MUSHISHI (Mushi-shi, “Mushi Master”) (??) • Yuki Urushibara • Del Rey (2007-ongoing) • Kodansha (Afternoon Season Zôkan/Afternoon, 1999-2008) • 10 volumes • Seinen Historical Occult Fantasy • 16+ (mild language, infrequent violence)
An episodic manga about supernatural phenomena in old Japan, Mushishi is atmospheric, original and fascinating. Ginko, a traveling doctor/expert wearing incongruously modern clothes, is the common thread between tales of mushi–a word which normally means “bug” or “insect” but here refers to phantasmal primitive life forms, neither spirit nor flesh, neither plant nor animal. Rarely communicating with humans in any intelligible fashion, they are more like bacteria or forces of nature than fairytale creatures, as in the story about a mushi which takes the form of a pool of groundwater gradually moving to the sea…or the mushi like a living rainbow…or, in one of the few openly horrific stories, a mushi like a slime mold which reproduces in the human womb. The human side of these stories are touching and unpredictable, generally avoiding the moralistic twist endings common to the genre. Mushishi conjures a feeling of both science and superstition, of humanity’s reaction to the unknowable and unconquerable world around us, and of the green environments of rustic Japan. The very vaguely shojo-esque art has a handmade touch, slightly off-kilter, but overflowing with crosshatching and strange natural patterns of light, landscapes and plants.
**** (four stars)
This is a truly great and unique manga; it has the story structure of a horror manga but it’s almost completely free of gore and violence (both of which I normally like, but everything in its place). Furthermore, the artwork is lovely. The anime is good too, but I haven’t seen the live-action version.
Today’s manga winner is Richard B. of California! Congratulations, Richard! Hope you like your manga, and feel free to send us a photo of yourself!