Junji Ito’s Tomie Complete Deluxe Edition Charts the Disturbing Evolution of a Horror MasterArt by Junji Ito Comics Features Junji Ito
Writer/Artist: Junji Ito
Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: December 21, 2016
As American readers, our perceptions of foreign artists—and even foreign art forms—are shaped by what is imported and when. Modern American fans of Japanese horror auteur Junji Ito likely know him best from Uzumaki and Gyo, as well as various short chillers (“The Enigma of Amigara Fault”) that became popular online as illegal, creepypasta-like “scanlations.” While Dark Horse, ever a pioneer in horror and manga, translated some of Ito’s short stories over a decade ago, his work didn’t crack the wider American comic-reading consciousness until recent years, and Dark Horse’s volumes had fallen out of print by the time Ito began to receive credit in the English-speaking world.
Tomie Complete Deluxe Edition, released last week in a stunning hardcover from VIZ Media, corrects one of the most glaring absences in English-language Ito libraries by bundling the manga-ka’s saga about the irresistible titular girl into one massive collection. Created in 1987 while Ito was working as a dental technician, the first Tomie story earned its author an honorable mention in a contest judged by horror legend Kazuo Umezu. While Ito’s art in this inaugural tale is cruder than his modern contributions, and his characters occasionally difficult to differentiate, the unrefined creativity and urban-legend tone make the original Tomie iteration a highlight among the 20 stories collected here.
In tale after tale, a mysterious girl with a distinctive mole upends the lives of everyone around her. Men fall under her sway instantly, leaving their wives and girlfriends. In one instance, her victims join a cult to worship her. That devotion quickly becomes murderous, though, and the men develop an overwhelming urge to slaughter and dismember Tomie—and anyone else who earns Tomie’s ire or tries to stop them.
Tomie Complete Deluxe Edition Interior Art by Junji Ito
The “undying scary Japanese girl with long black hair” has become a trope both in Japan and abroad, but Tomie was first published four years before Koji Suzuki’s novel Ringu, and the first Tomie film—of eight!—hit theaters the same year as Ringu’s highly influential adaptation. Superficial visual similarities aside, Tomie distinguishes herself from her creepy peers by driving men to kill her, not in directly serving as the narrative’s violent force. She delights in inspiring carnage in her name, but don’t expect to see her stumbling out of a television to suck the life from a hapless rube.
Like Hideaki Sena’s Parasite Eve and the Ringu sequels, Tomie flirts with full-blown science-fiction concepts to explain Tomie’s ability to resurrect herself over and over again. In one early segment, a young doctor drives himself mad trying to decipher Tomie’s regenerative abilities when a transplanted organ sprouts a new body. Deeper into the collection, a vengeful survivor of Tomie’s wrath plots to infect babies with Tomie’s cells so that he might finally have the cruel pleasure of watching Tomie grow old and wither. For horror purists, the specious attempts at explaining Tomie’s life cycle may not hold up against segments that focus solely on her grisly impact and Ito’s signature body horror, but with over 700 story pages, it’s hard to fault Ito for stretching his creative muscles.
VIZ unfortunately neglected to date the stories anywhere in the book, making it difficult to place anything but the original short in Ito’s creative timeline. After the first few entries, his art style looks much more polished, and readers will be hard-pressed to determine if these stories fall before or after 1998’s Uzumaki. Only a few entries employ solid continuity, too: after the second Tomie story, Ito uses her as more of an anthology device than a continuing character. While the final segments offer some closure to the concept of Tomie, there’s ample room for Ito to revisit one of his most iconic creations should the murderous urge strike. Until then, Tomie Complete Deluxe Edition more than earns its name and its hefty spot on any horror fan’s shelf.