Mushishi Volume 1

Written by Yuki Urushibara
Illustrated by Yuki Urushibara
Del Rey

Mushshi is the selected title for the third edition of the Manga Movable Feast, (or MMF) where those of us who hang out together in the blogosphere pick a title to talk about all at the same time. Perspectives and approaches will differ, which is part of the fun.

You can see the home page for the Mushshi MMF here.

In my case, this is a new series for me, so I'll be featuring my volume by volume reviews this week, starting here with Volume 1.

Ever feel like maybe there are all sorts of horrible, morphing creatures that exist in the most unlikely places, ready to do harm? Guess what? They do, and they're called mushi. If you have one, you're probably as good as dead. Only a rare person, a mushishi, can help you.

Ginko is just such a person, and it's his wanderings we follow in this manga series that's part horror, part human nature. Set in a rather timeless world, Mushishi has the luxury of its central premise allowing the author to take the reader wherever she wishes to go. The idea of the potential for supernatural danger in everyday life is a pretty good one and works well here. We never know exactly what type of adventure Ginko is going to get into because the "villains" are everything from little bugs to living letters to infesting dreams.

These are not the horrific creatures of your typical ghost story. The Mushi don't manifest themselves as awful things with sixteen heads or oozing puss. They are the devil in the details, a legacy from stories that don't get passed around the fire anymore. To me, it's far creepier to have the idea of dreams becoming real and harming everyone you love rather than an unlikely creature of the night stalking innocent victims.

This is the kind of horror story that you don't see a lot of. It's not psychological horror--within context, the mushi are all very real--and it's not graphic. The terror of mushi lies more in the idea that it seems to have a rational explanation, and yet the cause can only be cured by those who know the supernatural secrets the mushi control. No one can believe that it's happening, and that only makes the situation worse.

Only Ginko and a few others seem to grasp the truth. That gives it an X-files feel, though the solutions are far more down to earth. He seems to show up just in time to try and save the day, though what I like best is that Ginko's not always able to make things work. There are times when the Mushi are simply too far advanced for him.

Because of Ginko's inability to win every time and the supernatural plot, I couldn't help but think of a certain other magical adventurer. His light hair, trench coat, and constant smoking are also trademarks of Vertigo's lovable rogue John Constantine. The mushi strike me as something Constantine would encounter, though given Vertigo's penchant for blood and gore, the results I'm sure would be quite different. I can't find any mention of it, but I wonder if Urushibara was influenced at all by Alan Moore's creation.

This is a wandering, episodic manga that doesn't dwell too long on any story. The five stories collected here share little in common with each other, save Ginko's involvement. I think the best story was the one about dreams, and I kinda wish it had been the leadoff story. (I thought the first chapter was kinda weak compared to what came after it.) In addition to the letters, there's mushi that affect hearing and vision, two concepts that positively terrified me.

All of the stories take their time playing out before the reader, which is about the only thing I didn't care for. I thought the pacing was a bit off and would have preferred moving a bit quicker to the payoff. If you find and read mushishi, you'll need to make sure you allow the chapters to develop.

The art of this volume is similarly restrained. There's nothing eye-catching, and Urushibara uses a lot of grey tones to paint the picture of this world. It's hard to tell just when this is taking place, as Ginko dresses fairly modern while the rest of the characters do not. Similarly, the places we see and the people we meet look quite ambiguous. I like the way the mushi are shown (or not shown), and that even the scarier parts of the book are presented in a way that is not sensational.

Mushishi shows that there's a lot of room in the manga family of horror-related books. I enjoy reading such stories, and it's nice to see another dimension added by this book. If you like tales of the supernatural, definitely give this one a look.