There’s something strange about Tomie. Everyone knows she’s beautiful, but no one knows what she is. Usually she appears as a young woman, but she can also take the form of a child or even a baby. As a young woman, she captivates all the men around and to a lesser effect catches the undivided attention of women. But every time she comes into someone’s life, she’s going to bring destruction. After people meet her, they end up killing others or themselves. Most often, they kill Tomie.
Despite her penchant for regularly dying, Tomie always manages to come back. Her deaths are brutal and detailed. Even without color, the black and white pages manage to show the stomach-churning grotesquery of her repeated demises. Many of her murderers dismember her, sometimes to the point that all that remains are chunks of meat. However, if she’s cut up into pieces, each piece will become a new Tomie. When a dead Tomie’s organ is used as a transplant, a new Tomie starts growing in the patient. When Tomie’s face is badly sliced up, new Tomies start sprouting out of her face.
Despite how gruesome this is, perhaps the most unsettling part is how cruelly Tomie uses innocent people. In a way you could argue that she doesn’t really do anything—people just seem to go crazy around her, and it wouldn’t be fair to blame Tomie if it’s just her presence that turns people into murderers. However, sometimes you can also see her purposefully using people, and her smirk seems to say she knows exactly what she’s doing.
Each chapter tells a different story, with only a few stories overlapping into new chapters. We don’t always get to really know the people she hurts, but in a few places we do. In one chapter, she’s adopted by a sad and frail elderly couple who were unable to have children. Despite their kindness, it will not turn out well for them. Likewise, she meets a young boy while she’s in a puddle of her own blood and she uses him and then tosses him away when he no longer amuses her.
Tomie debuted in 1987, as an honorable mention at the Umezu Awards. (An afterword from the mangaka interestingly talks a bit about Tomie’s creation.) So it’s not a new manga, and it’s been released by VIZ before, but this is the first time all three volumes are published in a single book. Tomie is something of a classic in the world of horror manga and has also been turned into a few Japanese movies. It’s dark, fascinating, vicious and hard to describe, which may explain why it’s been such a success and why its stories and images stick in readers’ minds so much afterward. Fans of manga horror ought to check out this new collection where they can get the whole series together.
Story & Art: Junji Ito
Publisher: VIZ Media
© Junji Ito 2011