Spirals seem pretty harmless—until Junji Ito’s Uzumaki comes into the picture.
Uzumaki is a manga about Kurozu, a small coastal town cursed by all things spiral. When Shuichi Saito’s father becomes obsessed with anything spiral, a series of events reveal the deep-seeded curse of uzumaki, or the spiral. Told from the perspective of Shuichi’s mild-mannered girlfriend, Kirie Goshima, Uzumaki follows the twisted fates of the town’s inhabitants.
Uzumaki is more of a psychological horror with a corporeal feeling about it—almost as if spirals can grab any reader and drive them crazy. With each event surrounding the residents of Kurozu, readers become just as confused and fearful as the townspeople. No one knows why the spirals are causing such chaos, and the characters don’t try to seek out why the events are happening in the first place.
By the end of the first volume, the spirals seem to be just a natural occurrence. With the repetition of spirals throughout the manga and the characters not making a break for another city, Uzumaki leaves any reader wondering how much more damage can be inflicted by spirals.
The art of Uzumaki is truly beautiful while depicting gory scenes. There are points in the manga where certain scenes could be isolated from the rest of the manga and framed inside a J-horror exhibition. Ito does an excellent job in making impossible things—Shuichi’s father twisting his entire body into a spiral—believable. It helps the imaginative story become more realistic and visceral for the reader.
Uzumaki showcases the talent of Junji Ito, one of Japan’s leading horror comics artist. Besides Uzumaki, Ito has released horror greats like Gyo and Tomie, which was turned into a live-action movie. Drawing from famous inspirations Kazuo Umezu, Hideshi Hino, and H.P. Lovecraft, Ito has forged several unforgettable horror manga that garnered him the prestigious Umezu Prize for Horror. His background as a dental technician also appears in his work, especially in the various illustrations of the human body.
With its chilling story and convincing artwork, it is easy to see why Uzumaki was nominated for “Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material” in the 2002 Eisner Awards. Uzumaki has the whole package in a horror manga. This is one manga that will definitely have readers thinking twice about spirals.
Learning Japanese and living in Japan has its perks: I get to read manga just as they come out. I also get to see what Japanese people think of the manga and which manga make it to the top ten lists. This year, I made it a point to read unlicensed manga in Japanese and licensed manga in English, even ones that weren’t released this year. Here’s my top five manga from this year.
5. Grainerie (グライネリエ)
(Genre: Fantasy, Shounen)
Unlicensed, Published in GFantasy Magazine (Square Enix).
I love all the works by Rihito Takarai, including her boys’ love (BL) series. In my opinion, I think that Takarai-san’s works are great examples for all manga creators should aim to achieve. The stories all have an even pace, tasteful art, great characters, and realistic dialogue. Grainerie is no different. Only granted “graineliers” can produce “seeds” that have different powers. An ordinary boy named Lucas decides to use these mysterious “seeds”, soon becoming an illegal human in the world.
I also practiced my Japanese, and made a little bit of contact with Takarai-san through Twitter (@twittakarai). I wrote to her, “I read Grainerie and Ten Count. They were interesting! Thank you so much! I’ll be getting the next manga. –From a foreign fan (Is my Japanese OK?).「グライネリエ」と「テンカウント」を見た。面白かった！ありがとうございます！次の漫画を待っています(★^O^★) –外国人のファンより(日本語大丈夫ですか？(⌒_⌒;))”. She responded, “Your Japanese is good. Did you enjoy Grainerie and Ten Count? I’m very happy! I’ll do my best so that you can enjoy it. 日本語お上手ですよ～～ 「グランネリエ」と「テンカウント」楽しんで頂けましたか？とっても嬉しいです！ 続きも楽しんで頂けるようがんばりますね”. So, not only is Takarai-san a great manga creator, she’s a responsive Twitter user!
4. Last Game (ラストゲーム)
(Genre: Comedy, Shoujo)
Unlicensed, Published in LaLa Magazine.
I love stories where two people grow up together, even if those stories are from 2011. A Japanese teacher at school lent me the first four volumes in Japanese because she said, “It’s as enjoyable as Kimi ni Todoke.” (I borrowed all of the Kimi ni Todoke volumes from her, too.) In Last Game, rich pretty boy Yanagi has made his life mission to beat his childhood rival, Kujou. From elementary school to college, Yanagi follows her, but through the years, he begins to fall in love with her. The only problem lies in brainy and sporty Kujou. Can she let herself fall in love at all?
I let this series become a standard for girl-boy friendships that blossom into love. Kujou, who is really intelligent, doesn’t look at boys because she’s always thinking of getting to the top. She’s not a typical female anime character. Even though lots of manga resort to using rich boys in prestigious schools as romantic interests (Boys over Flowers, Hana Kimi, Ouran High School Host Club), Last Game makes the rich boy chase the poor girl in nonreputable schools. I love when manga breaks the cliche!
3. Yamada and the Seven Witches (山田くんと７人の魔女)
(Genre: Supernatural, Comedy, Shounen)
Licensed by Crunchyroll/Kodansha USA.
My favorite genre of manga is shounen (Please read My Answers to an Anime Q&A), and Yamada and the Seven Witches definitely embodies it! It’s funny, adventurous, and a little bit corny. When high school slacker, Ryuu Yamada, collides with studious Urara Shiraishi, they learn they can swap bodies by kissing. But they aren’t the only ones with special powers at Suzaku High.
Even though this series is very tamed compared to ONE PIECE and Fairy Tail, it’s still fun to watch Yamada form friendships with a hint of sexy detective work.
2. Skip Beat (スキップビート)
(Genre: Supernatural, Comedy, Psychological)
Licensed by Viz.
OK, so maybe Skip Beat was originally released in
Extravagant Challenge‘s Promo Poster
2010, but I decided to read the popular title this year after I re-watched the Taiwanese TV series, Extravagant Challenge (華麗的挑戰) starring my favorite Super Junior member, Siwon ヽ( ★ω★)ノ. Skip Beat centers on rising actress Kyoko Mogami who joins the entertainment industry to get revenge on her childhood friend, Sho Fuwa. With the help of Fuwa’s rival, fellow actor Ren Tsuruga (Siwon!), Kyoko learns about acting and love.
I think that this is another series every aspiring manga creator should read. Some of the methods that Kyoko learns are essentially from method acting. If acting were reduced to a more puristic level, acting comes from a script or screenplay, or written works. Great dialogue isn’t by expression alone. It’s by good writing. Skip Beat made me realize that I have to write in a similar way. Now, I act out the dialogue of each character I write and I put myself into my characters’ shoes. This has improved my writing, even helping me win one writing contest and get selected for an anthology (The Loaner and The Visitor).
1. Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人)
(Genre: Supernatural, Horror)
Licensed by Kodansha USA.
I really hate the horror genre, especially series with man-eating monsters. Still, I put my hatred of zombie-like creatures aside and diligently read Attack on Titan. After 100 years of the appearance of giant humanoid Titans, humans live in three concentric walls which protect them from attacks. When the outermost wall is breached by a colossal Titan, the humans are forced behind the other two walls. The story centers on Eren Yaeger, his adopted sister, Mikasa Ackerman, and their childhood friend, Armin Arlert, as they fight the Titans to save humanity.
This series is very different from horror genre series such as Gantz, Claymore, I am a Hero (アイアムアヒーロー), and Uzumaki (うずまき). Though all of these series deal with humanity fighting against monsters, Attack on Titan perfectly captures desperation and hopelessness, which is the reality of today’s world. It also says a lot about Japan and its complicated relationship with foreigners and foreign customs. I can think of few series that do this!