TW: Some disturbing images and references, body horror shown
It can be easily said that Junji Ito is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable and famous horror manga artists ever. Even if you aren’t into horror manga, the likelihood that you have seen his work before is pretty high, with some of his most famous works being his series of short horror stories, Uzumaki (a horror story of a town obsessed with spirals), Gyo (a horror story where fish are controlled by bacteria that want to kill people), and Junji Ito’s Cat Diaries (ironically what got me into his work even though it’s not horror, previously written on by Mark Clark). Above all of these sits his most famous and popular work: Tomie. But what makes this work so different than all his others?
Tomie is one of Ito’s oldest and longest running works, published in 1987 and ending in 2000; a series of short stories, it focuses on the namesake character as she drives people to madness and murder, usually resulting in her own brutal death. Instead of dying, Tomie regenerates, forming different clones of herself out of her corpse (often in disturbing ways), allowing her story to continue and for her to gain more followers. Originally three separate volumes, Tomie has recently been published as one large book, showcases not only Ito’s evolution in art and style, but also some of the best art he has made.
But what other than the art makes Tomie so iconic? Part of what makes this work so different from Ito’s other works is that, where others are more short stories and do not have much of, if any order, in how they are read, Tomie is one of the few that you have to really have to read from the beginning. The first story (simply titled “Tomie”) focuses on a class where a classmate comes back the day after they hold her funeral. The whole class starts to go mad, as it is revealed to the reader that the classmate, Tomie, had been seemingly killed during a class trip by accident, and the whole class lead by the teacher dismembers her (while still alive), each taking a piece to hide. This is important to know because instead of being framed like most of his other stories where the horror comes from the unknown and strange happening and not knowing till the end, you know why Tomie is there. After this, a common attribute of her character is that she is never shown to want to die, though it is her purpose. This creates another layer of understanding for the reader, especially after reading her first story.
Many of Ito’s works focus on obsession and its effect on people, a theme that is the crucial theme of stories involving Tomie. Many of her early stories focus on the obsession people, specifically men, feel towards Tomie. This has to do with what ever power she possesses, as well as her manipulative attitude. As her stories go on though, she falls into obsession about herself as well. Much of the conflict comes from her belief that she is perfect, and that no one can copy her or deny her. This becomes a form of irony for her character, as what draws others in to her draws her into herself.
The characters are not the only ones to be drawn in by Tomie. From this single manga series, nine movies have been created from it, as well as a part in the recent Junji Ito’s Collection horror anime, which will air two hour-long specials just on Tomie on April 27 and May 25. People’s fascination with her character connects them to the story, bringing them back for more every time and falling into her trap.