Ginko is a mushishi, an expert in the primordial life forms known as mushi. He does not have any unusual powers of his own, aside from a tendency to attract mushi and to see them while some others cannot. As he travels around Japan, studying mushi-related phenomena, he draws upon his wits and logic to help those whose lives have been affected by mushi. Volume 4 of Mushishi offers five more stories about Ginko’s journeys.
As with previous volumes in this series, these stories are episodic, linked only by Ginko himself. On the surface, these stories appear to focus on the mushi and their strange effects on the natural world, but at their hearts, they are actually much more concerned with Ginko, the people he meets, the fleeting connections they make, and their lasting loneliness.“Picking the Empty Cocoon” is the first chapter in this volume and also its most memorable. Here Urushibara gives us a little more information about how the mushishi operate, while also sharing the story of two devoted sisters. This story’s also distinguished by some particularly striking imagery, like a finger poking out of a silkworm cocoon.
Other standout stories include “Spring and Falsehoods” and “The Sound of Trodden Grass.” In the former, a boy’s discovery of a mysterious patch of spring in the middle of winter leads to a tentative friendship between him, his elder sister, and Ginko. In the latter, a boy’s meetings with visitors to the mountain under his family’s care gives him a glimpse of what life is like for mushishi and their colleagues.
Once again, Del Rey has done a very professional job with its version of this manga. Translator and adapter William Flanagan includes several pages of cultural notes at the end of the book, and there’s also an untranslated preview of a few pages from volume 5.
On a side note, all the stories in this volume were included in the anime adaptation of this series. Licensed by Funimation in the US, the Mushi-Shi anime is very faithful to the original manga and does a good job of being recreating Urushibara’s tone and art. Readers who enjoy the stories as they appear here won’t want to miss them with the anime’s color and sound.
Fans of traditional folk tales will definitely want to give Mushishi a try. At its best, Mushishi has the feel of old ghost stories; even those chapters which aren’t based on old legends feel like they might be. Fortunately for readers new to the series, the episodic nature of the storytelling makes it possible to start reading at any volume. There’s also no need to commit to reading the entire series, because there’s no overarching arc. Still, even though the individual chapters stand very well alone, it’s likely that fans will want to read everything that’s available. There may not be a central story to hook fans’ attention, but the quality of the storytelling will probably manage to do that anyway.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com