Mushishi vol. 3 (Del Rey)

mushishi3-header.jpgThe mushi live on the border between worlds, but that doesn’t keep them from disrupting the lives of everyday people. Only the mushishi can see them, and only they can stop the creatures’ deadly effects.

 

 

 

238 pgs. B&W, $12.95

(W / A: Yuki Urushibara)

 

A small mountain town’s population is slowly being paralyzed, their skin hardening until they can no longer move. A mysterious fog rolls over the sea once every three years, stealing those unluckily on the waves each time. In the middle of a famine, one town’s crops inexplicably prosper, but it comes at a heavy price. Each story, each phenomenon has one thing in common: mushi. They are odd life-forms, not really spirit, not really treading the earth. There are many kinds and many shapes, and each effects humans differently when the two cross paths. Only the mushishi can see the mushi, and only they possess the knowledge to help the afflicted drive the creatures away. Ginko, with his white hair and one eye, is a wandering mushihsi. A mystery even to himself, he travels from village to village helping those who need him, and hoping he’ll discover something about his past along the way.

The cover to Mushishi vol. 3 by Yuki Urushibara. Click for a larger image.Author Yuki Urushibara’s manga Mushishi has been the winner of the Kodansha Manga of the Year Award, and it’s easy to see why. The intriguing premise of malevolent spirits draws you in, the philosophical mini-stories keep you hooked, and the gently eerie overtones makes you simultaneously scared to turn the page, but too intrigued to turn back. Along with richly toned artwork, every page is filled with a gloom and depth not normally found in manga. Mushishi isn’t so much a thriller, with sudden frights and monsters leaping from the shadows, but more of a classic horror, Hitchcockian with its constant feeling of dread or creepiness.

The story of the mushishi Ginko, and the mushi themselves, is cleverly woven within the stories of those he meets. To me, it’s reminiscent of the anime series Cowboy Bebop, where each episode is a self-contained story, but as each progresses the greater tapestry of the overarching story is slowly revealed. This is only the third volume of Mushishi, but it does a good job of slyly inserting some facts that I didn’t even realize were relevant until far after I read them. Another enjoyable aspect of Mushishi that was that all of the people Ginko helps are ordinary, every day folks. A lot of times in manga the town is generally scanned over in favor of focusing on the main house and its intrigues or the local monastery. In Mushishi, though, a good sense of the feudalism of old Japan is wonderfully conveyed. The main house may be mentioned, but it’s the farmers who get the spotlight. Of course, that’s also because the mushi are doing something nasty to them, but still…

Being told in installments does give Mushishi a sort of stilted reading flow, especially if you’re used to reading an entire volume of manga as one long "episode." Also, with the detail Urushibara puts into the dialogue, it makes for extensive word bubbles, and these are sadly sometimes lost in the spine of the book. And, being in volume three, Urushibara also doesn’t bother to give much introduction to the mushi, so if you’re just coming in to this series (as I did), you might be totally confused as to exactly what the mushi are and how they afflict people. I found it easiest to try and not over-think things too much by wondering if they were spirits or animals or something else, and simply enjoy the stories, which have a very human quality to them. That, really, is what seems to be at the heart of Mushishi, the common theme of human life: family, love, loyalty, and friendship, all mixed with the actions of creatures unseen but very much felt.

Mushishi is an intriguing manga about a wanderer who battles the unseen forces, aiding the common folk and learning their stories along the way. Although solid explanations are a little hard to come by in this book, when the subject matter is an intangible creature, flimsy explanations don’t seem so misplaced. With its great art and philosophical storytelling, Mushishi is definitely a good read. | Elizabeth Schweitzer

 

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