Scattered Thoughts – Dissecting Tomie

     Yep, the title is a pun. A bad one. You’ll get it. Let’s move on.

     I’ve already written about Junji Ito and anime adaptations of his manga. Gyo was a failure through and through (Ufotable, what have you done?) and quite recent Junji Ito: Collection, while it had several stronger stories, was equally forgettable at best. It turns out that Collection also has 2 special half-length episodes that I recently watched, episodes that feature probably the most famous character Junji Ito ever created – Tomie. Knowing what a catastrophe Collection was, I was inevitably cautious but at the same time I tried to remain as optimistic as possible. Tomie, one of the first published stories (in 1989) by Ito so far has inspired 8 live action films and a TV drama. You’d think that the source material should be strong and compelling enough so even the terrible production of Studio Deen shouldn’t be able to destroy that, right? Ito is far better at writing short stories, so Tomie truly looks like one of the best options out the huge catalog of Ito’s manga. Yet, after watching the specials I can do no better than to laugh at all the improbable events and question who on earth could’ve created such a ridiculous, silly, unbelievable and, well, bad story.

Tomie beautiful manga

The gorgeous star of the show

     The first half-episode presented the backstory of Tomie – she was a (more or less) normal high-school girl who fell off a cliff during a school trip and died. What do you think the teachers and the class did then? Yes, of course they tried to dissect the girl. Yeah. Tomie then became sort of a ghost and started doing, well, pretty much usual stuff brutally killed girls do. Well, concerning that dissection business, I don’t think any sane person would give such a story a medal – it felt like a madness that made absolutely no sense at all. At least I thought that about the anime version of it.

These dudes mean business

     Then I turned to the manga, willing to see whether these problems were as persistent there. Why Junji Ito is such an acclaimed mangaka if his stories are so dumb? Tomie the manga is clearly made by a beginner mangaka – Ito’s style is clearly visible though it’s not as defined and polished yet. The quality rather resembles a doujin but everything – from the beautiful females to the expressiveness of movements – is already there. But what do you think – I read the manga and got exactly the same story, though for some reason it didn’t seem as ridiculous. Tomie still died, she still was dissected, but that wasn’t so insane. The manga rightfully justified the fact that it received all those live-action adaptations. The problem then clearly was with the anime. So, what did go wrong exactly?

Pretty much my face watching this

     First point – the details (spoiler territory!). You can argue that an anime inevitably had to cut some things out because of the limited time, so such a loss is inevitable. That’s not the point exactly. Even with little time it’s possible to get everything together, if you manage to emphasize the right things, that is. Did the anime do that? Nope. Take for example the scene where Tomie’s teacher went bananas after seeing that the apparently dead girl came to school as if nothing had happened. In the manga it’s just told that the teacher simply “flipped out” and then was hospitalized. We never see his face and can only wonder what really happened to him – in such a way the unknown and creepiness slowly continue to seep into the story. The anime on the other hand blatantly showed the teacher laughing like a maniac. Sure, it’s slightly unsettling but still not as much. Unseen horror is always scarier.

     The whole trip when Tomie died was also sprinkled with various omitted details or details that were taken out of context and thus didn’t actually accomplish their purposes. In the manga Tomie started teasing and blackmailing the teacher and declared “Hey, I’m pregnant” only after seeing that her suggestion of eloping together (after the teacher ditched his wife) wasn’t getting his approval. The anime version bluntly stated the same sentence, but without any build-up so the viewer inevitably was left confused.

She didn't believe she can fly

     On a cliff a conflict between Tomie, the teacher and another student arose and escalated quickly to the point when Tomie slipped and fell from the cliff to her demise. The anime let Tomie fall from the cliff for at least 5 seconds, and that’s not in a slow motion, as seen from the flapping of Tomie’s skirt (her body is otherwise comically static – another pitiful consequence of a bad production). With just a little bit of school level physics we can count that during 5 seconds Tomie must have fallen from the height that equals (g*t^2)/2 (where t is time and g is the freefall acceleration, known to approximately be 9.8 m/s^2). So, let’s fill in 5 seconds and what do we get? No more and no less than 122.6 meters. Sure it’s enough height to shatter Tomie’s brains but come on, who would casually sit on such a cliff without any caution? From the visuals I’d guess that the real height should be 10 meters at most.

Naked bloody guys with saws Tomie anime

I said they meant business, right?

     And now we come to the biggest problem. The anime made it seem like the trip naturally transitioned to the lesson about the human dissection and anatomy. The manga on the other hand made it clear that everyone wanted to hide the fact that they could be held partially responsible for the death so they decided to slice the body and hide it in parts. In other words – the reasoning behind the dissection is that it’s not really a lesson, it’s covering of the death. Maybe a small detail, but it makes all the difference.

Tomie manga funny

Talk about efficient characterization

     Another thing the anime lacks is a better characterization of Tomie’s relationships. Tomie’s character in the manga is nicely clarified – the small talk of the classmates revealed that Tomie wasn’t liked among them, so the fact that the class wasn’t objecting to the whole slicing the body thing too much came out as far less unbelievable compared to the anime where everyone seemed to accept this solution as the most natural thing. Manga also provided a little detail that Reiko, Tomie’s only friend, got Tomie’s heart when everyone got a part of Tomie to hide somewhere. Inconsequential fact, but another one that brought life to the story.

     The anime could’ve retained one bit of dialogue – the classmates’ comment “Love is in the air” while listening to the conflict on the cliff. In such a way everyone – Tomie, the teacher, the other student and the rest of the classmates – were characterized. It’s clear that Tomie was prone to flirting with adults, that the classmates were used to that and didn’t take it seriously. The anime thus missed a great chance to better their version. Not the first time and not the last. Anything would’ve been better than a bunch of static students standing and looking boringly terrified.

Tomie dissection manga

Yeah...

     If you can make a person laugh, that person automatically will be more likely to trust you, and that’s essential for stories involving fantastical elements as good comedy can substitute some part of meticulous worldbuilding. Speaking about the comedy in the anime, the show did try to retain Ito’s grotesque side by having one student declare during the dissection “I guess she had a sandwich for lunch”. Well, I can stomach even some particularly weird ero-guro stuff but this scene still seemed to be too gross. In manga this line of dialogue is put into the smallest of panels (bottom right in the picture above). True, the joke is still there but it’s way more hidden among other remarks that in the context seem to reflect awe of people looking to the anatomy of a real human body for the first time. If you don’t think too much (as I did), you can even miss the fact that there actually is a joke to begin with. The anime on the other hand exaggerated the scene far too much, giving it a whole 10 second pan which is incomparable to the little manga panel. In the anime the faces of the students and the teacher didn’t reflect any stress at all. True, Ito didn’t do a terrific job with faces in this panel but you can at least see an attempt to show some emotions. The voice acting clearly didn’t help the situation – the characters stated their lines in such a matter-of-factly (and almost cheerful) way that a viewer begins to wonder if they are really humans dissecting another human being for the first time. Going back to the joke – in the anime it’s even more sticking out because there aren’t any other jokes around. The manga had other funny moments so this one belongs to the same baseline, especially because it’s comparatively subdued. In such a way the death and events afterwards are more serious than the beginning thus making the horror and unsettlement more prominent. In anime this joke shines far and wide, making it far more gross than it should’ve been. It kills the mood and at the same time kills itself – it’s a lose-lose situation.

Tomie anime funny

I beg your pardon?

     The phrase in the manga “Gokurosama deshita” (“Good work”) the teacher said after the dissection I interpreted as a consolation – “I’m sorry you had to do this but you did it and now it’s finally over” while in the anime again completely incomprehensible voice acting made it look like as if the teacher cheerfully congratulated the class after cleaning a classroom and the class responded as cheerfully. Man, did they really slice up a person for the first time?

Tomie aniem red

Nice make up

     The second half-episode made far less mistakes and even used red color in a beneficial kind of way. The story itself was one of Ito’s better body horror ones and it was very hard to butcher. Still… Of course, the teacher was supposed to jump over the wall, not levitate for who knows how long (maybe this wall also was over 100 meters tall?). Also, maybe it’s the translation but isn’t it weird for an ill girl to say to her beloved “Thanks for offering me your kidney, but let’s stay friends”. What? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

Tomie not impressed

Tomie isn't impressed

     Yet another major point that revealed itself in the second half-episode was that the anime got Tomie’s character wrong. The manga Tomie isn’t some one-dimensional vengeful spirit, she’s far more complex than that. Probably Tomie herself doesn’t really understand who (or rather what) she is and so she just roams the world while sometimes extracting revenge, sometimes fooling around (by her standards that is) and just doing what she wills. It’s interesting that the iconic trickster usually elicits very strong emotions in people and that more often than not ends up in Tomie being almost deified and then cut to pieces. Literally. But don’t worry, it’s not that simple to rid the world of such a creature. One of the appeals of manga Tomie is that she is able to manipulate people so elegantly. Tomie is always teasing and almost always smiling. She never is seen angry if her well-being isn’t threatened much and she isn’t bored. Despite being killed two times already in the two stories adapted, Tomie only raised her voice only once, and that time we didn’t see her face. This calm image is shattered by the anime. The anime version of Tomie is too arrogant for my taste. She’s just a manifestation of what it means to be a jerk. I prefer the slyer version of the manga where Tomie plays an innocent princess with a poisonous tongue rather than a blunt and cocky scumbag. The anime Tomie gets too enthusiastic and emotional too quickly – it’s a perfect way to show irritation and thus a weakness, and lose much mysteriousness that is actually one of the major reasons of Tomie’s appeal.

Tomie and Tadashi anime

What a lovely couple, isn't it? Not for long...

     Getting back to my problems with the details, Tadashi, the guy who Tomie romantically enchanted, in the anime apparently decided to kill her on a whim, based only on his feeling that she told some lies and resembled one dead girl. Tadashi thought “I don’t feel good. I should break up with her” and the randomly killed her. The manga again does a better job – the guy showed discontent for a longer time. Also he stated that he didn’t know why  he was so cruel to his kidney-less ex-girlfriend and, most importantly, the anime missed his vital words “I can’t escape”. During the last encounter the manga Tadashi looked stressed and cornered – a sweat drop never left his face which began to show more and more signs of insanity (the face, not the drop). Compare that to Tadashi’s poker face in the anime. Ugh. Yeah, just compare a guy who became fed up with his girlfriend and killed her to a guy who slowly began to understand that he dealt with a devil.

Tomie kidney manga

Oh, hello there!

     The final scene where it’s revealed that Tomie’s kidney that was transplanted to the kidney-less girl wasn’t a normal one, was also diminished in the anime. In the manga the doctors first saw the abnormal kidney using X-rays so that helped raising the horror and unsettlement levels more gradually because the X-ray image had a bad resolution. That was omitted in the anime. Of course, straight jump scares when the doctors operated the girl again are also ok but I don’t think that this partial reveal was so worthless to be omitted.

Which one is more beautiful?

     I guess I should reaffirm that the production quality truly remained as awful as expected. Not particularly memorable soundtrack, barely moving characters, characters sometimes being off-model, drab color palette – all these things I have already called out as being major reasons of the failure of anime adaptations of Ito’s manga, and neither Collection nor this special are any different. You either need to make Ito as realistic as possible or stick to still images (i.e. manga). Half-assed lip-flapping isn’t an option. Can you even compare this horrible an ancient bundle of clothes resembling blob (above)  that isn’t even the center of attention (the red sky is) to this gorgeous and terrific last panel of a chapter?

Tomei tadashi manga

This will have a happy ending, right?

     The conclusion I came up with to the question “what did go wrong?” by its weirdness is worthy of Ito’s stories themselves – the anime version is at the same time too serious and not serious enough. The adaptation didn’t seem to be worried enough about making sense. Mechanical adaptation panel by panel seemed to be good enough for the production staff, but the soul, the essence of Ito is sadly no longer found. Important details are missing, the continuity is twisted, especially all the supporting characters are stripped of any characterization, making them simple emotionless dolls. Where some things are missing, others are added, but they don’t work that well. Anime original breaking of a mirror? Always a good symbol. Breaking a mirror with a PLUSHIE? Wait what?

     So yeah, if you can, forget this anime and do yourself a favor by reading some good old Junji Ito – black and white, with intact comedy and character personalities, and stories that are definitely weird, but still do retain their power and inner logic.

 

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