Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mushishi

By Yuki Urushibara. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Del Rey.

I will admit, I always enjoy a volume of Mushishi when it comes out. Just like most folk stories, it has a certain relaxed, ambling pace that is suited to the scenic, watercolor art. Even in black and white, the art still looks like it's being painted rather than drawn. Ginko is a good POV character (calling him the hero seems wrong for this series), and the whole thing is well-written.

And yet, after reading it, I rarely go back to reread. I feel no desire to watch Mushishi AMVs, or read Mushishi fanfics. In fact, I'm not sure there's much of a Mushishi fandom at all. This is no Naruto, or even a Honey & Clover. It's a work of art, but you feel like you're seeing it in a museum. It never comes home and sits above your fireplace.

I had mentioned folktales, and really, that's probably the best way to describe the plot of Mushishi. As Ginko wanders from village to village, he comes across a new vaguely supernatural phenomenon, all of which lead back to the Mushi that are part of the title. Sometimes Ginko is able to solve things and leave everyone happy, and other times the solution brings only sadness, or at least melancholia. And then he moves on. There's no regular cast, which is probably just as well as the one-shot characters who are not Ginko tend to look very similar from volume to volume.

If there were any other genre I would ascribe to Mushishi, it would be horror. Not the gore-filled shock horror of many other manga titles, or even the corpse-laden sarcasm of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. This is the sort of horror you get after waking up from a long nap to discover that weight on your chest is the corpse of a little girl. Disquiet wrapped in a blanket. Several times in this series I've debated putting it down, as I don't really like horror, but it never quite hits the level of doom and destruction that other series do.

The strength of the series, and possibly also its weakness, is its slice-of-life mentality. Here is humanity, laid out for you as Ginko goes around the country. There are cruel people, and loving people, but mostly we see a lot of people trying to get by and distrustful of anything that's different. The Mushi may not be an evil thing when it comes down to it, but their effects - and what they do to the lives of the people that come on contact with them - are chaotic and frequently undeserved. But then, life goes on, and is rarely fair.

Mushishi takes place in all seasons, and some of the stories are in blazing heat, but for some reason I always think of it as being a winter manga. Cool, yet not frozen, Mushishi trudges along, looking gorgeous and inspiring much thought. But it's also almost impossible to get close to. This is a series that you can write essays about, but will never hug to your chest and go "Squee!".

5 comments:

  1. Great review. I like how you capture the atmosphere of the book. It reminds in a way of the old fashioned ghost stories. The kind you might have read in Victorian England or the kind that Hawthorne used to tell.

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  2. You know, that was a much more positive review than I figured you'd give it, after seeing some of your tweets.

    I've likened the storytelling style to Victorian horror, and I think you either like that type of writing or you don't. To see it in comics form makes Mushishi almost unique.

    I agree that it's not the type of manga you squee about, and it's not going to ever have a big following in the US. (Then again, I bet it get illegally scanned a lot less, too.) But I like the variety that this manga brings to the table, and for that alone, I think more people need to know about it.

    Sidebar: What books (other than Excel) do you find yourself re-reading? I'm curious.

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  3. fact: there is a Livejournal dedicated to Mushishi yaoi...

    I don't understand it either.

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  4. Rob: I reread I Hate You More Than Anyone and Gatcha Gacha, my other two obsessions. One Piece and Gintama. Negima. A lot of Heinlein. Shakespeare. And Sideways Stories from Wayside School, even at my age.

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  5. I definitely do agree with aspects of this review. Hmm I guess if there is a fandom there is a fandom. I do however see some potential for fandom. Well probably the movie was an inspiration, but I kinda feel like searching for Ginko and Tanyu stories. ^_^

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