Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mushishi, vol. 1

The story: In a world filled with mushi, or deadly unseen creatures that can wreak havoc on those around them, Ginko is a wandering mushishi, or mushi master. He heals those affected by the mushi, whether it's a young girl made blind by the mysterious mushi, or a man whose dreams -- and nightmares -- come true due to his contact with the primitive life forms. Other tales include a young artist whose drawings come to life, a boy who grows horns thanks to the mushi and a magical traveling swamp trying to reach the sea.

Reaction: This is a quietly mysterious story with an enigmatic protagonist in Ginko. Episodic in nature, like The Antique Gift Shop or Xxxholic, I found myself visually plodding alongside Ginko as he made his way across this fictional rendering of Japan. With the majority of the chapters involving children, it was easy for me to get emotionally invested. Despite this, Ginko never shows a flicker of feeling; the stories end as peacefully zen as the main character. There's a very que sera, sera, feeling to all this -- "what will be, will be" when it comes to the instinctually troublesome mushi. It's a very mature, yet wistful, way of looking at the uncontrollable events of life.

Deep thoughts: Ginko is frequently seen with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. I don't know what it says about his character, but, in recent years, it has been fairly rare to see a character smoking in film or on television, as it may influence others to smoke. However, this past holiday season, several new films were given the rating of "black lung" for featuring tobacco use by the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Additionally, while smoking in restaurants and bars is increasingly illegal due to public health concerns, it seems to be making a resurgence.

Artwork: The art here is similar to that in other seinen manga, with realistically rendered characters. Settings are lushly illustrated; there's a real sense of the rural countryside. The vast solitude of Ginko's travels is almost palpable, but it never feels uncomfortably lonely. But, the real visual treat here are Yuki Urushibara's fantastic images of the ethereal mushi and their many incarnations, from the innocent-looking to the incredibly dangerous.

The verdict: Highly recommended. Ginko is a character that invites interest because of the quiet, yet entirely self-assured, air about him. While each chapter here seemed to involve a lesson to be learned, it was by no means a bore to understand and, by volume's end, I found myself wanting more. Mushishi is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

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