Manga Review: Mushishi

Apr 27, 2010 4 Comments by

Primarily, Mushishi is a manga centering around Ginko, a “Mushishi” loosely translated as a Mushi-man, or Mushi-user, who travels the Japanese countryside assisting in cases where members of local villages are plagued or haunted by “Mushi.” Japanese speakers will recognize the word, “mushi” which means “Insect” or “Bug.”  But in this case, mushi are elemental spirits, granular creatures of spiritual energy that affect humanity in a variety of ways, from causing illness to trapping spirits in haunted moments in time.

Volume 1 introduces us to the world of the mushi and those who are impacted by them.  As a shamanistic figure, the main character, Ginko, has the supernatural ability to diagnose and restore balance to those who are under their power.  From giving potions to invoking supernatural rituals, Ginko also resembles an exorcist.

Like many current supernatural-based manga, this series reflects various aspects of Japanese folk religion, mythology and traditional kaidan, or ghost story.  Interestingly enough, instead of ghosts, the supernatural forces are the mushi.  Unlike traditional hauntings, mushi do not have the same traditional stories, such as being attached to unfinished business in life (Muyoh and Roji), being connected to places where horrific accidents or murders happened (Suzuki Koji’s original Ring, Spiral, and Loop trilogy.) or death due to abandonment, perhaps remembering dead warriors (Kwaidan-Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Tales of Ghostly Japan, Lafcadio Hearn)

We could say that the concept of elemental mushi is a new one, but is more deeply connected to these traditional concepts.

Art wise, Mushishi is very engaging and detailed, well worth enjoying.  Set in pre-modenr times, it is evocative of timeless Japan–the Japan of the past, but with elements today.  The rich scenery and beautiful vistas create an immersive world. The story, however, feels disjointed at times, and hard to follow.  Rather than in a postmodern Murakami Haruki-esque open-endedness, I found myself a bit confused as to what was going on–not the conclusion of the narrative elements.  The manga did not tell the story with its artwork as well as others.  The dialogue was very detailed in explaining the various mushi and their effects, but the background and the mystery felt a bit lacking in explanation.

On the whole, the series is worth your while, but may require a bit of work to understand the plot and the activities going on. 

Yuki. Mushishi, vol 1. Del Rey: January 2007, 240 pages

Folk Religion, Manga, Research

About the author

I'm a PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis. I teach, write, and discuss Japanese popular culture and other topics on East Asia.