Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Read: 19 October, 2018

The story isn’t particularly linear, with each chapter covering a new expression of the spiral obsession that kills the residents of Kurozu-cho. The main character, Kirie, is a witness to the goings on, and there are other recurring characters, but each chapter can otherwise function as independent short stories.

The artwork is incredibly creepy. Some of the imagery is downright haunting. I was particularly impressed by the subtle gauntness that the spiral’s victims take on, little by little, as they are overtaken.

The horror is very Lovecraftian. There’s no single monster that’s taking victims. Rather, there’s an obsession for spirals so extreme that a character will literally twist his body into a spiral, killing himself. There’s a scar on a girl’s forehead that grows into a spiral pattern and ends up consuming her entirely.

The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

Read: 20 July, 2018

Written in the ’80s, The Graveyard Apartment is a little dated. Its formula is a staple of the horror genre – family with a rocky history moves into a new home, then the hauntings start. There’s even a dead pet (Pyoko, their pet finch, is found dead in the opening paragraph), a mention of a child dying in a tragic car accident on the family’s route, a scene where one of the main characters goes to the library to research the haunting, etc. Basically, this is a pretty solid collection of horror’s common tropes.

What I liked about the book was it’s pace – slow and creeping. There are few real scares, but the whole atmosphere of the story is quietly oppressive. The sense of dread I got every time the elevator gets mentioned – especially after about 2/3rds of the way through, whenever they’d get into the elevator and the narrator would count off each floor they pass…

The translation, done by Deborah Boliver Boehm, seems pretty solid. She’s managed to preserve something of the Japanese speech patterns and mannerisms, which I appreciate. But then there are some word choices, like when a character is described as “copacetic”. A word like that just doesn’t get used, so it stands out when it is. Given that several other words could have fit in that context, I’m baffled as to its choice. Unless it’s an ’80s thing, and the original Japanese version was alluding specifically to that word. There are a few such choices that struck me as odd as I was reading, but it’s hard to tell whether they were the correct choices or not when I can’t compare them to the original.

My major complaint with the book is that things don’t really tie up together. For example, Teppei’s first wife committed suicide, and it would have been narratively satisfying for that to pay off in the ending in some way. Same with the little boy who was hit by a car while crossing the road to get to the kindergarten (there is an incident where Misao is nearly struck by a car as well, but it isn’t given enough weight to have been foreshadowed deliberately). Maybe that’s unfair, and maybe the sheer randomness of the evil presence was a narrative choice in itself, but it would have been more satisfying for me to see more payoffs.

I also wasn’t a fan of the death-ray toward the end. I get how seeing it happen was traumatising for the characters, but it just seemed rather absurd. There were other ways to make the family feel trapped in the building that would have been much creepier – at least for me. Though the specific mentioning of Hiroshima may be a clue for me that the creep factor of the death-ray is relying on a cultural fear that I simply don’t have access to.

In conclusion, this was a nice creepfest. I didn’t find it particularly scary, but I did like the pace, and I felt quite invested in Misao and Tamao (Teppei I could take or leave). Koike builds a pretty good atmosphere, and I did have moments of feeling legitimate dread. I knew going in that it would feel rather cliched and dated, so I had no expectations to let down, and, as such, I enjoyed the book for what it is.