This week, an episode we’ve been wanting but were too afraid to hope for. Two tales of terror: a Tomie story and Junji Ito’s own twist on the vampire myth.
With the announcement that “Tomie” would be adapted as an OVA, I had lost hope that Ito’s most famous monster would be included in the broadcast series. This episode came as a pleasant surprise. A one-off Tomie tale, “Painter” starts with Mori, a popular artist, meeting a hauntingly beautiful woman at one of his exhibitions. She plants the idea in his mind that his current muse, Nana, has a goofy face and he might be due for a change in model.
The woman later walks into his house uninvited and insults Nana, causing her to leave in anger. The woman challenges Mori to capture her beauty on canvas and reveals her name: Tomie.
For those of you new to the works of Junji Ito, Tomie (pronounced TOH-mee-eh) is his most famous character. The stories were some of the first published in English after VIZ did Uzumaki, and they have been adapted into 8 films and a TV miniseries. I am proud to own the original ComicsOne releases, despite their flaws. Tomie’s characterization varies from story-to-story, but she is usually depicted as an enigmatic young woman who is quite aware of her own beauty. The men around her are supernaturally drawn to her to the point of obsession. She often uses their lust to manipulate them, but that obsession almost always leads to murderous intent. I don’t want to give away the character’s true nature to the uninitiated, but suffice to say the stories that feature her are usually about beauty, sexuality, gender dynamics, and unhealthy obsession. She is both the perpetual slasher victim and the perpetual femme fatal.
To continue with the story, Tomie belittles Mori’s painting of her, saying that he did not even capture 10% of her beauty. She storms off, never to be seen again, leaving Mori a broken man, suffering from painter’s block and obsessed only with Tomie’s beauty.
He later finds out that a local sculptor has found success with a new model by the name of Tomie. He goes to the sculptor’s home and demands to see her. Mori knocks him out and finds finds her amid a pile broken scultures with her likeness. He takes Tomie home and paints her again. This time he is finally able to capture her true inner beauty. Or is he? Or is he.
I am not sure whether or not “Painter” was a great choice to introduce Tomie to a new audience. On one hand, the revelation of her true nature serves a weird twist to the story. On the other hand, perhaps it’s too weird of a twist and might seem to come out of left field to someone unfamiliar with the character. My other criticism here is that the original story had Mori narrating throughout, making his sudden narration at the end of this adaptation seem out of place. Otherwise, I liked how the episode teased us, taking its time to reveal Tomie’s trademark teardrop mole.
In “Blood Bubble Bushes,” Kana and Anzai’s car breaks down somewhere in the countryside. They decide to look for a village or house and start walking. Along the way, they are attacked by a group of feral children who bite them. Eventually, the couple comes across an abandoned village. They explore it and find one house is inhabited by a pale young man. He has no phone, but he bandages them up and agrees to let them stay the night.
During dinner, the man says that Kana reminds him of a woman he once loved. She suffered from depression and loneliness, saying that even her blood wanted to leave her. One day, he stopped her from slitting her own throat, sucking the wound to stop the bleeding. From that wound, branch-like vascular structures began to grow with blood bubbles on the ends like small ruby-red fruits. The branches continued to grow until all her blood left her and her body wasted away to a husk.
That night, Anzai awakens to find Kana missing from her bed. He wanders the house and finds a room filled with blood bubble bushes like the one in the pale man’s story. Buried in the dirt is the desiccated husk of one of the villagers who can still speak somehow. He says that the man came to their town and infected them with the blood bubbles. The only way to keep from sprouting into a Cronenbergian flesh tree is to eat one’s own blood fruits. However, doing so turns one into a fiend that craves the blood of others.
Anzai eventually finds Kana, but she has the beginnings of a blood bush growing from the bite wound on her neck. The strange man allows them to leave, but can they escape the curse of the blood bubble bushes?
I love Ito’s version of the vampire myth. It has the familiar Hammer Horror trappings, but the grotesque body horror and unanswered questions make it all his own. This adaptation made some smart choices in music and design, particularly during the flashback sequence. The pale blue that surrounds the man’s lost love represents her sadness and contrasts starkly with the deep red of the blood fruits. The smooth animation of the feral kids running gave me hope of a decent action scene in the story’s climax, but, alas, the budget was not enough and the scene was cut.
I can’t help but think that if the animation producers had decided to start the series with this episode, less people would have dropped this show after the lackluster first episode and more people would be talking about it. Oh well.
Dear readers, is there any story you do NOT want to see adapted? For me, it’s “The Bizarre Hikizuri Siblings.” I just find them repugnant, and not in a fun way.·
Next episode: Collection No. 109 and 026. I completely give up. Tomie stories are traditionally the first stories in the various Ito anthologies and more or less follow the same order, but “Painter” is chapter 9 in both my sources, not 72 as is listed last week (or is that a 12?). Everything’s all mixed up, and I’m tired of this puzzle not making any sense. Therefore, No. 109 is most likely not “The Earthbound,” and No. 026 has little possibility of being “Flesh Colored Horror,” “Beehive,” or “The Bridge.”