O Hell! what doe mine eyes with grief behold, Into our room of bliss thus high advanc't Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps, Not Spirits, yet to heav'nly Spirits bright Little inferior …
—Milton, Paradise Lost
Thus spoke Satan on beholding Adam and Eve in the Garden ofEden. The same sort of envy, or lust, seems to radiate from many of thecharacters in Mushi-shi whenever they encounter the mushi,the strange organisms that have been the focus of the show. They seethem not as forms of life unto themselves, not as things to co-existwith, but as something to be controlled and tamed, put to use,engineered into a solution for a problem that might not even reallyexist except in your head. And then comes Ginko, the mushi master who’sthe closest thing the show has to a hero—if only because he knowsbetter than to assume that life is something you can just shape at willto fix your problems, like putty filling a crack in a wall.
Over the course of the series we have learned that Ginkois hardly the only mushi-master out there—in fact, there’s a network ofthem with whole libraries and vast tracts of information at theirdisposal. What sets Ginko apart is his relatively enlightened attitude.He would rather deal with the mushi as things to be coaxed out and senton their way, not things that have to be exterminated ruthlessly. Healso understands, sometimes painfully well, that there will beoccasions when a mushi manifests and there will be no easy solution tothe problem it presents. There will be days when we are theproblem, not them, and when that comes about—well, I quote Miltonagain: “Hell shall unfould, / To entertain you two, her widest Gates, /And send forth all her Kings.” xfuni=59
In the first episode of the volume, “String from the Sky,” a youngwoman falls victim to a mushi that dangles like a fishing line from thesky, reeling in whatever prey it can snag from below. Her husband-to-beis stupefied to discover that she hasn’t actually disappearedcompletely—she’s just changed form, and is still lurking in the house.If he doesn’t accept her as she is (as Ginko tells him), neither ofthem will be at peace.
“Sea of Brushes,” my favorite episode on the disc, dealswith one of the aforementioned libraries of mushi lore, curated by ayoung girl born with a mushi curse that has left one of her legsuseless. The only way for her to undo the curse and not pass it on tofuture generations is for her to transcribe ream after ream ofinformation about how mushi are to be subdued, and place it in thelibrary. Ginko pays her a visit and discovers, to his surprise, thatthe girl herself is as much of a library as any of the books she’screated. The way this is visualized is literally wonderful—as in, full of wonder—and ranks as one of the best scenes in the whole series. The scribe and her grandmotherly tutor use chopsticks to pick up sentences that have fled from their scrolls and restore them to their proper locations.
A mushi "librarian" (quite literally) internalizes her work for the sake of other mushi masters.
“Cotton Changeling” delves further into an idea that has beenexplored in previous volumes (and in the first episode of this disc,too): what happens when human and mushi merge, and take each others’places. Here, a woman is infected by a mushi that devours and takes theplace of her unborn, and she births not a baby but a cottony mass ofgreen that flees and hides under the house. Then, every six months likeclockwork, creatures that resemble her son appear and mature withdismaying speed—one after another until five of them show up insuccession. Then they fall ill, and it is Ginko’s dismal duty to informthe mother that these “children” are not really hers. What he doesn’tknow is that they are not five but still one, and capable of acting indefense of their existence just as any man can act against a mushi. “Underwater Shrine” gives us an island where the mushi life cycle has further disrupted—or is that enhanced?—humanlife as well. There, those who die can be resurrected in a particularlystrange fashion: their own female children can ingest a pill-like mushithat will allow them to give birth to their own parent. Ginko’sstunned by the way this works and is tempted to stay there himself, butunderstands all too well how these things work: when life is eternal,it is also forever cheap. A while ago I wrote about the series Haibane Renmei formy personal site, and I observed that while many anime tend to revolvearound fairly basic questions like whether or not the guy will get thegirl, that one dealt with questions of existence itself. Why are wehere at all? Why come into this world if only to leave it, and withouteven knowing when or how you’ll do that? Mushi-shi is the onlyother show I’ve seen since that has attempted to do anything remotelythat ambitious (and in much the same fashion), and the fact that it hasdone that all the way through without faltering is nothing short of amiracle. I’m dismayed that there’s only one volume left; a show thisgood doesn’t deserve to come to an end.