Back from a sunny vacation, and in typical “Manga Island” fashion, it’s time to scour the dark corners of the Island with Junji Ito’s horror extravaganza “Tomie.” As a fan of horror movies and older American EC comics, I was really interested in the dark and foreboding horror of Ito’s manga. Although he started out as a dental technician, writing manga as a hobby, he has become a major voice in Japanese horror and is now very much involved in producing movies based on his works. Several of these movies are based on the stories contained in “Tomie,” each exploring a different aspect of the weird world of the beautiful girl who has the power to entice those around her to fall in love with, kill for, and ultimately murder her. I recently saw the first of the “Tomie” movies (which has a chilling and cool intro theme and soundtrack), and felt compelled to re-visit the darker corners of Manga Island yet again.
The “Tomie” volumes collected by Comicsone (now DR Master) joins Ito’s other works in their “Junji Ito Horror Comic Collection.” “Tomie” the manga is a collection of separate, but related stories, the common theme being the title girl whose beauty and supernatural powers are destined to doom all who come in contact with her. Sometimes the stories tie in to each other with common characters and situations, often set at different points in the characters’ lives. Fans of “Juon” and some of Tarantino’s works should have no problem with these temporal shifts, as they are also a great excuse to re-read previous chapters, to see how things tie together. Other stories seem related only in that they contain some incarnation of the supernatural force to be reckoned with, Tomie. All of these foreboding supernatural visions, however, carry the common theme of the inevitable fate of those who come face to face with Tomie’s terrible secret.
The “Tomie” manga is not only an intriguing entry to the world of horror manga, but is also a great window into watching a manga and its manga-ka develop. The early stories in the collection have a rather rough art style that gives way to a much more polished and even more eerie style full of darker tones and effects. There are some great splash pages between each of the chapters as well, ranging from simple line art to ink wash/charcoal style drawings. Each chapter break has its own disturbing motif, giving a hint to next story, without giving away too much of the twists and turns that often take place in each tale of woe. Ito’s storytelling also becomes more complex and intriguing as the manga progresses, and the stories of “Tomie” trace a bloody stain through a world where the supernatural is always waiting in the shadows, or often as not, it goes parading in full daylight.
The various stories in the manga each have their own sensibilities, and although they seem to diverge in tone, Ito is gifted at making each of them feel as though they are all part of the same work. At first I was under the impression that the opening story, “Tomie” felt very Poe-like, with a tale of revenge and a girl who may or may not really be back from the grave. From there, Ito takes the reader through stories of high school horror, revenge, tales of obsession, mania and medical experimentation. The “Tomie” stories have flavors easily attributable to Lovecraft, Barker, King, and other masters of horror, but all remain firmly in Ito’s own style. Although I found some stories more uneven than others, I quickly realized how fast I was turning the pages, drawn into Tomie’s world and wanting to find out exactly what this beautiful and terrible girl was all about.
Tomie herself is an enigma, in that Ito never tips his hand as to what she is exactly. The reader must interpret her for themselves. She has the power to make those around her obsess about her, kill for her, love her, and want to kill her, often all at once. The fact she comes back (often in gruesome and horrible ways) dooming or forever scarring those who witness this rebirth, is one of Tomie’s signature traits. But we are left to wonder, which of these incarnations is the real Tomie, or is this merely a supernatural force in the guise of a once vibrant (and perhaps selfish or evil) and beautiful young girl? Sometimes Tomie appears to be truly just an evil force, and other times she appears as a force of revenge, or moral reckoning like those seen in older EC comics, or even “Pet Shop of Horrors.” I am torn between wanting to know the truth about Tomie and wanting the mystery to never be explained so that we, the readers, can draw our own conclusions discussing and debating the true nature of her supernatural self.
Tomie is the kind of horror comics that I wish I had more of when I was younger. I can only imagine how much more chilling the stories would be picking up this manga as early teen would be. There are themes of ostracism, unrequited love, angst, and the awkwardness of adolescence that strike a chord with my former high school self. While this is a violent and definitely mature rated comic, it is also one that I would have read and re-read in Junior High and High School when I was discovering horror movies, thick Stephen King novels, and Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood.” Stories such as the tale of Tomie’s regenerating hair that takes over a young girl’s body in a horrifying manner, and the strange case of two artists and their own obsession with the title character’s beauty and powers of persuasion are just the tip of what kept me turning the pages through both volumes in one night.
I recommend “Tomie” for those looking for their horror comic fix on those days when you just seem to want to wallow in darkness. For fans of manga and anime such as “Pet Shop of Horrors,” “Boogiepop Phantom,” and other such atmospheric shows, this should be a treat. As a fan of horror in general, I can heartily recommend “Tomie” and other Junji Ito comics to those who might want to see what exists out there besides “Juon” (“The Grudge”) and ‘The Ring.” While Ito’s works are still very much steeped in Japanese culture and situations, there are still haunted mansions, terrible experiments, ghostly revenge tales, and other trappings in enough variety that at least one story in the two volumes should satisfy anyone looking to have chill shiver up their spine. If you are looking for some well told gloom as we head into summer, the gloomy confines of Junji Ito and his works are the perfect corners of Manga Island to explore.
Volume 1-2 (of 2)
Rating (T+ to M) (my own rating applied based on themes, of horror and gory violence)
Links of interest:
Junji Ito fan site (tons of great info here!!)
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, Psy-COMM. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.