On June 1, 2004
in Okubo Elementary School in Sasebo
, a port city in northwest Kyushu
, an eleven-year-old girl convinced classmate Satomi Mitarai, 12, to follow her into an empty classroom during lunch break. There, the girl slit Satomi's wrists and throat with a box cutter
, leaving her bleeding on the floor. Horrified teachers learned what happened when the girl returned to class covered in blood. Though they summoned aid quickly, Satomi's wounds were too great, and she died later that day.
Upon investigation, the girl killer, whose real name has not been disclosed in accordance with Japanese law shielding the identity of minors, cited a series of message board posts in which Satomi, with whom she had previously been friendly, had mocked her as heavy. Satomi had been warned to stop.
Government psychologists deemed the killer sane, though she exhibited a difficulty in relating to others that officials largely blamed on inadequate socialization by her parents. In the wake of previous high-profile Japanese youth killings, the age at which children could be tried as adults had been lowered from 16 to 14, but the girl was still clearly under the cutoff, and so was placed in a secure juvenile correctional facility indefinitely for "rehabilitation". Early writing on the subject often noted the girl's reported lack of remorse, although later reports indicated that she had sought forgiveness for her actions.
In the aftermath of the killing, internet surfers discovered the killer's home page. Based on information contained there, we know her birthday (November 21, 1992), her blood type (A), and her favorite sport (basketball). A diary was fairly dark, reflecting an interest in the occult, the urban legend of a "red room" - a Ring-like killer internet site - and particularly creepily, the children-as-killers movie and book Battle Royale.
A more important discovery, in terms of the killer's legend, was a photograph of the two girls' elementary school class. Satomi stood smiling at the left edge of the group. Next to her stood a girl identified as the killer, wearing a more inscrutable expression and a black sweatshirt with the word "NEVADA" across the chest in white, apparently from the University of Nevada. From this picture comes the name by which the killer is commonly known, Nevada-tan. ("Tan" is a stereotypical childish mispronunciation of the diminutive honorific "chan" - the overall effect has been translated as something akin to "Widdle Nevada")
On the basis of this picture, Nevada-tan became a catchphrase and iconic figure on popular Japanese online image board 2ch and its corresponding anglophonic imitator 4ch. Like similar internet communities such as the Something Awful forums, these message boards act as semiotic playgrounds, heavily focused on the reappropriation of images and meaning. Individual posters created a wide variety of art with Nevada-tan as a subject. Nevada was juxtaposed with a variety of figures for effect, and was frequently depicted in terms of young female archetypes derived primarily from popular culture, especially anime and manga - Noir-style cold, distanced killer (too obvious, really); playful, genki popculture teen; elegant gothic lolita; ethereal, otherworldly divine (or infernal) child; eroticized figure both of innocent, youthful sexuality and of brutalized, violent degradation. Regardless of the artist's particular spin on Nevada, she is frequently depicted bloodied, carrying or associated with the fabled box cutter. When depicted clothed, the iconic sweatshirt is almost a given.
By now somewhat distanced from the "real" killer who inspired her, the character of Nevada-tan is a familiar figure in 2ch and related communities and is still a common subject of artistic interpretation, with fanfic, dojinshi, cosplay, and music joining the aforementioned pictures.