Adaptation Adventures: Mushishi

Mushishi, Volume 1After revisiting and reviewing each volume of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi for my horror manga review project, by now it’s probably readily clear that I greatly enjoy the series. I love the influence of traditional Japanese folklore on the stories. I love the manga’s subtle creepinesss. I love the exploration of the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. I love how the series delves into the connections that exist between people. I love the importance placed on the search for knowledge. The storytelling in Mushishi is atmospheric, beautiful, and frequently unsettling as individuals struggle with themselves and with the unknown. There is darkness and tragedy in Mushishi but there is also hope—one of the major themes in the manga is that for better or for worse, life will ultimately persevere.

Mushishi is a largely episodic series following Ginko, a mushishi, who travels the Japanese countryside studying mushi and trying to help people who have fallen under their influence. Mushi are described as creatures which are very close to the original form of life. Their presence is fundamental and necessary to the living world, but depending on the circumstances they may either be beneficial to or negatively impact humans. Mushi are frequently at the heart of unusual natural phenomenon or may cause otherwise unexplainable illnesses. Within the context of the series mushi can be taken literally, but they can also be read as metaphors for many conditions experienced in reality.

MushishiAnime1Urushibara’s ten-volume Mushishi, originally serialized in Japan between 1999 and 2008, was first released in print in English by Del Rey Manga between 2007 and 2010. Soon after, Del Rey’s manga imprint was closed and Mushishi subsequently went out of print. Unsurprisingly, the print edition of Mushishi has become increasingly difficult to find over time, but in 2014 Kodansha Comics released the entire series digitally. In addition to earning multiple awards and honors over the course of its publication, Mushishi was also the basis for multiple anime adaptations and a live-action film (most of which are available digitally if not physically in North America), as well as a variety of other media.

The first Mushishi anime series, directed by Hiroshi Nagahama, aired in Japan in 2005 and 2006. At twenty-six episodes, it only adapted a portion of the original manga. (Granted, the manga hadn’t yet been completed at that point.) Since I love the Mushishi manga, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I love the anime as well. Although the first Mushishi anime adaptation isn’t necessarily my favorite series, or even the anime that means the most to me personally, it is the series that I’ve seen the most number of times; I return to it frequently. Eventually, nearly a decade after the first Mushishi anime series, an animated television special was released which was followed a few months later by a second anime series. This twenty-episode series, also directed Nagahama, aired in Japan between 2014 and 2015 and adapted most of the remaining stories found in the manga. (A second animated television special was released during this time as well.) Despite the number of years that passed between the first and the second anime series, they are both very similar in tone and style. Nagahama also directed the Mushishi animated film released in 2015 which adapted the manga’s final story arc. Since I loved both the original manga and the first anime series, I was very happy to see so much more Mushishi anime produced.

MushishiAnime2-17The various Mushishi anime are very faithful adaptations of the manga. Frequently the scenes in the anime follow the scenes in the manga frame by frame and panel by panel, though occasionally the order that events appear in the narrative is slightly altered. Where the anime distinguish themselves is in their color and sound, especially in the establishment of the backgrounds and settings. Urushibara’s color artwork is lovely, but except for the covers of the individual manga volumes, very few examples of it officially appeared in North America. (I imported Urushibara’s 2015 Mushishi artbook which is filled with color illustrations and I adore it.) The anime bring the world of Mushishi to life. While the actual animation can at times be fairly simple and limited, the environments are always absolutely gorgeous and beautiful in their detail. The sound design in the anime adaptations is great, too, adding spectacularly to the overall atmosphere. The music by Toshio Masuda (which I’m constantly listening to) makes extensive use of bells, chimes, and other percussion along with unobtrusive synthesized and acoustic instruments, creating a beautiful soundtrack that is in turns ethereal and dramatic. Much like the original, the Mushishi anime creates an experience that can be calming and soothing as well as unsettling and disturbing.

MushishiMovieUrushibara’s manga series was also the inspiration for Katsuhiro Otomo’s award-winning 2006 live-action film Mushishi. For the most part the film was received very well both inside and outside of Japan. Though overall it’s palette tends to be darker and more subdued than the anime adaptations, the visuals can be quite stunning; the special effects hold up surprisingly well even a decade after it was first released. I actually only very recently watched Otomo’s Mushishi for the first time. From the standpoint of someone who is very familiar with the original manga and its anime adaptations, the live-action movie is somewhat disorienting and perhaps even shocking. Though it begins much as one would expect, it ultimately deviates a fair amount from its source material even to the point of changing some of the underpinning mythologies and characterizations of the original. It’s clear that Urushibara’s manga provides the basis for the movie, but many details have been reimagined or remixed in some way. The narrative is still interesting, though. Otomo successfully weaves together several stories from the manga series and makes references to many others before taking the film in an entirely new and different direction. While the original Mushishi tends to be episodic, Otomo’s film is self-contained and provides a single cohesive story. In part this is accomplished placing a significant focus on Ginko’s past and what it means for his present and future, providing a framework for the film as a whole. Instead of simply wandering the countryside helping other people, Ginko has the additional motivation of trying to solve the mystery of who he really is and to reclaim his missing memories.

MushishiLiveActionWhile I would consider the Mushishi manga and anime to be horror, albeit fairly subtle and subdued horror, the film is much more obviously so. Many of the underlying elements are the same, but the film focuses more directly on the aspects of traditional, supernatural horror. However, this does mean some of the more nuanced themes found in the manga and anime are missing. Otomo’s film is a much darker incarnation of Mushishi. The movie, especially towards its end, is incredibly creepy and extraordinarily disconcerting in both imagery and story. It’s so different in tone and narrative that it might actually be better described as a portrayal of an alternate universe of Mushishi rather than being a strict adaptation. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially if viewers are expecting something more akin to the gentler (though still disquieting) anime adaptations, but I actually quite liked the movie. For me though, it’s really more of a horror film before it’s a Mushishi film. Still, I feel that the live-action film, the anime adaptations, and the original manga are all well worth checking out and are all fascinating in their own rights. And of course, although unlikely, I’d love to see more Mushishi media and merchandise released in North America.


My Week in Manga: July 4-July 10, 2016

My News and Reviews

Okay! A couple of different although expected things were posted last week at Experiments in Manga in addition to the usual My Week in Manga feature. First up was the announcement of the Complex Age Giveaway Winner which also includes a list of manga which incorporates cosplay in one way or another. I also posted the Bookshelf Overload for June last week for those of you interested in what manga and such I’ve recently acquired.

Other interesting things found online: As Anime Expo wrapped up early last week, a few more licensing announcements were made. Viz Media announced that it plans on publishing the fourth part of Hirohiko Araki’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as well as Araki’s How to Create Manga. Yen Press will release Erased by Kei Sanbe and Bungo Stray Dogs written by Kafka Asagiri and illustrated Sango Harukawa. Also announced last week was SuBLime’s partnership with Libre, outlining their plans to release Ayano Yamane’s Finder series as well as other titles in English. Ani-gamers posted an interview with Rei Hiroe from AnimeNext 2016. And over at the Lobster Dance, the sixth installment of “The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga” takes a look at the Rose of Versailles franchise.

Quick Takes

As Many As There Are StarsAs Many As There Are Stars by Miecohouse Matsumoto. As Many As There Are Stars starts as one thing but by the end of volume the manga has turned into something else entirely. Matsumoto may very well have had this planned out in advance—hints about Kousuke’s tragic past and proclivities are present from very early on—but the shift in tone is still a bit jarring. As Many As There Are Stars is a boys’ love one-shot about seven young men who are all in the same club at college. Supposedly it’s an astronomy club of some sort, but it might as well be a club for sexual tension as most of the members have feelings for one or more of the others. The notable exception is the first year who, despite being an important plot point in the first chapter, is largely forgotten for the rest of the volume. Initially, the manga is fairly sweet and lighthearted if somewhat cliché as it explores the relationships between the club members. Eventually As Many As There Are Stars turns its focus onto Kousuke, an art student who is both desperate to be and terrified of being loved. What starts as a somewhat goofy manga develops into something more melancholic, a story about an unfortunate young man confronted by friendship and love.

Inuyashiki, Volume 2Inuyashiki, Volumes 2-3 by Hiroya Oku. After reading the first volume of Inuyashiki, I was curious to see what direction Oku would take the series. At this point, I’m not entirely convinced that Oku actually has a cohesive overarching narrative in mind. Instead, the basic premise of the series creates a platform for Oku to tell some legitimately disturbing stories; I’m just not sure that there’s much of a point to them beyond their violence and depravity. Inuyashiki often feels like it’s being distasteful just to be distasteful in order to see just how far Oku can push the boundaries of acceptability. However, I will admit that it can be can oddly satisfying to see someone who looks like an elderly man protect others by beating the crap out of obvious wrongdoers. (Oku seems to go out of the way to make the bad guys as over-the-top and awful as possible, which is fitting for the series as a whole.) Inuyashiki—the previously mentioned old man—is starkly contrasted by Shishigami, the manga’s other, much younger, lead. Like Inuyashiki, Shishigami has been reborn as a cyborg. Unlike Inuyashiki, he has been using his newly-gained powers to cause death a mayhem at will. He is unyielding in his deliberate cruelty and absolutely terrifying.

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 8Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 8-14 by Adachitoka. I have been enjoying Noragami more and more as the series progresses, but I still managed to fall behind on the manga. I was actually intending to only read a few volumes this past week, but once I started I found myself devouring my entire backlog; Noragami continues to get better and better. More of Yato’s backstory has been revealed at this point and his past has become central to the plot. The narrative flow can be somewhat odd, though. In between the intensely dramatic and serious story arcs, Adachitoka has the tendency to introduce several chapters (or more) of what feels like playful filler material. However, I’m really enjoying Adachitoka’s modernized take on Japanese deities and mythologies. (I also appreciate the thorough translation and cultural notes included in the volumes.) The interplay between the gods, shinki, ayakashi, and humans is fascinating and the relationships and power dynamics between them all are marvelously complex and nuanced even if the characters’ actions aren’t always the most subtle. Adachitoka also isn’t afraid of killing off major characters, which heightens the tension of the series’ conflicts and it’s unlikely anyone will remain unscathed.



Bookshelf Overload: June 2016

After the ridiculousness that was May’s Bookshelf Overload (thanks, TCAF!), the number of manga and other books that I acquired in June seems entirely reasonable. Last month I took advantage of a few good sales combined with gift cards to fill in some gaps in a few of my manga series. As I mentioned previously, Kazuo Umezu’s Drifting Classroom looks like it may be going out of print, so I made a point to complete my set. I also supplemented my recent haul of review copies from Kodansha. As for June’s preorders that I was particularly excited for (and dreading in some ways because they’re so emotionally intense) at the top of the list sits Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 2 by Inio Asano and Orange, Omnibus 2 by Ichigo Takano. (I’d actually like to post some Random Musings about Orange, but it will probably be a while before I can get around to it.) June was also a good month for me for shoujo science fiction. I discovered Wrecked Hearts by Mathilde Kitteh and Luca Oliveri and imported Moto Hagio’s SF Art Works collection, both of which are great. (As a side note, if you’re interested in Wrecked Hearts and ordering directly from PEOW! Studio in Sweden is difficult, I recently discovered that it can also be ordered from Retrofit Comics in the United States.)

Drifting Classroom, Volumes 9-10 by Kazuo Umezu
Emma, Omnibus 3 by Kaoru Mori
Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 1 by Izumi Miyazono
Franken Fran, Omnibus 2 by Katsuhisa Kigitsu
Genshiken: Second Season, Volume 7 by Shimoku Kio
Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 2 by Inio Asano
Inuyashiki, Volume 2 by Hiroya Oku
Kaze Hikaru, Volume 14 by Taeko Watanabe
My Little Monster, Volumes 11-12 by Robico
Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 8-9 by Adachitoka
Orange, Omnibus 2 by Ichigo Takano
Red Red Rock and Other Stories by Seiichi Hayashi
Say I Love You, Volumes 10-11 by Kanae Hazuki
Vagabond, Omnibus 6 by Takehiko Inoue
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Volumes 5-6 by Miki Yoshikawa
Your Lie in April, Volumes 3-4 by Naoshi Arakawa

Elf Cat in Love by James Kochalka
Hellbound Lifestyle by Kaeleigh Forsyth
I.D. by Emma Ríos
New World edited by C. Spike Trotman
Shadoweyes, Volume 1 by Sophie Campbell, colors by Erin Watson
Wrecked Hearts by Mathilde Kitteh and Luca Oliveri

Seconda by Yeehun
SF Art Works by Moto Hagio

Bubishi: The Classic Manual of Combat translated by Patrick McCarthy
Shed & Frontlawn Zine by Graeme McNee, Ryan Cecil Smith, and An Nguyen

Manga Giveaway: Complex Age Giveaway Winner

Complex Age, Volume 1And the winner of the Complex Age manga giveaway is… Sean Kleefeld!

As the winner, Sean (whose writing at Kleefeld on Comics and elsewhere I greatly enjoy) will be receiving a copy of Yui Sakuma’s Complex Age, Volume 1 as published in English by Kodansha Comics. I read (and reviewed) the first volume and was rather surprised by how much the manga resonated with me and wanted to spread the love. For this giveaway, I asked participants to tell me a little about the manga that they’ve read that included cosplay, the passion of Complex Age‘s main character. Check out the giveaway comments for the detailed responses, and check out below for a list!

Some of the manga available in English which include cosplay:
Anything and Something by Kaoru Mori
Complex Age by Yui Sakuma
Genshiken by Shimoku Kio
Genshiken: Second Season by Shimoku Kio
Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga
I, Otaku: Struggle in Akihabara by Jiro Suzuki
Kiss Him, Not Me by Junko
Lucky Star by Kagami Yoshimizu
Maid-sama! by Hiro Fujiwara
Maniac Road by Shinsuke Kurihashi
My Girlfriend’s a Geek by Rize Shinba
Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
Servant X Service by Karino Takatsu
Sunshine Sketch by Ume Aoki

The above list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it does have some variety. Although cosplay doesn’t take precedence in many series (or at least in many of the series that have been translated), there are numerous examples of manga where there’s a character who is into cosplay or a class that sponsors a cosplay cafe for a school festival. Manga with otaku themes usually mention it at least in passing, too. And depending on the definition being used, cosplay can be found in plenty of the more… ahem… adult-oriented manga of various ilk (which I decided to leave off the list this time). Anyway! The list presented above contains series which include cosplay that either immediately came to my mind or that were mentioned in the giveaway comments and some feature cosplay more heavily than others. Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway; hope to see you again at Experiments in Manga!