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There are many facets to Tomoe’s personality, but first and foremost she is an extremely private person. The way this is perceived by other people is a cold aloofness in her behavior. She rarely emotes and usually the only real clue to what is going on inside is to read her body language, which is still a feat because those changes are subtle as well. Ultimately she comes off as an uncaring emotionless ice queen because she is so guarded on all fronts.
The sad part of this is that the opposite is true for her. She feels things very deeply whether she shows it or not. The reason behind this is multifaceted: first and foremost she has very traditional and conservative ideals regarding social norms and always holds herself in check to what she perceives an ideal for a proper Japanese woman—which is quiet, reserved, organized, in control. The second factor that has contributed to this aspect of her personality is the fact that she essentially took control of her family from the age of nine when her mother died, going from a child to an adult in the span of a few weeks in order to care for her new born brother and keep their household standing while their father couldn’t. She has been forced from a young age to be a pillar of strength to keep everything running, keep everyone fed, ensure that the finances were in order, all of it. She couldn’t afford to be emotional, she couldn’t afford to “crack” or lose control of herself through those times because she had to be strong when no one else would. She has kept herself like that for so long that she no longer knows how to be any other way.
But she does have emotions, whether she is able to display them or not, and she becomes consumed and blinded by them at times. Tomoe can be extremely biased when it comes to people she cares about and develops tunnel vision, seeing the positive aspects of those people rather than the negative. The best examples of this include how she sees her younger brother: she describes him to Kenshin as a ‘good kid’ despite his obvious issues—for god’s sake, he bit the man twice earlier in the day completely unprovoked, that is not a ‘good kid’, that is a child with some issues. Likewise this ‘forgiving’ tunnel vision falls on Kenshin as well. Once she sees him as human and starts developing feelings toward him she is able to look past the fact that he is a hitokiri and the fact that he killed her fiancé. On the flip side of this she also easily becomes biased against ideas, situations and people that grate against things she cares about—people or otherwise—until she is proven wrong. It was this bias and tunnel vision, combined with her negative emotions (grief and guilt) utterly consuming her with no outlet that drove her to abandon everything in Edo to seek revenge on Kiyosatto’s killer in Kyoto. Her view of ‘Battousai’ was only repealed once it was made clear to her that he wasn’t a demon but just a man—a boy to be more precise.
Stepping away from the more volatile aspects of Tomoe’s personality, there are several key points that are always there and subtly affecting her. First: Tomoe is very proud. She does not like admitting when she is wrong and she does not like being insulted. She is also extremely stubborn, set in her ways and has difficulty bending. This can be interpreted in different ways, but the key thing to remember with Tomoe is that everything is subtle and normally under the surface and unseen. She can’t bend her demeanor to tell Kiyosatto to stay in Edo—to do so would break the image she had of herself, it would insult his honor, it would trod on her own pride, it would turn most of the things she held dear on their head. Expanding on her stubborn nature, Tomoe can be controlling as well and this, like her repressed demeanor, comes from running a household from a young age. She keeps order in her house, bottom line. She is an assertive, hard worker and in most situations she slowly becomes the person in charge for that reason alone, even if it is a hidden control. This is not difficult to accomplish with men like her father or Kenshin (or likely Kiyosatto if he hadn’t died).
Tomoe is a strong woman, despite her many, many flaws. Her strength is mostly strength of will: as stated repeatedly, she is not assertive verbally or physically, but that certainly doesn’t make her weak. She holds a quiet strength and tends to become the pillar supporting those around her. She is self-sacrificing in this way to those she cares about. She gave away her childhood to raise her brother and support her father when he was weak. She reached out to Kenshin when she saw him floundering under the weight of his crimes. She left to meet the Yaminobu by herself, hoping to spare both her brother and her husband from the repercussions and willingly sacrificed her life to try to right it when she failed.
Tomoe is very multi-facetted and it is difficult to cover everything that makes up her personality without almost being contradictory in places: but ultimately she is proud, altruistic, stubborn, conservative and above all else, reserved to the most extreme degree possible.
Tomoe was born in Edo to a lower-class samurai family in September of 1846. Her father was a retainer for the Shogun and while he wasn’t particularly prosperous he made enough to keep his family comfortable, fed and clothed. Her mother died giving birth to her younger brother in May 1855 when Tomoe was 9. At that point she was forced to go from being a child to being an adult, having to raise her brother in her mother’s stead while her father wallowed in his grief over his wife’s death. While this sort of responsibility shaped Tomoe into a strong person it had the negative impact of stunting her emotions. After all, there was no room for excessive emotion while trying to care for a newborn infant and ensure all the mouths in the house were properly fed. As the years passed, Enishi became hopelessly attached to Tomoe, as most children would to their mother. Tomoe was anything if not a devoted daughter and sister and was quite good at running a household by the time she reached marriageable age.
When she was sixteen she was formally engaged to the second son from a similar family, Kiyosatto Akira. While the marriage was arranged she was fortunate enough to actually have feelings toward her betrothed and vice versa. However her demeanor caused problems for the simple fact that despite being overjoyed by the arrangement, she was unable to show it outwardly or verbally for a combination of being extremely private, extremely conservative… and severely repressed. Because of this, Kiyosatto felt that she was displeased with the arrangement and, thinking he needed to prove himself in some way to make her happy, he joined the Mimawari-gumi in service in Kyoto. While Tomoe did not want him to go all of those same things that kept her from showing him that she loved him before he made this decision also kept her from stopping him from going.
The specific dates for the following events are not clearly written out (and there seem to be discrepancies in the manga even if you’re trying to map it out as well). Regardless, Kiyosatto was killed by an Ishin Shishi assassin sometime early in 1864. When news of his death reached Edo Tomoe was utterly consumed with grief even if it wasn’t apparent to those around her. The thought that it had been her fault that Kiyosatto was killed threatened to drive her mad and rather than allow it to do so she shifted all of that sadness, anger and hate onto the killer instead. She had obviously never learned to cope with strong emotions—at her mother’s death she had repressed them, she had to in order to care for Enishi—and now rather than go through a proper mourning process for Kiyosatto she became obsessed with taking revenge on his killer.
Not long after she learned of Kiyosatto’s death she abandoned everything she knew and loved in order to go to Kyoto to find answers. Her attempts to find information drew the attention of a group of shinobi working for the Shogun—the Yaminobu. In exchange for answers, Tomoe was taken into the group and put into position to eliminate hitokiri Battousai. She was given his identity and put in place to act. She was to get close and stay close to him. Learn his movements, his secrets and most importantly, his weaknesses and when the time was right to act they would sent a contact to her—they would take her revenge for her, she would never have to dirty her hands.
This plan… didn’t go as she thought it would. She had set out to find the monster that had killed her fiancé—a horrible, murderous fiend. She did not expect Battousai to be a boy who hadn’t even reached genpuku yet. She first met him when they were each drinking separately at a pub. The first thing she witnessed out of hitokiri Battousai was him calmly and peacefully breaking up a brawl that was about to start from two drunken men (who, actually, had their focus on her at first). It is arguable that in this first meeting he was far enough away from the image she’d built in her mind to sway her from the plot, however she continued forward anyway, following him after he’d left. Unbeknownst to her the Yaminobu had sent an assassin against Battousai that night. She happened upon them just as Battousai laid the killing blow, and she had wandered in so closely that she not only witnessed it but was close enough to be splattered with the man’s blood.
Anyone else would have panicked. Anyone else would have fled the scene screaming. Anyone else would have reacted, period. Tomoe was, indeed, scared, but in situations like that her inability to fully react was almost strength. After a few brief and deceptively calm words she passed out from a combination of shock, horror and inebriation.
By all rights she believed herself to be dead. Any doubt she had as to whether the young boy in the pub was really hitokiri Battousai had been erased—and she had seen him. She did not expect to wake up again. And yet she did wake the next morning, completely unharmed, and with the boy sleeping propped up against a wall overseeing her. Even after what she had witnessed the night before it was still difficult to believe that this boy was the one who had killed Kiyosatto.
Still, she was in place now for the plot to carry on, and so she stayed, quickly being taken in by the owner of the Kohagi Inn as a serving girl. She tried to stay in contact with Battousai—Himura-san—as she was told, though it was just as much to carry out the plan as it was to try to learn who he was… and why he was doing what he was doing. As time passed she did not find the answers that she wanted. With each passing day he became more and more human to her and less and less a monster. Her inability to continue demonizing him as she had in Edo erased her desire to end his life—it is likely that this happened as early as the first morning she woke unharmed in the inn. However she was faced with another very real problem: she was now in far over her head. Even if she wanted to abandon the plot and leave she would likely be killed by the Yaminobu almost instantly, or, if she managed to escape back to Edo, there was a good chance that she would still be killed and then she would have drawn her family into it. And even in the event she was able to return without repercussions on the Yaminobu’s part… she would still need to face her father for running away in the first place. Ultimately, it meant that she couldn’t leave.
Another change of heart came several weeks after finding herself at the Inn. Katsura Kogoro, the leader of the Choshuu clan spoke to her, explaining Choshuu’s motives and how Himura factored into them. That they all had to become just mad enough not to hate their radical justice, and that Himura was the one bearing the heaviest weight of that madness. Though she did not betray her thoughts, the only thing that went through her mind was ‘how could you place that burden on a child’.
It wasn’t a day or more after Katsura spoke to her when she happened on Himura asleep in his room, sitting upright by the window. Seeing him asleep, again, all she could see was a child, an innocent young man, and her thoughts returned to what Katsura had said. She made the mistake of moving to cover him with a blanket, startling him out of sleep and into action. He nearly slit her throat before he caught himself, shoving her away as he tried desperately to regain his composure. As he had been trying to do since the first day, he tried to send her away. Again, anyone else would have run away the moment they were released—but she stayed there, watching him. It was at that point that she went beyond abandoning her vendetta. At that point, she made the decision to stay and help him—because surely no one else there would. He was a weapon to those people there, not a human being. They turned a child into a murderer without second thought, and that child was being crushed by the weight of what had been put on his shoulders. If she left—regardless now of what would happen to her—the boy that had changed her mind would eventually disappear, and nothing would be left but the demon she’d seen twice by then. “I’ll stay a while. Now you need a sheath to hold back your madness…”
In reality, she was simply taking on the role she always had: being the one to pick up the broken pieces and hold them together. It was what she had been doing her entire life, it wasn’t surprising that she walked right into the same role again. Weeks passed, and in that time she was, indeed, a calming force for Himura as, after that night, he stopped fighting against her presence.
Several weeks passed, and in June 1864 the chaos in Kyoto took a turn against Choshuu. At the start of the Gion Festival, the Shinsengumi successfully raided a Choshuu meeting at the Ikedaya, slaughtering the patriots there. In the following month and a half the fighting increased until the shogun won a sweeping victory against the Ishin Shishi mid-July, decimating their forces. At this point, Katsura Kogoro ordered everyone into hiding, Himura specifically to a small town called Otsu a days’ journey from Kyoto. Before departing, he asked Tomoe to go with Himura in order to act as a married couple—for show only, of course—because a young married couple would draw less attention than a young man living alone.
Himura, made one last attempt to send her away, telling her that if it was a matter of funds he would pay her travel expenses. That attempt lasted all of about ten seconds before he gave in with an unexpected turn: “We’ll go together. But it doesn’t need to be for show. I want you with me until death parts us.”
They were married on their way to Otsu at the end of July, 1864. For Tomoe’s part it was a confused and on the fly decision, one that she questioned often even if she never showed it outwardly. How had she gone from wanting this man’s death to marrying him? But regardless of the emotional repercussions, it happened, and although she certainly doubted her own resolve for agreeing to it, it was not a move she regretted. Perhaps the only true issue it brought was her own guilt: after all, she knew what she was and what she was doing the entire time that Himura was in the dark.
They lived quietly in Otsu for the following five months, and during that time the two understandably became closer—as would be expected, considering they got married. Amazingly, neither divulged much information about either of their pasts in that time. For Tomoe’s part, the early resignations she felt in her private thoughts ebbed the longer they were alone together, and she was quickly falling in love with the man she married (some would argue that this should have came first, but this was a more than complicated situation, at least from her perspective). She often found herself hoping that somehow the Choshuu faction would not regain power and that somehow things could stay as they were, and beyond that, that perhaps the Yaminobu had lost track of her—after all, only two people knew their location at that time: Katsura and Isuka. She knew this was a feeble daydream on both levels, but the thought was there nonetheless. After all, this was the first time in nearly a year that she had felt happy again, even if she wasn’t able to reflect it outwardly.
However, this peace was short lived. Near the end of December an unexpected visitor came—Tomoe’s younger brother, Enishi. At first there was confusion as to how on earth he had found her, but he made that clear the moment they were alone. The Yaminobu had told her they would send a contact that she knew. Her brother was that contact. Suddenly everything started falling apart in front of her. The small happiness she had managed to find with her husband in the country was about to be snuffed out. Beyond that, she had drawn her brother—who may as well have been her son—into the entire mess with the Yaminobu. It was no longer only her life on the line if she made a mistake. Her mind raced to find some sort of solution, but nothing easy presented itself. Regardless, she could not endanger Enishi further and told him to return to Edo.
That night she finally shared some of her past with Kenshin, of her family, her brother and her engagement—as well as the end of that engagement. She did not make mention of the fact that Kenshin had been the man who killed her fiancé, but she did confess that she put the blame for his death on her shoulders. This was a move to try to find her own answer as to what she was going to do where the Yaminobu were concerned. Perhaps if the conversation had taken the right turn she may have confessed to everything… but she didn’t. By the end she had firmly decided to go to them the next day and tell them anything she had to in order to draw their attention away from her brother and hopefully sabotage whatever they had planned for Kenshin.
She left the following morning without waking her husband to face the Yaminobu alone. When the question came “What is Battousai’s weakness” she lied, claiming that his only weakness was sleep—however Tatsumi, the leader, quickly scoffed at that and revealed what the entire point of this ruse was: she wasn’t set in place to learn Battousai’s weakness. She was set in place to become Battousai’s weakness. A typical ransom had already been sent to him in order to lure him directly into their home territory. Tomoe was horrified at what had happened, for as much as she had tried to avoid the trap being set, she had ensured it and lead him directly into it. She turned on Tatsumi instantly, attempting to attack with the kaiken (dagger) she had always kept tucked in her obi, thinking that at the very least she could take the number of men down by one before she was killed—or at least try to. It was an ill-fated attempt and she was quickly struck and knocked out, being left there unconscious until Battousai was dealt with.
She woke to confusion some time later to the sounds of Kenshin and Tatsumi fighting outside. When she stumbled to the door to see she had a momentary vision of Kiyosatto Akira, beaten and bloodied and about to be killed. It gave her a start until she cleared her head enough to realize she was actually looking at her husband… in the exact same position. It was like having ice water thrown on her, and there was one blatantly obvious fact: she knew that Kiyosatto had died because didn’t stop him from going to Kyoto. She said nothing. She did nothing. Until it was too late, and then she threw all of her hate and blame on Kenshin rather than on herself—and now? Now it was all about to happen again, this time right in front of her, and this time because of steps she had taken herself. She had killed Kiyosatto with inaction, and now she was about to do the same with Kenshin, and this time? It was unequivocally her fault. She couldn’t let it happen again.
Without thinking about the consequences or even caring about the consequences she ran out between the fighting men, attacking Tatsumi and trying to give Kenshin an opening to finish the man. However, she had no way of knowing that Kenshin was almost blind and deaf at the time, and could neither fully see nor hear her… until it was too late. She died minutes later from acute trauma and blood loss, satisfied, at least in that moment, that she had managed to save Kenshin even if she had paid for her treachery with her own life. “This is the way it should be… so please don’t cry…”