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Manga Review: Mushishi, Vol. 1

Posted by: Katherine Dacey on February 7, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Mushishi, Vol. 1

By Yuki Urushibara
Del Rey, 240 pp.
Rating: 16+

mushishi_manga.jpgReading the back cover of Mushishi, I confess that I anticipated something along the lines of The X-Files:

Some live in the deep darkness behind your eyelids. Some eat silence. Some thoughtlessly kill. Some simply drive men mad. Shortly after life emerged from the primordial ooze, these deadly creatures, mushi, came into terrifying being. And they still exist and wreak havoc in the world today. Ginko, a young man with a sardonic smile, has the knowledge and skill to save those plagued by mushi . . . perhaps.

The copy seemed to promise icky parasites, equally icky bodily afflictions, and a sarcastic protagonist in the proud tradition of Fox Mulder (if no bold, government-backed conspiracy to deny the mushi’s existence). What Yuki Urushibara’s series actually offers is a lovely, eerie—and yes, occasionally icky—meditation on man’s relationship to the natural world.

Mushishi chronicles the travels of Ginko, a rumpled, chain-smoking young man who aids people afflicted by mushi. As the copy suggests, mushi are ancient creatures that occupy a special niche in the ecosystem between the animal and plant kingdoms. When mushi come into contact with humans, the relationship frequently turns parasitic, with the mushi feeding off their human hosts and producing painful, even life-threatening symptoms. Ginko is part herbalist, part exorcist, helping the afflicted purge themselves of the mushi and their harmful effects while at the same time teaching the unwitting hosts to respect the power and beauty of these ancient creatures.

Volume one unfolds as a series of self-contained episodes. Though we learn a great deal about Ginko’s clients, experiencing the isolation, shame, and fear caused by their conditions, we learn little about Ginko himself—who he is, how he became a mushishi (or mushi master), why he travels through remote areas in search of the afflicted. I didn’t particularly mind the lack of character development, though I agree with reviewer Dave Ferraro that Mushishi’s freak-of-the-week formula may grow tiresome if replicated in future volumes. I did like the artwork, however. Urushibara’s character designs favor the kind of clean naturalism of Kei Toume’s work, and her evocative use of light and shadow cast a suitably spooky spell.

My chief complaint about Mushishi is the layout. Too many words disappear into the binding, and several images and word balloons are unceremoniously cropped. Given the consistently high production standards I’ve come to expect from Del Rey—from the fluid translations to the excellent cultural notes—this kind of sloppiness is surprising, and, frankly, a little disappointing. But if you savored the folkloric horror of Dokebi Bride, Shirahime-Syo, Mermaid Saga, or Rumiko Takahashi’s Rumic Trilogy ghost stories, you’ll find these production glitches a minor distraction from an engaging story. Volume two arrives in stores in May.

POSTSCRIPT: FUNimation has just released the first volume of the anime adaptation. Click here to read Carlos Alexandre’s review.

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3 Responses to "Manga Review: Mushishi, Vol. 1"

1 | David Welsh

February 8th, 2007 at 9:28 am


Who would like it: Fans of Dokebi Bride, ES…”

I swear my ears just perked, like a dog’s when someone opens a box of Milk Bones.

2 | Katherine Dacey-Tsuei

February 8th, 2007 at 1:16 pm


I know that ear-perk all too well, and not just because my dog is passionate about Milk Bones. (And Cheerios–that box-opening sound is music to her ears as well.) I had a similar reaction when I first heard about Mushishi, and I wasn’t disappointed by volume one. Definitely worth adding to the stack!

3 | Carlos Alexandre

August 21st, 2007 at 11:33 am


Those interested in the anime version of Mushi-Shi should check out my review here.

The manga sounds a lot like the anime, which is definitely a good thing. I might just pick it up.

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