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Smashed and Tomie by Junji Ito

This entry is part 53 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts get published with some lag. I’m trying to be more punctual, though, and this one’s very recent.

So, this post digs into two manga collections by Ito Junji: Smashed and Tomie

When I recently posted about Uzumaki the other day, I said I’d probably read Tomie next, but I ended up picking up his anthology of shorter horror comics Smashed the other day, and finishing it within 24 hours. It felt very much like the horror comics I read as a kid: short, spicy, and punchy tales that exploded on impact. The dialogue in a lot of these stories is really simple, but the imagery more than makes up for it.


I’m not going to break down the contents story by story—much less rate my favorites—but if you want that, have a look here. That said, I will say that “Smashed,” “Splendid Shadow Song,” and “Earthbound” all were highlights.  

I followed that up by reading Tomie, which took me about the same amount of time to read. To be honest, I enjoyed Tomie a bit less than the other works by Ito I’ve discussed here recently. Even without reading Ito’s afterword, I could see that the first chunk was an early-career work (Ito’s first, I gather?): the art was visibly rough enough that I actually wondered why it hadn’t been redone or touched up for the anniversary republication. (Ito’s afterword makes clear how important it was for his career, despite being rough, so I guess it makes sense that he let the art stand as it was.)

I enjoyed Tomie less than I have the other manga by Ito I’ve read in the past few weeks. Where Uzumaki staged a horrific exploration of overpowering natural phenomena, corruption, and fascination, and Gyo explored historical reverberations of past misdeeds and a natural/unnatural incursion from the sea, Tomie centers lust, fascination, and violence.

Though Tomie is often described as a succubus, she’s actually a lot more like a vampire: somehow simultaneously irresistibly attractive, unphotographable and unkillable, parasitic and replicating through occult means, transforming everyone with whom she comes into contact, cruel-minded and shallow. The odd thing is that Tomie never actually kills anyone: she just goes around generating chaos everywhere, surviving murder after murder, creeping other girls and women out. The main difference is that she doesn’t seem to feed on this in an explicitly vampiric way: she craves the attention, but she doesn’t seem to draw sustenance from it—rather, it keeps getting her murdered, (Though she recovers from each murder, in a way, sort of.)

The uncanny often relies on unsettling juxtapositions of everyday things, amplified beyond recognition. So then what’s amplified here? Misogynistic social attitudes; the sexualization of (and obsession with) young, pretty women; the frequency of violence perpetrated by men against women; the jealousy some women feel toward others? That’s not all there is here, but it is there, and I found it pretty uncomfortable to spend 750-odd pages with. Horror’s supposed to be uncomfortable, as I say, but… this felt uncomfortable in a way I felt more troubled by, and which distracted me from the story at times. 

The other thing is that Tomie is very episodic. So is everything else by Ito that I’ve read recently, to some degree, but in Uzumaki and Gyo, the episodic structure leads somewhere: eventually, things that surface and disappear back into the narrative stewpot, only to surface again a while later and play a major role. In Tomie, things are a little less tightly connected, more just thematic and resonant than necessarily “coming together” in the way one sees in the other books I’ve read. But then, it is an early work, and there’s an undeniable creepiness to how the thing develops throughout—like Tomie, fruiting jagged recreations of that first, unsettling narrative in the book, jutting every which way.

Series Navigation<< <em>Cursed Bunny</em> by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur<em>Uzumaki</em> by Junji Ito >>
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