by Yuki Urushibara; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Del Rey Manga; $24.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
In May, the Manga Moveable Feast focused on Mushishi. Del Rey has chosen to release the last three volumes of the series as a single omnibus. This review will serve as a coda for both the series and the MMF discussion.
Well, let’s get the big question out of the way first. No, the series doesn’t actually have an ending. However, the final story does a beautiful job of encapsulating the deepest themes of Mushishi and proving a satisfying goodbye to Ginko and the mushi. I prefer it this way. I like the idea that Ginko is still out there wandering the hills, and there is always a chance we may get to hear more of his stories.
One of joys of this series has been watching Yuki Urushibara develop and mature as an artist and storyteller. She will be the first to tell you that the first three volumes were unpolished. In this final volume, you see an artist who has grown comfortable in her style and worked at perfecting it. You also see a storyteller that has gained the confidence to write stories that are personal, poetic, and deeply explore the relationship of man and nature.
I’ll just discuss the final story of the series, since it’s now my favorite Mushishi story. A new master of the mountain is about to be born. This time, a human girl, Kaya, has been chosen. It’s the first time in ages that a human has been chosen, and there are complications from this choice.
Masters must give themselves over to the mountain. Their responsibility is to maintain the balance of the life flow on the mountain. It takes all the focus of their heart, mind, body, and soul to watch over the health of the mountain and all living things on it. They can’t afford to be hampered by familial bonds.
Kaya’s family doesn’t understand about the life flow and masters of mountains. They only know that a sister and daughter has disappeared, and they long for her to return. Kaya’s older brother, Yoshiro, especially spends what free time he has looking for her. When the family is reunited, that’s when the problems begin.
Kaya is torn between two worlds: her responsibility as master of the mountain and her desire to be with her family again. She can’t live in both worlds. Ginko tries to find a solution that will satisfy all involved. You will have to read the story to find out what happens.
This story poignantly highlights how as humans we are both a part of nature and yet transcend it at the same time. We can’t live like animals. For example, our bodies need clothing and shelter to protect us from the elements. But more importantly, we are creators. We build, we invent. We are also social beings. Only a rare few can live without any other human contact. Humans are not fit to be masters of mountains. The demand is too high; it means giving up your humanity.
Ginko knows this and struggles with the implications. He desires humans to be more in harmony with the life flow. Yet, as someone deeply connected to this flow, he knows that humans can’t completely give themselves over to it. We see it as too arbitrary. We have our own visions of justice and compassion. Like any good storyteller, Urushibara brings up all these questions, yet has the wisdom not to suggest that she can answer them. She intends for the audience to be aware of the conflict and to ponder what they can do in their own lives to find balance.
Flipping through the book makes me appreciate Urushibara’s artwork. She has always taken a more subdued approach to visual storytelling. It works perfectly with her storytelling style. The art is able to convey the emotions and philosophical nature of the stories.
Mushishi has been a wonderful series. I’ve throughly enjoyed each volume. I’m sad to see it go, but I’m glad that it ended on a high note. Mushishi will always be on my recommended reading list. I’m very eager for someone to license her new series, Suiiki. I want to continue reading works by this wonderful writer. (The publisher provided a review copy.)