Blood on the Tracks (Chi no Wadachi/血の轍 in the original Japanese, lit. "Blood on the Trail") is a Psychological Horror-thriller manga by Shuuzou Oshimi, who also wrote and drew The Flowers of Evil, Happiness, and Inside Mari. Beginning its run in February 2017, the series is published in Shogakukan's Big Comic Superior magazine, while the English translation is published by Vertical.
Seichi Osabe is a young boy living in a rural Japanese town. He lives a normal life — friends at school, a Precocious Crush, and a loving mother and father that care for him. In particular, he has a very strong relationship with his mother Seiko, who dotes on him excessively and is very overprotective.
After a hiking trip gone wrong in which Seiko pushes her nephew off of a cliff in the middle of the woods, simply for playing a prank on his cousin, Seichi slowly becomes horrified of his mother's dangerously overprotective nature, and seeks to branch out from her. Unfortunately for him, she has other plans, and wants to keep her son under her thumb forever...
The Bob Dylan Album of the same name helped inspire the title of the manga (and would later be used as the title of the official English translation), but the works are otherwise unrelated.
Tropes in A Trail of Blood include:
- Abusive Parents: As highlighted in Mama Bear below, Seiko quickly begins emotionally abusing Seichi the minute he starts behaving independently, and starts using classic gaslighting techniques to convince him that Shigeru tripped off the cliff.
- Affably Evil: While Seiko is very obviously mentally unwell, she's incredibly charismatic and everyone in the family still loves her. She's so good at hiding her dangerous nature that the only one who knows about her insanity is Seichi himself, and that's only because he was there to witness her going off the deep end.
- Alone with the Psycho: And the psycho is your own mother.
- Ambiguous Disorder: Seiko obviously has something very wrong with her. Besides the creepy manipulations, she has a tendency to break down when something doesn't go her way or stresses her out. Like after throwing her nephew off a cliff she completely breaks down into muttering what sounds like a completely unrelated argument, with a dazed look on her face. She expresses a desire to escape her current situation or even existence, and is even seen hurting herself with no emotion around others.
- Seichi is no different. As the series progresses, he starts to develop feelings for his mother that borderlines on incest and as he's being bullied, he starts to imagine them ending up looking like a dead cat he and his mother found on the road when he was younger. During an incident where he has a series of visions giving him new perspective on his mother's crime, he seems to repeat it by pushing himself off another cliff...when that version of himself happened to be Shigeru before the visions started.
- Beauty Is Bad: Seiko is portrayed as eerily, emotionlessly beautiful to make her more terrifying. Notably, when Seichi sees the incident on the cliff through her eyes, Seiko is drawn a little older and more realistic, indicating that even outside of fantasy, Seichi's perception of his mother is distorted.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Seiko presents herself as a classic loving mother, but the things she does for Seichi's sake show that she wants him for herself.
- Broken Smile: Seiichi's aunt gives one of these when she comes across her son on the trail after he was pushed off the cliff. She keeps smiling a creepy smile while assuring herself and those around her that the injuries will heal.
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Just before Seiko pushes Shigeru off the cliff, in several panels butterflies are shown flying around, when none were previously evident.
- Central Theme: How far will you go for your own mother once she's done something absolutely awful?
- Disproportionate Retribution: Shigeru seems to have been a brat who made fun of Seiichi, but did he really deserve being pushed off a cliff?
- Elective Mute: For several chapters, Seichi suffers from psychogenic mutism stemming from trauma after having been kissed by his own mother and forced to tear up a love confession from his crush because of her jealousy. His mutism is cured when he finally enters into a relationship with Fukiichi but periodically returns in the form of a severe stutter in certain dramatic moments. This is a trait that tends to be exhibited by real life victims of child molestation and abuse.
- Gaslighting: Seiko does this to Seiichi repeatedly to convince him that she tried to help Shigeru, instead of being the one to push him over the cliff.
- Genre Throwback: To "possessive psycho" movies like Misery and Audition that were popular in the 90's.
- Hope Spot: There is hope that Seichi will recover from the trauma inflicted by his mother after she is taken into custody. That hope comes crashing down hard when Seichi himself succumbs to madness and pushes Shigeru off of the same cliff, this time resulting in Shigeru's death.
- Incest Subtext: Oh boy. While Aku No Hana had quite a lot of subtext around the Interplay of Sex and Violence, this story instead has a lot of it based around Seiko's over-protectiveness of her son. Seiko gets really up close and personal with Seichi numerous times throughout the story, and one chapter has her choke Seichi while straddling him in a pose that looks very suggestive. It gets even worse as the manga goes on with the recent chapter revealing Seiko and Seichi laughing and cuddling with each other while the father looks on in horror. All the while, the living room is covered in filth.
- Mama Bear: Deconstructed with Seiko. She really is way too overprotective - her response to Shigeru faking tripping her son off of a cliff is to toss him off said cliff for real, which results in the poor boy suffering permanent brain damage. It's also shown numerous times that while she loves Seichi, she's far too clingy for her own good, and her violation of his personal space makes him very uncomfortable. Seichi later comes to believe she was trying to kill him, seeing his face in Shigeru and decides to similarly discard his past self...who also seems to be Shigeru in reality.
- The manga seems to later imply that Seiko sees herself above her son, and that she will react violently if he attempts to subvert her in any way. In particular, upon being pressed as to why exactly she shoved Shigeru off the cliff, Seiko seems to momentarily snap and begins to strangle her son. Thus, it seems less that Seiko "loves her son and will do anything for him" and more "loves her son because he belongs to her".
- Marshmallow Hell: Sometimes Seiko does this to Seiichi. It tends to be more disturbing than most examples.
- My Beloved Smother: The series.
- Nightmare Face: Despite her face never contorting into anything physically hideous, Seiko gets a lot of these thanks to the manga's uncanny shading.
- Oh, Crap!: Seiko's nephew, despite the brain damage, still has enough energy to nonverbally reveal to his mother that his own aunt is the one who pushed him off the cliff. Naturally, his mother is horrified and Seiko immediately becomes afraid. The mother becomes even more horrified when Seichi defends her!
- Parental Incest: Downplayed, but not in a way that detracts at all from the horror of the situation. While it's unclear whether her intentions are sexual, Seiko does seem to have a confused romantic interest in her son, kissing him on the lips twice over the course of the series and becoming horrified when she discovers a girl his age has a crush on him. She tends to delusionally view Seiichi as a small child just as much as she views him as a lover, however, so ultimately her intentions are confusing.
- Reality Ensues: Brain damage for Shigeru doesn't mean he's unable to recognize his own attempted killer, subverting the usual amnesia by injury drama expectations.
- Speech Impediment: Seichi develops a bad one after he and his mother tear up the love letter his classmate gave him.
- The Sociopath: Definitely seems to be at least part of Seiko's problems.
- Stepford Smiler: The majority of the smiles in this manga are creepy, but Seiko wins first prize as she smiles throughout all the horror.
- Wham Episode:
- Helping the police reenact the incident with Shigeru causes Seiichi to discover a repressed memory where she did the same thing to him — as in she threw him off a steep hillside — when he was a toddler.
- A few chapters later, you realise that not only did she try to kill Seiichi as a toddler, but the reason why she had thrown Shigeru off of the cliff was because she saw Seiichi's face instead of Shigeru's and that was why she had shoved him.
- Then a few chapters after that, Seichi follows a not-all-there Shigeru back to the cliff, where he has a vision of his mother which causes him to repeat her actions and shove him off the cliff again. And this time, as we eventually learn, Shigeru dies.
- Wham Shot: Seiko tossing her own nephew off the cliff, before turning around with a pleased smile on her face, as if to say "I did this for you".
- Seiko kissing Seichi on the lips after tearing up the love letter is a major wakeup call that there's more screwed up stuff than murder going on in this story.
- Yandere: Much, much worse than the usual fare, because here the yandere is the main character's mother.