I have a cool announcement! About a month ago, Brian Cronin at Comics Should Be Good (home of Danielle Leigh and sometimes host to Michelle Smith) asked me if I’d like to be an occasional contributor to the site, like Michelle. I jumped up and down in an undignified manner and said I would like to very much. Today my first contribution has been posted! Behold my review for Mushishi, volume 6 (reprinted here after the demise of CSBG) which will be a part of my new, occasional series, “Tokidoki Daylight” (meaning “sporadic daylight,” TokiDay for short). Many thanks to Michelle and Grace for helping me decide on the name. I’m pretty thrilled to have been offered this opportunity, as I’m sure you can imagine. So go on over and see! :D
Mushishi, Vol. 6 By Yuki Urushibara
Published by Del Rey Manga
Called “verdancy” or “the green things” by some, mushi are primordial beings close to the original forms of life. They live in every corner of the world, in many different forms, though few humans are ever able to perceive them. Some who can see mushi learn to make a living by it. These people are called “mushishi.”
Mushishi chronicles the experiences of a traveling mushishi named Ginko, who has wandered alone for most of his life, studying and working with different kinds of mushi. Because mushi are so far removed from human life, both mushi and humans frequently affect each other in unintended (often devastating) ways. Mushishi seek out places in which coexistence has turned to conflict, and use their study of mushi to restore balance to the human world. What is unique about Ginko is that unlike most mushishi, he attempts to do so without killing mushi.
Volume six begins with one of the most poignant stories of the series so far. “Heaven’s Thread” tells the tale of a young woman named Fuki, who disappears after grabbing onto a string she finds hanging from the sky. Ginko discovers her lost in the mountains and returns Fuki to her village, where she is greeted with hostility by everyone except Seijiro, who wishes to make Fuki his wife. Because of Fuki’s experience, she has taken on mushi attributes herself, which could cause her to float away again at any time. Ginko is able to treat her with medicine, but most importantly, she must want to be human again, a task entrusted to Seijiro.
What’s extraordinary about Mushishi is the way in which mangaka Yuki Urushibara uses stories of non-human entities to more deeply explore the complexity and inconsistency of humanity. Though Fuki’s condition is caused by interaction with mushi, she is dependent on Seijiro’s human feelings and actions for her existence. This juxtaposition of simple, survival-driven mushi alongside complicated, egotistical humanity makes it clear just how unreliable humans can be.
Other stories in this volume include those of a mushi whose faint cry foretells natural disaster, a man whose infection by mushi gives him the ability to control other animals, a boy who lives in an eternal snow shower, and a man whose family’s famous sake is astonishingly similar to Kôki, the essence of life. Yet, despite the stories’ supernatural premise, with Ginko at the center, humanity is always at the fore.
As a person who naturally attracts mushi, Ginko’s can’t live with other humans without eventually causing them harm, so he must remain on the move, never allowing himself to get attached to other people or to truly become one of them. This is Ginko’s great tragedy, for despite the fact that he shares at least as much in common with mushi as he does with other humans, he is deeply bound to his own humanity. It is his humanity, with all its inherent chaos and contradiction, that guides him on his journey and makes his story interesting. Perpetually faced with the question of whether/how to sacrifice mushi for the sake of humans, Ginko struggles constantly with his choices, never knowing for sure if he is doing the right thing.
In volume six, Ginko’s frustration with the choices made by people who are able to have what he can’t is palpable. Seijiro’s inability to accept Fuki in her half-mushi state, a man’s reluctance to give up a destructive power, another man’s inability to forgive even for the sake of his own daughter–all these people alienating themselves and others by choice is understandably maddening to someone who must remain alone against his will. It is in these moments, however, when Ginko’s own feelings emerge unbidden, that he is most effective in his calling.
Mushishi‘s setting in rural Japan, somewhere between the Edo and Meiji eras, gives the series a simple, naturalistic feel, with the otherworldly quality of the mushi laid over it like a sheer film. Urushibara’s artwork reflects this sensibility perfectly, with its sketchy landscapes and simply dressed characters. Ginko, like the mushi, exists as a specter in the human landscape, in his modern, western clothing that somehow attracts no notice from anyone around him.
Though Del Rey’s production of Mushishi is top-notch overall, the greatest service they have done to this series is their choice of William Flanagan as translator. This means that not only is the story’s English dialogue exceptionally coherent, expressive and rife with subtlety, but that each volume contains Flanagan’s extensive notes in the back, giving the reader further insight into both the intricacies of the Japanese language and the author’s choices.
With its episodic nature, it is possible to pick up any volume of Mushishi as an introduction to the series, and volume six offers several very strong stories that could be easily enjoyed even without a deeper understanding of the universe as a whole. For those seeking a richer experience, each of the first six volumes is highly recommendable. In either case, Urushibara’s world is a unique and fascinating place which provides an immensely satisfying read.