Mushishi, Vols. 1-3
Story and Art by Yuki Urushibara
Translated and Adapted by William Flanagan
Del Rey, 2007-2008
(First published 2000-2002 in Japan)
ISBN-13: 9780345496218 (vol. 1)
ISBN-13: 9780345496447 (vol. 2)
ISBN-13: 9780345496454 (vol. 3)
Ginko is a mysterious and often sardonic young man who happens to be a mushishi, a mushi master. This means he has the ability to perceive and deal with mushi, primordial life forms whose presence often manifests as uncanny, even supernatural phenomena. The series Mushishi follows Ginko as he wanders around Japan, learning about mushi and helping those who have been affected by them. Each chapter in the manga is an episode in his travels.
This series is a wonderful change of pace from the shonen and shojo that is the bulk of my usual manga reading. It’s also hard to categorize. In manga terms, I believe it’s technically seinen. As far as Western genres go, I think it’s probably best understood as horror, but that’s a bit misleading; this isn’t the manga equivalent of a slasher flick. Rather, these stories are quiet, reflective, and atmospheric. Like the best ghost stories, they are unsettling but not necessarily violent or bloody.
The series as a whole is episodic, at least so far; no overarching arc or plot has emerged. Each volume has standout chapters–I especially like like Volume 1’s “The Light in the Eyelids,” Volume 2’s “The Sea of Brushstrokes,” and Volume 3’s “The Fish Eye”–where we get to learn a little about Ginko himself as well as the people he helps. At their best, the episodes have the terrifying logic of fairy tales, where people bring hard but inevitable ends upon themselves as a result of their actions.
Although the different mushi which appear in the stories are uncanny and strange, the biggest mystery of the series so far might be Ginko himself. He wears modern clothing as he travels around an apparently non-industrialized Japan; we know only a little about his past and his powers, where he’s coming from and where he’s heading. Hopefully future volumes will shed light on this mystery–and maybe even bring back some of the stronger supporting characters from these volumes.
This is easily one of the best manga that I’ve read all year. A 26-episode anime adaptation of this series is also available in the US (licensed by Funimation); it’s very faithful to the original manga, and the addition of sound and color only makes Urushibara’s gorgeously detailed art more beautiful. Check both of them out if you get a chance.