Posts Tagged ‘manga’

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite empire. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.

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Today I’m doing something different, and showcasing one of my favorite things: collect dolls and figurines! I’ve mentioned it maybe two or three times on my blog, but I have a growing collection of these, coming in a variety of styles and themes, and from a number of franchises. Why am I showing this off, when this is a blog about a horror author? Read on, I might get into that later in this post.

First off, plenty of anime figurines. As many of you know, I’m a huge anime and manga fan, so it’s no surprise I have figurines based on anime characters:

From left to right: Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica; a cutesy chibi Christmas version of Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion; and Madoka Kaname, also from Madoka Magica.

Hatsune Miku, a famous Japanese music persona; Nina Wang from My-Otome; and Asuna from Sword Art Online.

Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion, outitted in a Gothic Lolita style (this one partially inspired a novel).

Except for the Nina Wang figurine, which I bought on Amazon, all of these figures were purchased at Akiba Arcade, a local place that caters to the Japanese game, manga, and anime fans in Columbus (which are many). They have a ton of Japanese games and merchandise, and I visit as often as I can. Yeah, they can cost a lot (most of these cost between $40 and $60), but they’re well worth it.

Of course, not everything I have that is Japanese in origin is anime/manga-related. For example:

This is a maneki-neko, or a lucky cat statue. In Japan, these babies are supposed to bring good luck, especially financial luck. I don’t know if it has, but I’ve noticed my life has improved bit by bit over time, so maybe it’s having an effect?

Of course, not everything I have is Japanese. True, a lot of it is, but not everything. Like these:

Ninth Doctor Funko Pop doll

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls.

Jason Voorhees Funko Pop doll

Lizzie Borden bobblehead doll and a raven statue. Nevermore! Thwack!

The barfing gnome from Gravity Falls; a Grinning Jak from The Nighmare Before Christmas; and Waddles the Pig from Gravity Falls

Yeah, the Sailor Moon one is technically Japanese, but Funko is American, so it evens out. And you’ll notice, a lot of these are related to franchises or pop culture properties I’m a fan of. The exceptions in this group is the Lizzie Borden bobble head doll and the raven. The former is related to an amazing experience I had earlier this year, while the latter is just a fun Halloween decoration that I have out all year because for me, every day is Halloween. Not to mention, they’re creepy.

And now for some of my most recent acquisitions:

 

These are Sally and Jack, and they’re pixified versions of the Sally and Jack characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. In fact, you can see them holding doll versions of their namesakes in their arms. These are first-edition figurines made by the Hamilton Collection. There are two more figurines in the series, and I hope to collect those two in time. For now though, I’m really happy with these two. Thy’re very pretty, based on a truly awesome movie, and I just love to see them when I walk in the door each day.

And finally, here’s the oldest figurine I own.

This is Zero from the anime Code Geass, which is still one of my favorite animes ever. I made it in art class back in high school, because I couldn’t afford figurines or dolls at that time, and not for several years afterwards. Zero was my way of saying that one day, I would be able to own these sort of things I’d always wanted. And I think I can say I’ve accomplished that goal.

And my collection is growing every day. I’m probably going to get the other two figurines in The Nightmare Before Christmas series from Hamilton, as well as many more figurines from various anime (including an actual Zero figure), and maybe even some of the more traditional kinds of dolls, the ones that wouldn’t look out of place in Victorian England, among others. I’m saving up for them, and for a cabinet to put them all in so they don’t get dusty. And when that happens, maybe I’ll post about those new editions too. We’ll see.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. Just wanted to post about my weird hobbies and show you all how proud I am of them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

“The Power of Friendship!” as symbolized in Yu-Gi-Oh’s famous hand smiley face.

So yesterday I watched a YouTube video about a common trope in fiction (you can check it out HERE), which is (say it in your heads with a big, echo-y voice) “The Power of Friendship!” Now, if you aren’t familiar with the trope and you didn’t have time to watch the video, “The Power of Friendship” is a trope in which the bonds of friends is so powerful, it becomes a power in and of itself, capable of cosmic-like acts such as giving heroes power ups, stopping psychic mind readings, snapping people out of brainwashed states, and occasionally even defying gods. This power shows up in a ton of popular media, including a ton of anime and manga (the Fairy Tail series  practically is nicknamed “The Power of Friendship” manga).

Now the video I linked to goes into much more detail about the various intricacies of this trope (go watch it if you do have the time, the channel that produced it is awesome), but I wanted to focus on one particular aspect of “The Power of Friendship” trope that the video didn’t go into: how it surfaces in the horror genre. Or rather, how it doesn’t surface in the horror genre. At least, not all that much.

So if you didn’t watch the video (and you’re missing out!), the trope works like this: you have friends, and those friends can help you out of a bad situation, whether that be isolation or a powerful demon overlord is about to destroy the Earth and your power alone is not enough to destroy the demon’s power. It can be a metaphorical power to help a character out during a bad patch, like the former situation, or it can be a literal power and the equivalent of taking one of those mushrooms in a Mario game, like the latter situation. Thus, “The Power of Friendship!” And you can kind of see why it shows up so much: we all wish we have that power, or believe our relationships are that powerful.

But horror doesn’t feature this power as much as other genres, and there’s a reason for that. Horror is horror. It incorporates the darker aspects of the world around us and sometimes amplifies them for maximum effect. And in real life, friendships aren’t as powerful and as lovely as in fiction. In the stories, friendship is powerful and unyielding. It can overcome all sorts of obstacles, and the more you try to destroy it, the more it bounces back and kicks bad guys in the ass. But in reality, friendships grow, cool, and break all the time. It can take only a little bit to destroy a friendship, and a lot to repair it once it’s broken. Horror writers not only recognize that, but incorporate that into their stories. And it’s such a well-known fact about life, writers don’t draw attention to it, because it’s so well known among readers.

That’s not to say that “The Power of Friendship!” doesn’t show up in horror fiction at all. For example, Stephen King’s It pretty much says that the friendship of the seven main characters is what allows them to fight the malevolent entity in their town.* It just doesn’t say it as loudly as other media does, and also tells the reader that the characters’ friendship, while powerful, can be broken or is less effective if they aren’t all in sync or allow their fear to divide them. This is what leads to that one infamous scene in the novel, and is also shown in the new movie after the first fight with It.

Weirdly enough, the power of love or family is shown more than the power of friendship in horror, and I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because love and family, unlike friendship, has a more powerful evolutionary purpose, and therefore is given more power in fiction in general. If you’re willing to do more to save your perfect partner for creating offspring or the lives of your offspring, it’s going to show up more in stories than the grouping of creatures of the same species to ensure survival.** Hell, a lot more of my stories revolve around romance and family than friendship. One of my stories even involves a friendship gone bad, but that’s about it.

If “The Power of Friendship!” can be portrayed as it was in It, you can include it in horror stories more effectively.

That doesn’t mean we can’t include “The Power of Friendship” in horror stories. It can be used, but it’s more effective if used as it was in It: not overstated and a bit more realistic.  Showing a friendship form, grow, and overcome obstacles in a story, without drawing too much attention to it and showing how fragile the friendship can be under certain pressures, will work fine for the horror audience. If you go for overblown storytelling and basically say, “The Power of Friendship can overcome anything,” it will take the audience out of the story. Let the friendship’s strength demonstrate itself, rather than shoving it in through dialogue or just outright stating it. In other words, show, don’t tell.

While still not that common a trope in horror, “The Power of Friendship” can be part of horror. It may require being handled differently than in other genres, and with a bit more realism (weird for “realism” to show up in horror, but there you go), but it’s not impossible. You just need the right touch, and “The Power of Friendship” can best even shapeshifting entities that take the form of clowns.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. I’m in a bit of a blogging mood right now, so expect more posts from me soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*There’s also some sort of power up thanks to a turtle from another universe, but let’s not get into it, shall we.

**Best explanation I can come up with given my aromantic nature and already jaded worldview.

Recently, someone familiar with my writing compared some aspects of my story with anime. This, for me, was a huge compliment, because I am a hee-yuge fan of anime and manga. I’ve read and watched more series than I can count, and I consider some of the stories I’ve read over the years as having a very beneficial influence on my writing style, allowing for better storytelling and characterization. And I believe wholeheartedly that anime and manga can up the game of other fiction writers out there, even experienced ones with plenty of novels or short stories under their belts.

“But wait,” I hear my readers saying, “how can silly Japanese cartoons up my writing game?” Well, my dear Followers of Fear, just like Harry Potter is more than just children’s fantasy stories, and just like I’m more than a dude who enjoys scaring people silly (I actually have a growing doll/figurine collection and enjoy the ballet and the theater), don’t let first impressions about the media get in the way of looking a bit deeper. Anime and manga have so much more to them than meets the eye:

1. It’s an art form. We see literature as important creative works that are a reflection of and an influence on society. So is painting and illustration. But for some reason, the combination of the two mediums are never treated as highly, even when they lead to huge box office and critical success with movie adaptations. And in my opinion, that’s just wrong. Creating decent literature or decent art is extremely difficult, no matter the genre or what is being portrayed. Imagine what must go into doing both well at the same time! If one is good but the other is bad, the series, comic book or animation, will suffer, so these artists are basically combining the two art forms in order to create something appealing to audiences. That is worthy of respect (especially when you consider that manga and anime don’t always get to rely on characters that have lasted 80+ years and have established fanbases).

That being said…

2. There are a multitude of stories to choose from. Despite often going into very deep subject matter, comic books and animation have this reputation for being more family or child-oriented than adult-oriented. And although comic books have been recognized for their serious and mature themes and content, for the most part it’s hard to find animation that, even when aimed at adults, isn’t comedy or relies a lot on comedy. I can only think of one or two off the top of my head.

Anime and manga, on the other hand, span a wide multitude of genres and age ranges. Yes, some are comedic or have lots of comedy elements, but there are plenty of stories that are extremely serious or even plain portrayals of normal lives. Death Note (not the crappy American version) goes deeply into questions of whether the ends justify the means, especially in terms of curing societal ills, all while presented as a psychological cat-and-mouse thriller. Great Detective Conan (or Case Closed, as it’s known in the US), has nearly a thousand chapters/episodes focusing on a kid solving murders a la Sherlock Holmes observation and deduction. With the Light tells the story of a family raising a child with autism. Tell me if any of that sounds like silly cartoons for children.

And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg. There are all sorts of stories out there, romantic to comedic to scary to inspirational to musical to educational to even some where you wonder who was mad or indecent enough to make them (I’m looking at Makura no Danshi for the former and Kodomo no Jikan for the latter. Google at your own risk). If you can think of it, there’s a chance there’s an anime or manga based around it.

So if you’re looking for inspiration for a new story, try the Japanese. Chances are, there’s a story that could inspire your next work.

3. Characterization. In Western stories, characters are often pretty much defined from the moment you meet them as good or bad guys. Within a few minutes, you not only have a pretty good idea of where they align, but how you feel about them: love, hate, support, fear, root for them to get the girl. This doesn’t usually change, except perhaps if they’re a twist villain revealed in the third act. Rarely do you see a character whom you aren’t sure whether to love or hate, whether they’re good or bad. A character who straddles the fence, in other words, and you’re never sure where they stand until near the end.

If a medium can make me wear this sweatshirt 25 years after a show’s premiere, shouldn’t you at least consider checking it out?

Anime and manga, however, do this very well. They’re very good at telling stories about characters whom you’re not sure how to feel about them, because they’re able to take the time with these characters and show various sides of them over the course of the episodes or chapters. Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto is a prime example: at various points he’s a hero, a villain, a tragic antihero, etc. And you’re never sure whether to hate him or cry for him or what (generally I don’t like him, but that’s just me). And even when a character isn’t given this treatment, they’re often given great character development. Often characters are all good with a few flaws, or all evil with a few good qualities, but anime tends to branch out. You’ve got protagonists who are defined by their anxieties, or heroes who do horrible things but are doing it for good reasons you even sympathize with.  It ranges quite a bit, and it’s done quite well.

4. And finally, it’s entertaining. We all write stories for a variety of reasons, but at the core of it, we want to engage and show people a character worth following, a story worth getting into. And anime and manga do that a majority of the time. Sure, some stories do fail in that regard (looking at you, Clannad), but the vast majority have been tales that have endured the test of time and continue to pull in new audiences. Pokemon is twenty years old and Sailor Moon is twenty-five, but they still continue to entertain and even produce new content. Clearly, there’s something about these mediums that pull people from around the world in far past childhood.

And any medium that can have that sort of influence is worth checking out, if you ask me. Even if it’s not normally up your alley.

 

And that’s just a few of the reasons writers should check out anime (there may be a Part 2 someday). But tell me, were there any reasons I missed? What series do you find entertaining or influential? Or do you need a recommendation on where to enter the medium? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

Death Note is a franchise I’ve been aware of since high school, and despite some issues I have with the source material (*cough* the second half of the manga *cough*), I’ve always looked at it fondly. It’s clever, has some really memorable characters and scenes, and the themes present in the story are always relevant. When I first heard of plans of an American version of the story, I thought it had some potential, which is why I was disappointed when it fell into development hell. But when director Adam Winguard and Netflix finally started to put the film into production, and despite the troubling news I heard leading up to the film’s release,* I still had hope.

Imagine how I feel now when I find the final result is not what I’d hoped for.

So for those of you who don’t know, Death Note is originally a manga about a Japanese high schooler named Light Yagami who discovers a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. With the help of a death god named Ryuk, Light starts a killing spree of the world’s criminals to end all crime and to become a new god named Kira. He is opposed by L, a mysterious detective who has solved several high-profile crimes in the past, creating a cat-and-mouse game that could determine the fate of the world. The story has been adopted into anime, TV shows, novels, and even a couple of Japanese movies. Winguard’s version is the latest addition to the franchise, and unfortunately, it’s like that one relative whom you invite to family gatherings because he’s family, but you’re not happy about it because he’s an embarrassment to the whole family.

The biggest problem I have with this film is the many changes from the source material. Now, I’m open to some changes, like what the Japanese films did. Those were changes that strengthened the story instead of taking away from it. However, the majority of the changes here were unhelpful. Light Yagami, a handsome, charismatic and intelligent young man motivated by a sense of justice and boredom becomes Light Turner, an outsider who’s only a few degrees away from shooting up a high school, whose intelligence is only hinted at, and who screams like he has no confidence. Misa Amane, a blonde and bubbly airhead whom you actually feel sympathy for, becomes Mia Sutton, a cheerleader with no personality or backstory and too much enthusiasm for killing criminals. Lakeith Stanfield is actually pretty good as L for a while, but then in the last third goes completely off the rails.

Something went very wrong with this transition.

There are a whole bunch of other changes that I didn’t care for. The purpose of the Death Note and the reason why Ryuk drops the Death Note is changed, the default method of death for the Death Note isn’t in this adaptation, Mia isn’t given a good reason to want to use the Death Note like Misa Amane has, so her enthusiasm for using it feels strange, and the way L and his assistant Watari interact feels a little creepy rather than the working relationship they had before, and the list goes on and on. In fact, some of these changes open up plot holes in the story. For example, the change in the way L identifies the first victim of Kira, rather than making some sense like it does in the manga, leaves open some questions in this adaptation. Also, why does L have a false name but Watari is actually his real name, with no last name?

I also did not care for Margaret Qualley’s acting in this film, which felt emotionless and uninvested. It seems like she was trying to channel Kristen Stewart’s Twilight performance, which given all I’ve heard of that performance, explains a lot, but it’s obvious it’s not what we’re looking for in this movie. Also, who’s idea was it to make her look like an Emma Roberts impersonator in every shot?

Ryuk, played by William Dafoe, is definitely one of the better parts of the movie.

There were a couple of things I did like about the film, however. Ryuk looks absolutely terrifying, as he should, and is kept sinister throughout the film, thanks in part to William Dafoe’s phenomenal performance as the voice of the character (that man can do villains like no other). Mia is treated more as a partner in this film rather than as a pawn, which I’m sure many Misa fans, including myself, have always wanted to see (what can I say? You feel for her, despite her flaws and the blood on her hands). And if it weren’t for how bad the rest of the film is, the climax and its twist would actually be pretty impressive.

However, the rest of the film outweighs everything else, forcing me to give Adam Winguard’s Death Note a 1.1 out of 5, possibly the lowest score I’ve ever given anything on this blog. This is just the latest example of how NOT to adapt a beloved manga and anime, with way too many changes from the source material and bad choices on the part the people behind it, and a horrible introduction for newcomers to the world of Death Note.

Trust me, this is a much better movie than what we got.

If this left a bad taste in your mouth and you’re still willing to give this franchise a change, I highly suggest you check out the original manga or anime (the latter also on Netflix), or check out the Japanese films based on those. Unlike the Netflix film, any of these will show you how exciting and clever the original source material, as well as how memorable and even likeable, the characters really are. Believe me, there’s a reason why this story is the phenomenon it is. It’s just the Netflix movie isn’t part of it.

Hopefully in the future, if we have any other American adaptations of anime or manga, they won’t be anything like this.

*To be clear, I will not be getting into the whole issue of the races of the cast. Yes, whitewashing is a problem, and the casting decisions made in regards to this film are extremely problematic, but it’s not one I want to explore here. Why? Because it’s an extremely complicated issue and not something I usually get into in a movie review. I’m judging this movie as a movie, and I’m judging the actors for their performances, not for their racial or ethnic heritage. If you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that’s just how I do things here. And if you want to voice your anger about this, don’t voice it at me. Voice it at Hollywood, because that’s how you can possibly make some positive change, instead of sending it my way while some corporate VP thinks Zac Efron would make a great Kaneda in a live-action American Akira remake or something (that’s an example, not an actual thing as far as I know).

I wanted to get at least one more blog post out before I go off to Boston (spoiler alert: the trip is imminent), and because I didn’t have time to watch and review a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while, I thought I’d do another post about romance in fiction. Why? Because my last post on the subject did very well, well enough that a writing blog associated with Columbia College in Chicago listed that post in a Valentine’s Day-themed article last year (that’s staying power!), and because I’ve had some thoughts since then about the subject. And those thoughts revolve around this simple idea: for a romance story to be truly successful and compelling, there has to be a conflict of some sort. Let me explain:

A couple of months back, I tried watching this anime I discovered on Hulu. The idea for the series sounded interesting, it was a fantasy series with a big romance element, and it was loosely based on a popular fairy tale. I decided to try it (I’d found anime and manga I loved on less than that), and settled down to watch a few episodes. It had a good first episode…but then the problems set in. One of the major ones was that after the first episode, when it’s pretty obvious that the two leads are attracted to each other, there’s nothing really to make the romance aspect exciting. They just settle into this rhythm that says, “Oh yeah, eventually they’ll get together.” Nothing that came up really served as a threat to their relationship, and because the story’s main focus was the romance aspect, I kind of lost interest.

Thus this post. Every good fiction story has some sort of conflict, something for the protagonist(s) to overcome and aid them while they grow as people. These conflicts can be outer and/or inner conflicts. In Harry Potter, it’s Harry’s battle to stop Lord Voldemort and protect his friends. In Stephen King’s It, there’s a shapeshifting evil clown and the desire to hang onto childhood wonder while also accepting the inevitability of growing up. In When Marnie was There, it’s Anna accepting that she’s the one isolating herself, and that if she only comes out to people, they will accept her. In romance, it’s often the main couple realizing and struggling with their feelings for one another while something tries to keep them apart.

Every good story has a good central conflict.

I’ve read a few romance-heavy novels (not many, but some), as well as watched a few TV shows and taken in several anime and manga with strong romance storylines. What always makes them good or memorable to me is the journey for these characters to fall in love with each other and get together, and all that can potentially tear them apart. Without them, like in the anime mentioned above, the story quickly becomes boring. In The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel, the two main characters start out in a relationship, but they nearly lose it when a new suitor tries to sweep the female of the pair off her feet (the outer conflict), as well as the couple’s vastly different cultures/childhoods and their communication issues (the inner conflict). Part of what made that novel so exciting was watching those issues affect their relationship, feeling the mistrust, heartbreak, and anger this couple went through. It was thrilling, because you really felt for these characters and wanted to see them together in the end. And getting to that end and overcoming their issues in the process was what made the novel as a whole good.

Arata the Legend: great example of how a story can have a compelling romance without that being the main subject of the story.

But this post so far focuses on stories that are mainly romantic. What about stories where romance is secondary? Same concept applies. You see this a lot in manga and anime. Take Arata the Legend by Yuu Watase (highly recommend, by the way), for example. The story revolves around a teenager named Arata who ends up in an alternate universe, where he becomes a messiah figure in the process. Arata ends up traveling around the universe with a band of magical warriors to gather magic items and save both worlds, while also dealing with his own fears and insecurities. These are the main outer and inner conflicts of the story. However, a sub-conflict in the story revolves around a love triangle between Arata and two girls who travel with him, a warrior girl and a healer. Both are attracted to Arata, Arata’s attracted to one of them, and because of various misunderstandings and past experiences, they’re unable to be honest with one another with their feelings, genuinely thinking that one might be better with the other or that one doesn’t like the other. This subplot is a major ongoing part of the story, and one of the reasons I always look forward to new volumes coming out (waiting on #25 since August last year).

As you can see, a story with a romance but no challenge to that romance is more often than not less exciting than a romance with challenges to it. The exceptions, in my experience at least, would be stories where the romance is a minor element in comparison to other issues in the story (the anime Code Geass definitely comes to mind in that aspect. Also highly recommend that one), but if that’s the case, then the romance probably isn’t a big part of why you’re into this story, right?

But when a story’s romance is a major aspect of why people would want to check the story out, having a conflict would definitely make it a more interesting aspect of the story. Otherwise, all you’ve got is an anime where you’re just watching and waiting for these two obviously-attracted-to-each-other people to take that first step and kiss each other and that’s about it.

I love manga and anime, but I often have trouble getting my hands on horror manga and anime that is actually scary. I’ve found plenty with ghosts, zombies, homunculi, serial killers, and death games, to name a few, but often they’re mixed with other genres to make them more palatable for non-horror fans. Other times I have heard of a scary one, but I can’t get my hands on it (still trying to get my hands on Corpse Party), and other times I just don’t know of some series that I should. So when I actually hear and find some manga or anime that is actually scary, I rejoice. Case in point, Uzumaki by Junji Ito, who is considered one of the greatest horror manga artists from Japan, and it shows in this series.

Uzumaki literally translates into “spiral,” which is the essence of the manga. The story follows Kirie Goshima, a teenage girl living in the town of Kurozou-cho. One day, her boyfriend Shuichi tells her that his father has become obsessed with spiral shapes, to the point that he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to a gruesome series of events that reveal a curse upon the town and the surrounding area, a curse involving spirals, spirals that hypnotize and entrance, spirals that terrify and excite, spirals natural and unnatural. And once the curse sets in, it doesn’t let go.

From the very beginning, Uzumaki is quite extraordinary. Ito illustrates with  incredible attention to detail, which in a horror manga  is necessary if you really want to convey a sense of terror. I mean, look at the imagery below.

Holy crap, that is both well-drawn and scary! You can see every detail, how much  work is put into each stroke of ink to make the imagery look realistic despite being an illustration. And the best part is, Ito is not concerned with aesthetic beauty. You look at most animation, and it’s meant to be pleasing to the eye. To be cool, or pretty, or adorable. Ito doesn’t concern himself with that. He’s concerned with just making you squirm, and he does that so well with his illustrations.

And on top of that, his storytelling abilities are great. Unlike other horror stories, the horror is based on abstract concepts. A geometric shape, the spiral, is what we’re supposed to be afraid of. You’d never think a spiral shape like the one below would be scary, but Ito uses his illustrations, storytelling, and the turn of a page to weave this frightening tale where we’re forced along to find out what happens, fining stranger and stranger things on the succeeding pages. And best of all, Ito just takes things in the most unexpected directions, inserting the spiral into strange places we normally wouldn’t see it. I won’t say what happens, but things like snails or pregnant women get matched with the spiral, and it becomes terrifying. It’s made even better that you don’t actually get a lot of explanation. With ghosts or vampires, you get a mythology on how they work and how to deal with them. In Uzumaki, Ito leaves it up to the imagination as to what’s happening. It’s very unnerving in a Lovecraftian sense to see how this town becomes part of some strange curse around a geometric shape, and never get an explanation.

Doesn't look scary at first. Wait and see.

Doesn’t look scary at first. Wait and see.

If there is one criticism I have, it’s that the people of the town don’t really come to terms with what’s going on as fast as they should. At a certain point, it becomes impossible not to face what’s happening in the town, but up until then, there are plenty of signs that something’s up, and not one of the main characters realize they have to get up and get out before it’s too late. Even the guy who’s constantly saying they should leave doesn’t. At least make an attempt!

But other than that, Uzumaki is a terrifying story of cosmic horror that takes something harmless and give it a weird, disturbing form that will surely stay with you for a while after you finish reading it. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Uzumaki a 4.8 out of 5. If you enjoy horror and don’t mind visual reading like comic books and manga, definitely check out Uzumaki. I’m glad I did, and I will try to track down the move version as soon as possible. Because after seeing these sorts of pictures, I’m curious as to how they’re translated into the cinematic world.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares.