastical country with whimsical creatures to show the immigration process. The world seems familiar, but the creatures, the foods, the writing throws what we know in a tizzy. We follow the main character as he puzzles out his apartment, tries to find a job, and meet others who are helping him to adjust. The drawings in this is detailed, gorgeous and deliberate. Not a single picture is wasteful. A page filled with nothing but clouds is beautiful, but also shows the passage of time.

This is something I want to get for my missionary inlaws. I think they’ll find it beautiful. Five fantastical pets out of five.

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Review: Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun
Un Lun Dun by China MiΓ©ville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading the bleakness of Hunger Games, I wanted something lighter, and UnLunDun fit the bill. When I first started reading it, I joked, “This is the anti-hunger games”. But the more I read it, I realized it’s more like the UnHunger Games.

There are similiarities. There is a girl who is chosen to save the world. There is a war. Friends get hurt, even killed. But where the Hunger Games were bleak, UnLunDun is more whimsical, thanks to the Mieville’s wonderful drawings, and the storyline itself, which proves not to be your standard girl-gets-pulled-into-alternate-world, girl-must-save-alternate-world, yadda yadda yadda.

Zanna learns she is the prophesied Swazzy, the chosen one who will save the world UnLunDun (say it fast and you’ll get it). But when an accident knocks her out for the count, it’s actually her best friend, Deeba, who rises up to the challenge. Deeba wasn’t meant to be the Swazzy, just her funny sidekick (there’s a beautiful scene where Deeba learns this, much to her chagrin). I think Deeba is also South Asian Indian from her last name, so we got ourselves a POC main character as well. Nicely done.

I like how the novel sets up expectations and then breaks them. The novel even starts in Zanna’s POV, but gradually switches to Deeba. Hemi, the half-ghost boy who’s people are shunned and feared, continues the breaking stereotype them. And there’s an overreaching environmental theme as the evil villian is The Smog, which is…smog. But Deeby has allies, some human, some more whimsical. One of my favorites was Mr. Cavea, a man who has a birdcage, complete with bird, for a head. There are also the binjas, that are rubbish bins and ninjas combined.

Mieville does a wonderful job of creating a London that is strange and fun and frightening all at once. The characters have delightful puns that sometimes are evident, sometimes more subtle (Skool’s origin, for instance, is apt and clever). All the characters charmed me over, and the settings were fun to read. I doubt I would read this to my 7-year-old son, but will put it on the list for when he’s a little older, maybe 9 or 10, as some scenes were a little intense.

This gets 3 out of 5 binjas. I could’ve used a binja to whoever knocked down my mailbox last week. That would’ve been awesome.

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