Mushishi, Volume 7 by Yuki Urushibara was originally published in Japan in 2006. It was the first volume of the award-winning manga series to be released after the first of several anime adaptations began airing. 2006 was also the year that Mushishi earned Urushibara a Kodansha Manga Award, having previously won a Japan Media Arts Award in 2003. In English, the seventh volume of Mushishi was initially published in print in 2009 by Del Rey Manga and then was later re-released in a digital edition by Kodansha Comics in 2014 along with the rest of the series. Mushishi is one of my favorite manga and one of the first series that I made a point to follow and collect as it was being released in translation. I love the manga’s atmosphere, subtle horror, and the obvious influence that traditional Japanese folklore and legends have had on Urushibara’s storytelling in the series.
The seventh volume of Mushishi collects four stories. Interestingly, the mushi in these particular chapters tend to be somewhat tangential to the real issues that the characters are struggling with. While the mushi have an impact on the way events unfold and develop, it is the interaction between people that forms the core of the individual stories. “Lost in the Blossoms” is about several generations in a family of skilled landscapers who obsessively care for the embodiment of a peculiarly beautiful and ancient cherry tree. In “The Mirror in the Muck,” a young woman falls ill after the man she loves leaves her behind, her love sickness putting her life in real danger. A young boy has become a host to a mushi that attracts lightning in “At the Foot of Lightning,” but the even greater problem is the nearly nonexistent relationship between him and his mother. The volume concludes with the series’ first multi-part story, “The Ragged Road,” about the head of the Minai, a clan of mushishi responsible for investigating forbidden mushi no matter what the personal cost.
While Mushishi generally tends to be episodic, “The Ragged Road” directly ties in with an early story, “The Sea of Brushstrokes,” collected in Mushishi, Volume 2. The Minai family serves under the Karibusa family which is responsible for recording and protecting information about mushi; the fate of both families is intertwined with that of the forbidden mushi. I especially like “The Ragged Road” because it further develops the world of Mushishi. The other three stories in Mushishi, Volume 7 technically do as well, but because they’re only loosely connected to previous chapters their contributions to the series’ lore generally add more breadth rather than depth. Still, bits of the characterization of Ginko, the manga’s protagonist, continue to be revealed with the telling of each story, showing just how much of an outsider he is even within the community of mushishi.
Although the plots of the individual stories collected in Mushishi, Volume 7 aren’t directly connect to one another, they do all share some similar themes. In some ways, the manga feels more horror-like than some of the previous installments of the series. Mushi in the case of this volume are creatures that can steal away a person’s senses, identity, life, or even soul. But as terrifying as that can be, the most chilling thing that Ginko encounters aren’t mushi but failed human relationships. I find these four stories to be some of the most heartbreaking in the series for that reason. Ginko is faced with situations where, while he can deal with the mushi, he is powerless to completely ease the distress of the people involved and their troubled families. However, as sad and tragic as some of the stories in Mushishi can be, there’s still an underlying sense of hope that in time people will be able to heal and move forward through their pain.