Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Yuki Urushibara’s Natural Insight

Throughout Japanese history, we have used anime and manga to explore various perspectives on current events. In short, like the media, they influence society and reflect it. Critically, Mushishi (written by Yuki Urushibara) is a series that deals with substantially internal issues such as the commodification of life, materialism, and shifts in the meaning of gender roles themselves.

By the way, anime and manga often reflect the rapidly changing social and political climate of the post-WWII era. Urushibara created the manga between the late ’90s and early 2000s. In the manga, people’s daily interactions with tiny insect-like creatures they call Mushi exemplify a longing for nostalgia for past relationships with the natural world. Therefore, Urushibara provides an insight into sentiment regarding crucial economic and socio-political changes.

As well as the Mushi, the relationships between the characters explore awe, anxiety, and fear about the increasing modernization of late 20th-century Japanese society. It is different from anime in general; on average, we can find anime that does not get bogged down with fan service. There are always useless dialogues that only fill 20 minutes of each episode. As well as tired jokes, Mushishi prefers to avoid these over-the-top moments by doing what the media should be doing.

Paranormal Entities

Most viewers have come to expect some of the tropes of obscure sequences over the series’ course. However, Mushishi devotes themselves to the brimful presentation of the story. It follows a period of Mushishi’s wanderings that people do not know about Mushi. The setting hypothetically is in the 1890s, just before the Meiji Restoration began. In short, it is an episodic anthology series of the seinen demographic.

It tells the story of Ginko, a man with green eyes and white hair who is the only recurring protagonist. As a Mushi Master, he travels between places, trying to deal with incidents between the Mushi-affected and the people themself. Apart from wearing Western-style clothing, he deals with natural phenomena, mysterious events, natural disasters, and the illnesses that Mushi causes themselves.

Mushi in the original Japanese version of the manga connotes parasite, supernatural, and silence, literally too, means insects. They are ethereal primitive life forms that inhabit the space between the supernatural and the human world, acting as insect life. However, they still have the power to influence the surrounding environment and people. Despite being set in a world where paranormal entities populate, it is a bit of a disservice to think of the series as being in the same boat as general supernatural horrors.

Anxiety and Fear

Mushishi is not about exorcism or demons. Simply put, the series is not horror and never treats the relationship between Mushi and sentient beings in a black-and-white way. In the same way, the mystical aspect itself arises from the fact that not everyone can see the Mushi. Although they are not necessarily living things, plants and animals always populate the worlds in the series.

In essence, Mushi is a spirit-like creature that is very much alive. They affect all other living things they come into contact with it. In the first episode, The Green Throne, Ginko tries to explain the relationship between Mushi and humans. He explained it to a reclusive young man who could bring anything he drew to life. Places in human society and the subtle nature of Mushi tend to be almost physical representations of anxiety and fear around intangible change.

It takes place during the second half of the 20th century in Japan. In the episode, Ginko uses his forearms and hands, showing a human’s middle fingertip. Therefore, Mushi will communicate with them through the veins on their arms. However, right next to the heart, they are very close to the essence of life itself.

Japanese’s History

For the most part, Mushi does various problem that is always invisible when Ginko meets him in the countryside; we can compare it to people trying to understand how to prevent the relationship between the new social life and those who are consistently changing. In the 70s and 80s, Japan experienced different political and economic upheavals. After experiencing rapid changes, political scandals and the oil crisis brought them into an era of desperation.

In this decade, countless people have moved from the countryside to the cities. It causes increased pollution, development, and urbanization, as well as increased consumerism and affluence. Such changes make them feel unsure about the future. At this very moment, the fortune seemed uncertain; they always looked to the past for reasonable answers. In the 80s and 90s, increased pollution in all Japanese cities led to an ongoing environmental movement.

We can see the simplicity of life and the environment in society as a reaction to rapid modernization and urbanization. Before the manga’s appearance, Mushishi‘s historical setting contributed to mediating the ongoing changes during the turn-of-the-century Japan. Frequently, the series become places where stressed-out urbanites deal with their frustrations and neuroses.

The Idyllic of Complexity

Connection to nature, relative calm, and simplicity in Mushishi are sources of comfort that we use in processing their concerns and points of view. On the other hand, residents in the series often regard Mushi creatures as psychic. Despite still creating an atmosphere close to realism, it depicts the part of life that viewers are most familiar with in reality. The struggles and humans’ everyday life emphasize the idea that Mushi is an integral but natural part of the world.

Without the Mushi themselves, every other living thing would not survive. While complementing the notion that they are within the confines of a realistic world, the series does a fine job of presenting the lives of the villagers as idyllic or not ideal. Thus, it is full of difficulties; their network is complex. Indeed, Ginko sometimes manages to help others who cannot coexist with Mushi.

He could not do it most times; the only choice was to adapt to the situation as best he could. Therefore, viewers are also in the spirit of realistic fiction for invariably refusing to give a “happy” ending. In short, Mushishi changes the separation from the natural world through people’s interactions with Mushi.

Shintoism

Mushi is very similar to kami or spirits in Shinto beliefs. It is because it is ambivalent and non-moral. Besides being able to have an unparalleled impact on human life, the way Mushi represents them is through animism and Japanese mythological beliefs. They consider humans equal to non-humans. On the other hand, the series dramatizes or fantasizes through the author’s thoughts about what it means to live side by side in a world with other creatures and nature.

In the series, many stories contain a sequence of results from people not respecting the natural world around them. Most do not heed the warning signs; they always upset the ecosystem’s delicate balance between Mushi and humans. Such connections juxtapose the growing separation between nature and humans. In the episode titled To Sleep in the Mountains, a villager kills a mountain hog god.

It is so that her lover, Mujika, a Mushi teacher, can replace him and live with him. Mujika assumes the role of a mountain god as he becomes old; he cannot control the balance of the ecosystem and the Mushi who live there. The villagers started to pay the price after they chose to disrespect the sheer mountain.

Contemporary Society

To restore stability to the mountain, Kuchinawa, another Mushi, eats him. At such a moment, the cycle of humans trying to exercise their control over nature only for the sake of having consequences. When we see people coming together in the face of a disaster, it is most likely a way of processing the environmental impact. The accumulation of silt in rivers due to the excessive construction of dams and increased pollution from cars are just two small examples.

Most of the villagers in the series often learn to hear nature around them. It is convenient for preventing further damage to their home. When the villagers no longer fear the unknown, they live in harmony with the Mushi to the best of their ability. We can take the series as a process of anxiety itself. Whether it’s about the changes occurring around the villagers, a wandering teacher can explain the nostalgia of the past through a vital role.

Otherwise, many of the characters in the series find solutions or solace through Ginko’s advice or intervention. Such nostalgia acts as a means by which we express resistance to contemporary society. It allows us to have some control, and so do they.

The New Era of Frustration

They can find comfort in Ginko’s quiet interactions with other people. The overall feel and look of Mushishi are generally very relaxed. In parts, it’s pacing. Episodes vary between a bright green during the warm season and a darker shade during the winter. Therefore, music plays an essential role in the nostalgic feel; it gives an older impression as like the instruments were playing in the period of the series.

Yet, we imagine the past in the series to process the changing world around them all the time escaping. Unknown and mysterious forces will always affect human life. The similarities between historical contexts, sociopolitical changes, and traditional themes of contrasting lifestyles are increasing. Consistently, it serves as a venue for the anxiety and frustration of escapism. The rise in popularity of fantasy anime and manga during the changing 20th-century Japanese society can play a new era of frustration.

Through anime, fantasy action is one such response. It engages us with nostalgia for simpler times. While looking at ignorance, fear, and worry, it acts as a small supernatural insect living creature. They walk through a mysterious landscape thanks to Ginko’s knowledge of the world.

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