Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror

Uzumaki: Spiral into HorrorCreator: Junji Ito
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421561325
Released: October 2013
Original run: 1998-1999

Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, originally released in Japan between 1998 and 1999, is one of the most well-known horror manga series to have been translated into English. Viz Media has actually published three different English-language editions of Uzumaki, not counting its initial serialization in the monthly manga magazine Pulp. The first edition, published as three individual volumes, was released between 2001 and 2002. These volumes were reissued in a second edition between 2007 and 2008. And then, in 2013, Uzumaki was released by Viz in a deluxe, single-volume hardcover omnibus complete with color pages and gorgeous production values and design. (Though I had previously read and enjoyed the series, it was the spectacular omnibus edition that finally convinced me that Uzumaki was a manga that I needed to own.) An emphasis should be placed on the “gore” of gorgeous–Uzumaki, while it has deservedly been called a masterpiece of horror, is most definitely not a work intended for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

Kurouzu-cho is a small, quiet seaside village under a curse. It’s manifestation starts with the Saito family. First, Mr. Saito begins acting strangely, developing an unhealthy obsession with spirals. This leads to his demise and in turn his wife understandably becomes terrified of spirals as well, her complex becoming just as severe as her husband’s. In the end, their son Shuichi is the only one left in the family and his girlfriend Kirie Goshima is his only ally. Already uncomfortable with Kurouzu-cho, the fate of his parents convinces Shuichi that the town is contaminated with spirals, though most people believe this to be his own form of insanity. But stranger and stranger things begin to happen in Kurouzu-cho. Kirie becomes witness to so many bizarre occurrences and horrifying deaths that she can’t deny that something is very, very wrong with the town. Tragedy after tragedy befalls Kurouzu-cho, its inhabitants, and anyone unfortunate enough to enter the immediate area as events both figuratively and literally spiral out of control.

At first, Uzumaki seems as though it’s a series that is mostly episodic. Each chapter is largely told and seen from Kirie’s perspective and explores an individual incident involving spirals in some way. But as the manga continues, the stories become more and more closely tied to one another, eventually forming a single, coherent narrative. As previously mentioned, Uzumaki is very graphic, the images that Ito creates, while mesmerizing, can be extraordinarily disturbing and gruesome. But there is more going on in the manga than gore and body horror; there is also a very strong, and very dark, psychological element to Uzumaki which makes the entire series especially effective in its terror. Uzumaki is bizarre and surreal but at the same time is completely convincing in its unnatural horror. It’s hard to believe that something so benign as a simple shape–a spiral–could be so terrifying, but Ito accomplishes the seemingly impossible with Uzumaki. It’s an exceptionally disconcerting work.

Although the imagery in Uzumaki is frequently disturbing, grotesque, and even nauseating, almost as frightening are the characters’ reactions–or, in many cases, their non-reactions–to the terrible events surrounding them. Shuichi is one of the very few people who seem to be completely aware of what is happening in Kurouzu-cho, but he is barely able to maintain his own sanity and becomes increasingly haunted and withdrawn. Surprisingly, hidden within the nightmare that is Uzumaki, there is actually a love story of sorts, granted a tragic one considering the nature of the manga. Despite everything, Kirie is always there to support and look out for Shuichi and his well-being. And even when Shuichi is nearly catatonic and barely able to function within society, he repeatedly risks his life to save hers. But in the end, Uzumaki is ultimately an incredible work of horror. There are things that I’ve seen in the manga that I will never be able to unsee. And I will never be able to look at spirals in quite the same way again.

Manga Giveaway: Sherlock Bones Giveaway

The end of October is fast approaching, which means it’s time for another manga giveaway at Experiments in Manga! I’m not entirely sure why, but my review of the first volume of Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato’s manga series Sherlock Bones is by far one of the most frequently visited posts at Experiments in Manga. It’s been more than a year since Kodansha Comics published the volume in English, but the review still gets plenty of page hits. And so, for this month’s giveaway, I decided that I would give people the chance to read the actual manga. As always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

Sherlock Bones, Volume 1

I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Sherlock Bones. The premise is inherently silly–Sherlock Holmes reincarnated as a puppy–but perhaps in part because of that, the series can be a lot of fun. Sherdog is tremendously smart, despite occasionally being distracted by his more canine tendencies, and he’s cute, too. But probably most important for a detective and mystery series like Sherlock Bones, the crimes and how they are solved are consistently interesting. Additionally, readers who want to have a more interactive reading experience can actually search for and find the clues needed to solve the crimes within the pages of the manga.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Sherlock Bones, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me a little about your favorite or the most unusual detective/crime-solver that you’ve encountered reading manga. (If you don’t have one, simply mention that.)
2) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting, or retweeting, about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

There it is! Each person can earn up to two entries and has one week to submit comments for this giveaway. If preferred, entries can also be sent via e-mail to phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. Your comments will then be posted in your name. The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on November 5, 2014. Best of luck!

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address in the comment form, a link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

My Week in Manga: October 20-October 26, 2014

My News and Reviews

I posted two reviews at Experiments in Manga last week. First up was my review of Baku Yumemakura and Jiro Taniguchi’s The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4. It’s the penultimate volume in one of my favorite manga series. It was also a particularly intense volume. The fifth and final book should be available sometime next year; I’m really looking forward to it. My second review last week was of Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1, the second volume in Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series. I didn’t find it to be quite as dark as the first novel, but it still had an interesting mix of science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance. I discovered Boogiepop late (the four novels and the four volumes of manga that were translated into English are now out of print) but I’m really enjoying the franchise so far. At this point I definitely plan on checking out the rest of the Boogiepop novels, manga, music, anime series, and live-action film.

On to other things online! Digital Manga has launched its most recent Tezuka Kickstarter project and it is…ambitious. At Manga Comics Manga, Deb Aoki has a nice roundup of some the concerns and criticisms fans have been expressing about the project. Justin has been busy posting more New York Comic Con content at Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, including interviews with Viz Media’s Andy Nakatani (editor-in-chief of Weekly Shonen Jump) and Leyla Aker (Vice President of Publishing). Also, in case you missed it (like I did), Brigid Alverson posted her NYCC interview of Takeshi Obata at Comic Book Resources a couple Fridays back. Ryan Holmberg’s most recent What Was Alternative Manga? column focuses on the proto-gekiga work of Masahiko Matsumoto. The post has great (and probably deliberate) timing–Matsumoto’s The Man Next Door is now available to order from Breakdown Press. Over at Manga Connection, Manjiorin is embarking on a new review project focusing on Crunchyroll’s digital manga. And speaking of manga reviews, Manga Blog’s inagural Bookmarked! feature was posted. I’m very happy to see Manga Blog so active again. Be sure to check it out for its link-blogging, too!

Quick Takes

The Dawn of LoveThe Dawn of Love by Kazuho Hirokawa. Masahiro is infatuated with his fellow law student Takane and so is very happy to discover that Takane, like him, is also gay. Takane has multiple partners which doesn’t bother Masahiro at first, but eventually he decides that he wants Takane to exclusively date him. My biggest issue with The Dawn of Love is that Masahiro uses sex to manipulate Takane, basically forcing Takane to choose monogamy regardless of his own feelings about the matter; it’s really not a good basis for a healthy, long-lasting relationship. I think Hirokawa was trying to going for a sort of “true love conquers all” take with the manga, but The Dawn of Love isn’t successful in achieving that, mostly because I was never convinced that Masahiro and Takane were actually in love to begin with. Even Masahiro doesn’t bother to ask himself why he loves Takane until well into the story, and he never really answers that question. It’s obvious that the two of them enjoy having sex with each other (and there’s a lot of sex in The Dawn of Love), but sexual desire isn’t the same thing as romantic love. The Dawn of Love had great potential and was even rather funny in places, but overall I didn’t end up enjoying it much at all.

Magical Girl Apocalypse, Volume 1Magical Girl Apocalypse, Volume 1 by Kentaro Sato. I can’t tell for certain yet, but by the end of the first volume of Magical Girl Apocalypse it seems as though the series might actually be a parody. If that’s true, it makes the manga a little more interesting to me. If not, Sato is going to need to do something else to keep my attention. I’m more frightened that Yoruka will have a horrifying back injury due to her ridiculously large breasts than I am of the series’ “zombies.” Despite the inclusion of the creepy-cute magical girls instead of more traditional zombie-like monsters, the manga doesn’t really set itself apart yet. At this point, it somehow feels like a pretty generic zombie story. There’s plenty of disturbing scenes and well-drawn gore, and I appreciate that Sato isn’t afraid to kill off characters who in other series would actually manage to live for more than one chapter, but otherwise I found Magical Girl Apocalypse to be a fairly typical zombie survival manga. The series should be an entertaining read for those fond of the subgenre, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but personally I find myself a little zombied-out these days and prefer my horror to have a little more substance.

Say I Love You, Volume 3Say I Love You, Volume 3 by Kanae Hazuki. One of the things that really impresses me about Say I Love You is Hazuki’s forthright portrayal of teenage sexuality. The characters exhibit both maturity and immaturity in their relationships; they can be surprisingly levelheaded, but they can also let their feelings get the best of them. There’s conflict and selfishness in addition to the beginnings of new love and developing respect for others. The characters and their relationships are believable and have depth to them. The more I read of Say I Love You the more and more like Mei. She, like so many of the other characters, has been hurt in the past, but despite her nervousness and anxiety she’s at a point in her life that she’s able to stand up for herself and for others. (Bullying and dealing with bullies is a recurring theme in Say I Love You.) Though Mei tends not to take crap from other people, she is still vulnerable and she still experiences pain, especially now that she is beginning to open herself up to others again. She’s learning to trust, but it doesn’t always come easily for her. It’s this sort of realistic and layered characterization that Say I Love You does particularly well.

YU+ME: Dream, Omnibus 1YU+ME: Dream, Omnibuses 1-2 by Megan Rose Gedris. I only recently discovered YU+ME, a webcomic that was originally released online between 2004 and 2010. The comic is still freely available to read online, but the series has also now been collected into two omnibuses which include additional content. The first part of YU+ME comes across as a fairly standard girl-meets-girl high school love story. It’s certainly enjoyable, but not an exceptional story on its own. (Although it is noteworthy that the series may have been one of the earliest queer-focused webcomics.) What really makes the YU+ME outstanding is its second part, which places the first half within an entirely new context. Gedris wanted to turn the “but it was all a dream” trope on its head and she does so magnificently. Both the artwork and the storytelling are a bit rough in the beginning, but Gedris steadily improves and by the end the series has turned into something truly spectacular. The first part of YU+ME primarily uses a single art style while the second half explodes into a brilliant variety of design, color, and texture. YU+ME is an epic and surreal lesbian love story with a grand mythos to go along with it and a plot that is much more complex than it first appears.

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1

Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1Author: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164205
Released: June 2006
Original release: 1998

After reading Boogiepop and Others, I knew that I needed to read the rest of Kouhei Kadono’s Boogiepop light novel series, or at least all of the volumes that had been released in English. Sadly, out of the more than a dozen volumes, only four of the novels were ever translated and it is unlikely that any others will be. Boogiepop Returns: VS Imaginator, Part 1 is the second Boogiepop novel and the first volume in a two-part story arc. The novel was originally published in Japan in 1998, the same year that the award-winning Boogiepop and Others was released. The English translation of the first part of Boogiepop Returns by Andrew Cunningham was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Seven Seas was also the publisher that released the other three Boogiepop novels available in English as well as some of the Boogiepop manga adaptations (which I have yet to read). Technically, all of those Boogiepop books have gone out of print, but fortunately most of the volumes are still fairly easy to find.

When she was only seventeen, Minahoshi Suiko plummeted from the rooftop of Shinyo Academy. Initially it was believed to have been a suicide, but rumors start circulating among the students that it may have been murder or perhaps something even more sinister, something that is compelling others to follow in Minahoshi’s footsteps. It wouldn’t be the only time that Shinyo Academy has faced inhuman and supernatural influences resulting in tragedy and death. Asukai Jin is a counselor at a local cram school which is attended by several Shinyo Academy students. He seems to be able to look into the hearts of those seeking his aid, offering advice that is uncannily appropriate for each student and their specific situations. The odd ability which allows Asukai to see the flaws of others while being blind to his own has drawn the attention of the same forces a work at Shinyo Academy. The only thing that stands in the way of those forces is the fabled spirit of death Boogiepop, but there are those who are hunting Boogiepop down in order to prevent any sort of interference.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about Boogiepop and Others was its narrative structure, and so I was happy to see the first part of Boogiepop Returns use a similar one. Specifically, the story continues to be seen from the perspective of multiple characters, although in this volume the chronology is slightly less disjointed overall. The events in Boogiepop Returns take place both before and after those in Boogiepop and Others. (A handy timeline included in the back of the volume helps to make this all clear.) Although the plots of each novel aren’t directly related, the events of the first are alluded to in the second and both volumes do share some of the same characters. However, the importance of the characters’ individual roles has shifted somewhat. Taniguchi Masaki, for example, was a side character in the first Boogiepop novel; he wasn’t much more than a stepbrother to another important character. But in Boogiepop Returns he is one of the leads in the volume’s ill-fated love story.

The Boogiepop series has a fascinating mix of genres–science fiction, horror, mystery, and even a bit of romance all make an appearance in the novels. There are strong psychological elements and strange and bizarre occurrences, too. I didn’t find the second Boogiepop novel to be quite as dark as the first, but it could still be thoroughly disconcerting and it was consistently engaging. Because Boogiepop Returns is a two-part arc, most of the first volume is spent setting the stage and introducing the major players. At this point the significance of some of the events is still unclear and far more questions have been raised than have been answered. It’s difficult to say just exactly what is going on and perhaps even more challenging to anticipate what will happen next. This will probably either frustrate readers immensely or intrigue them. (As for me, I was intensely intrigued.) Much like Boogiepop and Others, the first part of Boogiepop Returns is peculiar and unsettling. I’m very curious to see how the story will continue to develop in the second volume.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4Author: Baku Yumemakura
Illustrator: Jiro Taniguchi

U.S. publisher: Fanfare/Ponent Mon
ISBN: 9788492444632
Released: October 2013
Original release: 2003
Awards: Angoulême Prize, Japan Media Arts Award

One of my favorite manga series is The Summit of the Gods. The manga, a five-volume series written by Baku Yumemakura and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, is an adaptation of Yumemakura’s award-winning novel The Summit of the Gods. The manga adaptation itself is also an award-winning work, taking home an Angoulême Prize and a Japan Media Arts Award in addition to winning and being nominated for numerous other awards. The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 was originally published in Japan in 2003 while the English-language edition was released by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2013. It may have taken ten years for the volume to have appeared in translation, but it was definitely worth the wait. The Summit of the Gods is a phenomenal series with fantastic artwork, and engaging story, and marvelously flawed, realistic characters. Even considering some of their incredible talents and abilities, not to mention their enormous personalities, the manga’s characters remain believable and sympathetic.

For the past several years the legendary Japanese mountain climber Jouji Habu has been illegally living and climbing in Nepal. He has been preparing for more than a decade to attempt something believed by most to be impossible–climbing Mount Everest’s summit via its southwest face solo, in the winter, and without oxygen. Even teams of climbers have failed to reach the summit and return alive using a southwest route under much less stringent conditions than those proposed by Habu for his ascent. His attempt will be so dangerous that he hasn’t even tried to obtain a climbing permit, knowing that it will be denied. As a result, very few people are aware of exactly what it is Habu is about to do. One of those people is Makoto Fukamachi, a photographer and mountain climber whose interest in Habu was originally sparked by a camera that he found which may have belonged to George Mallory. But now Habu is determined to reach the summit of Mount Everest and Fukamachi is determined to record his astonishing feat, following him as far as he possibly can.

The one thing that I found slightly unsatisfying about the previous volume of The Summit of the Gods was the story’s temporary shift of focus off of the actual mountain climbing in the series. In retrospect, it makes sense to have that small break as the fourth volume more than makes up for it–almost the entire manga is devoted to Habu and Fukamachi’s preparations for and the first part of their respective climbs of Mount Everest. And it is awesome, in the traditional sense of the word. Taniguchi’s artwork in The Summit of the Gods can be breathtaking with its stunning landscapes and massive mountain vistas. The scale alone feels intimidating and awe-inspiring. Taniguchi has not only beautifully and realistically captured the snow, ice, and rock of Mount Everest, he has also devoted an impressive amount of attention to the details of mountain climbing and the equipment needed to survive. The Summit of the Gods is a manga series fortunate to have superb artwork as well equally strong writing.

The Summit of the Gods, Volume 4 brings to the forefront not only the physical struggles of the characters but their psychological battles as well. The series is intense. Over the course of the last few volumes it has been made very clear how perilous mountain climbing can be. Even under better conditions than Fukamachi and Habu are now facing it has been shown that the smallest mistake can easily end in injury or death. There is a very real and strong possibility that neither one of the men will survive the climb and the sense of danger is constant. Habu and Fukamachi are each facing the mountain head on and in the process must confront alone their own pasts, failings, and limitations. The loneliness of their climb, the isolation they experience on the mountain as well as in their lives, the sacrifices and risks made to achieve what they have and come as far as they have, all of this and more is exceedingly important to the series. The Summit of the Gods remains a tremendously compelling manga; I look forward to reading the final volume a great deal.