Manga Moveable Feast: Mushishi vol. 1-4

The first time I came across Mushishi was when my really awesome college anime club watched it about two years ago. I picked up the manga in bookstores to take a peek, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to buy. So I never did. UNTIL NOW. -cue dramatic music-

Said club having really terrific taste in anime, I rather loved watching Mushishi although it usually hit me as kind of slow. (It showed right before our dinner break, so I guess I was just anxious for some grub or something.) That was awhile ago so picking up the first four volumes of the Mushishi manga felt familiar, but still rather fresh.

Mushishi is about a “doctor” of sorts named Ginko who researches and deals with cases of mushi, semi-mystical and bug-like primordial beings that coexist alongside plants and animals, but act in many different ways, be they parasitic, otherwise harmful or completely docile. The manga chronicles Ginko’s adventures in no particular order with self-contained plots in each chapter. While some might say it would be easy to start at a random volume, I still feel like it’s best to start at the beginning where Yuki Urushibara is making the effort to explain the mushi and what Ginko does.

Urushibara is specifically unclear as she states in her postscript that there isn’t a particular time attached to Mushishi, although she suspects it is sometime between the Edo and Meiji periods. I’m glad she made this choice because it would be a lot more difficult to do this story in a modern setting, like some manga might which always strikes me as a little B-rated fantasy flick-ish. Thanks to this, Mushishi retains a mystical and timeless quality as it really should be.

Ginko is a really cool protagonist. He seems like a real person despite his strange surroundings who tries very hard at his job and really likes mushi a lot. He regularly attempts to make all the right decision for everybody, but isn’t totally against doing something that will benefit himself or something that technically breaks a taboo. My favorite chapters throughout the first four volumes (I’m planning on picking up the rest on Saturday, so perhaps I can do a second post right before the Manga Moveable Feast ends) are “The Sea of Brushstrokes” (vol. 2) about a girl born with a mushi sealed inside her right leg who must write about killing mushi in order to expel it, “The Fish Gaze” (vol.3) which is about Ginko’s past and how he got his strange features, “Picking the Empty Cocoon” (vol. 4) about a girl who takes care of a certain kind of mushi and the loss of her sister to this mushi and “In the Cage” (vol. 4) about a family that is trapped inside a bamboo grove by a white bamboo mushi.

This manga reminds me a lot of Natsume’s Book of Friends mixed with Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (in a sort of action-packed with interesting characters way) so if you like either of those manga you’ll probably be interested in Mushishi.

The art starts out a bit on the difficult side of sketchy at first, but eventually comes into it’s own as the manga moves on.  While I’m perfectly content with the style, if you really really like super clean artwork, then this manga isn’t for you.  All in all, I think it really suits the story and it’s mysterious subjects, but I won’t lie that a few years ago I probably would have frowned a little at this style. I used to really admire clean lines.

While I rather like the art and the story, I have some complaints from a editor’s perspective. From volume 1 I was extremely annoyed by the choice of font for the narratives. I was really hoping it would go away after the first volume, but no such luck. It also had some spiky strokes (usually white  lines around the font to make it show up against darker panels, etc.)  that just looked so unnatural to me. I know this is kind of a really picky thing to complain about, but font choice is pretty important and this particular font pretty much reminded me of the way Papyrus is misused for every single “ancient”-looking thing out there. I hate Papyrus with a passion if you can’t tell. I personally would have chosen something that looked more handwritten and similar to the wavy brushstrokes that are used to draw the mushi.

Another problem I had with the book was that Del Rey seemed completely unaware that some of the dialogue was in the bleed zone. (The bleed zone is some buffer space given so nothing important, like dialogue, will be cut off in printing.) This happened consistently through four volumes and it just REALLY pisses me off to have to practically crack the book’s spine just to get at some text in the middle or to see half of a line of text disappear at the bottom of a page. To me this says: SOMEONE WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION, takes me out of the book and makes the whole thing a lot harder to read. They also advertised “special extras” on the back of every volume, but if the special extras were the inclusion of a few pages of the next volume, I could have done without the anticipation. Sure, it’s not in the original Japanese version, but extra pages (in Japanese) of the next volume are NOT that special to me. Am I jaded? Perhaps, but it’s not like I was buying Mushishi for these “special extras” anyway. Overall, the packaging is nice and I like the paper they used for the covers, which isn’t glossy and makes the watercolored cover art to look really awesome. All the covers are pretty, but volume 4 (pictured above) is my favorite so far.

Finally, and this is probably an artistic or editorial decision on the Japanese side to let some of the tones slip over into the word balloons. I don’t know why it bothers me so much because it does seem to fit the whole feel of Mushishi, but it just seems so lazy to me. It’s not that consistent either, although I noticed it usually happens to balloons in landscape scenes. In the end, I guess this is all just stuff I would correct as an editor, if I was the editor.

As whole, I wouldn’t skip Mushishi just because of my little editorial nitpicking. It says something about this series that even after I’ve seen the anime (which is basically a verbatim adaption of the manga), I’ve been more than happy to buy the manga. (Not just for the Feast, but it was an excellent excuse.) I’d even be willing, in a few months time, to pick it up for a casual re-read.

If you would like to read more about Mushishi, check out the other Manga Moveable Feast entries at Manga Worth Reading! Thank you to Ed Sizemore for hosting this month’s event!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Manga Moveable Feast: Mushishi vol. 1-4

  1. I love that you nitpicked the series from an editor’s perspective. Not a fan of that one font either. I missed the tone bleed over. You’ve got great eyes.

    I look forward to your further thoughts when you get the other volumes.

    Thanks for a marvelous review.

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  3. The dialogue bleeding into the gutter of the book drove me crazy.

  4. Glad you mentioned the imaging issue, Daniella. I’ve had this beef with several Del Rey series (Kurogane, for example) and wondered why a company that is usually so meticulous in its packaging was so careless about allowing dialogue to vanish into the page well. Given how conversation-driven the series is, that seems like a peculiar oversight.

    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the text itself.

    • Yeah, I mean for all of Del Ray’s nice packaging and whatnot, you’d think they’d know what a bleed space is! I guess not…

      I’m going to assume you mean the text as in how Mushishi is written here. If I’m wrong, let me know, but I really like Mushishi. Not every story is my favorite, but I don’t particularly hate any story. It’s actually a lot nicer than the anime because I felt the anime took too long sometimes. I just like coming across the mushi and learning about a new one and seeing how they affect and interact with human or animal life. If there’s any one thing that gets a little old for me, it’s the “my mushi has ruined my whole entire life and killed my family and…” trope, which Urushibara seems a little over-fond of. She makes up for it by creating inventive mushi.

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