I mentioned that in Volume 3 we saw a number of things that clued us in a little more as to the nature of Ginko’s own history, and how he came to be a mushi-master. Volume 4 expands the scope of the story, too, but in a slightly different direction: instead of seeing the mushi as a problem to be solved, there’s more of a sense that sometimes there is no “solution.” Sometimes the problem is one of human expectations and need; sometimes the mushi are just catalysts for calamities that cannot be undone but simply have to be accepted as they are. In fact, the only really “conventional” episode for this volume is the first one, where a girl worries about the possible consequences when her brother manifests the ability to see mushi — mushi that can disrupt the very flow of the seasons. xfuni=59 The whole notion that sometimes there’s just nothing to be done about things (shikata ga nai, a common sentiment in Japanese life) comes to the fore most painfully in episode 16, where a young man discovers his mother’s become a host for a mushi that eats her memories. This episode works as an allegory for the ravages of Alzheimer’s, an illness that destroys the psyche where others only ravage the body. Ginko knows what’s wrong, but also knows that there is no practical solution: the only thing to do might be to just take each day as it comes, and put away any expectations for a cure.
The same goes for episode 17, where a young woman loses her twin sister to a mushi and has lived in the years ever since tortured by the forlorn hope that someone, somehow, might be able to find her. This episode shows, quite cleverly, how the mushi can be used as a way to send messages across great distances — but as always, to use mushi entails great risk. And once again Ginko is put in the unenviable position of having to tell someone that there is no hope, that the only thing to do is to put aside the past and soldier on.
The last episode plays like a classic Asian fable, in which a young artist strives to achieve something only to find that everything he was laboring for has already been destroyed. There’s no immediate connection to the world of mushi at first, but then it’s revealed in a wraparound story involving Ginko and the artist’s jacket. The ultimate explanation is somewhat arch but still fascinating, and fits well with the overall logic of the series where the explanation for something also has the moral of the story wrapped around it.
Mushi-shi is going to rank as one of the best new releases of 2007. I was sure of that from the beginning, and now I’m four times as sure. I’ve known people who resisted shows like this because they were “boring” — because they’d been so conditioned by other shows where something must smack you in the face every ten seconds, where things have to blow up or catch fire for there to “something happening.” That to me is like going out into a meadow in full flower and complaining that there’s nothing to see.