Wow, it’s only a second appearance of manga on Re-enchantment… After Yotsuba&!, it’s time for Mushishi, another of my favourite series. Created by Yuki Urushibara and published for ten years in serialized form in Japan, now it’s available both in English and Polish, collected in 10 volumes.
This is the only manga I own a whole set of. Well, this and Azumanga Daioh, but the other is just one 700 pages omnibus. Also highly recommended, from an author that later gave us previously mentioned Yotsuba&!, but that’s not for today.
Mushishi is a story about Ginko, a wandering mushi-shi, occult specialist protecting people from mushi, ethereal, supernatural beings not perceived by regular humans, but capable of influencing their lives in usually pretty dangerous ways. Partly a shaman, even more a scientist, Ginko uses his knowledge of the supernatural to help people as he travels through Urushibara’s version of XIX-century rural Japan of the late Edo period.
Art is simple, restrained, with only a few colour pages per volume – and beautiful. Fully suits the slow, melancholic story concentrated on characters and their interactions with mushi, a force of nature that does not think, just is, and follows its nature. When coincidence puts mushi an people together, lives irreversibly change, with mushi amplifying human passions, virtues and vices alike, and often leading people astray, but not because of malice – they are at best semi-sentient and just flow naturally making patterns predictable for skilled mushishi-shi who try to influence them to make their interference less harmful to peaceful Japanese villages. It is not an epic struggle of good versus evil, but a story of cohabitation of forces largely ignorant of each other, where the weaker side is helped by the guardians armed in books and rituals. Word “gods” is sometimes mentioned, but not in a way it is in more standard manga based on Japanese folklore and its various Yōkai. It’s about science of the supernatural, not religion in the Western meaning of the world.
Genre-wise, it’s story of the week, and a mixture of mystery with slice of life. Life of a family is changed by an encounter with the supernatural, Ginko comes to try to save the day, achieves partial success, mushi continue their flow towards their largely unknown goals, human survivors carry on. And Ginko walks away. Often variances on the same themes, these stories have their unique rhythm. Some people might find Mushishi lacking in drama, I find it mesmerising.
It’s cautiously optimistic in its view of human nature and the ability of people to coexist with the forces of nature. Characters reader meets are faulty, complicated, yet they invoke our sympathy. Each volume left me melancholic, delighted, wanting more – but not immediately, perhaps after a few moments of reflection, instrumental music and a bit of poetry.
There is also an anime adaptation, and, as it fully preserves the spirit of manga, I’d recommend both, equally. It was recently removed from the Polish version of Netflix, but if it’s available to you – take a look! Spare some moments to walk with Ginko…