My Week in Manga: November 6-November 12, 2017

My News and Reviews

The Bookshelf Overload for October was posted at Experiments in Manga last week, giving a quick summary of some of the interesting manga, anime, and other media that made their way into my home last month. Otherwise, it was a fairly quiet week at the blog, and it’s going to be even quieter this week. I’m currently work on my next in-depth review, but I suspect that it won’t be ready to reveal to the world until sometime next week. (Hopefully it will be worth the wait.) As for other interesting things recently found online: Brigid Alverson wrote up a recap of an interview with Fairy Tail creator Hiro Mashima from this year’s New York Comic Con for Barnes & Noble and over at Crunchyroll Evan Minto interviewed Frederik L. Schodt, a manga translator, scholar, and personal friend of Osamu Tezuka.

Quick Takes

Shirley, Volume 1Shirley, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori. Only the first volume of Shirley was ever released in English. It’s now well out-of-print, but it’s also well-worth picking up. I would love to see Yen Press release the entire series in a handsome omnibus that would be at home next to the new edition of Mori’s Emma. I believe that most if not all of the short manga in the first volume of Shirley precede Emma, but the collection was only published after the first volume of Emma was released. The artwork is simpler than that found in Mori’s most recent series in translation, A Bride’s Story, but it is still quite lovely and evocative. As a whole, Shirley is a charming work. Mori’s love of maids is quite evident. The first volume collects five episodic chapters which follow Bennett Cranley and the titular Shirley Madison, a young maid that Bennett hires, in addition to two other stories unrelated by plot although they both also feature Edwardian-era maids. Shirley is only thirteen when she starts working for Bennett and they develop a close, if somewhat unusual, relationship as a result. While Shirley is a very capable maid she is still young–at times its as though she’s more like Bennett’s ward rather than her employee. She’s a sweet, likeable girl, so it’s easy to see why Bennett would be so taken with her.

The Witch BoyThe Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag. I first learned about The Witch Boy while at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival earlier this year. Ostertag was on the panel “LGBTQ Comics Abroad” along with several other creators when she mentioned the upcoming publication of the graphic novel; I immediately added it to my list of comics to pick up when it was released. Ostertag is probably best known as the artist of the ongoing webcomic Strong Female Protagonist and has collaborated as an illustrator on several other comics projects as well. However, The Witch Boy is her debut work as both author and artist. The graphic novel is aimed at middle grade readers, but the comic will be able to be appreciated by adult audiences as well. Aster comes from a family of magic users–the women are taught the secrets of witchery while the men are expected to learn how to shapeshift, a tradition which is strictly adhered to. Much to his family’s dismay, Aster would much rather study with the girls than roughhouse with the boys. Forbidden from learning the women’s magic despite his talent for it, Aster longs for his family to accept his true self. The Witch Boy is a beautiful story with a wonderful message; I hope to read more of Ostertag’s writing in the future.

Attack on Titan: The Anime GuideAttack on Titan: The Anime Guide by Ryosuke Sakuma and Munehiko Inagaki. Kodansha Comics almost exclusively publishes manga, although over time a few other things have been released as well, most of which are in some way a part of the massively successful Attack on Titan franchise. One of the more recent non-manga offerings is Attack on Titan: The Anime Guide, a full-color volume consisting of artwork, character designs, process overviews, and other background information relating to the first season of the Attack on Titan anime. The Anime Guide will mostly appeal to readers who are already devoted fans of Attack on Titan. What interested me most were the numerous interviews included in the book. The most notable is the lengthy interview with and conversation between Hajime Isayama and Tetsuro Araki, the original creator of Attack on Titan and the series director of the anime respectively. (Isayama saw the anime as an opportunity to improve upon or even correct aspects of the manga with which he wasn’t completely satisfied.) The interviews with the anime’s chief animation directors, Titan designer, action animation directors, scriptwriter, voice actors, and theme song musicians were also interesting to read.

My Week in Manga: April 24-April 30, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted two features in addition to the usual My Week in Manga. First up was the monthly giveaway. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas. All you have to do is tell me a little about your favorite space manga (if you have one). Also posted last week was the long-form manga review for April. I took a look at The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1 by Nagabe. The manga was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2017 and it is easily one of my favorites to be released so far this year. Last week was also the first week at my new job so I was rather preoccupied and busy with settling in there and so wasn’t online all that much. However, I did catch an interesting feature on the recent josei renaissance over at Anime Feminist. The article is written by Megan from The Manga Test Drive, one of the manga review blogs that I make a point to follow and particularly like.

Quick Takes

Ghost Diary, Volume 1Ghost Diary, Volume 1 by Seiju Natsumegu. My experience reading Ghost Diary was a little odd. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by the first volume while I was reading it, but by the time I reached the end I found that I actually had enjoyed myself and was interested in reading the rest of the short series. The individual elements of Ghost Diary aren’t particularly original, but as a whole it’s horrific fun. In some ways the manga feels like it’s a mashup of other existing stories which deal with the supernatural and the occult. Even the illustrations reminded me of other works, in particular some of CLAMP’s darker series. I was actually expecting Ghost Diary to be much more serious than it actually was. The manga definitely has a disturbing side to it, but to me it comes across as a dark comedy more than anything else. It’s both goofy and grotesque. The story follows Sukami Kyouichi, the youngest son in a long line of exorcists whose older sister (also an exorcist and far more powerful than he is) mysteriously disappears after he angers a god due to his inexperience, ineptitude, and ignorance. Now he’s desperately searching for her which proves to be a very dangerous venture.

Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 4Princess Jellyfish, Omnibus 4 (equivalent to Voluems 7-8) by Akiko Higashimura. At this point the Princess Jellyfish manga has progressed much further along in the story than the content that was adapted for the anime series (which was my introduction to the work). So far, my love for the series has yet to diminish. In this omnibus the women of the Amamizukan apartments (along with Kuranosuke) somehow manage pull off a successful fashion show which is intended, in a roundabout way, to save their home from being demolished and redeveloped. However, for that to work, their success will have to extend to actually launching the Jelly Fish brand as well, and reality is much more challenging than a dream. Princess Jellyfish is intentionally outrageous and comedic in the telling of its story but the underlying heart of the manga is believable earnest. I find the manga’s style of humor to be immensely entertaining, but probably what I enjoy most about Princess Jellyfish are its characters and their relationships with one another. I especially liked how Shuu and Kuranosuke’s brotherly affections were developed and portrayed in these two volumes.

Twinkle Stars, Omnibus 1Twinkle Stars, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-4) by Natsuki Takaya. Probably like most people, my introduction to Takaya’s work was through the series Fruits Basket, a landmark title in the North American manga industry. It would seem, then, that Takaya’s next major series, Twinkle Stars, would be an obvious license choice, but the manga only began to be released in English relatively recently. Other than the fact that Takaya was the creator, I actually didn’t know much about Twinkle Stars before reading it. The series turns out to be an incredibly compelling and emotionally resonant work even if some of the story developments do seem a little convenient and trope-worn. The lead of Twinkle Stars is Sakyua Shiina, an endearing highschool third-year whose outward cheerfulness goes a long way to hide her inner struggle with depression and self-worth, the result of a troubled family life. Fortunately, she now has people in her life who care for her dearly. Under some rather peculiar circumstance she meets and ultimately falls in love with Chihiro, a young man who likewise is left dealing with the aftermath of past tragedies. At times Twinkle Stars can be absolutely heartbreaking but this countered by the immense kindness that is also exhibited in the series.

WitchlightWitchlight by Jessi Zabarsky. Before being edited and published in a collected edition with additional content, most of Witchlight had previously been released as a series of individual comic chapters. Described as a shoujo adventure, Witchlight is a delightful fantasy comic about the close bond of friendship and love which slowly develops between two young women as they travel together on a quest. They don’t start out on good terms, though. Sanja is kidnapped by Lelek, a candle witch who demands that she teach her how to use a sword. Lelek is searching for a part of herself that has been lost and magic isn’t always enough to protect her. While being abducted isn’t exactly a promising beginning to a relationship, Sanja is more curious than afraid and her good nature and openness has a positive influence on the untrusting Lelek who has kept her heart closed off from others for so long. Lelek and Sanja’s emotional journeys are the most important aspects of Witchlight, but their physical journey is also wonderful to watch unfold as they encounter other cultures and and types of magic. The characterizations, worldbuilding, artwork in Witchlight are all lovely.

RevengeRevenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa. I find the cover design and even the title selected for the English-language edition of Ogawa’s Kamoku na shigai, midara no tomurai to be somewhat misleading. Revenge, although it does make a few appearances throughout the volume, is not at all an overarching theme. And while there is death and violence, most of the gruesomeness implied by the cover occurs off-page. That being said, Revenge is a marvelously disconcerting work of subdued horror. Everything in Revenge is told from a first-person perspective, giving the collection a surprisingly quiet and contemplative atmosphere which becomes increasingly dark as the volume progresses. The individual stories can all be read and function well on their own, but what makes Revenge such a phenomenal collection is how they are all entangled with one another. Often the connections are tangential–similar turns of phrases and references are used, main characters and plot points from one story appear and reappear in the backgrounds of others, and so on–but sometimes they have a profound impact on the interpretation of the various narratives. A close, careful reading of Revenge is rewarded with the revelation of a complex, strange, and surreal web of the macabre.

Your NameYour Name directed by Makoto Shinkai. Originally I thought I would be waiting to watch a home video release of Your Name but the film actually ended up being shown at one of my local theaters and a friend invited me out to see it over the weekend. Your Name is a beautiful film, both visually and thematically, and not quite what I was expecting. (Granted, I’m not entirely sure exactly what it was that I was expecting.) To me it almost feels like three different films have been merged into one. Initially Your Name is about Mitsuha and Taki, two young people who don’t really know each other but who have started to spontaneously and erratically switch bodies when they fall asleep. But when the switching suddenly and unexpectedly stops, the film changes its focus to Taki as he tries to locate Mitsuha, keenly feeling the absence of the close intimacy that the two understandably developed over time. From there the urgency of Your Name increases even more as Taki uncovers the truth and he and Mitsuha struggle to prevent further disaster and loss. In part a romantic comedy, in part a meditation on love and spirituality, and in part (it would seem) a response to the Fukushima disasters, Your Name largely remains cohesive even while bending and shifting between genres.

My Week in Manga: January 2-January 8, 2017

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga the winner of the Kuroko’s Basketball giveaway was announced. The post also includes a list of some of the tournament and competition manga that has been licensed in English. As per usual these days, there wasn’t much else from me, but there is some other very exciting Manga Bookshelf news: The Manga Critic is back! Be on the lookout for some great content from Kate Dacey. Last week I also read Makoto Yukimura’s eighth Vinland Saga omnibus which was, as expected, excellent. (I highly recommend the series as a whole.) However, you won’t find a quick take of it below because I’m going to try to write up a full-length review of it instead. We’ll see how it goes!

Elsewhere online, The OASG has started a new series called How Fans Can Help the Anime & Manga Industries Grow in which industry folk share their experiences an thoughts on the subject. So far, the responses from Charlene Ingram, Viz Media’s senior manager of marketing, and Charis Messier, lead translator at Cross Infinite World, have been shared. Another interesting read courtesy of Sakuga Blog is a translation of a roundtable with three manga editors (Tatsuya Kusunoki, Katsuyuki Sasaki, and Ryouji Takamatsu) discussing the growth of the yuri genre. As for boys’ love, Khursten at Otaku Champloo takes a closer look at the Dangerous BL Manga list for 2017.

Quick Takes

Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, Volume 2Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, Volumes 2-10 by Masahito Soda. I enjoyed the first volume of Firefighter! well enough to seek out the rest of the manga (while the entire series is now available digitally, most of the individual volumes are well out-of-print) and I am so incredibly glad that I did. I’m only halfway through, but Firefighter! is fantastic. It has exciting action, compelling drama, and engaging characters. The titular Daigo is a rookie firefighter who, although he seems to have good instincts, has a lot to learn. Each rescue he’s a part of is more audacious than the last and he frequently ends up in the hospital as a result. Daigo hasn’t lost anyone yet, but his unorthodox ways, disregard for direct orders, and tendency to go overboard puts his own life and the lives of other rescue workers at risk. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before tragedy will strike, but no one can deny that he has saved people who would have otherwise died. Firefighter! is intense and thrilling, but it actually has a fair amount of humor as well. (For all his bravery, Daigo is kind of a goofball.) I’m definitely looking forward to reading the series’ second half.

Horimiya, Volumes 2-4 written by Hero, illustrated by Daisuke Hagiwara. While I wasn’t quite as taken with these few volumes as I was with the first, I am still enjoying Horimiya a great deal. After accidentally discovering each other’s secrets, Miyamura and Hori have developed a close friendship which is slowly evolving into something more. It takes some time, but eventually they’re able to recognize their feelings and actually act on them. In large part, Horimiya is a manga about relationships of all types. Friendship and family are just as important, and are sometimes even more important, than the series’ romance. It’s also a manga which excels in depicting the characters’ multifaceted natures, showing how they behave differently depending on who is present. As more characters are introduced (including Hori’s father and some of Miyamura’s friends from middle school), the social dynamics in the series naturally change. Horimiya isn’t a manga that has me on edge desperate to know what will happen next, but the characters are tremendously endearing and I do want to see things work out for all of them.

Warning! Whispers of LoveWarning! Whispers of Love by Puku Okuyama. So far, only two of Okuyama’s boys’ love manga have been released in print. I had previously read and wasn’t overly impressed by the more recent Caramel despite liking some of the manga’s individual elements (in fact, overall I can’t really say that I enjoyed it much) but I already had a copy of Warning! so I figured I should at least give it a try. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Warning! much more than I did Caramel. It’s a collection of rather silly boys’ love stories ranging from the subtly amusing to the overtly goofy. They tend to be fairly cute as well and generally any physical intimacy that is shown is limited to a few kisses and chaste embraces. Most of Warning! is devoted to the story of Hajime, a first year at an all-boys school, and the incredibly awkward relationship that develops between him and an upperclassman who seems to want nothing more than to clean the wax from Hajime’s ears. It’s easily the most ridiculous setup in the entire volume but it can be legitimately funny–all the boys’ love tropes and jokes that would typically be applied to sex are applied to ear cleaning instead and it’s surprisingly effective.

Wandering SonWandering Son directed by Ei Aoki. Takako Shimura’s manga Wandering Son is an incredibly important series to me personally, so I was greatly saddened when Fantagraphics stopped releasing it in English. Initially I wanted to read the entire manga before watching the anime adaptation but, seeing as the rest likely won’t be available any time soon, I finally gave in. The Wandering Son anime is a lovely series. It’s not an exact adaptation of the manga, but it is faithful to the original story and characters. In general, the narrative style of the anime tends to be a little more linear than that of the manga. However, both series provide an empathetic exploration of gender identity, following a group of middle school students who are learning who they are. It’s a fairly realistic portrayal, meaning that society isn’t always the most accepting which can be absolutely heartbreaking. However, seeing the characters become more confident in their selves even when that goes against what is expected of them is exceptionally validating. The anime only adapts a portion of the manga and doesn’t provide much of a resolution (though it does go beyond where Fantagraphics left off), but it is still very well done and well-worth watching.


My Week in Manga: December 26, 2016-January 1, 2017

My News and Reviews

Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 may now be over, but there’s still a little time left to enter Experiments in Manga’s December giveaway. Tell me a little about your favorite tournament manga or tournament story arc by Wednesday for a chance to win the first omnibus of Tadatoshi Fujimaki’s Kuroko’s Basketball. Also posted at Experiments in Manga last week were my random musings about some of the notable manga, comics, and other books that debuted in 2016. Despite there being three posts last week (which hasn’t happened in a very long time!) I actually wasn’t online much at all. As a result, I probably missed out on some interesting reading and announcements, so do let me know if there was anything particularly cool. One thing that I did see though was an interview with Kabi Nagata, creator of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness which is scheduled to be released in English by Seven Seas later this year (and which I’m really looking forward to).

Quick Takes
Bungo Stray Dogs, Volume 1Bungo Stray Dogs, Volume 1 written by Kafka Asagiri and illustrated by Sango Harukawa. The Armed Detective Agency specializes in the dangerous cases that the Japanese police and military either won’t or can’t handle. It’s a team of uniquely skilled individuals who have abilities that seem to come right out of fiction, but the “good guys” aren’t the only ones with formidable powers. While there are names that a more casual reader might recognize—Osamu Dazai, Edogawa Rampo, Junichiro Tanazaki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and so on—others, like the lead Atsushi Nakajima, are less well-known in English. (I actually happen to be a pretty big fan of Nakajima’s work.) Their supernatural talents and personality quirks are all based on their namesakes. For example, Dazai’s power is named No Longer Human and he has a penchant for attempting suicide. It’s off to an intriguing start, but I’m not sure if Bungo Stray Dogs will appeal quite as much to someone not as familiar with the literary references being made. It’s not necessary to understand them to enjoy the manga, though. So far, I am getting a kick out of the series and look forward to seeing how it develops.

Hunter x Hunter, Volume 1Hunter x Hunter, Volumes 1-8 by Yoshihiro Togashi. I’ve been somewhat reluctant to start reading Hunter x Hunter (it might have something to do with the manga already being over thirty volumes long), but I’ve seen so much excitement and fan art for the series recently that I finally gave in. And I’ll admit, there’s a tremendous amount that I found appealing about the beginning of Hunter x Hunter. The setting is interesting, too, especially the concept of Hunters. These are people who, after putting their lives at risk to pass a grueling series of tests, are granted access to resources and information that others can only dream of. The manga largely follows Gon, a boy who wants to become a Hunter in order to find his father Ging, himself a hunter of great renown, as well as the friends and enemies Gon makes along the way. I really enjoyed the first story arc in which the candidates are trying to pass the Hunter exam. The second arc, while it serves an important purpose, I found to be a bit tedious as some of the world’s metaphysics are overexplained. However, the series quickly recovers its momentum again with clever action, intriguing characters, and drama.

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Volume 1Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Volume 1 by Coolkyousinnjya. Out of Seven Seas more recent monster girl manga, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is the one that I was most interested in. For one, I happen to really like dragons. It also doesn’t hurt that the series is yuri-esque and that the titular Miss Kobayashi is an adult woman working as a systems engineer. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid features some nudity and bawdiness but for the most part it doesn’t tend to be overly-sexualized which is also refreshing. The manga can actually be surprisingly cute,  charming, and sweet. Hotaru is a dragon who has taken it upon herself to act as Kobayashi’s maid after Kobayashi saves her life. For her part, Kobayashi thought it was all an alcohol-induced dream and so is very surprised to discover that a dragon girl has made herself at home in her apartment. Why a maid specifically? It turns out that Kobayashi is a bit of a maid otaku (which becomes very clear when she goes off on drunken rants on the subject). Hotaru, who loves Kobayashi dearly, wants to do anything to make Kobayashi happy even if her efforts are somewhat awkward and frequently miss the mark.

Reindeer BoyReindeer Boy by Cassandra Jean. I am a fan of Jean’s illustration work, and so I was very excited to learn that an original graphic novel was in the making. Reindeer Boy is based on a series of character drawings that Jean has been creating (and that I’ve been following) since 2013. The comic follows Quincy, a young woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when a group of students, all of whom have antlers, transfer into her high school. They seem to take particular interest in her, especially the flirtatious Cupid who claims they are Santa’s reindeer. Quincy’s not sure what to make of it all, but the more she gets to know them the more she likes them. Admittedly, the story of Reindeer Boy does feel like it was made to fit the characters rather than the other way around. It’s kind of a strange comic, but it’s fun, goofy fluff with a bit of romance, delightful characters, and beautiful, sensual artwork. Reindeer Boy, while telling a complete story, does seem to end rather abruptly. I’m not sure if there are plans to release any additional reindeer comics, but I’d love the opportunity to spend more time with the characters and learn more about the mythology that Jean has created.

Yuri!!! on IceYuri!!! on Ice directed by Sayo Yamamoto. It’s been a long while since I’ve had the time and opportunity to marathon an entire anime series, but I knew that once I started Yuri!!! on Ice that I wouldn’t want to stop. And I was right; I love this series so much and hope that there will be a nice physical release that I can purchase in the future. The underlying story is fairly straightforward and simple: After a miserable performance at the Grand Prix, the career of Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki is falling apart when his idol Victor Nikiforov unexpectedly quits competing to become his coach. Yuri!!! on Ice is a series about love, passion, and inspiration in many forms. It’s also about people struggling against their selves, fighting through failure and realizing their self-worth. Yuri!!! on Ice is a tightly written and immensely satisfying show, but I do think it would have been even better if there were just a few more episodes to allow the characters and story more room to breathe. That being said, there is still some impressive character development with the series’ short span and the psychological elements are handled particularly well. Understandably, the leads receive the most attention, but I’d really like to know more about the supporting cast, too.

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.