Uzumaki Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Greg Hackmann
Review Date: Friday, December 14, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Junji Ito
Translated by:Yuki Oniki
Adapted by:Yuki Oniki

What They Say
Terror in the Tradition of the Ring!

Kurozu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is cursed. According to Shuichi Saito, the withdrawn boyfriend of teenager Kirie Goshima, their town is haunted not by a person or being but by a pattern: uzumaki, the spiral, the hypnotic secret shape of the world. It manifests itself in everything from seashells and whirlpools in water to the spiral marks on people's bodies, the insane obsessions of Shuichi's father and the voice from the cochlea in our inner ear. As the madness spreads, the inhabitants of Kurozu-cho are pulled ever deeper into a whirlpool from which there is no return!


The Review
By melding creative storylines with fantastic artwork, this first volume of Uzumaki starts the series off on a very strong note.

Packaging:

At first glance, Uzumaki appears to feature a simple, solid-black front cover with only the bright red title logo set against it. Holding the cover at the correct angle to the light reveals a lightly-embossed image of Kirie Goshima on top of this solid black coloring, which is a nice but subtle touch in my opinion. This motif carries over to the back cover, with an embossed spiral logo set between the black backdrop and Viz's marketing blurb.

As an afterword chapter, Viz includes a two-page omake that portrays author Junji Ito unsuccessfully trying to unravel his own obsession with spirals. There's also a brief About the Author bio page at the book's very tail end.

Artwork:

Despite being such a simple geometric shape, Ito manages to exploit the basic spiral shape in some pretty insidious ways. In keeping with the book's theme, nearly every mundane object imaginable -- skylines, plants, hair, etc. -- is infused with an unnatural spiral pattern. Ito's realistic drawing style fits extraordinarily well with this theme: by injecting spirals into things that shouldn't ordinarily contain them, he lends his artwork an other-worldly, semi-grotesque feel without resorting to cheap blood and gore. Ito builds on top of this style with an uncanny sense of depth and dimension: spirals don't just become part of an object's texture, but rather twist, mold, sink into, and consume their hosts' basic structure. The artwork even reveals hints of post-impressionistic influence, with backdrops that reference van Gogh's Starry Night.

Viz does an excellent job committing this artwork to paper. Ito's detailed designs come out sharply and cleanly on the printed page: the first four pages are printed in striking pastel colors, and the deeply-shaded black-and-white pages that make up the rest of the book show good contrast. Without a doubt, this is one of the best-looking titles in recent memory, and one of the best-produced mass-market releases I've seen so far this year.

Text/SFX:

The translation reads smoothly. Compared to some other titles currently being released, Viz shows a great deal of restraint in their font choices here; the lettering was consistently legible throughout the entire book.

Japanese SFX and signs are translated inline.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Kirie Goshima, resident of the small rural town of Kurozu-cho, has noticed a horrific and bizarre series of events begging to unfold, all of which incorporate the spiral pattern in some way. This realization begins when fellow high school student Shuichi Saito tells her of his father's recently-discovered fixation with spirals, in the hopes of convincing her to run away from their hometown with him. As his father sinks further into reclusion, Shuichi begins noticing spirals "contaminating" the city: the shapes are unnaturally abundant throughout Kurozu-cho's landscape, from its winding streets to the constant mini-cyclones.

Things take a turn for the worse when his father's obsession leads to an untimely and horrible self-imposed death. During Mr. Saito's funeral, the cremated remains spiral upwards into the sky, eventually settling into the town's central pond. At this point, the spiral's curse appears to be permanently cemented on the town: Shuichi's mother develops a psychological obsession with purging her life of spirals, to the point that she removes her own hair and fingerprints in a vain attempt to rid herself of the memory of her late husband.

Before long, these supernatural events escape beyond the Saito family and begin affecting the town as a whole. To reveal too much of these stories' plots would remove much of the surprise; but without giving too much away, Ito appears to be gradually incorporating a larger storyline into these otherwise-episodic chapters, as we observe Kirie's ever-increasing determination to flee Kurozu-cho when the spiral curse passes from person to person.

Comments
If this first volume is any indicator, it's easy to see why Uzumaki was bestowed with an Eisner Award nomination when originally released in 2002. This release really came as a pleasant surprise: though the basic plot outline sounds gimmicky, each of these five largely-episodic tales incorporates the underlying theme of the spiral curse without feeling stale or forced. Ito makes an interesting artistic choice by loosely tying these episodes together with an overarching story arc; this small touch really helps to hold this collection together as a coherent entity.

Ito's well-honed artistic chops also play a significant part in why this volume works. Uzumaki's scenery is simply dripping with atmosphere; the macabre events that unfold within Kurozu-cho's borders feel all the more unnerving when contrasted against its small-town look and feel. As far as I'm concerened, Ito's ability to construct an organic yet simultaneously ethereal tone by simply incorporating the basic spiral shape into everyday objects is quite impressive -- and when the spirals start to take over Kurozu-cho's inhabitants, it's just downright creepy.

Though Uzumaki is neither a gory nor a particularly violent title, Izo knows exactly which notes to hit in order to visually and mentally unnerve the reader. People who find these sorts of titles unsettling may not want to pick this release up; but readers with the stomach to tolerate Ito's often-disturbing imagery should try not to miss this release. Highly recommended.



Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 208
ISBN: 1-4215-1389-7
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Uzumaki