by Ed Sizemore
This month, I am humbled to be the host of the Manga Moveable Feast. The concept is simple enough: for one week each month, bloggers and reviewers agree to write about one particular manga. By getting a diversity of opinions, we hope to challenge each other to see not just the featured manga, but all manga, in new ways and to incorporate this new understanding into our future reviews. The intent is to foster dialogue among the review community to help us sharpen our critical and writing skills. For April, the chosen title is Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara, published in the U.S. by Del Rey.
Personally, I hope that in the upcoming week the reviews of Mushishi will cover the entire spectrum of critical reactions from hatred to love and all points in between. I’d like to develop a dialogue that discusses the weakness and the strengths of this series. Further, I’m hoping to see how people weigh storytelling versus artwork in evaluating a series. Which is given preference when deciding whether or not to recommend a work to your readers? How do you weight plot versus character development versus theme in evaluating the storytelling? How do you evaluate character design versus page layout versus technical proficiency in evaluating the artwork? The list of participants for this month promises some intelligent and insightful conversation on these issues.
Let me give a quick overview of the Mushishi series. Mushi are the most basic form of life. They are such primitive manifestations of the Earth’s life flow that they don’t even have physical bodies. However, this doesn’t prevent them from interacting with higher life forms like plants, animals, and humans. Like all living things, they are simply trying to survive, and the devastating side effects their interactions have on humans are unintended consequences.
The series follows the journeys of mushi master Ginko. He has spent most of his life studying mushi in hopes of understanding them and discovering ways for humans to peacefully co-exist with them. However, that is not always possible, and Ginko is also well-versed in ways to destroy mushi. He is a quiet, unassuming man with a deep compassion for all living beings. Tragically, a incident in his youth makes mushi attracted to him, and he is forced to wander so that no one place is ever overrun with mushi.
Mushishi is far from perfect; it’s Urushibara’s first published manga series, and it shows. The first two volumes are rough and uneven in both storytelling and art. Even Urushibara commented on the art in the afterward to volume four, “I kind of figured this would happen, but when I look at my work from volumes 1 and 2, I laugh and say to myself, ‘I was a really awful artist!’” In volumes three and four, Urushibara’s storytelling finds its groove, but the art is still developing. Finally, in volume five, all the elements have come to maturity, and the series lives up to its full potential while taking on new depth.
Mushishi ended its run in Japan in 2008. We will get an omnibus edition of the final three volumes here in the US in July. Urushibara will begin publishing a new series, Suiiki, in November of 2009.
I’ve previously reviewed volume 4 and volume 6 of Mushishi. David Welsh has done a wonderful series write-up; look for a companion piece this week. And I don’t mean to play favorites, but I thoroughly enjoyed Melinda Beasi’s reviews of volume 6 and volume 7.