I have noticed that there have been online calls for a good, old fashion villainess – an evil heroine who is so for the sake of being wicked, and not due to heartbreak. I have found such a creature in Junji Ito’s horror collection of one-shot manga stories about a beautiful girl named Tomie. Only the Japanese could have thought this up. It hits a nerve, speaks to something deep amidst gory illustrations and imagery. It provides a disturbing commentary on misogyny too. If you can stomach it, this is a magnificent display of creative depravity.
Each story is set in chronological order, but then you’ll realize that it is also happening at the same time. The first tale is designed to induce some sympathy for Tomie, before revealing her true nature. The closest western mythological counterpart to this is a succubus…or a hydra. Tomie seems to fit the archetype of a cold bitch, an embodiment of selfishness and lust. There is something about her beauty that inspires extreme passion, driving lovers into murderous frenzies. Women’s hearts are broken, men attack each other, but all of their rage is directed at Tomie. She is brutally killed and dismembered in every story arc. Each of her body parts possess the ability to regenerate into other fully formed versions of herself, and she does so whenever she is under emotional stress or murdered. As Tomie reproduces and spreads like a cancer, she able to torment and drive more people insane.
Tomie harkens to the mythological feminine evil, whose mere appearance awakens the primal violence inside human beings. I do wish that we could see some events through her perspective. Her potentially human consciousness is only suggested, not explored. One can only imagine what it must be like to be murdered over and over again and remember it all. Tomie’s personality appears mostly one note, but her male and female victims are are the ones to be invested in. One of the things I’m grateful is that the violence is not fetishized, there is no explicit sexual content. However, the art style does not make for very distinctive looking characters. I had to read for a little while before I could tell who was who. I like the variety of visceral ways Tomie’s powers are illustrated. This manga is certainly one that could make you feel dirty after reading it, striking true to the horror genre. It is a fascinating feast of the deliciously grotesque.