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Mushishi, Volume 4

by Yuki Urushibara

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Mushishi (4)

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1683128,915 (4.34)None
"Nebulous and unseen, existing in a state somewhere between life and death, mushi bring nothing but pain, suffering and destruction to humans. A small commmunity of wandering healers and naturalists known as mushishi protect humans from the ravages of these malevolent entities. Ginko, with his green eye and white hair, is a mushishi. But when Ginko tries to help a boy who seems to have found spring in the middle of winter, he and the boy both become victims of the life-sucking creatures"--Cover, P. [4].… (more)

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Although the ten-volumes series Mushishi was Yuki Urushibara's professional debut as a mangaka, it has been very well-received by both critics and fans. The manga began its serialization in 1999 and would go on to win a Japan Media Arts Award in 2003 and a Kodansha Manga Award in 2006 among other honors and recognitions. Mushishi, Volume 4 was originally published in Japan in 2003. In 2008, Del Rey Manga released the first English-language edition which is now sadly out-of-print. However, as of 2014, the volume has been made available digitally by Kodansha Comics. Mushishi was a series that I stumbled upon when it was initially being released in English. The manga quickly became and continues to be one of my favorite series; Mushishi was one of the first manga that I made a point to collect in its entirety. I love the series' quiet, creepy atmosphere, its emphasis on life and nature, and the influence of traditional Japanese culture and folklore on the stories being told.

Mushishi, Volume 4 collects five stories. The volume opens with "Picking the Empty Cocoon," telling the tale of a family with close connections to both mushi and mushishi. They are the caretakers of uro, a particularly useful but dangerous type of mushi. In "One-Night Bridge," Ginko is invited to a remote village in a deep valley to investigate the case of a young woman who fell to the bottom of the gorge but somehow survived. Except that she's never been the same since her accident. Plants growing out of season allow a brother and sister to weather harsh winters in "Spring and Falsehoods," but the mushi that cause the phenomenon aren't as benign as they first appear. In the fourth story, while traveling through the mountains, Ginko stumbles upon a small family living in a vast bamboo grove. They seem to be trapped there, unable to leave no matter how hard they try; they always end up circling back to their home. The volume concludes with "The Sound of Trodden Grass," which provides a little more insight into Ginko's past.

For the most part, Mushishi tends to be fairly episodic. Except for the presence of Ginko, out of all of the stories included in the fourth volume only "The Sound of Trodden Grass" has an explicit connection to any of the other chapters in the series, and it's only a tangential one. Although none of the stories in Mushishi, Volume 4 are directly related to one another plot-wise, there was one similarity shared between them all that particularly struck me: the prominent role played by families. Looking back, this actually isn't at all an uncommon theme in Mushishi—families, as well as other tightly knit communities and groups, are frequently featured in the manga. However, through the illness and other problems that follow them, mushi are shown to cause great strife in those relationships. Circumstances caused by mushi's existence can drive people apart, but in some cases they may actually draw them together. Familial ties are strong and not easily broken, but mushi's close connection to nature and life and death (including those of humans) is sometimes in conflict with them and they are just as enduring.

The stories in Mushishi are often reminiscent of folktales and legends originating from Japan; Urushibara clearly draws some inspiration directly from that lore. For example, "In the Cage" with its children born of bamboo recalls the story of Kaguya-hime. The fourth volume of Mushishi is influenced by Japanese history, as well. "The Sound of Trodden Grass" features a group of wanderers displaced by mushi known as the Watari who are based on the Sanka people of Japan. (This is even more meaningful to me now after having read Kazuki Sakuraba's novel Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas in which the Sanka also play a part.) Some of Mushishi's stories can be rather spectacular, with mushi causing phenomena verging on the paranormal, while others are more subdued. Mushi are said to be very close to the original form of life and are therefore inseparable from nature, but they remain mysterious. Mushishi is a collection of tales that delve into that terrifying unknown. Urushibara combines elements of folklore and history along with her own imagination to successfully create a series that feels familiar while still being new.

Experiments in Manga ( )
1 vote PhoenixTerran | Jul 15, 2015 |
A great volume to read though the average Mushishi chapter tends to be a bit on the bleak or tragic side. ( )
  timothyl33 | Jul 9, 2011 |
Mushishi (蟲師) is a manga series written and illustrated by Yuki Urushibara.

Mushi are dangerous beings existing in the unseen, between life or death. They are in touch with the essence of life in a manner more pure than human beings. Most humans are incapable to perceiving Mushi, apart from few people and among these people there is Ginko (ギンコ), the main character of Mushishi. Ginko is a Mushishi: a Mushi Master who wanders Japan.

The contents of Mushishi volume 4: Picking the Empty Cocoon; One-Night Bridge; Spring and Falsehoods; In the Cage; and The Sound of Trodden Grass.

Picking the Empty Cocoon or Pickers of Empty Cocoons (虚繭取り): Ginko is angry with the girl who handles the cocoons used by Mushishi as mailboxes, because she’s still looking for her sister disappeared in an empty cocoon.
‘How long are you going to obsess on what’s lost? - The old man won’t be able to rest in peace!’ (p. 9) *See note at the end.

One-Night Bridge (一夜橋): Ginko arrives in a village where there is a bridge that you can cross only in one direction, otherwise if you go back the bridge destroys itself causing your fall. In this village there is a girl’s fallen from the bridge but still alive as a vegetable; she is not the person she used to be anymore. ‘ They fall into the valley and come back, but ... their hearts have been eaten.’ (p. 60)
Ginko finds out that the bridge is ‘possessed’ by Mushi called Nisekazura, who make their home in the tops of the tree; also ‘the Nisekazura of this valley ... come to control the bodies of ... animals ... and store up the sunlight.’ (p. 64)

Spring and Falsehoods or Pretense to Spring (春と嘯く): winter is coming, so Ginko gets shelter in a cabin where already lives a boy. The boy tells Ginko a story about a place where Spring blooms early and every time he goes there he falls asleep for days. In this story the Mushi is called Usobuki. ‘They have the same form as blooms on flowering trees. I hear that they’re a Mushi called Usobuki. Its main effect is the odor it gives off. They say the odor awakens activity in hibernating animals and plants in the middle of winter. ‘ (p. 103)
‘And the houses along the snow-filled road display their illuminations. Their promise of warm shelter is nearly inescapable ... to animals, insects ... and humans alike.’ (p. 138)

In the Cage or Inside the Cage (籠のなか): Inside a bamboo forest lives a man with his wife and child, they can’t leave the forest, when they try to escape from the forest, always they return to the same place. The Mushi is called Magaridake and means bamboo that has taken up residence, so Magaridake lives in a white bamboo with the power to give birth to children half-Mushi half-Human.

The Sound of Trodden Grass or The Sound of Footsteps on the Grass (草を踏む音): as a child Ginko wander Japan with other nomads, and every year they visited a special mountain.
‘Something about how a certain blueness means that the mountain’s calm, and we can go on. And if it’s red, we can’t ... If it’s gold, that’s when the mountain is in its best mood, and we can go in peace.’ (p. 207)
‘Even now, when I hear someone treading in the mountain’s grass, I feel relieved ...’ (p. 229)

Could be a paradox: a tale told and drawn about an unseen beings (Mushi), but in Mushishi everything flows like a quiet stream, and nobody is worried about this paradox. The black and white drawings are impressive: among the others I recall the cat-fish in the river; also impressive the various landscapes, in this case I recall that one with the rain. (p. 211)

* A note for the whispers: ‘According to Japanese and Buddhist tradition, at death a person has the opportunity to move on to the next life. This is called jobutsu. If the spirits have worries still connected to the earth, they are trapped and are unable to move on.’ (p. 241) ( )
  GrazianoRonca | Aug 17, 2010 |
This was a good volume with some very interesting stories in it. My favorite was the one about the white bamboo, second favorite the one about the cacoon mushi. I didn't really see much progress with the main story line...if there really is a main story line. ( )
  Shebakune | Mar 30, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yuki Urushibaraprimary authorall editionscalculated
Flanagan, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"Nebulous and unseen, existing in a state somewhere between life and death, mushi bring nothing but pain, suffering and destruction to humans. A small commmunity of wandering healers and naturalists known as mushishi protect humans from the ravages of these malevolent entities. Ginko, with his green eye and white hair, is a mushishi. But when Ginko tries to help a boy who seems to have found spring in the middle of winter, he and the boy both become victims of the life-sucking creatures"--Cover, P. [4].

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