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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