3 out of 5
There’s a problem with Uzumaki, a horror story that wants to evoke a sense of fear from the mystery of spirals appearing naturally – snail shells, whirlwinds, etc. – throughout the world: it never quite clarifies what’s so mysterious about these spirals, and as such, it can’t evoke much fear. The design is just a jumping off point for Junji Ito to design some imagery, and some effective body horror, which nonetheless burns through the more grotesque and potentially unnerving variants of these after three or so chapters, leading to sillier and sillier permutations that only feel loosely related to “spirals.” Things get so kooky – hairstyles turning into whirls; kids turning into snails – that I’d swear Uzumaki was intended as a comedy… And while character often only plays a loose part in Ito’s horrors, his longer-form tales do allow for some personality in the leads, and maybe even some subtext as to causes and effects. While the concluding chapters of Uzumaki get around to a larger, Lovecraftian sense of the Unknown, which is cool and relatively creepy, the long-suffering survivors of the spiral – Kirie, and her boyfriend Shuichi – are just there to allow the stories to link together. They aren’t really involved in any way, making the trek solely worthwhile to see what other ideas Junji can mine from the concept.
And, of course, he does deliver – the dude is a master of taking the mundane and extending it to unimaginable extremes – but because of how loose the concept is, Uzumaki, as a whole, is more akin to Ito’s short story collections; unfortunately, with the characters and storyline carrying over, it implies that things will build on each other in a way that they never really do.
Stripping it down to its initial body-horror bits, and its final Lovecraft bits, Uzumaki might be a pretty tight horror story, with its bizarreness a fair substitute for its lacking spookiness. Spread out across 600 pages – though once more bound in VIZ’s perfectly portable and readable and delightful hardcover binding – it’s not especially scary, or internally logical, even, and feels like it stretches its focus pretty thin along the way.