Photo (Tomie part 4) by Junji Ito

What is Tomie Photo about?

Tsukiko is a girl in school, who also happens to be a member of the photography club. However, she is using her skills with the camera to turn a quick profit, whilst preying on the desires of her peers. She will take photos of certain boys in school and then sell those photos to any girls who have a crush on them.

Before I moved here, I lived in spain for a while. I was born in France, though.

Tomie offers a possible explanation as to her origin.

Tomie, meanwhile, is the head of the school’s ethics committee, and immediately sees an issue with Tsukiko’s little business venture. She hatches an elaborate plan to entrap Tsukiko, causing her to take photos of her whilst talking about the profit to be made. Just as she planned the teacher overhears this and Tsukiko is immediately suspended from school: Tomie 1 – Tsukiko 0.

However, when Tsukiko gets those photos developed, they reveal a disturbing side of Tomie that the naked eye can’t detect. Something dark hidden beneath the surface; something evil. But when she tries to use these photos to exact revenge on Tomie, things take a nasty turn for her.

As an aside, it is interesting how Tomie Photo begins. We see her in the opening pages arriving at an unknown mansion of an old man and his daughter. Once she enters, we cut forward in time to Tomie being settled into her apparently-new life. This mansion will feature in future stories too, including the chapter quite aptly titled ‘Tomie Mansion’.

Where is the moral centre?

What I found most interesting in Tomie Photo, was the placing of the moral centre in the story. Things aren’t as simple as Tsukiko good; Tomie bad. In fact, I would argue that Tomie is on the side of right for most of it – all of it perhaps, depending on how you interpret her actions. (See bottom of this post for my reasoning with some spoilers). We saw this theme a little bit in the first chapter where, although she was manipulative, didn’t deserve to be killed and cut up by her teacher. Yes I know that particular death was an accident, but the disposing of the body wasn’t very dignified, was it?

But no matter where you place Tomie, Tsukiko is a bit of a bad girl herself. Essentially using her customers’ weaknesses in order to charge large sums of money for the photos. And at no point does she display regret for this – she’s too busy trying to keep herself alive towards the end from a very pissed-off Tomie.

I mean, really. Taking advantage of those poor girls, not to mention the boys you photograph.

Tomie seems to be on the moral high ground.

This kind of exploration of character is one of the many aspects of Junji Ito’s work, specifically in this series, that make me love his stuff. Nothing is simply good and bad; black and white; light and dark. There is an unsettling shade that weaves it’s way into most things throughout these stories. But don’t get me wrong, there are some purely innocent people who get caught in Tomie’s path along the way. But we’ll come to those in due time.

In Summary

This chapter is a favourite of mine from the Tomie Collection. It has an interesting exploration of character between protagonist and antagonist. Not only that, but even a few surprise left turns that took me off guard on first reading. The world begins to open up even more with this chapter also. Not only with the introduction of new characters, but also with the mansion she arrives at in the opening pages. This mansion will be explored further later on, which helps tie these stories together even more.

Although part of a bigger story, this is actually one of the chapters that can be enjoyed completely on its own too. The last couple have been continuations of the same thread in Morita Hospital, but Tomie Photo shifts gear – opening up the world a little more for my favourite manga lady.

Interpretation of Tomie’s actions (some spoilers)

My reasoning as to why she could be considered “good” in Tomie Photo, is down to the possibility of her being possessed by an evil alternate persona. We see it time and again through this series that she has the outward appearance of a normal woman. It only tends to be once she’s triggered somehow that things turn nasty. There are moments when these triggers don’t necessarily show her to be unveiling her true self, but rather her true self revealing itself against her will.

We can see this in that final harrowing scene in Tsukiko’s home. She calls Tomie a “monster”, which triggers a reaction in her that appears to be against Tomie’s wishes. This causes another head to start growing from her body. Tomie pleads to her bodyguards / lackies to cut it off of her which, in true Ito fashion, they do.

If indeed there is a foreign body within her that causes this, as opposed to her being in control of it all, it gives Tomie an even more multi-faceted personality.

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary – Yon and Mu

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is unique within the world of horror manga, at least as far as I know. It is the story about the manga’s artist himself, his family and their adorable cats Yon and Mu.

What is Junji Ito’s Cat Diary about?

Put simply, this manga is an autobiographical piece about Ito himself who, alongside his wife, get two pet cats – Yon and Mu. We follow the happy couple through their adventures with these beautiful felines.

A lot of what happens is pretty standard for regular cat owners. They take care and feed the cats on a daily basis; They play with them using cat wand toys; There are even moments when the cats are just playing around with each other, as cats do.

Although this follows a pretty grounded narrative with no source of horror in the traditional sense, Ito manages to filter his experiences through his very unique lense – capturing something both entertaining and, at times, unnerving.

Exaggerating the normal

Nothing in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is very much out of the ordinary. However, what Junji Ito has managed to create, is an unsettling view that is created from the exaggeration of his own perspective. Allow me to explain what I mean.

When people see pets that they find cute, they tend to give them a cuddle or stroke them and speak in an almost baby-talk manner. What you’ll notice in the panel above, is how he’s managed to create something visually jarring that injects the otherwise-innocent scene with a shot of Itoesque horror.

Not only are there plenty of scary moments like this, but there are also some almost-disturbing moments littered throughout too. Again from seemingly-innocent interactions between an owner and their cats. Take this next example where Ito’s wife, A-ko, discovers that the cat enjoys suckling on her little finger. Pretty innocent right? Well look at what he managed to turn it into, when he tries to get Yon to suckle on his finger too.

One of the most peculiar aspects in this manga, is how he decided to depict his wife. Ito has drawn her otherwise-normally, if not for her eyes. He has given her empty, white, dead-like eyes. I’m not sure why he chose to draw her in this way, but I think it must stem from his dark sense of humour. Interestingly, he mentioned his Wife’s reaction to this in one of the book’s interview questions to him. He simply said “She got mad at me.”.

In Summary

For all of it’s added horror and creepiness, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary has a lot of heart to it. It is obvious from this story that he and his wife have a great affection for them both. In the U.K. release of the book at least, there is an added chapter at the very end, along with an accompanying letter written by his wife. This put the heart behind the whole story into focus for me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost teared up in the closing remarks of the book.

This is a special story, not only for fans of Junji Ito, but also for anyone who knows what it means to be a loving pet-owner.

Emerging by Masaya Hokazono

Emerging by Masaya Hokazono is the story about a relentless new virus that is working its way through Japan. The virus works quickly on its victims, essentially liquefying them from within. We join two main Doctors in the fight against this: Doctor Onotera and Doctor Sekiguchi. Onotera is the man we follow through the story for the most part. He is quite unsure of himself and his abilities at times, with Sekiguchi being a place of solid support for him.

With no clue about how to counteract the growing virus, the two Doctors head to The National Epidemic Research Center. They, with the help of the very enthusiastic Research Center office manager, try to get a hold on the outbreak. As each issue of Emerging progresses, the situation gets more and more out of control. Things become increasingly chaotic as they, along with many hospital staff, struggle to cope with the increase in infected.

Will the doctors find a way out of the mess? Can they discover the root cause of the infection in order to get some kind of answers? Will they even survive?

Patient Zero

In stories of infections and their spreading, there is almost always a patient zero – the single place where it all begins. Emerging is no different. In this engrossing horror manga, the story begins with an already-infected businessman who is sent home early from his job. It is during his journey home that the possibly-airborne virus is shown to be spreading around the train carriage as he coughs uncontrollably.

However, it is in a chance encounter with another of the story’s main characters, schoolgirl Akari, that the virus really gets its foot in the door. As crowds of people are waiting to cross the road, Akari notices the businessman’s face – it looks to be very bloated and blood-shot; fit to burst, even…

…which is exactly what happens! His face explodes, throwing the contents of his liquefied flesh and blood out across the people around him. Akari is one of the many caught in the fountain of liquid flesh that ensues. This is where all the fun begins.

All in the family

One of the two doctors I mentioned earlier, Dr Onotera, also happens to be a close family friend of Akari’s. So much so that she calls him brother when meeting him in hospital. Their paths cross early on and remain tight throughout the story’s course. Her growing infection from Patient Zero is a consistent anchor throughout Emerging, pushing Onotera harder to find a solution to this surprise outbreak. But if you want to find out her fate, and the fate of all others, you will have to read it for yourself.

Although the virus does begin spreading quickly, we remain with the same group of characters for most of the journey. This helps to ground the story amongst all of the chaos that is happening. I grew to like those characters and really rooted for Akari to make it through. Another character of note is Mori, the office manager, and virus fanatic, working at the Epidemic Research Center that I mentioned earlier. She seems to almost root for the virus at times, but always from a twisted kind of professional interest.

Mori was a funny person and even served as a slight comedic respite at times, in an otherwise-serious story.

Bloody Hell!

This story has blood, and lots of it. A lot of the effects of the later stages of the virus are of the weakening of victim’s bodies. To the point when skin easily tears from the bone when held. I was impressed with how the artist managed to make some of these gross scenes almost beautiful in a way. The way in which the blood almost spiralled out of Patient Zero’s face at the start, was the moment when I knew this would be an enjoyable read.

Later on, there is an awesome panel that shows the silhouette of a patient violently convulsing, vomiting blood into the air. That single panel is probably my favourite from the entire story. Just the simplicity of the silhouette drawing that still contains so much energy really peaked my interest. It’s these sorts of stylistic decisions that Masaya Hokazono makes throughout Emerging that helps it stand out as a truly great horror manga classic.

It is through the slow, graphic degradation of Akari’s body that we get to see a close-up affect the virus has. Akari’s continued efforts to help his Sister seem almost lost at times, as the real horror of the virus’ powers take a hold of her. Masaya Hokazono really has no issue with putting one of his main characters through absolute hell. Her pain can be felt through the pages, with the artist leaving nothing to the imagination. But will she come out clean on the other side?

In Summary

Emerging is a gripping horror manga story, similar in vein to Manhole by Tetsuya Tsutsui. If you enjoy the continual spread of infection that seems to always be one step ahead, you’re sure to enjoy Emerging by Masaya Hokazono.

Basement (Tomie part 3) by Junji Ito

What is Basement about?

Basement follows on directly from the events of Morita Hospital. We saw how the kidney that Yukiko received had mutated and formed a complete head – the head of its donor, Tomie. Well, the doctors managed to separate the head and remove it and the donor kidney out of Yukiko. The Doctors have now stored those pieces in a secret basement area for studying. They wish to understand how these body parts are able to regenerate. And regenerate they do – and at an alarming rate.

The main character in Basement is a young, inquisitive boy named Sato who is currently admitted to the hospital. He follows his nurse into that basement for clues to the rumours he’s been hearing of a mystery in the basement. However, he will discover more than simply a mystery as he bumps into the lady on everyone’s mind – Tomie. He also befriends Yukiko and starts to fall for her own unique charms. That is until Yukiko’s charms become threatened by an unstoppable force from within. (Sato is apparently one of those rare people not to fall for Tomie’s power – strong of heart and mind, it would seem.)

As the story continues we see how the flesh spirit of Tomie fights to return – back into the beautiful woman she was before. But now her DNA has multiple pathways within the Hospital from which to emerge. But what will happen when multiple Tomies emerge together?

Changes

Basement is a story all about change and rebirth – like much of Tomie’s stories to be fair. We follow her as she fights to come back to the world of the living, becoming reborn and yet still maintaining the same consciousness as her previous incarnations. This is what I meant by the term “flesh spirit” above. She seems to be able to inherit memories from the past versions of herself, even carrying grudges along with them.

And remember Yukiko from the previous story? Her continuation in this is pretty interesting too. It seems that the use of Tomie’s kidney in her previous operation, although removed soon after, may have left some of its cells behind. And if Tomie gets her grip on you, no matter how slight, she takes a firm grasp and doesn’t let go.

What I found perhaps most interesting in this part of the Tomie series, was yet another aspect of her character that was revealed. Although all of the replicas originate from the same flesh, there seems to be some animosity between each of them. Like rival sisters each wanting to be the favourite. Except each will stop at nothing to physically rid the others from existence. Each and every Tomie wants to be the centre of attention, and will share that limelight with no-one – not even with herself.

In Summary

This third entry in the Tomie series delves a little deeper still into her character. Although not nearly my favourite of the stories, it does give a good conclusion to the events of Morita Hospital. As such, you will want to at least read that previous chapter before this one. Many of the Tomie stories are quite self-contained. However, there are a few, like Basement, which will need the previous entries in order to give some context to the events.