It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally had a moment to sit down with the Mushishi manga. I say a long time coming because I was the most ardent of fans during the anime’s original airing. The 2006 anime holds a special place in my heart. Between it and Eureka SeveN, my faith in quality anime was restored. I could’ve been the typical anime fan, who gives up when they hit some form of adulthood (I graduated high school in 2006,) but because of Mushishi I persisted, and am now the ultra-nerdy woman you see.
And it’s with that sentiment that I let myself sink into the green world of Mushishi once more.
A story is always moulded by its medium in some way. The Mushishi manga is visceral and raw in a way that its anime adaptation just.. isn’t. Yuki Urushibara’s uneven, heavy sense of line brings a different kind of liveliness to the story. If the Mushishi anime focused on the transcendence of certain moments (recall episode 6, Those who inhale the dew), then the manga is focused on the brilliant energy of life, in all its raw, stumbling glory. Whereas one gets a sense of the mystery of the mushi, the manga has a different focus.
The manga tells the story of the beauty and difficulty of ordinary people, crossing lines with things they cannot understand. The difference being that it’s ultimately about people. People are at the heart of Mushishi, and the mushi just accessories.
Not that I mean to fault the anime by any means here. A challenge of anime is always to convey the same kind of energy as its manga counterpart. Motion is a costly thing. In bringing motion to an image, you have to sacrifice the fidelity of that image – a huge majority of the thousand words it supposedly speaks. In giving the viewer motion, all anime sacrifices detail, fidelity, and the expressiveness of a single line.
But the mushi are inexplicably more haunting in the manga. Perhaps it’s the lack of motion. Motion, being the domain of living things, is (when done well, as in the Mushishi anime) immediately more palatable – we turn abstract objects, shapes and colors into the form of humans more naturally.
Urushibara exploits this lack of motion – the moments when the mushi invade or vacate a person’s body are palpable and horrifying. Instead of marvel at the mushi, we realize, just as Ginko said, that they’re things to be revered and feared.
The mushi, of course, looking typically like autonomous plants, are registered by our advanced, scientific minds as something like bacteria. We’re familiar with this form, and that mode of movement, and so they aren’t as threatening. In the manga, however, they become alien acts, changing people’s lives in a mere panel.
Though, perhaps as a hangover of watching the anime first, as I read the manga I always heard Ginko’s deep, even voice in my ears. The thing which makes manga so intriguing is the ways in which our senses supplement the images we’re presented with. Our eyes pulse over Urushibara’s uneven lines, and our minds interpret it as motion.
In contrast, Urushibara’s soft water color illustrations barely form distinct enough shapes to be called an image. There’s a sense, both in the anime and manga, that Ginko’s world is always covered in an early morning fog. This lack of distinction between lifeforms (plant and human, human and mushi) is key to the story, and the water colors reflect this especially well. To me, this contrast between the rougher, livelier ink-and-screentone illustrations, versus the homogeneous water colors is the key contrast of the story. Mushishi shows us a world where the lifeforms are at times more distinct, and at times, more incorporated with one another.
Mushishi, in all its adaptations contains one key element: freedom of choice. It never passes judgement on the mushi, on Ginko’s transient way of life, on Japan, or on any of the characters Ginko helps along the way. Ginko’s final line is true to this tenet. A man carried by the undercurrents of an unseen world; understated, frightening, wonderful.