Friday, July 19, 2013

Mushishi Episode 4: Deal With It

     I'm rewatching Mushishi on DVD and blogging it. Previous post here. First post here. You can watch this episode and the rest of the series legally (and free) on Youtube here.

     This episode represents a significant departure from the rest of the series so far. It contains a lot of firsts for the series: the first hints of tension between Ginko and another human, the first time Ginko's lack of knowledge has been given a focus, and very notably the first time Ginko outright fails to help someone (though that is best attributed to the patient, not him). But perhaps more important than any of these is the first direct statement of one of the series key themes: coexistence.

     The first hints come with the realization that the Imeno no Awai are helpful and destructive at once. They just as easily cause landslides that destroy homes as they do wellsprings that help the village expand. They aren't enemies (or at least they don't have to be), nor are they necessarily friends. They, like many of the mushi throughout the series, are just other creatures, living. As Ginko says, no one is really at fault - there aren't good or bad sides.

     The most interesting thing about the theme, though, is how. . .painfully it is portrayed. Jin loses his wife, friends, and indeed his entire village to the Imeno no Awai. While there was a possible prevention for it - taking Ginko's medicine exactly as instructed - given how little information he had, it was hardly unreasonable of Jin to act as he did. After he does learn the truth, there is still no true solution to his problem - at least, none Ginko knows of - and no recompense for his pain. Despite having lost everything, Jin is still shackled by the mushi.

     This is where things get most curious. Coexistence is typically shown as a kind, loving affair where people choose to get along and live happily amongst each other because of it. Here it is presented as a harsh fact of life. There is no choice; you must coexist, or you will live a tortured life and lose everything, from your loved ones and home to your very peace of mind. In a way, it's a perfect tragedy; nobody does anything wrong and everybody still loses.

     This has raised an interesting question for me. I'm well aware of how often the show stresses the importance of creatures cooperating with each other, but I realize I've no clue the underlying reasons for it. Is it as I previously thought, and the reason for coexistence is because it is a wonderful thing full of hope? Or is it simply that it's a fate forced upon us, and we have to make the best of it or suffer the consequences? At this point I'm thinking it's a little of both, but I suppose I'll have to watch on to tell.

     As an aside, I think Ginko was what surprised me the most in this episode. Where Jin and the Imeno no Awai are tragic entities, Ginko is a manipulative puppeteer, and not a very good one at that. His lies (half-truths might be more accurate), whatever the intentions, are more influential on Jin's catastrophic actions than anything else, and though he always has an idea of how to solve the issue, none work. In a way, he best fits the archetype of a villain seeking redemption; he, more than anything else, was the cause of the problem, and now he's trying to fix it. That he fails miserably at doing so is in keeping with the episode's bleak outlook, but has implications beyond - Ginko carries on in spite of these events. Whether that simply means he's hardened or something else, it certainly adds a darker side to his travels that the audience rarely sees.

     Snippettee went all out and used this episode as the jumping point for an existential discussion on dreams back last February. A fun read, if you're into that particular brand of philosophy.


  1. Hey John,

    I watched the series in its entirety a while ago; regrettably, your review of this episode brings almost nothing to mind. I would like to request a return of synopses--or perhaps something akin to what you did for episode 3. While there was no synopsis per se in your review of episode 3, your description and explanation of the series' content provided sufficient detail to jog my memory.

    There's no reason not to assume the reader has seen the episode, but you seem to be assuming that it's as fresh in the reader's mind as it is in yours... If the synopses were unpleasant to write, then could you at least include a brief "blurb" to help those of poor recall recognize the episode for what it is?

    This is a request, not a suggestion, but something like the following would (in my case, at least) be ample reminder:

    Episode 1 - In which a boy draws pictures that come alive, and a girl who ate at a mushi banquet remains dead.

    Episode 2 - In which a light-sensitive girl closes her second eyelid, looks directly at the river of light, and pours mushi out of her eyes.

    Episode 3 - In which a little boy with horns hears strange things because the snail that killed his mother lives in his head.

    It would make the review easier to follow if I could remember in the first place which story or stories were in the episode being reviewed!

    Thanks for considering it,

    -Chris T

    1. Hi Chris,

      That's certainly fair. I definitely jumped right in on this episode.

      I had the idea in my mind that those who hadn't seen it in a while could simply skim the episode again for a refresher, hence the reason I put the Youtube link at the top of the page. The site is (for the time being) hassle-free enough that I thought it wouldn't be an issue. . .I guess that's not the case?

      As far as the fresh in the reader's mind part goes, the idea is to cut out redundant information - that is, you assume it IS fresh so you can get straight to whatever it is that you, the blogger, is bringing to the table. Of course, that is a rule normally applied to currently airing shows, so perhaps I am being unreasonable without realizing it.

      Now, the reason they were unpleasant to write was not so much actually writing them, but how to include them. I knew I didn't want to heavily incorporate them into the actual post, but I couldn't decide on anywhere else that's appropriate. . .Perhaps what I shall do is find an episode list and include a link to it at the top? Provided I can find a suitable one, that sounds effective.

      In any event, thanks for bringing it up. How to handle this part of the posts has definitely been a difficult thing to figure out, so I'm glad for any feedback on it.

      P.S. I received and read your e-mail and do fully intend to respond to it. Given, however, that in my drafts folder I found an unsent, unfinished reply to your previous correspondence, it might not be prudent to expect it, at least not soon. Maybe I should respond to one piece at a time to ensure I get at least some discussion going. Hmm. . .

    2. Hey John,

      I... completely failed to notice the links at the top. Excellent point about skimming for a refresher, in that case. I often read your reviews in contexts where it is inconvenient or impractical for me to spend time reviewing an episode on YouTube (e.g., on a mobile device or on a computer in a public place with no headphones)... but with that said, that just means I should skim the episode when I can and come back to the review when I've got it fresh in my mind.

      I expect a review to contain at least some sort of summary of content; without knowing the work, a reviewer's opinion of it is useless to me. Since you're assuming that your audience has watched the show already (and, more importantly, recently), this is probably an irrelevant holdover from my experiences elsewhere. You know more about reviewing (and blogging, for that matter) than I do, but be careful; the principles you suggest are making you sound like an episodic blogger*. ;)

      In short, I think you're fine, since you post the link. I failed to notice it, so it seemed like you were assuming more than you were.

      -Chris T

      P.S. No worries, John. Took me two months between e-mails, so it's not like I'd have room to complain even if I wanted to. This would be less of a problem if we discussed less interesting subjects**, but there's always so much to say, isn't there**? Though I will say that I like getting e-mails from you at least as much as you like getting them from me, so try not to hold yourself to any higher a standard than you'd want me to hold myself to for the purpose of composing replies to you.

      P.P.S. I'm watching the episode now and will have some remarks on it up here in a day or two. An interesting YouTube comment by 'katzlovz' reads: "[...] each episode so far has been based off of the 5 senses! Episode 1 was based off of taste, with the wine cup. Episode 2 is based off of [sight], because of the girl not being able to look at light. Episode 3 was based off of hearing, because the boy couldn't hear. Episode 4 was based off of feeling--the man cut his pillow that cut himself as well." I wonder how this theme will progress, if at all.

      * In the words of John Sato, "episodic blogging is suffering."

      ** Or maybe I just talk too much.

    3. Hey John,

      Just finished the episode. I'll still add more in a day or two, but off the bat, I would suggest that another key theme of Mushishi is isolation. Separateness, different-ness, identity, and so forth--but all only as extensions to alone-ness. Look at the first four episodes for a moment and consider: has not every character we've seen (in the spotlight, anyway) been defined by what forcibly separates them from everyone else... In other words, by what keeps them from being able to relate to others normally?

      This continues to be the major theme in each of the next four episodes, but more than that, it's a theme of the mushi-shi profession. As explained in (I believe) the first episode, humans who become part of the mushi world are forever separate from the human world; she who was broken needed to become whole. Several other episodes (I'll note them when we see them) give examples of individuals who can see mushi, which makes them different from everyone else--in other words, it isolates them, guaranteeing that their existence will be completely different from that of anyone else's they might know.

      It renders them isolated. That, I think, is a stronger theme even than coexistence--and a subject to be discussed later, I think. I've been up far too late for far too long.

      Good night for now, then,

      -Chris T

      P.S. Hey, I made it through a whole comment with no footnotes or postscripts*!

      * Dang it.

    4. That's a very good observation! I have no illusions of making the definitive analysis of the series; viewing it from that perspective would yield just as interesting an in-depth a view as mine, I imagine.

      As far as being a primary theme (for that is what I view coexistence as in Mushishi), I couldn't say; I will need to see what future episodes hold. It's certainly a view worth attention, I think!

      I haven't been saving the notes I take while watching the episodes and I've forgotten what other possible interpretations I had for 1, 2, or 3, but I remember another set of ideas I found interesting here was that of power, most specifically Jin's power and the dynamic it caused with him and the other villagers. It wasn't as strong so I decided not to write about it, but I remember noticing it and figured I might as well mention it.

      And yes, I do feel myself slipping down the dark road of episodic blogging. . .I'll have to be careful.

      P.S. So close!

  2. Hey John,

    I find this episode confusing every time I try to remember it, but it makes perfect sense when I'm actively watching it. Some things that regularly confuse me:

    - The pillow reveal was odd because I don't relate to it on a cultural level. I like the idea, I just don't usually use a pillow, let alone the same one for years on end.

    - Jin is physically affected by the pillow slash. That seemed inexplicable to me, unless it was the dream-Jin holding the sword... But wasn't it real-Jin recovering?

    - Okay, honestly, I can never remember which Jin it is in which place and in which level of reality (or unreality) in and leading up to the pillow slash. It makes sense when I'm watching it, but trying later to remember what was actually happening leaves me befuddled.

    Now, you suggest that Ginko caused the episode's problems, which... could be argued, sure. But I'd say differently.

    The reason he didn't tell Jin the truth from the beginning was obvious: Jin would have felt responsible for his dreams. He wasn't the sort to willingly take on the incredible burden of having his dreams change the world: knowledge results in responsibility. If he'd known the truth, it would have destroyed him--and if Ginko admitted that there was no cure, he would certainly have killed himself rather than risk releasing nightmares on the world.

    Withholding information so he couldn't make an informed decision--that was manipulative, certainly. But Ginko told Jin exactly what he needed to do. Telling him the whole truth would probably (for Ginko; certainly, for us) have provoked his suicide.*

    Nor would I say that he failed to fix things. He succeeded in identifying the nest of the imeno no awai; it was Jin who destroyed it, breaking open the pathway of dreams (and assuring the gradual loss of his soul) in so doing. I grant that I find it completely implausible that Ginko would have been able to exorcise the mushi, given that they were living on Jin's pathway of dreams, but I don't recall (I'll watch again, to be sure) any mention by Ginko of the situation as being his fault. No guilt, no remorse, no desire for atonement, no sense of responsibility.

    If I'm right about that, well--Ginko may be a touch sociopathic, but he doesn't wholly lack empathy. He did his best to keep everyone alive and whole, but he failed. This results in sorrow, but not regret. That's why his failure doesn't weigh him down. He doesn't blame his own actions because he acted in the best way he saw fit.

    I'm not satisfied with my observations here, but c'est la vie. On an unrelated note, the mushi make for a wonderful setting feature. One of these days, I need to work them into a roleplaying game.

    Dream well,

    -Chris T

    * Inconsistency: nowhere else (that I recall) does Ginko initially accept at face value what he knows about a type of mushi, then question it later on. Either he knows all along or he's searching from the get-go. In this ep, he starts with the assumption that the home of the imeno no awai is impossible to reach, then, when pressed, tries to figure it out anyway. He does seem to give up on his research, but the fact that he tried is still a little odd.

    1. All right then. . .

      Just as a quick tangent concerning confusion, that is exactly how I've always felt about episode 3 (boy with horns). But then I already mentioned that in the previous post. Suffice to say I feel your pain.

      To try to explain that (though I can hardly claim complete understanding myself), while I too am very unsure which Jin (dream or physical) was which in the preceding scenes, I'm almost certain it was indeed physical Jin that cut the pillow. As for why he, too, was cut, I assumed it had to do with the fact that the Imeno no Awai were active, which meant the pathway was open and something that happened to the soul could happen to the body as well. It's one of those things that doesn't strictly follow, but makes a certain base amount of logical sense (barrier between dreams and reality open --> something happens to dream side of things --> analogous event happens in physical realm = Okay, I can accept that). If that helps.

      Concerning the rest, here is my reasoning.

      Not telling Jin: Having just met him, Ginko knowledge of Jin's personality was not by any stretch of the imagination complete, so it's not as if he could have known how Jin would have reacted. Perhaps he had drawn on past experiences of how others with the same affliction acted; that I'd certainly buy. So any arguing of mine here is rather moot.

      As I said, though, his intentions are not as important as his actions. That Jin didn't know he was causing the dreams was what exacerbated the problem. When his daughter died, he believed he could have predicted it, stopped taking the medicine, and that caused everything to worsen (in that it ensured more dreams became reality - perhaps had he kept taking it, the dream that killed his wife and village would not have come to fruition). I don't consider that any more outlandish an assumption than the idea that Jin would surely have committed suicide, especially considering that many of the dreams (surely more than just the one with the wellspring we were shown) were beneficial.

      Not fixing the problem: Jin was never cured - in fact, things turned out in probably the worst possible way (as I mentioned, perfectly tragic). I'd consider that a failure to fix things, though again this is focusing on the effects, not what led up to them. Certainly I wouldn't say Ginko is at fault for his failure here - he caused the initial problem, but Jin foiled all his attempts to fix it later - merely that he did, indeed, fail.

      Ginko's regret: As above, I think this comes down to different interpretations. Ginko apologized to Jin, going so far as to say it wasn't his - Jin's, I mean - fault (even though it totally was). The greatest piece of evidence for me, though, was that very inconsistency you mentioned. There was no known cure, something Ginko was previously quite content with, but he looked for one despite that because he was unhappy with the situation. I see that as indicative of regret.

      I shall note, as on re-reading I don't think it was obvious in the post, that I don't consider Ginko to actually be a villain character, merely that the archetype is something of a fit. I think every character made decisions that were at least somewhat rational, which is why the end result is a tragedy. What made Ginko stand out was that I found his rational decisions to be the most destructive in the long term.

      Those are my thoughts. Feel free to critique and point out what flaws you see - a good consensus needs feedback to flourish, after all. I will make it a point of thanking you for weighing in; discussion is where episodic posts show their true value, and having it has made these very rewarding to write. So thanks!

      P.S. Mushishi is begging to be made into a game. Several games, really. I myself am truly astounded the series hasn't been turned into a trading card game - they'd make millions, I tell you.

    2. Hey John,

      That explanation of the pillow slash makes perfect sense. Thanks a ton!

      I understood that you didn't mean to claim Ginko as a villain; I was contesting the validity of the archetype's application to him. However, on review and consideration of your comment and post (plus a good night's sleep), I concede completely.

      The inconsistency becomes consistent if it's viewed as a desperate search for something that would cover his mistakes. I say "cover" because it doesn't seem an effort to atone or redeem himself, but an effort to make what he'd done "okay" by excusing or expunging the problems that resulted from his decisions.

      In light of Ginko's regret, his alarm at Jin's pillow slash also becomes a tad bit more poignant: it wasn't only Jin cutting open his physical and metaphysical selves at once, it was Jin completing Ginko's failure by using what little information he did provide to puzzle out where the mushi were living--and brashly destroy it! In fact, I'm going to contradict my original position yet further. Since Jin only understood the significance of the fiery pillow because Ginko had mentioned the pathway of dreams, Jin's final self-destruction may be just as much Ginko's (indirect) fault as the destruction of Jin's village!

      Which leads to the most important point of all: action and intention. There's an old saying that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."* Ends do not justify means, nor vice versa. Good actions meant for evil ends are evil; assuredly, so are evil actions meant for good ends. To commit an evil (or, in Ginko's case, a carelessly manipulative) act with the best of intentions does not lessen your sin. Similarly, to intend evil but work good does not make your actions good! Their consequences may be less severe, but they rot the soul the same.

      Thus, it would be ludicrous to claim that Ginko had a good reason for withholding information from Jin. As you have aptly noted, Ginko made "rational" decisions--but the excellency of his reasoning is irrelevant (not to mention suspect) if it led to folly. I credited him far too much for his good intentions;** Ginko's sense of responsibility (exemplified, thank you again for pointing it out, in that apparent inconsistency) gives away his guilty conscience.

      And as you mention in your original post, this has interesting implications for Ginko's character. With my new interpretation in hand, I see him as far more of an "ineffective savior" type, accustomed to failing after trying his hardest. The world of the mushi is unforgiving, and Ginko's cool demeanor*** doesn't conceal calluses; it hides scars.****

      Thank you for your reply. It was most helpful; this episode makes a lot more sense now!

      -Chris T

      P.S. Millions, yes--cards and dollars alike! The mushi have such infinite variety... The concept of a series of collectibles staggers me. I was merely thinking of a role-playing setting: imagine a land where folding up your pillow while you're sleeping will let you carry it into Utopia, the land of dreams. There, you must discover the true form of a nightmare whose shadow was recently released on the waking world; only by finding its heart in the land of dreams will you be able to see what it truly is, thereby learning how it can be defeated. Of course, the truth of the nightmare will lead to a larger quest all its own... But I digress.

      * While I wouldn't describe it as a road, I've always wondered why nobody replies, "And the road to Heaven isn't?"

      ** An easy problem to have, unfortunately, since protagonists tend to be both sympathetic and prone to mistakes.

      *** Which is cool. Because Ginko is amazingly cool.

      **** I'm distinctly reminded of Kino's Journey, in only one episode of which the protagonist lets down her guard. That moment still gives me chills, and it completes the series and the character in a way no ordinary finale could.