||[May. 20th, 2009|02:50 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#41 MUSHISHI – Yuki Urushibara
“Simple yet mysterious.”
Mushi is a Japanese word for bug that can also have other meanings. Yuki Urushibara uses it to refer to ghostly life forms so close to the top of the evolutionary ladder they barely exist. Intangible and invisible to most people, they’re like the primordial ancestors of souls. These mushi can only be seen by a select few, like the mushishi, ‘mushi masters’ who deal with them when they get out of control and begin haunting and infecting people like supernatural diseases. Ginko is one of these mushishi, a wandering hobo with a peekaboo bob and often no shoes, his feet touching bare earth to show how in touch with nature he is, who chain smokes magic cigarettes made out of captured mushi.
Travelling Japan’s villages to cleanse them of mysterious ailments like a cross between a doctor, an exorcist, a detective and a pest exterminator, Ginko pits his brain against the strangeness using an encyclopaedic knowledge of bizarre cures, which often follow their own kind of poetic logic. A cloud-like mushi can be exhaled if you climb to a high enough altitude for it to float away; a mushi that takes the shape of an ink-coloured birthmark can be reduced by writing. Ginko cures possessions as if he’s curing diseases. It makes a kind of sense – germs are just as invisible as ghosts after all.
The mushi bugs look like things you might see under a microscope or floating across your eyeball, though sometimes they appear as ghostly people, animals or patches of rust that spread across the skin. They’re infinite in variety; enough to fill volumes with spooky little stories of Doctor Ginko’s extraordinary remedies. The villagers who suffer from the effects of the mushi are less varied and often interchangeable. Urushibara saves her characterisation for Ginko, who receives about one story per volume doling out titbits of his curious past as he travels from place to place in a very isolated version of Japan. A rambling man who is himself cursed by the mushi so that whenever he settles down they flock to him, Ginko is a magnet for strange phenomena who tries to lessen the world’s quota of dangerous weirdness. Removing himself from the area at the end of each story is the most important part of his cures.
Ginko is also a man of peace, his solutions rarely combative. Although the mushi are certainly spooky they’re only rarely horrifying – crawling in and out of people’s orifices they can be pretty creepy – and Mushishi is about finding ways of living in harmony with the darkness, treating supernature like any problematic part of life that in the long run will only strengthen us.
Except for occasionally when it eats somebody.