Mushishi, Volume 3

Mushishi, Volume 3Creator: Yuki Urushibara
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345496454
Released: February 2008
Original release: 2002
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award

Mushishi, Volume 3 by Yuki Urushibara was originally published in Japan in 2002. The volume was initially released in English in print by Del Rey Manga in 2008. Although that particular edition is no longer available, Kodansha Comics did re-release Mushishi, Volume 3 digitally in 2014. I count myself lucky to own the entirety of Mushishi in print. I fell in love with the series after reading the first volume and so made a point to begin collecting it. Fortunately, Mushishi was being released in English around the same time I first started to really get into comics and manga and I didn’t have a difficult time finding the series. To this day, Mushishi remains one of my favorite manga. I like its quiet yet often creepy atmosphere and its folktale-like nature. I’m not the only one who appreciates Mushishi. The series was a recipient of a Kodansha Manga Award and has also been the basis for a live-action movie as well as multiple anime adaptations and other media.

Unseen to most people but found throughout nature are mushi—creatures that are still very close to the original form of life. They can be benign forces but often their presence is a source of trouble when it encroaches upon the human world. Illness and disease and even seemingly natural phenomena can all be attributed to mushi. Some people with the ability to see mushi make their living as mushishi by traveling across the country, studying the creatures, and trying to return balance where disturbances have occurred. But there are also those who can see mushi who are not mushishi. Frequently they are unaware of what the creatures truly are, and many times the people around them don’t believe them when they try to describe their experiences with mushi. This lack of understanding can cause significant strife, even within tightly knit communities. People who can see and are aware of mushi, whether they be mushishi or not, are treated differently, sometimes out of concern and sometimes out of fear.

Mushishi, Volume 3, page 202While the previous volume of Mushishi seemed to place a particular emphasis on mushishi, the fourth volume mostly features stories in which Ginko—a mushishi and the series’ protagonist—is dealing with incidents where people who can see mushi but who are not formally trained as mushishi are somehow involved. In “The Cry of Rust,” the unique quality of a young woman’s voice attracts mushi, bringing calamity to her village. “From the Ocean’s Edge” follows a man whose wife has been missing at sea for three years after they both saw peculiar creatures in the water. “The Heavy Seed” tells the story of a village that has strangely bountiful harvests during times of famine. Children fall deathly ill in “White Living in the Inkstone” when they accidentally release dormant mushi while playing in Doctor Adashino’s storehouse without permission. (Adashino is one of the very few recurring characters in Mushishi; his slightly antagonistic relationship with Ginko is absolutely delightful.)

Although during serialization it followed “The Cry of Rust,” the final chapter collected in Mushishi, Volume 3 is “The Fish Gaze.” The episode is particularly notable because it reveals some of Ginko’s backstory. Even though it’s a past that he himself is unable to remember—a rare example of a time when the reader is more knowledgeable than he is—this specific part of Ginko’s life story plays a very important role in who he later becomes. Mushishi tends to be episodic, but elements of Ginko’s character and personality have been revealed throughout the series. However, “The Fish Gazee” is the first chapter to really delve into his history. Like many of the other stories in Mushishi, Ginko’s tale has elements of darkness and tragedy, but the emphasis placed on the ultimate perseverance of life in the face of death and sorrow remains. Mushishi frequently incorporates sadness, but the manga is not without hope; Urushibara seems to be able to navigate a fine balance between melancholy and wonder with ease.

Mushishi, Volume 2

Mushishi, Volume 2Creator: Yuki Urushibara
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345496447
Released: July 2007
Original release: 2002
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award

Yuki Urushibara’s debut manga series Mushishi is a work that is quite dear to me. I discovered it more by accident than anything else, but Mushishi quickly became one of my favorite manga when it was first released in English and it remains a series that I enjoy immensely. Urushibara has taken cues from traditional Japanese folklore and mythology, creating a series with a quiet yet creepy atmosphere and a subtle sense of horror that relies on the interactions between humans and natural powers beyond their control. Mushishi has inspired multiple anime adaptations, which are also excellent, as well as a live-action film. The series has also been honored with a Japan Media Arts Award and a Kodansha Manga Award. Mushishi, Volume 2 was originally published in Japan in 2002. The volume was first released in English by Del Rey Manga in 2007. It is now available digitally by Kodansha Comics, but I hope that one day Mushishi will be brought back into print.

Mushishi, Volume 2 collects five stories, some of which are among my personal favorites in the series. “The Mountain Sleeps” finds Ginko coming to the aid of a fellow mushishi who is feared to have gone missing. “The Sea of Brushstrokes” tells the tale of a young woman whose family has collected stories about mushi for generations, becoming the guardians of a vast library of valuable knowledge. Ginko travels to a remote island that can only be accessed once every lunar month due to the tides and currents in “They That Breathe Ephemeral Life.” Back on the mainland, he joins up with a man wandering the countryside searching for a rare type of mushi in “Rain Comes and a Rainbow Is Born.” In the final story, “The Green Veil,” Ginko must convince a recently married couple to give up their children, none of whom are human despite their outward appearances.

Mushishi, Volume 2, page 86Mushishi tends to be fairly episodic, though the stories do share similar elements. The individual chapters don’t necessarily build directly on one another, but they do expand and develop more and more about the world Urushibara has created. What I particularly enjoy about Mushishi, Volume 2 is how it places Ginko within the greater context of the relatively small community of mushishi. He is only one mushishi out of many, sharing some likenesses with the others in his profession but also exhibiting personal differences. It is revealed in the second volume of Mushishi that one of the reasons Ginko is constantly traveling from place to place is that he attracts mushi; if he doesn’t keep moving the area around him will become infested. However, as is also seen in Mushishi, Volume 2, some mushishi are able to make permanent homes for themselves. In some extreme cases, they even become trapped by their duties, unable to leave without causing great harm to others.

Mushishi, Volume 2 reinforces one of the most important themes of the series—the sanctity of life and the deep respect that it deserves—and emphasizes the need for humans to coexist with mushi. These concepts are explored in various ways throughout Mushishi. In the second volume, Ginko in particular is shown to give priority to human lives, but he also avoids destroying mushi whenever possible. However, some mushishi seem to take great delight in the eradication of the mushi they encounter. This lack of compassion and understanding by mushishi as well as other humans can be problematic; they try to exert their control over, manipulate, and use to their advantage these creatures which are frequently beyond their ken, often with tragic results. At times mushi can be dangerous if left completely unchecked, but just as dangerous is unrestrained human arrogance.

Mushishi, Volume 1

Mushishi, Volume 1Creator: Yuki Urushibara
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345496218
Released: January 2007
Original release: 2000
Awards: Japan Media Arts Award, Kodansha Manga Award

I no longer remember what first led me to pick up Yuki Urushibara’s debut manga Mushishi. It was probably mostly coincidence: the series started being released in English around the same time I started to really get into manga and was trying all sorts of things. I’m grateful for whatever reason it was that convinced me to read Mushishi because it became one of my favorite manga series. I love its quiet creepiness and beautiful storytelling. Mushishi was well-received both in Japan and abroad by both fans and critics. Among other recognitions and honors, Mushishi has earned a Japan Media Arts Award as well as a Kodansha Manga Award. Mushishi, Volume 1 was originally published in Japan in 2000. The English-language edition was initially released by Del Rey Manga in 2007 and, sadly, has since gone out of print. Happily, in 2014, Kodansha Comics released a digital edition of Mushishi in English.

Mushi—a category of primordial beings fundamental to the living world which may take on many forms. Truly understood by very few people, they are studied by mushishi, or mushi masters. Ginko is one such mushishi, making his living by traveling across the Japanese countryside, learning all that he can about mushi, and attempting to help those unfortunate enough to have come under the creatures’ influence. Mushi are often to blame for unusual natural phenomena and strange, otherwise unexplainable illnesses. Ginko is an expert, but even he is faced with circumstances beyond his knowledge and control; where mushi are involved, nothing is ever entirely certain. Sometimes the harm caused by the mushi has already been done and is irreversible, leaving humans to deal with the aftermath. They must learn to coexist or else risk their lives or sanity.

Although there is some continuity between the stories, Mushishi is largely episodic and each chapter in the first volume of the series stands well on its own. “The Green Gathering” introduces the concept of mushi while Ginko investigates a young man with the power to grant life to the things he draws. In “The Soft Horns” Ginko aids the residents of a snowbound village suffering from a peculiar kind of hearing loss. Mushi have invaded the dreams of a man in “The Pillow Path” with devastating and dire consequences. Urushibara’s award-winning “The Light in the Eyelids” was actually the very first Mushishi manga. The story follows a young girl whose eyes have become so painfully sensitive to light that she has been blindfolded and shut away by her family in a dark storehouse. The final story in Mushishi, Volume 1 is “The Traveling Bog” in which a swamp disappears and then reappears again and again, drawing ever closer to the sea each time.

Urushibara was influenced tremendously by older Japanese folk stories, but in developing Mushishi she draws on that inspiration to create a world and mythology of her own. Although the tales in Mushishi, Volume 1 are new, they still have a very familiar, traditional feeling to them that I find immensely appealing. I also enjoy the subtle horror present in many of the stories in Mushishi. While occasionally the manga and its imagery is disconcerting or even disturbing, Mushishi isn’t overly graphic or violent. Instead its creepiness derives from the fear of the unknown or the unknowable and the close intertwining of life and death. Mushi do not always bring misfortune, they can also be a benevolent force, but they are something beyond the understanding  and power of most humans, and that can be frightening. In Mushishi, Volume 1 Ginko is shown trying to bridge the gap that exists between mushi and humans, but he often struggles to find the perfect balance between sharing his knowledge and protecting life.

Sugar Sugar Rune, Volume 1

Creator: Moyoco Anno
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345486295
Released: September 2005
Original release: 2004
Awards: Kodansha Manga Award

Sugar Sugar Rune was the third manga series by Moyoco Anno to be licenced in English. The first volume of Sugar Sugar Rune was released in Japan in 2004. The English-language edition, published by Del Rey Manga, was released only a year later in 2005. Unlike all of Anno’s other manga currently available in English, Sugar Sugar Rune is a shoujo manga created for a younger audience, specifically girls between the ages of six and twelve. However, the series also appeals to adult readers. Sugar Sugar Rune is probably one one Anno’s most popular and well known manga series. Anno received the 2005 Kodansha Manga Award for best children’s manga for Sugar Sugar Rune. The manga was also adapted into a fifty-one episode anime series between 2005 and 2006. I thoroughly enjoyed Sugar Sugar Rune when I first read it and was happy to have the excuse of the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast to take a another look at the series.

Chocolat Meilleure and Vanilla Mieux are two best friends whose personalities couldn’t be more different. Vanilla is shy and reserved while Chocolat is brash and outgoing. Now the two of them are rivals as well as friends—both of the young witch girls have been selected as a candidate for the next Queen of the Magical World. As part of the test to determine who will become Queen, Chocolat and Vanilla are sent to the Human World to see who can capture the most hearts. Chocolat’s aggressive personality, which was admired in the Magical World, seems to have put her at a disadvantage in the Human World where most boys appear to prefer the more demure Vanilla. But that’s not about to stop Chocolat from doing her best to win over, and take, the hearts of those she meets.

In part, Sugar Sugar Rune is a magical girl series and so many of the tropes and conventions of that genre are present. There are strong themes of love, friendship, and staying true to yourself as well as plenty of accessories and merchandising opportunities. But underneath Sugar Sugar Rune‘s sugary, candy-coated exterior is a center that’s bittersweet. There is fun and magic, but there’s also the beginning of Chocolat’s coming-of-age story. Stealing hearts and playing with the feelings of others have some very real consequences with which the girls will have to come to terms. They also have to guard their own hearts carefully: humans can have their hearts taken multiple times, but witches and wizards only have one true heart. Should a witch fall in love with another person and have her heart stolen she may even die.

Sugar Sugar Rune starts out innocently enough but there are also hints of something more ominous brewing. I think that’s one of the things that makes the series so engaging. I also love Anno’s characters and their designs. Chooclat really steals the show in the first volume. I wasn’t as enamored with Vanilla at first, but she did grow on me. The secondary characters are great, too—everyone from the girls’ guardian of sorts Robin, who makes his living in the Human World as an idol stealing the hearts of women hundreds at a time, to the neighborhood boy and classmate Akira, who is obsessed with aliens and is convinced Chocolat is from another planet. Anno’s artwork is a wonderful as always although occasionally there’s so much going on on a given page that it can be overwhelming. Sugar Sugar Rune is a truly delightful series; the first volume only gives a taste of what is to come.

The Kouga Ninja Scrolls

Author: Fūtaro Yamada
Translator: Geoff Sant
U.S. publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 9780345495105
Released: December 2006
Original release: 1958

The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is the first book in a series of novels about supernatural ninja written by Fūtaro Yamada. The novels have inspired numerous other stories and adaptations by other creators. In the case of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, it is the basis for Basilisk, both the manga and the anime series, and the live action film Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, as well as other adaptations. The cover art for Del Rey’s 2006 release of the novel, translated by Geoff Sant, happens to be the work of Masaki Segawa, the artist for the Basilisk manga. Although the edition of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls on which Del Rey’s release is based was published in 2005, the novel was originally written in 1958. The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and the following novels became immensely popular in Japan. Yamada, who wrote mystery novels in addition to books featuring ninja, won a number of awards for his work.

The Kouga and the Iga ninja clans’ blood feud has lasted for four hundred years. After the Tokugawa shogunate was established, the ninja were forced to stop their fighting. But when a dispute over the succession threatens to tear the Tokugawa apart, the dictated truce between the clans is lifted. Ten Iga ninja and ten Kouga ninja, each group representing one of the potential successors’ factions, will be pitted against each other in a clash to the death. The surviving clan will determine who the next shogun will be. But even though the clans’ rivalry has persisted for centuries, not every ninja still has the desire to fight—in particular, Gennosuke, the heir of the Kouga clan, and Oboro, the heir of the Iga. Torn between their love for each other and their loyalty to their families, they would do anything to end the feud. But Oboro and Gennosuke’s destiny has already been put into motion; they have no other choice but to meet each other in battle.

After four hundred years of secrecy and inbreeding, both the Kouga and Iga clans have produced ninja with incredible skills and abilities. In some cases, they are barely recognizable as human anymore. Often the capabilities that make the ninja so powerful are also the cause of their ultimate downfall. The ninja’s individual abilities border on magic, but Yamada has a pseudo-physiological explanation for each and every one of them. Their powers are extreme but natural extensions of what the human body is capable of. Some of the ninja’s peculiar abilities are rather disgusting even if they are effective, while others are just plain cool. My personal favorite was probably Kisaragi Saemon and his unique way of being able to impersonate another person.

The story of The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is frequently described as Romeo and Juliet with ninja. Personally, I find the comparison somewhat superficial. The Kouga Ninja Scrolls is definitely its own story. On the surface it appears to be only a set up to allow Yamada to write fantastic and thrilling battles, but the story also addresses deeper matters of loyalty, responsibility, duty, and passion. Yamada makes great use of historical figures in The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and also incorporates historic documents and poetry into the novel. I particularly appreciated that the control of information was give such an important role in the story—an aspect of ninjutsu often overlooked in popular culture. The tone of the narrative is told from a modern perspective. I did find this to be slightly distracting from the setting, but it does read well. I enjoyed The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and wish more of Yamada’s work was available in English.