Junji Ito might well be described as the master of horror manga. One of his first big works was “Tomie”, published in 1987 as a submission for a shoujo magazine that instantly won him an award. Until today, Ito’s work is studied when it comes to understanding the gruesome and grotesque. Inspired by Script Weaver`s video analysis of Tomie’s story, I want to take a deep look at this iconic manga and how it tells the story of a traumatized character.
This blog talks about trauma, abuse and its consequences. If you are a trauma survivor, I do not recommend you read this article if you do not feel stable enough to be exposed to these kinds of topics.
Obviously, this blog contains massive spoilers for the manga. I highly recommend you read it.
Part I: The original Trauma
Tomie, a 16-year-old high school girl, has an affair with her teacher. In a fight with him and her boyfriend, she falls down a cliff. Concluding Tomie has fallen to her death, the whole class decides to get rid of her since no one really liked her anyway. So, they cut her into pieces. Tomie wakes up, only to be subsequently murdered “for real” by her teacher. The students scatter her body parts all around the area, only to be more than shocked as Tomie walks into class the next morning as if nothing ever happened. Well, she does notice that everyone is behaving strangely around her, but she cannot recall anything about her death. At the end of the first chapter, we see that out of her parts a new Tomie grows.
With her death and resurrection, she has acquired another skill: to make men love her, be obsessed with her and, in an attempt to free themselves from her spell, chop her into pieces, only to find out that Tomie will never be killed. It is an endless cycle of obsession, murder and resurrection. During the story, Tomie becomes more aware of her monstrosity and tries to find a cure for her curse.
What is Trauma?
Tomie is a trauma survivor. A trauma is defined as something that happens to a person that threatens their life, physical or mental health and produces the feeling of absolute helplessness. We can safely assume that the experience of being slaughtered alive by your classmates counts as trauma.
In the moment of traumatization, a person’s brain is so overwhelmed that it cannot properly process what is happening. The sensations, sight, touch, smell, sound and taste, are separated from each other and saved, without apparent connection, in different parts of the brain. If a happy memory can be compared to a piece of glass, a trauma memory consists of shards that are scattered, just as Tomie`s body is. The brain does this to keep the victim from going completely insane.
In some cases, especially when there is a human aggressor involved, the victim’s personality splits away parts of itself that carry the memory of the trauma, so that the other parts are (seemingly) free of it. In extreme cases, this can result in Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Reliving the catastrophe
Tomie does not seem to have completely different personalities. However, she is splitting off her memories of the murder (meaning she does not remember it) only to find herself being irritated when walking by places where her pieces were placed. Survivors frequently find themselves triggered by sensations that are buried in their unconscious, only to feel like the trauma is happening again, right now. If left untreated, survivors will relive their trauma over and over again in flashbacks. Tomie does exactly the same – the men she chooses adore her and then kill her.
Compelled to repeat her story, Tomie is being murdered again and again. Her memory of the original trauma is buried in the hidden pieces of her body.
That is not all there is to say. Tomie struggles with her supernatural powers as she tries to get rid of her “monstrosity”. We shall look at this in the next part of this series.
Comment down below about the scariest manga or anime you’ve ever stumbled upon!