Manga Movable Feast: Mushishi Volume 1

Some live in the deep darkness behind your eyelids. Some eat silence. Some thoughtlessly kill. Some simply drive men mad. Shortly after life emerged from the primordial ooze, these deadly creatures, mushi, came into terrifying being. And they still exist and wreak havoc in the world today. Ginko, a young man with a sardonic smile, has the knowledge and skill to save those plagued by mushi…perhaps.

Mushishi v1By Yuki Urushibara
Publsiher: Del Rey Manga
Age Rating: 16+
Genre: Drama
Price: $12.95
Rating: ★★★★★
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The back cover text make this book sound more sinister than it actually is. This first volume introduces the concept of the mushi, and the man we will follow who has the arcane knowledge to deal with them, Ginko, the Mushishi. Through a series of episodic stories, we see how mushi and men can interact, and how Mushishi bridge the gap and try to foster understanding between them.

Ginko is a wandering Mushishi. He studies and tries to understand mushi. He is often called to a village that needs his expertise, but can also stumble upon people in need of help, even if they don’t realize it themselves. Strange and ancient, mushi are not actually malicious, but like so many other creatures, they can be parasitic. But because they are so strange and mysterious, their work is often mistaken as the supernatural. Mushishi know the signs and diagnose the problem, almost like a doctor. Ginko, like the mushi he studies, is also a bit of a mystery. Little is given away about him, except for the clues that wherever he goes, mushi react to his presence, and the cigarettes he smokes aren’t filled with nicotine, but a special mushi that can trap other mushi or drive them away. He’s also missing an eye, and perhaps has just a little too much knowledge about the source of life, something mushi are closer to than humans.

What makes Mushishi an interesting series is that the focus isn’t solely on Ginko. The mushi get quite a bit as well.  As Ginko identifies the mushi that is the cause of each problem, he also explains about them, though it never feels like a lecture. Mushi are so strange and different, it’s interesting to find out about them, both to the characters and to the reader.  While they are often portrayed as being parasytes that can take a person’s sight, hearing, or even their life, not all are like that.  In a few instances, mushi are shown to have a sentience, that can lure humans in to turn them into mushi, or can show emotion, as in the story of “The Traveling Bog.” A mushi that is making it’s last journey home to die, saves a girl who was sacrificed to a Water God to save the village.

Mushishi is a very well written series.  It’s easy to get drawn into the stories and it’s open world. We only see Ginko as he travels in the wild, going from village to village.  There are no big cities, and while everyone is dressed in traditional kimonos, Ginko has a more western style.  By keeping the setting of the series open, Urushibara gives herself a lot of leeway with her stories. The mushi are very diverse and interesting, though at times, their expulsion can be a little disturbing.  The enigma of Ginko is another draw. We know little of him beyond him being a Mushishi. An interesting story seems to be waiting behind that.

The art is drawn realistically, with none of the manga trappings.  No one makes goofy faces or goes chibi.  It’s an understated style without a lot of detail.  Like the stories, it is simple and straightforward, and at times rather dark.  Mushishi is a slow paced series.  There are no fights against the mushi, and no melodramatic relationships.  It’s more about thinking things through and solving the puzzle of the mushi.  Brains are more important than brawn, and at times it can be rather contemplative.  It’s a great change of pace.

5 thoughts on “Manga Movable Feast: Mushishi Volume 1”

  1. Lori,

    Thanks for the great review. Kate also mentioned that the back cover blurb of volume 1 gave her the wrong impression of the series. I never read the back cover because so many are poorly written and some even contain spoilers, I guess that habit served me well here.

    1. Using the blurb from the back was part of the format I was instructed to use when I started reviewing, and it’s just stuck with me. A lot of people do read the blurbs on the back though (me included), and it can make for an interesting contrast between what the publisher wants people to think about a series, and what it actually is.

  2. With all due respect to the folk who write blurbs on the back of books, I never found them all that helpful to me, so after awhile, I’ve stopped reading them until after I finished the book.

    That habit, actually, started with an English professor, who banned reading the book blurbs in her class.

    Digression aside, I agree with you 100% about it being a change of pace manga, even within the horror division. Unfortunately, that difference might just be why someone would dislike it. I have a thing for slow-building stories and old-school writers like Poe, so for me, it worked well.

    Curious to see what you think of the rest of the series. I know I want to get the rest, having read up to vol 4.

    1. I didn’t say they were helpful, just that I do use them. 🙂 And in a way I do find them helpful. They can give me something to kick off my review with, especially when they are so far off the mark, as many Viz blurbs have been.

      It’s been several years since I’ve read Mushishi. For the MMF I had to re-read the first volume, so I will for the others. But I’m rather curious to do so now, after seeing some of the not-so-positive comments about it. I like slow and episodic, because for me, this series seems to be more about the mushi and the people who encounter them.

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