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Mushishi, vols. 1-2 (Yuki Urushibara)

This intriguing series postulates the existence of another type of lifeform, psychic entities called mushi that often live out their lives with no interaction at all with the human race. Unfortunately, sometimes they become pests or parasites. That's where Ginko, the wandering mushishi, or mushi expert - and hero of the series - comes in. Ginko can often cure infestations of mushi, but because there are so many types, the process can be lengthy and mysterious, requiring Ginko to do research and experiments. The episodes are more in the form of individual short stories rather than a continuing series. Part medical mystery, part supernatural tale, Mushishi isn't really like anything else!

The story is set in some sort of never-never time: most of the villages Ginko visits seem to be existing anywhere from 75 to 200 years ago, but Ginko himself seems to be a hip, intellectual drifter from the more recent past. It doesn't matter: the stories are fascinating, poignant, disturbing. A teenaged boy lives by himself because anything he draws comes to life. A young girl's eyes have become so sensitive to light that she screams if any gets under her lids - yet she talks about seeing a river of light when she is placed in total darkness. A man believes that his dreams have become prophetic. An entire town is starting to lose its hearing - except for one child whose ears are being inundated by a cacaphony of sounds that only he can hear. The endings are not always happy, but the stories linger in the mind afterward, like dreams.

Mushishi, vols. 1-2 (review)

Not all the stories were equally satisfying to me. The one in vol. 1 about the guy who's having the dreams - in which it turns out that his dreams are starting to shape reality - is sort of kludgey. Near the end, Ginko mentions that the old word for pillow is a combination of the words for "soul" and "storage." I suspect that Urushibara discovered this fact and decided to produce a story from it - and it didn't come easy. Most of the vol. 2 stories are just ... odd, but the one about the young woman whose family passes along a trapped mushi as a form of inheritable illness, and who confines mushi with the written word, is really nice and packs more emotional punch than most. Her relationship with Ginko, who has visited her more than once, is intriguing.

The drawing style is different from that of any of the other series I'm reading. My initial thought was that it's rather primitive - but the detailed backgrounds in many of the scenes deny that. On reflection, I think that the style is rather like that of some classic book illustrators - Edward Ardizzone, for example - in that the people are drawn in a deliberately simple and rather rough way. The majority of the pages are dark, with many layers and degrees of darkness and dark textures, much of it organic-looking. Even though it's black-and-white, it gives the impression of old, green, forests with moss and ferns growing in the darkness of tall, dense trees. This is true even of the village and interior scenes. It's very effective in maintaining the eerie atmosphere of these stories, in which the mushi might be anywhere.

There aren't many manga that have made me interested in their anime versions, but I understand that the Mushishi anime is really good. There was also a live-action movie, the web site for which is here. There's a link to the trailer about halfway down the right-hand nav bar.

I will continue to follow this oddly tasty series.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 17th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
The anime is fantastic. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Oct. 18th, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC)

I'm thinking I'll get a couple of the DVD sets for the Mr. for the holidays. He's a pain to buy for, generally, and he's enjoying the manga. That way we can all watch it!   ;-)

Oct. 17th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)
Such a strange, dreamlike manga. And the mushi are almost like mystic, psychic bacteria.
Oct. 18th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)

Yes, that's why I keep thinking of it rather as a sort of medical story. It also made me think - just a little - of Tove Jansson's The Summer Book. Have you read that? They aren't all that much alike, but something about the dreaminess of it, and the way that each chapter is a separate little incident, rather than being a chapter in a larger story.

Oct. 17th, 2007 02:57 am (UTC)
Mushishi really triumphs as an anime (it won a ton of awards, and so did the manga) because all of the lush, green backgrounds and glowing mushi really come alive... the manga gets you on a cerebral level, I think, but the anime had me in jaw-dropping awe many times. And of course an anime can do things with color that a manga can't. Every episode has a sort of "image color" that suffuses everything in it. I believe the author admits at some point that in the early chapters, she hadn't really thought the time period through so there are some anachronisms... but I'm assuming it's supposed to be set in the early 1800s. She doesn't stick to a timeline, really... the seasons skip around.
Oct. 18th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)

Yeah, in the notes at the end, she said something about that ... the first one, the pilot so to speak, was in a more modern time period, and then she changed her mind. But it doesn't really matter: as the intro says, the mushi have always been around, and the fact that time seems fluid goes along with the whole dreamy, slightly sad, slightly menacing, but oddly beautiful story.

As I mentioned above, I'm going to buy the Mr. some of the anime for the holidays - so we'll all watch it!

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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