Book Review | Tomie by Junji Ito
There will be spoilers for the manga Tomie.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of blood and gore as it appears in the manga Tomie.
Tomie begins at a school where a young, female student (that we never see again past the school portion of the story) tells us that her friend Tomie Kawakami was murdered, chopped into pieces, and scattered about the town. Who could do such a thing? Well, Tomie is quite the looker, though her bully attitude leaves much to be desired. She entertains the affection of a particularly jealous boy but maintains an intimate relationship with her teacher. On a field trip, she confesses to her teacher, to get him to marry her, that she is pregnant with his child. The jealous boy overhears, becomes enraged, and goes after the teacher. The teacher, on the other hand, becomes enraged and pushes Tomie off a rocky precipice.
Believing she is dead, the teacher encourages all the male students to remove their uniforms and help chop her into pieces. They all comply while the girls watch in horror. Much to their surprise, Tomie is still alive, but the teacher has already started, and he won’t stop. Hesitantly, the other boys follow.
Once she is separated into pieces (and the teacher perversely confirms the pregnancy was a lie), everyone takes a piece of her and hides it. With the deed done and the murder unsolved, life goes on… including for Tomie. Soon after she is brutally murdered, she returns to school, acting as if nothing has happened. From there, she guilts her murderers to turn themselves in, kill themselves in various ways, commit themselves to mental hospitals or encourage them to kill her again in places and situations where they will be caught.
One thing I was happy to see, though, was that the way the original Tomie died made a constant occurrence throughout each story. It was a nice reminder of the ghost-revenge narrative from the beginning, and it really helped tie all the stories together in a morbid way. Men are uncontrollably drawn to Tomie. They become so enamored with her beauty that they, quite literally, want to cut her to pieces, only to find she can regenerate and multiply as a result. I found this super clever since the men were the only ones who took part in tearing her apart. Thankfully, the women aren’t spared either but are usually tortured because of the men in their lives being tortured.
Of the Ito-trio (Uzumaki, Tomie, and Gyo), this was the most… meh, for me. It certainly started with the worst art, though by the end, it was just as beautiful as the art in Uzumaki (my fave). The story also follows a pattern, like Uzumaki. Each chapter follows a structure and almost always ends the same, which made this manga boring and predictable for me. This one also took me the longest to finish, which I blame on the lack of diversity in each chapter’s plot.
The story starts off as a ghostly, revenge narrative, but quickly devolves into something much less interesting. Tomie goes from getting revenge on her killers to just ruining the lives of strangers. Of course, some people deserve the Tomie curse for various reasons, but there are some that are just randomly cursed by Tomie. When Tomie is the reanimated victim, despite her garbage personality, I am still rooting for her. Yas queen, slay your killers (literally). Once she started hurting the lives of strangers, she was more of an annoying catalyst for the various plots.
In a lot of ways, Tomie’s role becomes more figurative. She becomes a representation of various sins, vices, and obsessions. There is a story involving Tomie being dissolved in alcohol. It is quite clear Tomie represents or is the catalyst for alcoholism as the men find themselves unable to keep themselves from drinking the alcohol.
Overall, Tomie was super fun in the beginning, dragged in the middle, and left me kinda unsatisfied at the end. Still would recommend it for any Junji Ito fan, because I can see elements of his other works, but I probably would not recommend this to every horror/body-horror manga fan.
Have you read Tomie? Did you enjoy it? Do you disagree with my assessment? Please let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.