Painter (Tomie part 9) by Junji Ito

What is Painter about?

Mitsuo Mori is a Painter whose exhibition opening is where we begin this story. He is a Painter who is known for his collection of works containing a model called Nana. During this exhibition he meets a lone girl – Tomie – who seems to completely disregard his current model. Later, she follows him home and essentially forces Mitsuo’s model – Nana – out, and herself in as the replacement.

As we know by now, Tomie isn’t the most photogenic person in the world, with each photo bringing her hidden demonic visage to the surface. So her plan is to enlist this Painter in order to “record her beauty”, as she puts it, making it immortal. He does his very best to paint her portrait and, despite him being proud of that work, Tomie just laughs him off before leaving him. According to her, he hasn’t managed to capture even “10%” of her beauty.

After their fleeting relationship ends, Mitsuo starts becoming increasingly obsessed with Tomie. Or rather the memory of her. Things that would have once inspired him, no longer do so. Nothing will do it for him now – nothing but that exceptional young woman with whom he came to meet briefly. But how far will Mitsuo’s increasing obsessiveness take him down the spiral of madness? What will he do when he discovers that Tomie has found yet another artist to try and capture her image?

Will he finally manage to capture the true essence of Tomie and, more importantly, will she like the result?


Painter really focuses in on the mental instability that Tomie manages to create within the men around her. Mitsuo, like most others who come into contact with her, becomes completely intoxicated by her, especially after she leaves him. His life is slowly consumed by the memory of their single painting session, which ultimately leads him into trying to track her down in a frenzied state of mind. I think of Tomie as a train that passes through the stations of these men’s hearts and minds. She taints them with her insanity before moving on to the next.

It is sometimes hard to know if she is being sincere when she acts vulnerable towards people as well. Towards the end of this story, she is discovered in a state of somewhat fear, but it’s unclear whether this is real or yet another method of manipulation from her. Going by her previous actions she has taken when either crossed or assaulted, I’m inclined to believe it’s all a ploy. Just one of many methods to get what she wants from her large bag of tricks.

A Fragment of Horror

I actually first discovered this chapter within Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror. And I think I can see why this chapter was chosen over others to represent Tomie within that collection. The artwork in Painter is amongst the best from all of the chapters within the Tomie Collection. Not only that, but the story itself is pretty well rounded too, whilst also being completely standalone. No former knowledge of the character is needed to fully enjoy this.

Within Painter we get a good taste of most of Tomie’s signature characteristics as well. It almost manages to wrap up all of the important aspects of her character into one easy to explore bundle. We hear about the hypnotic effect that she has over men from her own lips; we learn about the distortions beneath the visible layers of her skin; and we get a good sense of her as a person. She is self-centred, egotistical and lacks any form of empathy towards those she hurts.

I feel that the ending manages to capture the same feeling for the first-time reader as the first chapter did as well. And it does so in an even more grotesque way than before.

Closing Thoughts

Painter will live on as one of my top favourite Tomie stories – possibly due to it being the first one I ever read. It has probably the best introduction to the lady herself than all of the other chapters in the Tomie Collection. But of course, that is only my opinion. If you have never read a Tomie story, you would do well to start here. Although not the first to be published, it is probably the best opening to the large collection of stories about my favourite manga lady.

Waterfall Basin (Tomie part 8) by Junji Ito

What is Waterfall Basin about?

In this eighth chapter from the Tomie Collection, Waterfall Basin, we encounter a very strange man – the travelling salesman. This salesman enters a small, mountain village one day, carrying a very strange product indeed. Within his small briefcase, he carries a selection of small, neatly-tied packages. These packages, one of the villagers discovers, each contain pieces of flesh. Yes, it is safe to assume that the flesh is that of Tomie’s.

The villagers quickly tire of the salesman and his vile product, and chase him out of their home. He is chased up to the edge of a nearby waterfall’s edge, where he soon begs for his life. He requests his safe escape in exchange for him dumping his entire stock into the waterfall. They accept his plea and allow him to leave empty-handed. However, the villagers have no idea about the horrors that they have unknowingly brought upon themselves.

Soon after the Salesman’s escape, a very strange thing begins happening. The bodies of young men start being discovered in the morning, after having committed suicide off the side of the same waterfall. But what is summoning them to their deaths? And will there ever be an end to the deaths of these young men?

Who is the mystery Salesman?

This was a strange story indeed. The idea of a random salesman turning up at a village to sell pieces of flesh (Tomie’s flesh) is one of Junji Ito’s weirdest ideas yet, in my opinion. But do you know what? It works! Within the context of the world of Tomie, this adds yet more interesting dimensions to the ever-winding tale. And the fact that Tomie herself almost takes a back seat to the story as a whole, was equally as interesting for me. Despite it being a story about her, it feels more centred around the events that she causes.

The most interesting question posed in Waterfall Basin, is who this travelling salesman actually is. Is he a former lover of Tomie’s who has cut her up like so many before? Was he driven by madness to decide to distribute pieces of her to unknowing people? Or is he in fact conducting some kind of research into the effects that she could have on an isolated community? These are questions that we may never get answers to, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Some mystery is a good thing, after all.

What to show and what to hide

The gruesome factor got turned up to eleven in this chapter. It also helped to solidify a big facet of Tomie’s character. It shows how she has no problem feeding on human flesh in order to regenerate. We saw this a little bit at the end of Revenge, but Ito has gone even further with that idea here.

Her power over the compulsions of others took on a whole new level here too. She was able to essentially summon people to their deaths from afar, ultimately to feed her back to life. I wonder whether there is some kind of enhanced power that she is able to harness when there is a big enough group of her in one place? Or perhaps the village use that waterfall basin as a source of water?

I really love how, even though Junji Ito isn’t afraid to show us visual horrors in his work, he equally isn’t afraid to leave some of it to our imagination.

In Summary

A strange one to write about this one. To be honest the story feels very short, but is no less interesting than many of the former chapters. The introduction of the mysterious salesman raised yet more questions for me. However, I’m not worried about finding out their answers. One of my favourite aspects of the artists I admire, is in the deep mysteries that they leave buried.

Despite my love for Waterfall Basin, I probably wouldn’t advise this as an introduction to Tomie. This is mainly down to the fact that some backstory is needed here I think. It really helps to know who she is in order to get a grasp of what is going on. Plus the fact that she isn’t really featured heavily in this story – at least not in the more traditional ways that she is in other chapters.

A great entry into the mythology, with some very iconic imagery, but perhaps not best for a first timer.

Revenge (Tomie part 7) by Junji Ito

What is Revenge about?

Revenge is the first standalone chapter in the Tomie Collection that I have come across, excluding the very first one. It takes place in a single afternoon and evening up in the snowy peaks of an unnamed mountain range. We travel with a group of three people who are hiking across this landscape – their reason unknown. During their journey, they come across a body buried within the snowy rocks. It’s the naked body of a young woman who, amazingly to them, is still alive. That girl, in case you hadn’t guessed it, is Tomie.

After helping her out of the rocks and into one of their sleeping bags, they start carrying her towards shelter. But it isn’t long until Tomie gets a mental hold over the captain of the expedition. Under her control, he gifts her all of his clothes and suffers the sub zero temperatures in just his underwear. Circumstances then lead to Tomie being left with a single member of the group, Tanimura. I wont ruin those circumstances for the people who are yet to read this chapter.

Later in the evening, Tomie and Tanimura make it to a cabin safely. Once inside, they each begin warming up together from the harsh conditions outside. But it isn’t long at all before Tanimura’s true purpose for the expedition is revealed. Not only that, but it seems that his presence is in fact linked to Tomie’s current situation and previously-buried state on the mountain. But how long will his mind stand against the will of Tomie, and what fates await him once their stories are revealed to each other?

Standing on it’s own in a single time and place

Revenge is a chapter that stands completely on its own in the Tomie universe. And we get just enough background information to be able to understand the situation. I found that this approach to telling a particular part of Tomie’s life was very effective. I love how even though it is isolated from the main story lines so far, it still fits comfortably into the world as a whole.

Tomie, as a force of nature, has many strands of life and versions of herself floating around in the world. As we know, each time she is killed or cut up, she is able to grow back from the smallest molecule of flesh or blood. For this reason, it is entirely feasible for there to be countless – perhaps even unlimited – stories out there centred around any of these incarnations of the girl.

Also of interest, is that this chapter takes place at a single point in time – the mountain journey of the exploration team across one fateful afternoon. This, along with its single location in the snowy peaks of the harsh mountain landscape, give this story a claustrophobic feel. At least for me. The Kiss chapter had a similar tone with it being set mostly within Tsukiko’s apartment, but this is the first time within the collection that this idea has been expanded more fully.

Closing thoughts (with some minor spoilers)

Revenge is one of my favourite Tomie chapters, mainly because it poses more questions than it answers. Like what happened to the other pieces of Tomie that were scattered on the mountain by Tanimura’s brother? What drove that former boyfriend of hers to take her to that mountain in the first place? What was the ultimate fate of all three of the exploration team? We can always surmise their fates from what we see in the chapter. But I think it’s still left pretty open for the stories of each to possibly continue.

I’d probably list this chapter as one of the best ones from which to dip one’s toes into the story of Tomie. There isn’t any real extreme horror or gore in this one, aside from the last panels perhaps. But even those are pretty light from the pen of Junji Ito.

All in all an enjoyable read, and one that I often go back to from time to time.

Judge manga by Yoshiki Tonogai

What is Judge about?

In the opening forty or so pages of Judge, we follow Hiro – a young man who seems to be unlucky in love. His older brother is dating a girl he really likes, and so Hiro hatches a small plan to be alone with the girl. However, this puts the older brother in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to his death in a road accident. Hiro then awakes some time later in a dark room, from where the main story begins.

He, along with seven other people, seem to have been kidnapped and placed in a locked, dis-used courthouse together. Soon enough they are all given the details of their confinement and the possible path to their escape. The rules are simple: after every twelve hours they must all vote on which of them should die next. The only ones granted their freedom will be the four that are remaining at the end. This voting is referred to by the captors as the judging, implying that they are all guilty of some crime or another.

As time moves forwards, we learn more and more about each of the other prisoners. But this doesn’t help us to trust any of them any more than we should. Votes are cast; promises are made; betrayals are carried out. Will Hiro make it out alive and somehow atone for the guilt that he carries over his brother’s untimely death? Or will he, along with his fellow inmates, succumb to distrust and ultimately die amongst strangers?

Mind games

This story is very much a “trust no-one” kind of deal. At no point did I really feel I could trust any of the characters locked up together. Without knowing any of their underlying motives, it was impossible to know what any of their end games were. All of these people were capable of some pretty shady moves too. Even the seemingly-trustworthy ones.

Although Judge is a story of mind games and trickery, it was never too much as to overwhelm my brain. I have read some stories in this genre where the level of intricacy in the betrayal was so detailed as to confuse me. This was never the case with Judge. It felt like an easy enough read without compromising on its ongoing mystery.

A lot of the trickery in here revolves around who should vote for whom. Hiro is certain he has a foolproof plan to ensure everybody’s safety – even attempting to take lead in the group. But of course, this isn’t as straight forward as first thought, due to other people’s trust issues – or lack thereof.

Keeping it’s cards close

Judge is a manga that kept me guessing right up to it’s closing pages. I enjoyed the mystery around these eight prisoners, and the possibility that not all of them may be quite who they say they are. It’s definitely a story that keeps it’s cards close to it’s chest. Because of this, it kept me entertained from the beginning, right up until its final panel.

The fact that we know nothing going into this, other than the back story of the person we are following, puts us as firmly in his shoes as possible. If my memory serves me correctly, we never deviate too much from Hiro’s side – he is our anchor throughout this mystery.

As I think back on it, I feel like the momentum in Judge built up steadily throughout. As it moved past the midway point, and further towards its ending, the reveals seemed to come faster and faster. Not only that, but as the pressure of confinement set in, things between them all seemed to get more and more physical – in more ways than one.

In Summary

This is a hard story to talk about with regards to its narrative. The story in judge is so closely linked to the choices – and betrayals – of certain people, that to talk about specifics could ruin the surprises for you. What I can say is that the journey it takes us on is an intriguing one. And the fact that the main character – Hiro – has his own demons to cope with, makes him a more relatable – and suitable flawed – leading character.

I would advise you read this manga in as quiet a setting as you can. It will require some level of concentration to keep those eight interweaving characters in mind. If you give this story the time and the quietness it deserves, you will be rewarded with a roller coaster of a ride with a sharp left turn at its closing gates.

Mansion (Tomie part 6) by Junji Ito

We have seen the mansion twice so far, during our exploration of the Tomie Collection. First we saw a wet, slightly-dishevelled Tomie appear on the mansion’s doorstep in the opening to Photo. And from what we could tell, It seemed to be occupied by an old man and his daughter. Second, we see her run back there after the shocking events in Photo, and its follow-on Kiss. She runs back to the old man as if he were her father, meaning she had somehow taken the daughter’s place.

What is Tomie : Mansion about?

In Tomie : Mansion we delve deeper into the story behind that mansion, exploring the secrets within its depths. Tomie mentions to the old man, who I’ll refer to as father from now on, that she has tracked down Tsukiko. (Tsukiko is the girl from the previous couple of stories, Photo and Kiss.) She was one of the lucky ones to have come face to face with Tomie and lived to tell the tale.

Well, it seems Tomie doesn’t let go of grudges too easily, and manages to lure her back to the mansion. She does this with the promise of reunited her with her friend, Yamazaki. But once she realises that it was just a trick to get her trapped, Tsukiko must fight to escape the place.

We then follow her as she comes across past admirers of Tomie – people who are still under her spell. They are hell-bent on using Tsukiko for experiments for research into Tomie’s powers. But will she escape those clutches alive once again, or will her luck finally run out?

A mystery revealed

We are finally shown the truth about what happened that rainy night; the night when Tomie first appeared at the mansion’s doors. And not only that, but we also have an extra piece of information about that night, that I thought was a nice touch. The reason behind the old man’s apparent acceptance of Tomie is revealed too.

It was nice that Junji Ito took the time to put these details in. It really helps to flesh out this whole world, as well as tying those other stories together. I can’t help but think that Ito must have had some sort of over-arching story line already in mind whilst writing each chapter. Perhaps not so much with the early ones, but there are definitely strong threads through these last few.

What lurks beneath

This chapter felt like a good ending to the “Tsukiko Trilogy” for me. And although it didn’t seem to last very long, it still has some interesting reveals. It also has a good mix of Tomie mutations thrown in for good measure too.

It would have been great to have delved a little deeper into the mansion story. Perhaps if Tsukiko were driven further inside its walls, with a tougher escape journey, it could have been really special. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it for what it was.

A special mention needs to be made for the poor family who call this mansion their home. I wont spoil their ultimate fate for you, but rest assured that they have a bad time with Tomie around. I don’t know why she chose that particular home to essentially invade, but when Tomie wants something – no matter how large or small – she gets it. This girl is a real piece of work.

In Summary

If I’m honest, I was expecting a much larger story within the mansion, as it seemed to have been built up through its previous appearances. Despite this, Mansion was an enjoyable read as always. It was even fun to see some old characters come back from previous chapters – one from very early on.

Tomie : Mansion is probably best read as part of its full story arc – namely Photo; Kiss; and finally Mansion.

Marionette Mansion by Junji Ito

What is Marionette Mansion about?

In Marionette Mansion we follow Haruhiko – a boy from a travelling entertainment family. Him and his family move from town to town putting on their puppet shows for the townspeople. Because of this, the young boy is unable to settle down and make any lasting friendships.

Whilst staying in one particular town, Haruhiko befriends a girl before having to move on again. Whilst they have their short time together, he shows her his family’s travelling home and the puppets that they work with. One puppet in particular creeps the girl out, causing her to knock it to the floor out of shock. This puppet’s name is Jean Pierre.

Years later, after his brother left them and their father had passed away, Haruhiko and his sister Natsumi are living a simple life together. Everything is fine and dandy when all of a sudden he bumps into the girl he had befriended all those years earlier. With them now both adults and seemingly settled in their lives, they start to grow closer. But this is a Junji Ito story, and you know that the happiness doesn’t stop there.

Haruhiko also discovers that the brother who had left them, has been living close by for some time and urges them to visit. To Haruhiko’s and Natsumi’s surprise, the door is answered by none other than Jean Pierre. Yer that’s right – Jean Pierre the puppet. We discover how the older brother and the family he now has live the lives of puppets on strings – quite litterally. But how will Haruhiko adjust to not only getting back in touch with his brother, but also getting used to their unconventional way of living.

Who’s pulling the strings?

I won’t lie – I have found this story harder to write about than most of the horror manga stories I have previously. Not because of anything I can put my finger on though. It is just a really weird story that seems to raise the question “Who is pulling the strings”. Of course, the family at the start literally pull the strings of the puppets in their travelling show. But in the later years of the brothers’ lives, that role seems to be reversed.

The fact that Jean Pierre – a seemingly inanimate puppet – welcomes them at the door, let me know that this was going to be an odd one. I realise that Junji Ito is known for how strange and infintitely imaginative his mangas tend to be. But in Marionette Mansion there seems to be a sense of whimsy to the whole thing. Like he is simply having fun playing with these characters and literally pulling their strings for them on the page.

After reading this in the Shiver Collection I also read the accomponying backstory of the manga that comes with each chapter. In it Junji Ito says:

…I’d like to hang my upper body from the ceiling. How lovely would it be to leave my body like that and get the work done? This story came from thoughts like these…

Junji Ito talking about the origin of the story for Marionette Mansion


Despite Ito’s explanation of the story’s genesis, I still can’t help but try to find extra meanings. I thought that the “family on strings” could be a metaphor for not being in control of one’s own life. The welcoming of Haruhiko and the younger sister, Natsumi, into the house presents a danger to their way of life. This danger is especially true for Natsumi, who is still very much young and impressionable.

I think of Marionette Mansion as a tale of fighting that urge to have everything in life done for you. To fight against handing over responsibilities to others for the sake of living an “easy” life. I liked how the main character fought his side of the argument and does his utmost to protect himself and Natsumi, no matter what pressures get placed on him.

In Summary

This is an enjoyable story that came across as a lighter read than other mangas in Ito’s large body of work. Nothing in this story made me want to look away in disgust. However, there are still some nice gruesome moments to keep your pallet salivated.

Kiss (Tomie part 5) by Junji Ito

Tomie : Kiss is the direct follow-on story from Tomie : Photo. In it, we’re following Tsukiko again, as she struggles to come to terms with the extreme occurrences that closed that previous chapter. We open the story to her having a nightmare of that previous night, which serves well as a quick reminder if you hadn’t read Photo in a while.

Outside of her apartment she bumps into Yamazaki. She finds him free from Tomie’s spell after getting beaten up by the possessed boys Daichi and Kimata. Tsukiko, being the friendly girl she is, forgives him for his past actions and takes him back to the scene of the crime – her apartment. Here she attempts to nurse him back to health despite her apartment being a wreck from before.

Within no time at all though, Tomie’s presence makes herself known to Yamizaki. She whispers to him directly, making him go looking for her in the apartment. Sure enough, he comes to the room where Tomie was killed the night before – and subsequently where she got back up from. Tomie then goes on to manifest herself in one of the cleverest ways I’ve seen in the series up until this point.

How far will Tomie’s bodyguards, Daichi and Kimata, go in honouring their commitment to her? Will Tsukiko survive another day under Tomie’s shadow? Will Yamazaki now stay true to Tsukiko, or will he stray back into the arms of the possessor?

Single point in time

Previous stories from the Tomie collection have been narratives that would span a decent length of time. Meaning, we would move from scene to scene – advancing the movement of time for the characters. With Kiss though, once Tsukiko has brought an injured Yamazaki back to her blood-stained apartment, we stay there. We are stuck in that room with them, witnessing the horrors that Tomie still manages to bring.

Kiss is a chapter that really focuses in on the hold that she has over people too. Tsukiko is suffering from nightmares of that night; Yamazaki is still driven by the haunting voice of Tomie. Even the two henchmen of hers from the previous story have a more central role here. Both Daichi and Kimata are still hell-bent on killing Tsukiko, after having now taken Tomie’s mutated head away from the scene.

While this chapter doesn’t really do much in moving the world forward too much, it does manage to give a satisfying – and suitably haunting – closing chapter to what happened in Photo. I like how it really drills down into a single moment in time that seemed to read in real-time for the most part.

The blood is alive

I love seeing new ways in which Junji Ito has Tomie regrow herself. Not just as simple as limbs growing back after being removed – the idea of the blood taking control was a nice addition to the canon. The exploring and pushing of the limits of her abilities show great promise for the future of the series.

Tomie’s spilt blood giving life to the carpet underlay is one of those visions that stays with me. Out of the entire Tomie collection, it is one of the scenes that I remember most. I loved how it brought back my memories of the scene in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Specifically that scene where the T-1000 rises up out of the ground in the mental hospital. Even though the basic idea is similar, it was good to see it here in a much more raw and bloody way.

It was also fun to see this idea fleshed out further in the closing pages of this chapter.

In Summary

Tomie : Kiss is a continuation of the events in Photo. However, its still worth reading on its own if only for the visuals that Ito creates.

The story itself is very simple and set in a single location for the most part. This really lets you focus in on the horrifying scenes that unfold for Tsukiko, without having to hold a bunch of extra characters and locations in your mind.

Heads by Keigo Higashino and Motoro Mase

What is Heads about?

Jun has a pretty decent life. After having finally plucked up the courage to ask his dream girl on a date, they become a happy couple.  He is hard working, friendly and pretty skilled as an artist. However, this all comes crashing down when he is shot in the head protecting a little girl during a robbery.

The bullet would have left Jun in a vegetative state, if it wasn’t for an experimental operation performed on him. The Doctors take lead in this and only need his girlfriend’s direct consent to advance with it. Due to her desperation to see her love again, she gives them that consent. The surgery is a complete success and results in Jun having the damaged section of his brain replaced with a brain slice from an unknown donor.

At first Jun seems to be back from the brink of death and back to his loving woman. But things are different somehow – there are changes happening slowly inside him that begin showing themselves more and more often. As time marches forward, parts of Jun’s character begin to alter into a person that he doesn’t recognise. As expected, this scares Jun and even those around him, as he starts becoming violent and short tempered.

The story takes us with Jun on his journey to try and discover the mystery that is his altered brain. He attempts to track down the donor of his new section of brain, in order to shed some light on this new behaviour. And to work out where this change of personality could possibly be leading him.

Fearing the loss of identity

I think this may be the first horror manga story I have read, where the horror is presented primarily through its psychology. The main antagonist in this story is the unwanted change within Jun’s brain. The brain slice that seems to be slowly causing him to lose himself. The fact that it could be trying to take him over from inside his mind, makes for a terrifying premise.

The fear over losing ones own identity is something that we all have the potential to face in life. Because of this fact, I feel that Heads is one of the most relatable horror manga stories I’ve read up until now. How it handles its complex relationships, along with the themes of trust and betrayal, is done so with great skill.

It treats those directly affected by Jun’s condition with a lot of respect too. Megu is the woman by his side and probably the best woman in this world he could ever hope to be with. We would all be better off with someone like her by our sides.

note: I feel I’m just as lucky as Jun with my own lady. 🙂

The crisis of identity is the thing that Jun is fighting against and, although the surgery is firmly within the realms of science fiction – for now, it’s no less scary to imagine it happening to ourselves.

A slow burn that consumes all

This story felt like a slow burn to me, and I mean that wholeheartedly in a good way. It demanded the building up of a likeable and believable central character in Jun. And not only him, but his hardy – yet sensitive – girlfriend Megu too. She was one of the strongest characters in this story and probably the one I was most rooting for. I know it’s Jun who is having all this happen to him, but what she has to deal with from him – along with the guilt of letting the surgery happen – makes her the strongest character for me.

I am grateful to Keigo Higashino, the writer, for taking the time to tell this tale with a good amount of space to breath. The story never felt rushed or shoehorned to fit a pre-determined endpoint at any time. I found it to be a natural path that weaved it’s way through Motoro Mase’s beautiful artwork with great finesse, to its satisfying conclusion.

Despite the tough journey we join Jun on, and the horrors he both witnesses and performs, Heads left me feeling positive when I had finished its 36 chapters. I loved that out of all the devestation that occurs, something beautiful can come of it in the end. There are many elements too that came full circle for me, both thematically and within the story’s locations. A lot of care has been written and drawn into this, and it’s a story that will stay with me.

In Summary

This is slightly longer than the past few mangas I’ve been writing about. But it is one that drew me in well enough to only put it down to sleep at night. The characters throughout this story were very believable in my mind. The way that Jun was built up in the opening chapters made his transformations all the more scarier to witness.

Heads has next to no graphical horror presented within its pages. Despite this, it still manages to have a very brutal side to it – especially when Jun’s alter-ego gets pushed too far. I think the reduction in physical violence throughout, made those moments when it did come all the more shocking.

If you’re looking for a deeper narrative to read in your next horror manga adventure, you should check out Heads. And I’d like to add that it has one of my favourite closing panels I’ve seen so far. It is absolutely beautiful in how it closes the story for our lead characters. Just stunning.

Bug Boy by Hideshi Hino

What is Bug Boy about?

Sanpei is a young boy whose life is pretty much hell for him. Teachers and students pick on him on a daily basis; his parents treat him with contempt over his bad grades. His only respite comes in the form of stray animals and creepy crawlies that he befriends.

Outside of school he has a secret hideout in a local rubbish tip where he keeps a few of these friends of his as pets. He feels a kinship with them, so keeps them safe in his hideout. He loves them and they love him in return. For Sanpei, this is his own heaven on earth.

However, things take a drastic left turn when, after being sent to his room by his angry father, he vomits a large red bug that quickly stings him on his finger. This very odd happening starts off a series of changes in Sanpei that lead to his transformation into this horror manga’s namesake – The Bug Boy.

But just what will his life be like now that he is forever changed? We follow his new life; his new journey; and ultimately his new taste for human flesh…

Rooting for Sanpei from beginning to end

Despite where Sanpei’s change takes him, both physically and mentally, I couldn’t stop myself from rooting for him from beginning to end. We love the underdog as a main character – watching someone with the world seemingly against them rise up to meet it head on. This is pretty much what Sanpei does, but in that special way that only Hideshi Hino could depict.

Despite the horrors he brings down on those who meet the pointy end of his tail, I found myself always drawn towards Sanpei’s innocent centre, no matter how deep and hidden it became.

Because of this, and the journey he goes through, I found this story to be quite melancholic at times. Sanpei’s loneliness, and those things that would look to do him harm, made me want to bring him home to safety. He always felt like a lost little boy, alone in the world, no matter how strong he became.

Putting the ‘Gory’ in allegory

Sanpei’s story also works as an excellent allegory for the raising and nurturing of children. We are shown early on that his upbringing has caused him to essentially retreat into himself and his critter friends. Instead of his parents or teachers trying to address this or offer any help, they instead belittle and bully him.

We even see his father making out that he his essentially his least favourite child – something no child should have to feel. I strongly believe that Sanpei is a direct product of his environment. The idea of a bug ultimately saving him and turning him into a stronger being by stinging him, is a direct result of those bugs being his only friends in his life.

But what also interested me later on in this story was how Sanpei began looking back to his former self after a particularly traumatic event. He seemed to remember his human self as being overall happy – his father taking him to the zoo; his siblings playing with him.

So whilst this could be a lesson to guardians to pay closer attention to their children, it could also be a lesson to children to not focus in on the negativity in life. Yes, people in this story were nasty towards our hero, but they were the only things we were shown in his life. So of course, we assume him to have an abusive upbringing. But it could just simply be that from Sanpei’s young perspective, the world was against him – when perhaps it wasn’t so black and white when looking at the situation objectively.

Maybe it could just be that simple channels of communication needed to be opened between Sanpei and his guardians.

In Summary

This is as great an introduction to Hideshi Hino’s work as any I have read so far. It’s not quite as intense as his Panorama of Hell, but still packs a good punch in its short sitting. I read it through in about twenty minutes, which made it a great companion for my commute to work.