Let’s face it: school is rough. Especially high school, what with all the cliques and trying to fit in, and you know, those annoying people that never know when to let well enough alone. Yet, for the most part, once we enter the school system we can pretty much figure where we’re going to be for the rest of the four or so years due to two things: income and looks. I would venture to guess that this is pretty much true anywhere, but since the former would make a pretty boring motivation (usually, Ouran High School Host Club covered monetary divisions more than usual, but that’s for another Monday) the latter is usually the one discussed and exploited in media. Pretty equals popular and popular hardly ever equals good (much less smart): not a good stereotype to be sure, but it is what it is. This is the scenario we are faced with when reading manga—female centric manga—that takes place in school: there’s always that one bitchy popular chick that tries to ruin the protagonist but is eventually changed by the purity and goodwill of the protagonist. But what would the result be if that didn’t happen? In fact, let’s change it up all together: let’s focus the story on this high school prima donna. Such is the twist in Junji Ito’s Tomie series.
Trigger warning now: if you choose to look into this series it’s extremely gory. Read at your own risk.
We open with a funeral scene: students and teachers alike mourning the loss of a lovely person such as Tomie. Quickly though, we find out that Tomie was not the sweetheart they portrayed her to be. A brash and beautiful girl, Tomie was manipulative, dating their homeroom teacher, and over-confident. Oh, and she’s still alive. Yes, clearly falling off a mountain and getting stabbed and cut into forty-two separate pieces (covering up an accidental murder—as we discover—with an actual murder: manga logic) was not enough to keep this girl down. Naturally everyone at the school is freaked out, yet Tomie walks around as normal, trying to get back to her life. This doesn’t work. Apparently one of the side effects of coming back is that she now emits an aura around her. An aura that only affects men. An aura that drives them obsessively to love her, then kill her. She is in all seriousness a girl that is too pretty to live.
And… that’s pretty much what the 12+ chapters of this story is about: Tomie makes women jealous, men crazy, and gets killed. However, we find that each time Tomie is killed a “new” Tomie is spawned from her body—from any part of her body (hair, heart, blood, etc.) she can form as many Tomies as resources available. We also find that each Tomie has a insatiable urge to kill the other Tomies. Thus, as it stands, this is a conflict that will never die: a point further driven in by the series’ non-ending.
If one was to pick a main villain for the whole series, that of course would be Tomie. And, again, some may take offense to their being such a heinous female villain. But I believe that that is not the case. In my opinion, Tomie is simply a series with no heroes and no villains. There are characters that one can relate with, sure, but it is not relating with our best attributes. The manga itself is playing on our insecurities, our need for revenge, our hate. Perhaps in some sense, Tomie is making us realize our own Tomie-like attributes in an attempt to quash them. Truly, I think that’s what this piece is: a cry (or a stern lecture) for us to realize that our culture is becoming diseased because we are focusing too much on superficial beauty. The men of this series want so much to have this beauty that they will do anything to get it. Once they have it, they will do anything for it. Finally, once they see it for what it really is (a lie), they’ll do anything to get rid of it. For good. The women of this series have it no better: if they get taken in by beauty they become Tomie themselves. If they resist beauty, they are hunted down almost sacrificially until they are dead or absorbed. Beauty makes mankind a beast and everyone is its prey.
This is not to say that being beautiful itself is a crime. At the beginning Tomie is still beautiful and accepted (though she is still a jerk) and there are other pretty girls that are not Tomie as well. Yet, as the standard for beauty is created, that is when the curse takes form and everyone becomes a target. I would akin this to the modeling industry now and how our own perception of beauty is shifting into something that is almost unobtainable by normal means.
Even in all of its outlandish horror story glory, I find that Tomie is a tale that is scarily applicable to this day revealing that since its release date ten years ago, nothing much has changed. We are slowly killing ourselves, and it may not end up being as “softly” as you think.