This may come as a shocker, but I do not read manga. There have been a few that looked interesting, but I have never so much as picked up a volume in my hands and flipped through it. Until this week. This week my eyes have been opened. Not all manga is cartoonish, with high school stories, gender swapping animals, and corny dialogue. There exists a whole other world of manga, where horror is the currency and fear is its only export. The world of Junji Ito.
Fellow Drunk Dork Chim took it upon himself to make sure that I read Uzumaki(1998-1999), a 600 plus page manga that follows the story of a small town in Japan. The story is given its voice by Kirie, a high school aged girl who begins to see the strangeness in her town. She is accompanied by her boyfriend, Shuichi. He brings her attention to the spirals which encompass this entire manga. Both begin to see odd behavior in loved ones and random people in town, starting with Shuichi’s father. He becomes obsessed with spirals, collecting everything he can find that bares one. He even commissions Kirie’s father to make a pottery piece with a spiral on it. Thus begins the madness that permeates Uzumaki.
The manga is set up in chapters, and for most of the book, even though the stories all connect, they are almost like one shot stories taking place in the same universe. The further down the rabbit hole you go, the more cohesive the stories become. I really enjoyed how the book takes you in little by little, and then throws you into the lake without your water wings.
After the death of Shuichi’s father, the real horror begins. The spirals become an obsession of all in the town, and horrifying happenings ensue. To say that this book is creepy is an understatement. This manga brings the reader to the brink of sanity many times. You can clearly see that Ito has been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. Madness is the blood that flows through this story.
I also was lucky enough to get to read another Ito manga this week, Gyo(2001-2002). This one also takes place in Japan, and starts with a boy and his girlfriend on vacation. They discover a terrible smell that will not go away. Kaori starts to obsess over the smell, even when Tadashi cannot smell it. Tadashi finds a fish with legs behind a dresser and he smashes it, puts it in a bag, and takes it outside. He is intrigued by it, but Kaori is disgusted and quickly becomes sick.
As the story progresses, more and more fish start walking out of the sea, including great white sharks and whales. Everywhere they go they bring a terrible stench. They begin to spread all across Japan, and then the world. What are these creatures? Where did they come from, and what do they want? I urge you to find out by reading the manga, as I will not spill those secrets so easily.
As in Uzumaki, people turn into things that are barely recognizable as people. This is a prime example of body horror at its best. David Cronenburg would be proud. The way Ito chooses to portray each plague in physical form is truly frightening, and the simplicity of his words makes the drawings hit the reader even harder. Both manga are not for the faint of heart.
I felt at home reading both of these amazing manga. I am a lover of horror, of the things that go bump in the night. I want to feel fear, disgust, and most of all; I want to feel like a survivor. Reading a great horror novel, comic, or manga leaves you with a sense of having lived through whatever ordeal you have read but unlike the characters, you walk away, virtually unscathed. Sure, a few nightmares may occur, or you may think twice before you turn off your lights at night, but in the end you are safe. You have tasted the forbidden fruit and lived to tell the tale. That is what is so great about horror, and Junji Ito gets it. If you love horror, his works are a must read. Now to go back and read Tomie….