Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Punisher MAX Book 3: Mother Russia (#13-18)

"Win some. Lose some, General" - Nick Fury

After two books setting Frank Castle up as the Impacable Man, utterly and single-mindedly dedicated to his never-ending and unwinnable mission of wiping out crime in New York, it's time to see a slightly softer side to him by placing the defence of a child in his hands.  In this book he goes on a secret military mission to Russia and involves the only Marvel character outside of The Punisher's continuity to appear in the series, Nick Fury.  People who are more familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be surprised to see this Nick Fury isn't Samuel L. Jackson.  But in the main 616 Marvelverse, Fury is a white guy (for now).  Garth Ennis also wrote a MAX imprint thirteen part series about Nick Fury called "My War Gone By" and I shall be covering in the not to distant future.  Whether that Nick is the same as the one who crops up here I'm not sure, they both know and use Frank Castle for special missions and have similar tastes in women, but the Nick Fury of "My War Gone By" was very much a man of our history and disillusioned and broken by it, while this Nick Fury is still very much wanting and jockeying for an active role in the defence of America as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. This storyline also introduces a two new antagonists who'll crop up later in the series as well.

The story begins with The Punisher sitting having a sandwich in a Russian bar. An old Russian man is expressing his disillusioned frustration with his country now being a nation of gangsters.  And also that he's just finished the last bottle of decent homegrown vodka in the place.  The barman says he's stupid for speaking out the way he is, but the old man retorts he was in Leningrad during WW2 and isn't easily intimidated.

The TV is showing the release of a gangster called Leon Rastovich, which is the source of the old man's ire.  The barman throws him out, but after he does so, Frank smashes the barman's head into the counter and tells him the old man - Alexandr  Baranovich Formichenko - is "protected".  Outside Alexandr is being hassled by Rastovich's men but Frank lures them into an alley and when he gets Rastovich's location out of them, kills them all.
How rude, Mr. Fury.
The story then cuts to Nick Fury being told he can't smoke his trademark cigars on the plane he is on.  He takes no notice of course.  He tells the other man on the flight that he's been tasked with a mission by the US government and he is planning to use The Punisher for it and he's getting his attention the best way he knows how, especially after the clusterfuck that took place when the C.I.A tried to recruit him with disastrous consequences as chronicled in book one of the series.

Leon Rastovich is staying at his mother's house. The Punisher is scoping him out, wondering how a man convicted of multiple counts of murder and child prostitution could qualify for early release.  At the trial he rolled on everyone involved in his operation but his mother who was suspected of supplying the children he used from a Kazakhstan orphanage.  Frank then gets to work assaulting the heavily guarded house with guns, grenades and an inventive use of a gas oven.  As he stands and watches the house burn, Nick Fury comes up to him.

Nick Fury: "Never enough is it?"

He then tells Frank he arranged for Rastovich to be released early and he did so because he needed to find Frank fast.  They go and talk in a bar and Fury says he wants Frank for a job, "high risk.  Just about impossible.  You fuck up, no one's ever heard of you".  To convince Frank to take it on he gives him a file with user names and passwords to every criminal database in the country.
Fury courts Frank
Frank wonders who Fury is working for. The Army and Airforce right now, but if this job works out, he's hoping to get S.H.I.E.L.D back under his control.  Fury leaves and Frank ponders the fact that Nick is the only man on earth whose word he'd trust right now.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a US agent called Rawlins is reporting to someone over the phone that his cell of terrorists are ready to hijack a plane in a suicide bombing attempt. When he hangs up we see who he'd been talking to.  Some very high up military brass in the US.  Who say now that Nick Fury and the "animal" he's using have no choice but to succeed.

On a plane that makes a unscheduled diversion to drop Frank off at the edge of Russia, he thinks back to his debriefing by Fury.  He's shown a tape with footage of Chechen prisoners strapped to tables being exposed to a biological agent nicknamed "Barbarossa".  They instantly turn into skeletons, all their flesh and organs consumed at once. 
Barbarossa in action.
The tape, with much of his research on it was given to a US general by a Russian scientist called Evengy Stenkov.  He was offered a new life in the US if he defected and he made a run for it with the only sample.  He nearly made it, but the Russian government caught him, not before he had injected the last sample into his daughter Galina. Who is protected from its effects by the antidote she also carries.

The Russian's started interrogating Evengy but he foiled them by dying of a massive heart attack ten minutes in.  Now the Russians have Galina and her blood but without the research on the tape, they are just "groping in the dark."  The agent will stay active in Galina's blood for the next 48 hours then the antidote will break it down completely.  So Frank, and the Delta Force soldier Martin Vanheim going with him will be tasked with getting Galina and then getting to an extraction point as quickly as possible.

Back in the present, having successfully arrived in Russia undetected, Frank reflects how Vanheim annoys him.  He stands out too much, he's a "walking action figure."  Back with Fury, he's being scolded for telling Frank all the classfied information about the virus.  Fury simply says that Frank needed to know all the stakes, oh and it's not a "sample" it's a "six year old little girl".  He then leaves and one of the men says "I really hate him".  One of the others says smugly that Fury doesn't know everything about "Barbarossa" nor do they know about Rawlins.  Fury's problem is that he "doesn't know his place."
In Russia, Frank and Vanaheim are drinking in a bar closest to the missile silo Galina is being held in.  Frank says they've already been noticed so time for "Plan B.  Start a fight".  A bar room brawl ensues, and one man starts getting the upper hand on Frank until he hits him in the throat with a bottle of vodka.  As the fight merrily continues, he and Vanheim slip out.  They kill two Russian soldiers outside and disguise themselves with their clothes, then drive into the base using their truck. 

They quietly take out the inner checkpoint and finally reach the base proper. As they suit up Frank reflects "that's everything you need to know to break into a nuclear missile base."  Meanwhile Rawlins waves off his suicide bombers at the airport then changes into a western suit of clothes and mutters "give my regards to Moscow" as he gets on a plane bound for the US.

The next chapter begins with a clearly distressed Galina in a lab hearing gunshots.  She tearfully asks if someone is doing tests and the female scientist with her yells that she needs to shut up, "or we'll do tests and tests and tests on you for the rest of your fucking life!"  Well she's not very nice.  Fortunately she gets murderised in the next panel.  Frank looms over Galina in the doorway.

Frank: "Galina Stenkov.  Don't be afraid."

Poor Galina.
We get a brief page looking at the US military monitoring the situation as well as "Rawlins' operation"  Then we're back with Frank and Galina.  She weepily asks why everyone is being so mean to her.  Frank thinks about the last time he talked to a kid, it was her daughter as she was dying.  But he steps up anyway, he introduces himself and then says:

Frank: "If anyone else tries to be mean to you, I'll be much meaner to them I promise."

This seems to calm her down.  He unhooks her from the machines she is attached to, then tells her to shut her eyes and not to open them until he tells her too.  He then carries her through a hallway full of dead Russian soldiers.

He joins up with Vanheim and they take the lift down. The door opens on a room with some soldiers lounging by a tank.  "Fuck!" exclaims Vanheim and opens fire on them, their fire is returned and they are forced to close the lift door and travel back up.  Angrily Frank rounds on Vanheim saying they could have just walked past them and "watch your language in front of the kid."

We're now introduced to the Russian response to the shenanigans relating to Evengy's attempted escape with his daughter.  A man call Semyon snootily looks down on the "fat old slug" sent from Moscow.  His friend though is horrified when he realises it's Nikolai Zakharov, the infamous "Man Of Stone" who did terrible things during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.  And he's also bought "the Mongolian" with him.
By the end, I was pulling for the war criminal.
Zakharov immediately pins the blame on the Americans so it's obvious Evengy didn't even reveal who he was giving the bio-agent to before he died.  He also asks if anything else untoward has happened recently and is told about the bar fight and the two missing men.  Zakharov wants to interview witnesses to the fight, Semyon assures him nothing serious has happened since Evengy's capture and death, just then a soldier bursts him and shouts about a firefight at the silo.  "Fuck" says Semyon.

Frank, Vanaheim and Galina backtrack and Frank picks up some heavy ordinance.  Leaving Galina with Vanaheim he travels back down in the life and opens fire on the soldiers that have poured into the hangar with an anti-aircraft gun, which when used on humans turns them into "paint".  He finishes up by hurling aload of plastic explosive at the leftover men as the commanders call frantically for outside back-up.
I always learn something new about guns in a Garth Ennis story.
Zakharov questions one of the bar fighters and ascertains that the men who started it were white.  Meanwhile, Nick Fury in bed with three prostitutes (!) gets a call from the US military informing him of the firefight in the silo.  He is unconcerned and rolls over back to sleep, saying "HHH, Castle" as he does so.

Unable to use mass explosives to winkle Frank out without killing Galina too, the Russians send commandos down the lift shaft.  However Frank has rigged them with wires and explosives to surprise the first wave.  Vanaheim is trying to figure out a way to escape, he says maybe they should blow the whole area they are in up and hope the Russians don't notice two missing bodies.  That won't work because of Galina says Frank, find a better plan.  Then he goes back to the bottom of the shaft and fires at the soldiers as they keep sending men down.

Zakharov questions one of the survivors of the first firefight, who confirms that the man he saw (Frank) was white.  Semyon sneers that the American "theory" doesn't seem to be going away, and does it matter anyway?  Zakharov says that Islamic terrorists would have set off the nukes and blown them all sky high by now, but "these are men who want to live" and that the Americans are the most cunning enemies the Russians ever faced and shouldn't be underestimated.  Then he says his colleague, the Mongolian will be joining the next wave of attackers.
Onboard the flight to Moscow the terrorists hijack the plane and a passenger revolt is quickly quelled.  Back in the silo, Frank is still kill men as they descend, hope their stomach for a fight runs out before his ammo does.  One of the men he killed however had a special package with him, concealed in his backpack is the diminutive Mongolian.

Meanwhile the US military command has called Fury in to yell at him some more about what's going on in the silo.  He tells them to "act your fucking rank for a minute".  Frank and Vanaheim are totally deniable if the worst happens.  But the worst won't happen, Frank will get them all out and that's that.  And the next time they call him in, make sure it's important, "the women I like charge by the hour".  Oh Nick, you rogue.

The blood soaked Mongolian rushes Vanheim and kicks him in the face.  In a blur of movement he incapacitates but doesn't kill him.  Horrified Galina calls for Frank.  The US are monitoring Rawlin's pet terrorists, noting they are doing everything he told them to.  The Russian's in turn are readying their missile batteries.  The terrorists start preaching Jihad against the Russians over the radio and the man monitoring the Russians in the US says the commander of the nearest missile battery just got the order to fire.
Does Frank know kung fu? No.
Frank comes back to find Galina being threatened by the Mongolian, so he puts his guns down and prepares for mortal combat.  The Mongolian quickly beats him almost unconcious.  Zakharov says it's been seventeen minutes so the Mongolian should be done and he wants the prisoners sent to him.

Zakharov: "After all these years, the Cold War could be turning hot."

The Russians blow the hijacked airliner out of the sky before it can be crashed into Moscow.  Semyon and Zakharov are informed of this event and it's confirmed it was a Saudi airliner.  Zakharov is dubious about it being Al Qaeda, and Semyon finally snaps and says to his friend Grigori:

Semyon: "This legend of yours is now going to tell us how a gang of suicidal Arabs were actually Americans in disguise... That's what I call method fucking acting!"

Zakharov just calmly responds that Americans are inventive people who would go to such lengths "to throw us off the scent."  This is why he wanted Frank and Vanaheim alive.
Horrifying and kind of funny as well.
The pair are in bad shape.  Frank blearily thinks that he's failed Galina.  Then the Mongolian slaps her hard and knocks her down and Frank flashes back to the death of his daughter.  And like any good hero in a shonen anime this powers him back up and into battle again.  When the Mongolian tries to kick him again, he grabs his foot and swings him round smashing him repeatedly into the floor.

Frank: "I'm twisting his leg off like a drumstick when I realise I'm frightening the kid."

When it's over she runs to him and hugs his leg, which is pretty sweet.  Then we visit the US military command celebrating the airliner being shot down.  Fury then storms in.

Fury: "What the fuck did you assholes just do?"

Frank tools up and tells Galina she doesn't need to worry any more.  She picks up a pistol and asks if he wants her to help.  Frank takes it off her and says she must never play with guns.  He hides her under a desk and braces her with his and Vanaheims parachute packs, then tells her to cover her ears.  He then leaps out and shoots the shit out of the soldiers creeping up on their position.

Back with Fury, he is told that the airliner was part of an attempt to deflect blame over the recovery of the girl.  After 9/11 they got the idea of covertly raising and funding a cell of Muslim extremists who they could use to take out targets in friendly countries.  They had a deep cover operative in place, after that it was a matter of picking the flight and setting things in motion.
Fury makes his feelings clear.
Fury coldly asks whose idea it was, and everyone looks at one of the generals.  Fury takes off his belt and beats the man over and over, saying it was pretty harsh on all the passengers in the airliner, and also that anyone looking too hard could probably see something was up, and if Castle doesn't get out of the silo, they could be in huge trouble and he is "all out of ideas".

Frank returns to find Vanaheim trying to inject something in a struggling Galina.  Castle smashes his head into the wall as Vanheim stammers he has "orders".

Frank: "Tell me!"

Vanheim: "Secondary protocol.  Kill the kid and bring her blood out."

One syringe contains a stabiliser for the retrovirus, but has the side effect of killing her.  It was thought that it would be easier for them to get out with a vial of blood than with a child.  Fury didn't know, it was why the Generals were so insistent he come along with Frank.

Frank gives him hard stare as he comments that Delta Force are the "best of the best".  Vanheim has the decency to look ashamed.  Frank decides he still needs him and tells him to fire up the nukes and change the targets to all major Russian cities.  Frank then dictates terms: The Russian military withdraw from the base and allow them safe passage to the mountains with no surveillance or "I will burn Russia and its people from the face of the Earth."
Time to leave.
The US are also monitoring events and start yelling at Fury, again.  "All of you shut the fuck up" says Fury.  Thanks Nick.  Meanwhile, Frank, Galina and Vanaheim make prepare their getaway from the silo.  The missiles are set to do their thing in twelve minutes.  Frank says he's trying the one thing no has yet:

Frank: "I'm gambling that the Russians aren't stupid."

Semyon is also losing his shit by this point as the missile countdown continues.  He pleads with Zakharov to agree to the "terrorist's" demands.  Zaharov refuses, and tells him to wait.  The missile launches aimed at Moscow, and Fury suddenly realises what Frank's plan is.  Zakharov tells Semyon the Americans ARE behind it, but if he tells Moscow this it will mean the end of the world, "so we do nothing."

Semyon screams at him, saying that Arab terrorists have fired a nuke at Moscow and he is damn well going to tell them.  Zakharov shoots him in the face before he can use the phone.  Then the person monitoring the missile says it cut out at eight thousand feet high, the warhead deactivated and it's just a "harmless steel tube now".  It'll come down about ten miles away. 

Zakharov: "Our opponent is a man of extremes.  But he is not the type to murder millions.  No more than I am in the end... That was no American.  It was a Russian born in there by mistake."

And the final part of Frank's plan is revealed, out of the missile parachute Frank with Galina strapped to his chest and Vanaheim.  They make it to the ground safely but Vanaheim lost his pack in the descent and they only have one coat between them.  They draw straws for who gets it, and Frank gets to take a wrapped up Galina to the Navy SEAL drop point ten miles away and Vanaheim gets to freeze to death.  Shame.
An inventive getaway.
Nick Fury greets Frank and Galina as they arrive in the US a couple of days later.  Then the yelling starts again.  Seems Frank stood guard over Galina the whole journey and refused to let anyone take her blood and now the retrovirus is destroyed.  Fury asks if this is true.  "Promised I wouldn't let anyone hurt her" says Frank.  Fair enough shrugs Fury.  When the raging asshole General orders Frank arrested, Fury stares the soldiers down and they refuse. As the General shrieks at them for disobeying orders, Fury, Frank and Galina walk away.

Frank: "Doesn't seem to bother you much the virus being destroyed.  'Matter of fact, a suspicious man might think you set the whole thing up just to pull Galina out of that hole."

Fury says he might think so too, seeing as he sent the one man he could think of who would never, ever hurt a kid.  He would have gone but he was supposed to be keeping an eye on the Generals, "not that I did a good job of it."  Also they'll have changed the passwords he promised Frank, so "nobody wins".  Frank doesn't seem too bothered.

He tells Galina to go with Nick and that he'll make sure no one hurts her.  She wants to stay with Frank and begs him not to leave her.  Frank regards her sadly:

Frank: "I can't Galina.  I can't look after anyone."
Ennis plays my heartstrings like a banjo.
And she tearfully parts from him after promising never to play with guns.  Frank sleeps the trip off then winds up back in the Russian bar he was in at the start of the book.  And what do you know?  He still has the bottle of the good vodka that saved his life in the bar fight.  He hands it to the bartender who pours some out for the grumpy Russian man.  Who is made very happy by this, "maybe there is hope for the Motherland after all".

And there it ends.  It does feel more like we are seeing Frank Castle, soldier rather than Frank Castle "The Punisher" in this book.  Even if he does rack up the same almost ludicrous body count as the story progresses,  it's still a compelling read and it's fascinating how Nick Fury and Zakharov, both creatures of the Cold War, are contrasted with the more modern (and somewhat squalid) Commanders of the War On Terror.  Putting Frank in charge of the safety of a child provides the first "humanising" glances into his soul we have been given since the series began, and he also makes an interesting contrast with the younger man "just following orders" and willing to kill a child for the sake of his military generals.  I've haven't mentioned much about the art by Dougie Braithwaite because it keeps to the muted, "realistic" look of the two previous volumes, and is someone hamstrung by the tyranny of the widescreen panel fad that plagued comics in the first half of the noughties. Luckily the script more than makes up for this and in the context of the series as a whole it's it goes on to have huge ramifications and the awesome depiction of Nick Fury and seeing the softer side of Frank means it's well worth a look.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Uzumaki (Part Two)

"Didn't you hear the wind last night?  The voice of the storm was calling your name!" - Shuichi

We now return to the second half of the Uzumaki collection, from the gloriously perverse mind of Junji Ito.  Uzumaki (which means "Spiral") tells a tale of a sleepy seaside town in Japan called Kurouzu-cho which has become haunted by spirals.  Most of the first half of the collection concentrated on the effects of the spirals upon the narrator, a teenage girl called Kirie Goshima, and her boyfriend Shuichi Sato.  Shuichi managed to lose both his mother and father to the deleterious effects of the spiral and is now a depressed shut-in seemingly unconcerned about his fate now.  The effects of the spiral have started to spread though, first classmates began turning into snails and when we took a break for the end of part one, all the pregnant women in the local hospital (where Kirie was being treated for burns and bruises escaping the burning light of the spiral haunted lighthouse) had been drilling into other patients and drinking their blood.  We rejoin the storyline as the women are due to give birth and from this point on the effect of spirals on the town will escalate into a full blown, H.P Lovecraft style nightmare.  So let's twist again like we did last blog post, and conclude this look at Uzumaki. (Note:  This manga is unflipped so reads from right to left)

Chapter eleven begins with the birth of the babies whose mother's fed on human blood.  No one believed Kirie about what happened, putting it down to a bad dream.  Her cousin Keiko is the first to give birth.

Kirie: "So it's been born.  I wonder what it looks like.  A baby gorged with human blood."

The baby is normal and cute looking, and the other babies are born soon after.  Kirie is deemed well enough to be discharged and goes to tell Keiko.  She gets to meet her baby Makio, but notices his stomach is swollen as are the other babies tummies.  Her concern is brushed off, but then all the babys start screaming in unison and the sound freaks Kirie out and she runs and falls down some stairs and has to stay another week in hospital.
So cute, so.. bloated?
Dinner is served with some strange mushrooms.  Kirie says they taste like meat.  They become a regular feature of hospital meals but Kirie won't eat them.  Kirie wanders the hospital one day and passes the maternity ward.  The babies are talking to each other and say they miss being in the womb.  One baby says Doctor Kawamato can "put us back".  Then all of their tummies swell up and out burst spiral patterned mushrooms.

Kirie runs thinking she is just hearing and seeing things, but then she hears Keiko screaming.  She opens the door where she heard the noise from to be confronted with a room full of the weird mushrooms.  Doctor Kawamoto emerges from another room looking grim.  He says the mushrooms grew from where they dropped the placentas on the floor.  And the babies are growing mushroom placentas because they want to return to the womb.
She isn't dead either.
Demanding to know what he did with Keiko, Kirie bursts into the side room she is on and is greeted by the awful sight of Keiko with a swollen stomach where her baby has been stitched back inside her.  She craves blood and grabs Kawamoto and quickly drains him dry before coming after Keiko.  But she gets distracted by two people who wandered into the musroom room and atacks them.

Kirie: "I escaped from the hospital.  I've no idea what happened after that. I wasn't about to go back and find out."

Kirie and Shuichi sit together on the beach.  Kirie thanks Shuichi for saving her life.  Suddenly they hear a noise, like a moaning sound.  Shuichi yells that it's hurricane season and runs into town telling people to board up their windows, only to be dismissed as a "freak".

Later Kirie watched a TV news report which says their is an approaching hurricane and it's unusual as it has a small "eye".  The hurricane whooshes through town,  Kirie goes out in it to deliver Shuichi's lunch and she looks up and sees the eye of the hurricane, surrounded by spiral winds.  Later in bed she hears the wind calling her name.  Next day the TV news says the hurricane is hanging over the town in a most unusual way.
Stalked by a hurricane.
Kirie takes Shuichi his lunch again but bumps into him outside.  He yells at her saying her heard the wind call her name,  The hurricane starts smashing trees into buildings and Kirie gets trapped under some rubble.  A passing woman offers to help but gets sucked up by the hurricane.

Shuichi: "It mistook her for you!  Because you looked alike!"

The storm spits the woman out and she hits the ground quite dead.  Shuichi frees Kirie and they hide in an underpass while the winds call Kirie.  They climb down into a drain to escape but impossibly the storm follows.  It whisks both of them up and out of the sewer into the air.  Later they are both retrieved from Dragonfly pond with no clue how they ended up there.  The hurricane disappated after reaching the pond and the town is calm again for now.

The hurricane wrecked several houses and one of them was Kirie's.  They are assigned a new place to live but it is one of the run down row houses.  This one has a reputation for being haunted.  Kirie's mum protests but they are told this is all the free housing space they have.  Later Kirie asks her dad when he thinks the houses were built, he thinks maybe the nineteenth century.
Kirie's family's new home.
Kirie is soon introduced to one of their neighbours, a young man called Wakabayashi.  He tells them to ignore their neighbours on the other side as they are squatters.  At dinner Kirie's brother complains that next door is haunted, then her father finds spiral like warts on his feet.

Wakabayashi has drilled a hole in his wall so he can spy on Kirie.  That night Kirie hears a strange howling from next door.  Next day Wakabayashi tells Kirie their neighbours are an old woman and her sick son.  The son has a serious medical problem that makes him moan in pain.  Then a hooded figure, the mother comes shuffling out.  She falls and Kirie goes to help her up, noting horn-like growths on her hands.

Later that day Kirie hears someone crying out and realises it's the old woman.  She runs to see what is wrong and is told her son is dead.  His body is removed and the old woman taken to hospital to treat her skin disease. Wakabayashi asks Kirie what the son looks like, because he went and looked in his room and the floor was full of holes.  Kirie doesn't want to talk about it.
Egads, tentacle horror!
Back in the family home, as another hurricane moves in over the town she and her family discover spiral warts all over their hand and feet and worry they caught it off the old woman.  Trapped in the house by the hurricane, suddenly a mass of horn-like tentacles burst through the wall.  It turns out to be Wakabayashi who has become a mass of writhing growths all over his body.  He starts to go after Kirie but falls down dead.  Later the hurricane disappates over Dragonfly Pond and Kirie's family's warts all disappear.

The next chapter begins with a team of reporters driving to the town.  After the onslaught of hurricanes all contact has been lost with the place.  Suddenly a twister forms behind them and causes the car to crash as they reach the town.  Only the female reporter survives, she crawls from the wreckage and tries to get some mobile phone reception, but there is none.
Introducing Maruyama.
She wanders through the wreckage of the town, noting the eerie silence of the place.  She sees a helicopted overhead, but another twister brings it down.  She arrives at Dragonfly Pond which is now a whirlpool, and discovers three children tied to stakes there.  She frees them, but they ignore her. They approach a house that is still standing and blow out their breath causing a whirlwind that destroys the house which makes them laugh.

They turn on the reporter who screams and a whirlwind whisks the boys away.  Then Kirie and her brother Mitsuo find her, they are out foraging for food.  Kirie tells the reporter, whose name is Maruyama that any loud noise causes hurricanes, and Maruyama realises she must have created the whirlwind that blew the boys away.  Kirie takes her back to the row house, the only houses unaffected by the whirlwinds.

The house is packed with people.  Maruyama begs for someone to come help her where the car crashed.  Kirie's family decide to help.  But some of the other people say it's not worth it, that all reporters, rescue teams and volunteers have been trapped in the town as well.  Shuichi sits huddled in a corner saying the town is going to turn into a huge spiral.
Riding the twister.
Outside Kirie's family a Maruyama are confronted by two of the boys who made the whrilwinds.  They go to attack them so Kirie's family and Maruyama dive back inside the row house.  The inhabitants then all blow out of the window and a twister picks the boys up.  However when they go back outside they are greeted by the sight of the boys "riding" the twister.  With great understatment, Kirie says:

Kirie: "Kurouzo-cho was going mad."

The kids steer their twisters to destroy the last of the not-row house buildings still standing.  Others have joined them in their wanton destruction.  Mitsuo says it looks like fun, but Kirie warns him many have died trying to ride a twister.  The twister riders stay alive by stealing food from the relief agencies still coming to the town.  Kirie, Mitsuo and Maruyama are foraging for food for themselves in the ruins.

Back in the row house, one of the inhabitants finds an old scroll.  It appears to show the town consumed by a huge spiral.  Tempers are frayed due to over crowding and Shuichi and Kirie's family get kicked out.  Maruyama says they have to get out of town somehow, although when she walked down the car tunnel, it never ended.  Kirie's dad says he doesn't want to leave, he just wants to make pots again, he's a broken man now.
Stress rises in the row houses.
Suddenly they smell the delicious smell of cooking.  They go and investigate and find a gang of men roasting the snail people alive.   The creepy man in charge offers them some then makes inappropriate overtures towards Kirie and Maruyama.  When Kirie's dad steps in, the creepy guy summons a twister and blows him away.  Then a whole mess of twisters appear and whoosh everyone up in them.   Shuichi managed to grab hold of Kirie who has hold of Maruyama and keeps them from being sucked into Dragonfly Pond with the others.

Time passes.  More rescuers pour into the town, who then become trapped causing the place to become more dangerous thanks to the twisters.  Kirie, Shuichi and Maruyama meet up with some survivors led by a man called Tanizaki and some other random survivors.  Maruyama recounts again how she tried to escape via the car tunnel only for it to turn into a spiral and that she had to crawl back out.
No escape via the car tunnel.
Others tried to escape via the sea only to be swallowed by whirlpools.  Kirie and Maruyama are living in a collapsed house with Shuichi and Mitsuo and Kirie's injured mum.  Tanizaki's group wonder why the rundown row houses have survived the twisters when everything else has been destroyed. One of the group seems afflicted and they discover he is turning into a snail.  In a panic everyone checks their back and one of Tanizaki's group a man called Ogawa also has the tell tale spiral mark.

Tanizaki's group go and try and get into a row house and Kirie and the others tag along.  Tanizaki's group try to break in but the people inside try to blow them away with whirlwinds.  Undaunted the outsiders break down the wall with a battering ram only to reveal a horrific sight.  The houses were so jammed up that everyone's bodies twisted and tied round each other.  One of them says they are now in knots and cannot be seperated and work as one organism now.
The inevitable result of overcrowding?
The multi-bodied creature bursts out of each end of the row house but immediately pick up wod and start building and extension to the house.  The ones left outside bicker about what to do next then see a group of ships come sailing towards the town.  But sadly and inevitably escape is not on the cards as a whirlpool claims the fleet.  Starving and depressed, that night Tanizaki's group and Kirie's end up eating the flesh of a cooked snail person they find.

Next day Kirie, Shuichi and Maruyama leave Tanizaki's group and take the last bits of snail meat back to her mum and brother.  When they arrive the house has fully collapsed, her mum is gone, taken by a twister and when they dig her brother out they discover he is turning into a snail person.

Kirie: "At that moment.  I knew I had to escape."

They decide to try and make for the hills and pick north to go in. As they reach a point above the town where they can look down on it, they notice all the row houses face Dragonfly Pond.  They also spot Mr. Tanizaki building a extension on a row house and see many others doing the same. 

They keep walking but the trail winds endlessly.  Suddenly they bump into a Mr. Takemoto and his group who also say they came from the town but from the other direction.  The two groups decide to walk together for now.  Takemoto's group has a man on a lead, he's turning into a snail and they want him as an emergency food store.  Yuck.
Junji Ito, you sick fuck (I mean that as a compliment).
Finally the man turns into a full snail, and Takemoto says he really wants to try eating one raw.  He gets down on the ground and crawls inside the shell eating the flesh as he goes.  Urp, I think I may spew.  Thankfully Kirie's group leave them to it, and wander off now totally lost.

Shuichi: "I said it was hopeless.  It's all around us.. through us."

They find a tree stump and Shuichi hallucinates his father as the rings in it.  Much later Kirie's group is confronted by Takemoto's.  They are drooling and zombie-like.  Kirie manages to lie convincingly about why her brother has a swollen back, fearing for his life.

Aww, Snail Mitsuo is sorta sweet.
Unfortunately Mitsuo soon turns into a full snail and her group flee Takemoto's, but suddenly find themselves on the edge of a cliff.  Kirie tells Mitsuo to escape by crawling down the cliff and he reluctantly leaves her.  Takemoto catches up and starts ranting about how it felt to feed on the soft flesh of the snails face and feel at one with the spiral.  Then he and his group's bodies all distort into corkscrew like spiral shapes.

Left with no choice, Kirie's group head back to the town, when they arrive back at the hill overlooking it, they are greeted by the impossible sight of the whole town turned into one spiral of joined together row houses, with Dragonfly Pond in the centre.

Kurouzo-cho, now one big spiral.
As they descend back into the town they see that the houses have been added onto, joining the originals together into a spiral of one structure.  They are confused as to how this happened in the short time they were up in the hills.  Kirie wonders how the occupants managed to create a perfect spiral, Shuichi says maybe the original row houses were left over from a previous spiral.

They look for an entrance and find the start of the spiral path leading into the row house structure spiral.  They begin following the path inwards.  One benefit of what has happened is they no longer have to fear whirlwinds whose job in flattening the rest of the town has been done. 

They suddenly see some faces peering out of the house they are passing by. A twisted corpse is thrown out of the house and one of the faces says could they please take him away before he starts to smell.  As they carry on they bump into a wild bearded man slowly dragging some corpses behind him.  Kirie recognises him as Mr. Tanizaki, he in turn says he remembers them from many years ago.  His job now is cleaning up the corpses.
Tanizaki, many years later.
Kirie asks him is he knows where her parents might be, and that her father was a potter.  Tanizaki says he heard that a couple were making pots by Dragonfly Pond, but the path there will be long and dangerous, even he hasn't gone there.  Detirmined Kirie and the other two journey onwards, climbing through rubble filled gaps in the row house to shortcut their route.  At night they take a break and ponder how all this could have happened.

Shuichi: "Well whatever's urging people to build these houses.. must be extremely powerful"

He then goes on to say that this could have happened over and over since ancient times.  That maybe once a century the spiral comes and haunts the town and no records of it remain because everyone involved disappears.
Maruyama is captured.
They carry on walking next day until Maruyama says she can't walk any further.  Then they see smoke twisting up in the air from where the pond is.  So they cut through a row house but Maruyama is too slow and is grabbed by the inhabitants and dragged further inside, they quickly board up the hole so she can't be rescued leaving Kirie and Shuichi as the only ones left.

They follow the smoke and as they get closer to the middle, the row houses are empty.  They arrive where the pond should be, only to be confronted by a huge hole in the ground instead and a spiral staircase leading down into darkness.  Hopeful that her parents might be down there Kirie and Shuichi hold hands and head down the stairs.
The mystery at the centre of town.
They walk down for what seems like an age, and they come across the nearly dead body of one of the row house spiral people.  Kirie thinks he must have been left behind when the others came down here.  The spiral person begs them to take him with them, but Shuichi says they don't have the strength.  The spiral person bites Kirie's ankle and Shuichi pulls him off her, gets tangled in him and they both fall off the stairs into the abyss.

Kirie keeps going down until she sees a light.  The stairs bring her down into a huge cavern full of ruined spiral structures.  The stairs don't go all the way down so she drops down onto and climbs down a giant snail shell but loses her footing.  Fortunately a wind catches her and deposits her safely on the ground.
The cavern of spiral structures and a mystery light.
Gruesomely the floor is made up of a carpet of the knotted up row house inhabitants.  As she walks across them she finds they are turning into stone and she comes across her mum and dad both petrified into rock.  One of the spiral formations is emitting a bright light that the spiral people are all staring at.  Kirie finds Shuichi alive but unable to walk.  He tells her that the light is responsible:

Shuichi: "Every few hundred, or thousand, or tens of thousands of years... it can reach the people above and though it's builders are gone, maybe it's still building itself."

Kirie asks what they should do now.  Shuichi says he can't walk so she should go on without him.  She refuses to leave him though.  They hold hands and their arms knot together into a rope-like formation.  The spiral outside completes and the cavern is filled with a strange roaring noise.  Kirie finishes telling is her tale by saying in the centre of the spiral, time froze.

Kirie: "So the curse was over the same moment it began.  The endless frozen moment I spent in Shuichi's arms.. and it will be the same moment again... when the next Kurouzo-cho is built amidst the ruins of the old one.  When the eternal spiral awakes once more."
This possibly isn't a happy ending.
And that brings the story to an end.  There is a twentieth chapter, but it wasn't officially part of the story and it's labelled as a "Missing Chapter" in the book.  It was set early on in the storyline and involves the appearence and disappearence of many spiral galaxies.  I can see why it was removed, it doesn't quite fit with tone of the storyline.  Anyway, Uzumaki remains a horror masterpiece.  One reason why I delayed my write up of this second half was because I was feeling unwell, and just the thought of the snail eating scenes made me nauseous.  Now I am someone who has been into body horror since her early teens, so for something to make even me feel sick to my stomach has to be an achievement of sorts.  I also like the way the events "spiral" out into a mysterious eldritch horror story of people acting under compulsions they don't understand and unimaginable structures powered by something beyond comprehension lurking underground.  All-in-all Uzumaki is a seminal horror manga and certainly should be read by anyone with an interest in horror comics.  Who knew something as innocuous as a spiral could cause such havoc...?

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Uzumaki (Part One)

"Spirals.. this town is contaminated by spirals" - Shuichi

Time for more manga and another Junji Ito series, Uzumaki, written and drawn by Ito and translated by Yuji Oniki .  Junji Ito is not the most prolific of mangaka and very little of what he has done has been released in the west.  I looked at Gyo a couple of months back and now I am looking at Uzumaki (which means "Spiral") his hands-down, no holds barred work of demented, twisted (pun intended) genius.  Twenty chapters set in one cursed Japanese sea-side town narrated by a teenage female character, which starts out with queasy conicidences and strange obssessions and ends in a full blown Lovecraftian nightmare of epic proportions.  Fans of weird Japanese cinema may have seen the surreal film based on the series, which cherry picked various chapters but didn't have the budget to take it to the spectacular place it ended at.  Although it's still an enjoyable weird little film if you're a fan of the genre, the manga is more coherent and builds terror much more effectively.  Although the horror isn't gross out in it's defiling of the body like Gyo was, it's still quite alarming and so those with faint hearts might want to give this one a miss.  I've also split this look into two posts, ten chapters apiece as it is a weighty volume, so part two will be up in a few days time.  So how can Spirals be scary?  You are about to find out...[note:  This manga is unflipped so reads right to left]

The first thing to note is that the whole tale is being told in flashback.  We don't see the "present" until the very last pages of the book. The story begins with a few colour pages and a look at the town of Kurouzu-cho where the events will be taking place.  We meet Kirie Goshima, our narrator.  She is a normal teenage girl who lives with her family and has a boyfriend called Shuichi Sato.
Kirie and Shuichi
He is going to school in another town, and she rushes to meet him at the train station.  On the way, she sees his father Mr. Sato intently watching a snail crawl up the wall.  She meets up with Shuichi and they talk, he asks her to leave town with him, he says:

Shuichi: "I can't stand this place.  We'll go crazy if we stay here."

He says he feels dizzy everytime he returns to the town.  Kirie doesn't know what to make of it.  We then cut to Mr. Sato talking to Mr. Goshima - Kirie's dad - who happens to be a potter by trade.  Mr. Sato enthusiastically says "It's really the art of the spiral".  He orders a piece from Mr. Goshima, specifically with a black spiral. He says he has a love of the spiral and collects things with them on.  We then get a look at his room full of spiral objects.

Shuichi and Kirie carry on walking home.  Shuichi says his father can make his eyeballs spin independantly of each other in spirals.  At dinner he got angry because there were no spiral patterened fishcakes, so he stirred his miso soup into a spiral.  He evens makes a spiral before getting into the bathwater.  Shuichi invites Kirie to come and see if he doesn't believe her.  On the way he points out all the spirals in a stream they are walking by.
Shuichi's spiral crazy dad.
They arrive a Shuichi's house and his father is in a rage because Mrs. Sato threw out all of his spiral objects.  He then stares at Shuichi and Kirie and laughing madly, makes his eyes spin in different directions.  Later Mr. Goshima gives Kirie the piece he made for Mr. Sato and she takes it over to Shuichi's house.  Mr. Sato says he doesn't need it anymore, "you can call the spiral from in yourself."  And he sticks out a grotesquely long tongue and curls it into a spiral.  Kirie freaks out and runs off.

We then jump forward to Mr. Sato's funeral.  Shuichi says to Kirie he'll tell her how his father really died.  They found a wooden tub he had ordered especially and when he and his mum looked inside they found Suichi's dad "spun" somehow into a human spiral which killed him.  As they talk outside the crematorium, the smoke from Mr. Sato's cremation starts to form a huge spiral in the sky.

The smoke moves away from the chimney in a whirlwind formation and settles over "dragonfly pond".  Mrs. Sato begins to freak out, Shuichi tried to calm her but they see the smoke for, for an instant, the face of Shuichi's father. And Mrs. Sato just starts screaming with hysterical laughter.  In the hospital she is being restrained by several doctors and nurses, when she sees one of the nurses has her hair in a spiral like bun she screams "Spiral! Spiral! Take it away!"
Shuichi's mum gets rid of unwanted spirals.
She develops an extreme phobia of spirals.  Her head is shaved to stop her hair forming spirals and in one gruesome scene we see her cut off her fingerprints because of the spirals they form.  Shuichi explains to Kirie that it's because to her, every spiral looks like when they found his dad.  His dad keeps speaking to his mum, "come join me in the spiral."

Thanks to all the precautions the hospital staff are taking she seem to be calming down.  He, his mum and a doctor talk in the doctor's office and Shuichi becomes distracted by a diagram on the wall showing the inner ear, especially the spiral-like cochlea.  The doctor recommends Mrs. Sato goes to Midoriyama-shi psychiatric hospital.  She doesn't really want to go, and tells Shuichi she won't hurt herself anymore as she has removed all her spirals.

Later Shuichi walks with Kirie and tells her about the cochlea, and implies heavily that if his mum found out about it she'd take drastic measures to get rid of it.  Later that night, Mrs. Sato awakens to find a centipede trying to crawl into her ear.  She kills it and it curls up into a spiral with her husbands face and it says he wants to curl up inside her ear.  She wakes up for real, screaming.
Haunted by her dead husband.
Next day she asks Shuichi about the human ear, "don't tell me it has a spiral."  Shuichi denies it does, but she rushes to the doctor's office to check the wall chart, but it's been taken down.  She frantically starts looking through text books, but Shuichi manages to calm her and she goes back to he room.  The doctor tells Shuichi she really needs to see a specialist.

Mrs. Sato hallucinates her husband telling her there are spirals in her ears.  She takes a pair of scissors and plunges them into her earhole.  With her inner ears destroyed she loses her sense of balance and feels like she is experiencing spirals all the time.  She dies not long after.

Kirie: "On the day of her funeral as her body was burned...another black spiral emerged in the sky above our town."

The next chapter begins with Kirie musing about a friend she had called Azami Kurotan.  She says she regrets knowing her because then Azami wouldn't have met Shuichi, "and we might have prevented what happened."  She is a beautiful but reserved girl, "she was good at giving the cold shoulder."  She lives in a different town but attends school in Kurouzu-cho.
Other girls tell Kirie not to be friends with her and that she has magic power. She has a scar on her forehead obscured by her fringe that is the source of said power.  Later Azami shows Kirie the crescent shaped scar which she got as a kid showing off in a playground to impress a boy.  Apparently it makes all boys become attracted to her.

One day Azami and Kirie go to see Shuichi who hasn't been coming out of his house since the death of his parents.  They are greeted by a depressed and hollow eyed Shuichi who freaks out when he sees Azami and tells her to go away and never come back again.  Kirie apologises to Azami who goes quiet on the way to the station.  Later on the phone, Shuichi says to Kirie "you have to watch out.  She's a spiral".

His doorbell goes and he answers the door to be confronted by Azami.  She demands to know what is wrong.

Azami: "Every boy I have ever met has fallen for me. How could you reject me?"

He says she's hiding something on her forehead.  She pulls back her fringe and her scar has turned into a spiral.  Shuichi says the town has changed it and she should leave while she still can.  But she refuses and becomes obssessed with him, even getting her parents to rent her a flat in the town.  She goes to see Shuichi every day but he refuses to see her.

Kirie confronts her and tells her to leave Shuichi alone.  She won't, she wants Shuichi to care about her.  Then a large spiral appears on her forehead.  A boy called Okada appears and tells Azami how he is drawn to her.  Azami runs away and stops coming to school.
Possessed by the spiral.
A few days later Shuichi calls Kirie and says Okada asked to meet them at the playground.  So Kirie goes and bumps into Azami on the way, Azami has a huge spiral on her face now and freaks Kirie out.  Shuichi is at the park, lured there by Okada at the request of Azami.  Azami arrives saying all she wanted was to see Shuichi.

Then, as Kirie arrives to witness what happens, the spiral takes over Azami's head and sucks Okada in.  Then the spiral gets bigger and bigger, consuming Azami's body until finally there is nothing left of her.

The next chapter begins with Kirie observing another spiral of smoke from a cremation moving over to Dragonfly Pond.  She goes to look for her father and finds him sat by the kiln, he gets angry and tells her not to look inside.  She notes that even the smoke from the kiln is making a spiral.

We then cut to a ceramics exhibtion.  Mr. Goshima's pieces are all distorted and covered in spirals.  He says of them, "The do have a life of their own" and the distortion happened during the firing process.  He doesn't sell any though.  Kirie says she isn't surprised, they look weird and aren't practical.  Kirie's little brother spots a distorted face on one of them and says it looks like Shuichi's mum.  Kirie's dad brushes it off as coincidence, but they find other faces all from people recently cremated.
Freaky pottery.
Next day Kirie makes Shuichi a lunch as he hasn't been going out.  Her mum says to invite him for dinner so she practically drags him to her house even though he doesn't want to go there as they live by Dragonfly Pond.  But once there he scoffs a lot of food until a plate of noodles is place in front of him on one of the distorted plates made by Kirie's dad.  He recoils from it.  When he finds out it was made from mud from Dragonfly Pond he flees looking like he's about to throw up.

Kirie says she wouldn't eat from that plate either, that a plate made from clay from Dragonfly Pond might be "clay made from dead people".  However her father keeps getting the clay from the pond.  One night Kirie goes down to the kilm and while her father sleeps, peers inside and sees ghostly faces calling for help.

Her dad wakes up and sends her away, in bed she can still hear the voices. Shuichi calls her saying he was lonely, but he also hears the voices.  He rushes over and they go down to the kiln.  Shuichi hears his parents inside and picks up a huge brick and smashes the kiln with it, setting the ghosts free.  The kiln workshop catches fire and burns down, but even so, Kirie's obssessed father goes and digs his final pieces out of the ashes.
Ghosts in the kiln.
The next chapter introduces the "row houses" which we in the UK would call terraces.  There are a lot of old dilapidated row houses in Korouzu-cho and they'll become a very important part of the plot later on.  For now though, Kirie witnesses a fight between two families who live in the same row house, they are trying to prevent their son and daughter - Kazunori and Yoriko respectively from seeing each other.  Yoriko's brother punches Kazunori and drags her away. 

Kirie talks to Kazunori who says he and Yoriko are in love.  He says that due to their poverty their families souls have become twisted.  He goes home and has to endure the two families screaming insults at each other through the walls.  It gets too much for him and Yoriko and they rush outside to each other, but both get pulled back inside before they can reach each other.

Kirie tells Shuichi about the situation.  Shuichi says they have been "cursed by the spiral".

Shuichi: "If what I saw hasn't driven me completely insane then those houses are part of this.  And everyone in them is doomed."
Kazunori and Yoriko.
He asks Kirie to run away with him, right away.  But she angrily refuses and storms out.  A few days later she goes to check on the row house families and discovers Kazunori and Yoriko have gone missing.  They are hiding in a nearby abandoned house and see two snakes twisted and entwined with each other.

The adults find them and Kazunori gets a punch and Yoriko taken away.  Somehow Kazunori twists his body round unnaturally, then pops it back. Kirie arranges for Kazunori and Yoriko to escape together and she and Shuichi wait to meet them at the railway station.  But Kazunori and Yoriko come running up saying they've been discovered, so they all run to the beach.

Their families catch up with them, but before they can be seperated, but Kazunori and Yoriko twist their bodies round and round each other like the snakes or a length of twine.  Thus entangled they cannot be seperated.

Yoriko: "We're never going to be apart.  That's right..."

Kazunori: "...forever."

And they take off like a twister across the sea and are never seen again.
Human twisters!
The next chapter opens at Kirie's school.  A classmate has fallen off the roof of the school after showing off and died.  Kirie thinks he looks strangely content in death.  She talks with a girl called Sekino about it.

Sekino: "I understand how he must have felt.  It's nice when other people notice you."

Kirie says that she doesn't like sticking out, but Sekino says lately she "craves it" but doesn't know how to go about it.

Later Kirie and Shuichi talk about the rash of strange, exhibitionist behaviour.  He says it's the spirals "mesmerising" people into wanting attention. He also notes that Kirie's hair is getting longand maybe needs a cut.

Next day at school her hair suddenly forms spiral-like curls, when Sekino braids it for her, it unwinds back into the curls.  She goes to get it cut, but her hair suddenly grows and attacks the styalist.  Then acts like it's alive.  She has to leave it alone to stop it trying to strangle her, and she has to walk around with it floating around her head in spiral curls.
Haunted hair.
Kirie: "I soon realised that my hair had the power to mesmerise people who looked at it, and it was atrracted to crowds."

Her hair forces her to go to where crowds can see it and keeps on growing.  She starts to feel weak like it is draining her strength.  Then one day Sekino arrives on the scene also with floating spiral curled "living" hair. School becomes a battleground for attention between them despite Kirie's reluctance. 

Finally it turns into a literal battleground as their hair fights and Sekino's starts choking Kirie.  Shuichi cuts Kirie free and tries to cut her hair but gets bound up in it.  Sekino declares victory as Shuichi cuts his way free and finally manages to cut off Kirie's hair.  Sekino cackles madly "ha ha ha!  Look at me!" but her hair starts draining her lifeforce faster and faster until she ends up a dry, dead husk, although her hair lives on for a few more hours.
Vampire hair.
Chapter seven begins with Kirie remembering a boy called Mitsuru Yamaguchi, "he loved to jump out and surprise people".  He's nicknamed "Jack-In-The-Box" because of this.  He likes Kirie and starts following her around.  One day Kirie and her friend Shiho walk home through the cemetary which they find creepy because people have started to be buried there again after the strange spiral smoke formations caused by the cremations put people off them.

Suddenly Mitsuru jumps out from behind a gravestone and startles them.  Shiho tells him off and that Kirie already has a boyfriend.  Mitsuru says he won't give up and she'll "go out with me eventually".  He keeps stalking her, popping up all over the place.  He sends her a package one day, but she doesn't open it and tries to return it to him.  He decides to run out in front of a car and says his love for her will stop it.  It doesn't and he ends up dead, crushed under it's front wheels.
So ends Mitsuru. He lived. He sucked. He died.
He's buried in the graveyard, and later Kirie decides to open the gift from him.  It turns out to be a Jack-In-The-Box.  She calls Shuichi who reassures her that it wasn't her fault Misturu died.  But suddenly the Jack-In-The-Box tells her it is her fault, "he died for you didn't he?  And now he'll come back for good."

So she and Shuichi sneak out to the graveyard that night.  They plan to dig him up so Shuichi can hammer a stake through him.  Kirie isn't sure Mitsuru is actually a vampire.  Shuichi says:

Shuichi: "Look we're here because we believe a toy clown talked in the first place.  Nothing is unbelievable in this town."

They uncover the casket, but before they can open it, Mitsuru's corpse pops up out of it.  He begins jumping after them as Kirie and Shuichi run.  His guts fall out then his legs fall off.  Then a large spring pops out of his body and he bounces after them on it for a little while further before collapsing fully dead again.  Shuichi says the spring is from the suspension of the car that killed him.

Kirie: "And so Jack-In-The-Box never surprised anyone again".
Wise fwom your gwave!
The next chapter starts with Kirie and a friend contemplating the rain which is expected to last for a few days.  They mention a boy called Katamaya and how he only comes to school when it rains.  He does indeed show up, and the class bully mocks him and the teacher upbraids him for only coming to school when he feels like it.

Later Katayama is useless in a volleyball game, so the class bully, Tsumuru strips him naked.  This exposes a large spiral-like mark on his back.  Next day he arrives at school and the spiral has swollen on his back. Kirie thinks: "A spiral.. A spiral rising".  her friend says he looks like a snail.  And in fact by the next day he as transformed into a full on snail, albeit with vaguely human features still.  He crawls up the side of the school building.
 The teacher tells his parents but they refuse to take responsibility for him.  Using brooms to push him off the school wall, they put him in a fenced area in the school yard, where "eventually the school took care of him."  Tsumuru laughs at him and pokes him with a stick.  But later he starts drinking lots and stops coming to school.

The rain stops and Katamaya retreats into his shell.  Kirie and her friend worry about him and spray him with water, but when he comes out revealing fully snail features, they flee.  The teacher asks where Tsumuru is and then they see another slug climbing the building, it's Tsumuru.  They put him in with Katamaya and they start mating!

Later the two of them escape.  Kirie, her friend and her teacher Mr. Yokota follow the slime trail.  They find a nest of snail eggs and Mr. Yokota stomps them all.  Katamaya and Tsumuru are never seen again and a few days later Mr. Yokota comes to school and has turned into a snail as well.
Double ick.
We move onto the story of the town lighthouse.  One night it emitted a "bright mesmerising glow".  Which swirled over the rooftops like a whirlwind.  The lighthouse is supposed to be abandoned so the townfolk are curious as to what is causing it.  It keeps doing it, and Kirie's brother Mitsuo thinks it's cool.  Kirie and her mum disagree and tell Mitsuo to stay away from it.

Finally some men from the town go inside to investigate but they never come out.  Then the light starts making people do "crazy things" like walking round and round in circles.  After a boat crashes into the shore because of it, Mitsuo and friends run off and go inside to investigate.  Kirie goes chasing after him.
The mysterious light.
As she ascends she sees spiral patters on the wall.  Finally she comes across the burned corpses of the men who first went in to investigate.  She finds two of Misuo's friends sitting close by, they say Mitsuo and the other boy with him carried on up.  She tells them to go back down and goes on up to find Mitsuo.

She finds Mitsuo and friend huddled together at the top of the lighthouse.  Instead of a lamp, there is a melted thing marked with the shape of the spiral.  Kirie realises the lamp has melted in the heat and they are now in great danger.  It is nearing dusk and time for the lamp to light up.

She and the two boys go pelting down the stairs as the light switches on and begins to follow them.  The other boy falls as they run and the light catches him and burns him to a crisp.  Kirie and Mistuo make it outside, although only just and get buffeted by the edge of the heated light beam, and next day the bodies are removed from the lighthouse, but it still keeps shining it's weird light over the town.
The melted sinister lamp.
Kirie's injuries escaping the lighthouse turned out to be "unexpectedly severe" and she has to spend half the summer in hospital.  The mosquitos act strangely that year, they fly in spirals that make you sleepy then bite.  Outside the hospital with a friend one day Kirie sees a whirlwind like swarm of mosquitos.  Her friend says they breed in Dragonfly Pond.  On the way back inside the hopsital, they find a mosquito bite ridden corpse.

More people start being hospitalised for mass mosquito bites, including many pregnant women.  Kirie visits her pregnant cousin Keiko who has been bitten a lot.  She helps unpack her things amongst which is a mysterious wrapped item, which Keiko tells Kirie to ignore.  Next morning some patients are found dead, with many holes drilled in them and their blood drained out.
This hospital has problems.
Keiko says she is feeling better when Kirie goes to visit and her baby is kicking a lot.  Shuichi turns up and tells Kirie she should get out of the hospital, that "something is wrong in this place."  A nurse tells Kirie they are running out of beds so Kirie will have to share with Keiko.  Shuichi says Keiko gives him a weird feeling, then freaks out when he sees a mosquito and kills it with some bug spray.

He tells Kirie that only female mosquitos suck blood, and only when they are carrying eggs which need feeding.  The nurse yells at Shuichi to leave and physically shoves him out of the room.  That night Kirie is wakened by a weird noise, and when she gets up to investigate she is greeted by the horrible sight of all the pregnant women armed with drills walking the corridors.

She looks in one room and sees a pregnant woman sitting on a male patient and drilling into him.  She has blood all round her mouth and on her gown.  They all go to attack Kirie when another patient appears.  They make spiral motions in the air with their fingers which knock him out, then gather round him with their drills and start drinking his blood.
Unusual pregnancy cravings.
The rest keep going after Kirie.  She flees to her room, but Keiko is there armed with a drill and she says "give me your blood."  Desperate, Kirie uses the bug spray Shuichi left behind and this fends off the blood crazy women.  Next day all evidence of their crimes are covered up and Kirie contemplates the fact their blood fed babies will all be born in the next few days....

And here we take a break to prevent this post getting even more unwieldy.  Part two will cover the final ten chapters in a few days time.  So far the weird horror has been mostly confined to the personal level, with Kirie and Shuichi being the unlucky recipients of the worst of it.  Part two will see events spiral (heh) out of control and take in the whole town.  One thing Junji Ito is excellent at is juxtaposing the silly with the horrific.  The possessed hair chapter perhaps being the best example.  Long hair with a life of its own? Pretty funny.  Two girls getting into a hair battle?  Goofy.  Said long hair sucking out all the person's life force leaving them a skeletal husk?  Holy fuck that's grim!  As a personal note, I have lovely long waist length hair and now I am wondering if it's sucking my energy all the time?  Could happen.  The snails, while a somewhat surreal example of body horror will have utterly stomach churning plot importance later in the story.  Ito's artwork remains detailed and as adept at capturing the everyday and normal as he is the parade of twisted bodies and screaming corpse ghosts.  Kirie is a very likeable main character and a calm centre for the crazy events going on around her. I'm a horror fan since my early teens and to find horror that can turn even my stomach is rare, but this manages it. Superb stuff.