Sunday, January 10, 2010

2. Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Uzumaki is a Japanese comic book ("manga" if you don't know by now) about a remoted, isolated town that suffers from a spiral curse. It manifests itself in many different ways, beginning with individuals obsessing with spirals and eventually getting into full blown craziness and destruction (I don't want to reveal any of the details because the fun is in finding them out). The english version is produced by Viz Comics and is in three elegantly small volumes, each of which contains 6 stories. At first the stories are isolated incidents, each built around some manifestation of the spiral curse but not really advancing the overall storyline beyond relating how weird this town is. These chapters reminded me a lot of the old EC comics, but viewed through the Japanese lens. Just weird (and sometimes quite disturbing) little episodes of horror that end with a clever twist. By the middle of the second volume, a greater narrative starts to pick up pace. In the last volume, the shit really hits the fan.

I wasn't expecting much with this, but I ended up really enjoying it. The horror here goes the distance and is quite creative as well. Though the ambience is really creepy, this is not the kind of J-horror which builds up tons of tension and then nothing ever happens. Shit really happens and it is gross and crazy. You can see a lot of the typical adolescenet sub-text and anxieties (obsessive boys, wanting to be popular, generational conflicts) but these themes are always secondary to the insanity so they don't become annoying. This is a quick fun read and there is some freaky crap in here. If you like horror and comics, I would strongly recommend Uzumaki. I know they made a movie which didn't manage to impress my wife too much, but now that I've read the comic, I may give it a second chance, just to see how they handle some of the crazy visuals.

I also note that when I remember Viz comics being the first company to start publishing english translations of Manga back during the black and white comics explosion of the '80s. It's great to see that they survived the ensuing crash and even appear to be thriving with the current manga boom. It sure seemed very marginal back then. What's also cool is that Uzumaki, and I guess a lot of the manga they publish, are organized to be read in the original Japanese order, from right to left, which takes some getting used to but is kind of cool.

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