Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mushishi Episode 5: Birds of a Swamp-Encrusted Feather

     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. List of brief episode descriptions here.

     I'll admit, I was caught a little off guard. Usually there are so many angles to write from with this series that my greatest difficulty is finding which one is the most prevalent. Episode 5 presented far fewer, few enough that at first I struggled to find any at all. To be fair, though, I was distracted by the excessive amounts of gorgeous scenery shots.

My desktop background at the time of publishing.

     The episode centers around two entities, a girl who (at least at the end of the episode) goes by the name Io and a Suiko, a liquid mushi that assumes the form of a swamp. Or so I say, but to be specific it doesn't center so much on them as it does their relationship. Io is by far the more important of the two, so let's start with her.

     Io's story begins some time prior to the episode's, when her village is ravaged by a flood. She is chosen to be sacrificed to the village's "water god" and is cast from a cliff. While she is saved from drowning by the Suiko, the most important changes have already occurred. Io had been cast out by the people she was closest to. They abandoned her and she in turn eschewed humans in favor of her rescuer. She believes she died in the river and it gave her a new life, which she is now content to live in its company - she claims it's the only place she feels she belongs.

     Her appearance only serves to solidify this, with her green hair setting her apart from other humans and serving as a very visual reminder of her bond with the Suiko. (That she wears the kimono she was given as "the bride of the water god" only further hammers in the idea.) After being cast out, Io has found a companion again.

     It's at this point Ginko comes into the story and her situation escalates quickly. The Suiko is headed to the sea to die, and she considers it enough of a comrade to become a part of the swamp (direct exposure to a Suiko causes one to, eventually, become liquid) and die alongside it. Ginko, who believes the limbo between life and death she would inhabit as a result would be unbearable, wants to recover her. When his plan succeeds, her story - in stark contrast to Jin's from the previous episode - reaches a rather positive conclusion. She is accepted by the village (in a way undoing her abandonment back home) and lives there as a human, seemingly quite happy.

No more forced cliff jumping, at least.

     Although the idea of humanity redeeming itself to Io is a poignant one, what really fascinates me is not the beginning or end to her arc, but the middle. Her friendship (for lack of a better word) with the Suiko begins almost as one of convenience, with it simply representing another creature to take comfort in while dealing with the shock of abandonment. Soon enough, though, there seems to be care on a deeper level as she identifies with the Suiko and resolves to stay with it even to its death. Eventually, it becomes too dangerous for Io to stay and she is just barely recovered in time, but she's still sad to part with the mushi. There are a few different ways to interpret this, but the show seems to be saying "Companionship from those radically different from you is painful, and often can't last, but treasure it nonetheless."

     While not a particularly strong stance, this does agree with the ideas that were introduced last episode; coexistence isn't a choice. You must coexist, or face the consequences. This episode seems to say that being the case, you should make the most of it when it is presented to you. Let yourself enjoy the company, and even if it ends poorly you'll have something to hold on to.

     Not bad for a story that began with abandonment, no?

     It seems that not only did I manage to make the one idea I struggled to find into my longest post on the series thus far, but I also proved myself utterly wrong. Two discussions I ended up ignoring entirely that would have been posts of their own (though perhaps of a different flavor) were Ginko's reasons for wanting to retrieve Io, and viewing things from the Suiko's perspective. Perhaps another day.


  1. Oh your note makes me excited! I don't remember Suiko being a vocal mushi, so I wonder what do you mean by its perspective - its life circle? And about Ginko saving Iori I guess he went with the logic of the living should belong with the living and the dead with the dead?

    1. Oh, sorry for not being more clear (as, in retrospect, I was rather vague)! What I meant by perspective in this case was its point of view. I wondered how it felt about having a companion on its final journey - if it felt anything at all. I guess the idea kind of hinges on the Suiko having some kind of sentience and being able to form and hold opinions on other creatures, but stranger things have happened with mushi in the series. I don't know. I just thought it would be interesting to think about how the swamp saw Io, in contrast to how Io saw the swamp (which is what the episode presented).

      Another thing that intrigued me was if it intentionally saved Io from drowning. I'm of the opinion that it was just coincidence, but for some reason part of me feels like it meant to save her. (Or, in a more tragically ironic view, it swept her away with it out of predatory habit. . .though I admit that seems even less likely.)

      Regarding Ginko, he does seem to have a very firm grasp on creature's respective places in the world, so that's quite likely. Alternatively, it could tie into a discussion I was having with another commenter on the previous post as to whether or not he has a guilty conscience concerning the people he's failed to help, and if "saving" Io (which, in her case, he really did do) was an attempt to compensate in some manner. As above, I don't yet have any opinions formed on the matter - the thoughts just came to me and I felt they were interesting enough to deserve mention.

  2. Hey John,

    This is one of my favorite episodes--mostly thanks to the resemblance of the Suiko* to a fantastic character in an unrelated story, but also because it finally breaks Ginko's* Mr. Smug streak:

    Ep 1-3: Ginko knows everything.
    Ep 4: Ginko may not know everything.
    Ep 5: Ginko doesn't know everything.

    Please permit me to ramble about this episode's themes and revelations for a while, here.

    Episodes 4 and 5 both feature Ginko discovering something important (and previously unknown) about the mushi he's dealing with. In ep 4, Ginko (arguably) discovers the truth too late--at the very least, the ending is not what he desired. It's the first real failure on Ginko's part, even if it may not have been his fault.

    In ep 5, Ginko discovers the truth with enough time to decide what to do about it. He acts quickly, but after he convinces the fishermen to put up a net to rescue the girl, Dr. Adashino (a great foil for Ginko) raises some concerns. Not least among them: why does Ginko want to save her?

    A reference to ep 1 gives us the answer packaged in a heckuva lot more insight into Ginko and the series itself. (This also demonstrates why it helps to watch the episodes in order, though not necessarily in swift succession.) In ep 1, Ginko makes a woman mushi because it's what she wants. Now, in ep 5, Ginko wants to prevent a woman from becoming mushi, even though it's what she wants.

    In both cases, the woman is already partly mushi, wants to remain with a loved one, and lacks anything to entice her to remain human. In fact, both woman have already -died- to the human world--Renzu literally perished, while Io was on the verge of death when she was saved by the Suiko. In both cases, the woman makes her wishes clear, and Ginko acts without hesitation. Why, then, does he help one, but hinder the other?

    The cases are not perfectly identical, but as far as Ginko's motivations are concerned, they might as well be. (One might suggest that Renzu was far enough gone that Ginko saw no other choice but to help her become mushi--but his explanations in both that episode and this one clearly demonstrate that he made the choice because it was what she wanted.)

    Here's why: Ginko isn't half as collected as he acts. While he remains calm around strangers, Ginko is surprisingly vulnerable to his friend, Dr. Adashino,** even going so far as to acknowledge that he doesn't know whether he made the right choice four episodes prior. Much like his apparently-inconsistent behavior in ep 4, Ginko's desire to save Io in this episode is motivated largely by the first thing Adashino mentions: a guilty conscience.

    Ginko is torn, in this episode as in the whole series, between upholding the balance of the world and doing what is best for individual people. He's often given the choice between satisfying people or doing what's best for them. In episodes 1-4, he chooses "happy" by withholding explanations and trying to solve the problems from a human perspective. Starting in ep 5***--the reason for his troubled conscience--he chooses "healthy," assenting to the natural order of things and solving problems from a mushi perspective.

    Interestingly, this places Io as the selfish one, who wishes to leave her proper place and become part of the Suiko, which had saved her in order to allow her to live. On the other hand, Renzu's story likely would have ended the same way--but Ginko's reason for helping her would have been dramatically different.

  3. The main thing ep 5 demonstrates is the vast, insurmountable differences in the mindsets of mushi and men. The Suiko's nature is both above and below our own, as the mushi are above and below us; they are closer to the source of life, so they act only out of instinct, without any real intelligence, but being more supernaturally primal allows them to bypass barriers that keep more "complicated" beings from leaving their place.

    In the same vein, keep in mind that humans do not become mushi without the intervention of existing mushi. I posit that this is because humans are incapable of drawing outside their metaphysical lines, while mushi freely travel through and beyond lines of all sorts, adhering only to their inherent limitations, not those of the world or of other beings.

    The rightful task of a mushishi is to restore humans to their rightful selves when they become disrupted; mushi are self-regulating among their own kind. Ginko chooses to save Io because of his conscience, but it's not the girl's death that troubles him--it's the likelihood of her losing her humanity, just as did another he could (presumably) have saved.

    Well, there's no end to things that can be said, but more thoughts will have to wait for another time. I've been typing for a while now.

    Thanks for listening,

    -Chris "warned you it would be a ramble" T

    P.S. Please pardon the deleted comment, above. Belatedly realized I was on the wrong account.

    * Who is cool.

    ** Whose next major role will be in episode 10, so stay tuned to... your own blog, I guess, for that post!

    *** This trend continues through episode 8, then things start to change around again in episode 9.

    1. Excellent points, especially about the similarities between Renzu and Io. Even though they were brought up by Ginko himself, I hadn't noticed the parallel quite so clearly before.

      One thing I've found really interesting about these earlier episodes is how little Ginko's knowledge has even really mattered. In episode 4, it was a big deal, but in this episode he already knew about the Suiko and how it worked. He didn't need to expand his knowledge, and for that matter he barely used it. He himself did very little in this episode beyond galvanizing others into action. In the next episode, too, his knowledge also played a rather minimal role (though there were some extenuating circumstances given the focus of the episode, but I'll get into that with the post, I guess). I just find that interesting, given what I remember of the show.

      An interesting line of thought with Ginko's character that I stumbled upon in response to Ayame above is that Ginko is aware of creature's proper places in the world. He does what he does because he's trying to bring balance to things. That idea of balance actually comes up a bit in episode 6, where I think it diverges a little bit from what you say. Ginko's job as a mushishi is to restore disruption, yes. But he's not necessarily interested in purging the mushi from humans themselves; instead, he just wants to find the comfortable balance where the two won't get in each other's way as much as possible. Sometimes, that can mean having a mushi still living with/inside a human. Sometimes not, too, granted.

      The traits of his that we've mostly been talking about (namely his guilty conscience/the reasons for it) tie in to this idea in that he doesn't always know exactly how to establish that balance, or how to account for creatures acting in unpredicted ways (e.g. Jin). I feel like as the series progresses this. . .imperfection of his (for lack of a better word) lessens if not outright disappears, hence my not remembering his failures in this regard nearly as much as his successes.

      Perhaps I'm wrong about all this, but I felt like putting it on the table (so to speak) nonetheless.

      P.S. No problem, it's already gone.

    2. Hey John,

      Regarding Ginko's knowledge, I agree that it's interesting how much (or how little) it comes into play. In 1, 2, and 3, his knowledge alone enables resolution of the characters' mushi-related problems, but in ep 4, Ginko lacked the knowledge he needed and didn't share the knowledge he had, and in this ep, Ginko wanted to save the girl even before he was sure of what would happen to her.

      I might've cheated and watched ahead,* and my impression and recollection both suggest that Ginko's primary task as a mushishi is rarely to learn or teach the truth about mushi. Instead, it's to teach people how to coexist with them; at a cursory glance, most of the episodes spend less than half their time detailing the nature of mushi (whether to Ginko, secondary characters, or the audience).

      Instead, Mushishi is primarily about people: not the bad things that happen to them, but the choices they make. Placed in the context of our previous discussion of Ginko's motives, this suggests a conclusion which sounds painfully obvious now that I type it out loud: Ginko's conflict earns less attention in episodes that focus on other characters, but is highlighted in episodes concerned mainly with him and his decisions.

      Self-evident as it sounds, it still helps explain** why Ginko's intensity and devotion to his task varies from, paraphrasing, "You have to live!" to, "Then again, maybe it's none of my business." Mushishi is not comprised of stories about Ginko, and it never was--but I only realize now that it isn't comprised of stories about mushi, either. It's made up of stories about people: their conflicts, their choices, and their agonies and triumphs.

      As for your other line of thought, and your suggestion that his uncertainty diminishes over time, I do find them interesting. Thankfully, we'll have plenty more fuel to add to that discussion as the episodes progress, so I'm inclined to say, "Time will tell," and see what the next (and next, and next, and next) episode suggests.

      Thanks for replying,

      -Chris T

      * It was hard to stop, not least because I kept thinking, "I'll just have it on in the background for the beautiful music," then getting distracted and watching it anyway.

      ** Or it helps me understand, anyway.

    3. May I join the discussion?

      "Ginko's primary task as a mushishi is rarely to learn or teach the truth about mushi. Instead, it's to teach people how to coexist with them"- He's a lot like Kusuriuri from Mononoke; both are doctors of some kind, so of course their job is practical. But I'll disagree that it's not in Ginko's job to learn about Mushi. Without theoritical knowledge, he wouldn't be able to help people. The series just doesn't focus that much on this part of his life.

      As for Ginko's guilty consciense, there's a particular story which was sadly left unadapted (I'm looking forward to a second season) and we take peek into his life as youngster. Without spoiling much, I'll say he was repremanded and dismissed from student by another mushishi because his actions did lots of harm. So that might have to do with why he tries his best and always thinks about the balance.

    4. Hey kitane,

      The more, the merrier. The only Mononoke I'm familiar with is of the Princess persuasion, so I'll take your word for the similarities--Kusuriuri is utterly unknown to me.

      Now, please let me make a distinction between profession and task, since my original phrasing was quite unclear.

      Ginko's profession* (mushishi) requires that he studies existing information about all kinds of mushi, and, more importantly, it demands that he be familiar with the means of researching new mushi, since all existing mushi lore is but a tiny speck compared to the mind-bogglingly-vast amount of information yet unknown. If Ginko did not have the ability to research and investigate mushi, he would not be a mushishi, but if he was not a mushishi, he would still be Ginko.

      Ginko's task** is not to study mushi. That's part of his profession, but nothing about Ginko suggests a scholarly or intellectual frame of mind; he possesses much knowledge and a keen intellect, but he is not, at heart, a student. Instead, I argue that the depth of his understanding of mushi theory and the intensity of his pursuit of mushi lore are simply natural side effects of his real priority, which is to teach people how to coexist with the mushi in their lives.

      If Ginko's purpose in life was to gain prestige, he would necessarily pursue a more illustrious career; if it was to save lives, he would train in a profession better suited to some kind of life-saving intervention.

      Because of the paucity of mushishi in the setting of Mushishi, they're referred to by one name only: mushishi.*** This is like referring to every kind of nurse, doctor, surgeon, physician, pharmacist and whateverologist simply as a "health-shi," or referring to plumbers, landlords, mailmen, painters, roofers, landscapers, architects, and construction workers as "house-shi."

      The field of study is so vast that specialization should be necessary, but, again, no mushishi can afford to specialize because so little of the field has been covered to begin with. There aren't other mushi to rely on to cover your blind spots. In a world better-populated by mushishi, there might be mushi theorists (I'm looking at you, Adashino), mushi physicists, mushi biologists, mushi diagnosticians, mushi pharmacists, and, of course, mushi physicians. Ginko, I suspect, would be best-suited to become a traveling doctor, much as he already is--but if he didn't need to do any research as part of his job, I don't think he would. He'd just find, diagnose, and treat mushi problems.

      That said, he has a great deal of inborn curiosity, so maybe it wouldn't be that simple... My point is, I think he gains knowledge as a path to meeting his goal of helping people, and--this next bit is what I actually meant when I typed that bit you quoted--Ginko's primary task -in the stories of Mushishi- isn't to learn about mushi. It's to teach people how to coexist with them.**** This is not a peaceful anime where Ginko learns new things every ep (though that tends to happen at least sometimes)--it's one where when Ginko learns things, it's because he needed to learn them to help someone that very same episode.

      Or, okay, sometimes because he was just curious. I haven't figured out a clever way to deal with that point.

      Thanks for jumping in, and thanks for reading my reply; I'm getting tired, so I'll need to end my comment here. Hope to see you around more soon, though.

      Always ending but never finishing,

      -Chris T

      P.S. I almost forgot about the manga! Now I want to compare the two alongside one another, since I haven't read it. I'll need to get a copy of it first, though, so it could take me a while.

      P.P.S. Of course, it would be extremely difficult to pursue a task/purpose/calling/life goal of "teach people (how) to coexist with mushi" without the ability to perceive mushi, which appears to be inborn.

    5. * Profession (in this context), i.e., career, background and training, skill set, station in life.

      ** Task (in this context)--though "mission" would have been a better word--i.e., goal, purpose, calling, responsibility (real or perceived).

      *** I've typed "mushishi" enough times now that it's starting to look really silly. Mushishi mushishi mushishi mushishi.

      **** I know I've said that same phrase a few times now. If I could think of a way to vary the phrasing, I assure you, I would--but it's late, and I'm a bit tired, so please pardon the redundancy.

    6. You can always call me Ayame for convenience (and grace). I just log in from another account for convenience's sake.

      The manga and the anime are absolutely the same, with some stories' order changed, without music and colors. Up to vol.5, if i remember correctly.

      I get what you mean, buuuut do you remember the Tanyu episode? Which is of course way ahead, yet I need it to make a point: Ginko goes there, tells Tanyu stories, not only to help her and see a dear friend, but because he can sneek in her big big library and read about mushi he might not encounter. So I wouldn't separate studying from the practice. Despite the first being a means for the second.

      "If Ginko's purpose in life was to gain prestige, he would necessarily pursue a more illustrious career; if it was to save lives, he would train in a profession better suited to some kind of life-saving intervention."
      This also is connected in a future episode where we learn his initial name and how he got his white hair. His family situation wouldn't allow probably any different career. Combine this with his experience and you get a single result- imho.

    7. Hey Ayame,

      Just to confirm our references:
      Ep 2, second eyelid - "The Light of the Eyelid"
      Ep 6, the living god - "Zombifying Dope Fl" --oops, I mean: "Those Who Inhale the Dew"
      Ep 7, rainbow hunt - "Raindrops and Rainbows"
      Ep 9, parting harvest - "The Heavy Seed"
      Ep 11, mountain god - "The Sleeping Mountain"
      Ep 12, Ginko's origin - "One-Eyed Fish"
      Ep 19, weightless girl - "String from the Sky"
      Ep 20, forbidden mushi - "A Sea of Writings"
      Ep 24, cold fire - "The Journey to the Field of Fire"

      I see what you're saying with regard to Ginko's interesti in Tanyu's library. I have nothing against using later episodes to supply additional insight or support arguments (I've done so myself, after all, and will do so again below); however, in order to prevent the comment thread on each ep from becoming a discussion of the entire series,* I'm going to reserve any commentary that relates to a specific, future episode to that episode's episodic review.

      "His family situation wouldn't allow probably any different career. Combine this with his experience and you get a single result- imho."
      I considered this while writing my ramble. First, let me mention something about Ginko's lifestyle. Mushishi usually (but probably not always) attract mushi, which predisposes them to wandering. However, their goals still vary dramatically. Contrast Ginko with the mushishi from eps 20 and 24, each of whom have radically different lifestyles than he. Plus, the existence of the seed in ep 9, along with Ginko's choice regarding it, tells us that not only are there mushishi who don't respect taboos of their trade as much as others, but that even if two mushishi break the same taboo, they may still have widely divergent motivations for doing so.

      Cognizant of a world of life invisible to most, even a traveling mushishi could easily become more rogue than wanderer. Ginko mentions in ep 6 that there are many (or at least enough to establish a pattern) who abuse mushi for their own gain; nothing about the "gift" of seeing (and attracting) mushi seems to depend on or influence a person's personality toward the pursuit of harmony, so I find it highly unlikely that there haven't been selfish and wicked "mushishi." Although they would share his profession, Ginko has next to nothing in common with them. Of course, most of the mushishi we actually see are fairly similar to Ginko--but I'm glad you mentioned ep 20, since the mushishi in that ep will add quite a bit to this discussion when we get to her.

      Now, to respond to your suggestion that Ginko didn't have a choice--I disagree, but with a condition. Ginko could have worked hard, learned a trade, and got along fine in life. The series is full of mostly-ordinary people who can see mushi, and while this invariably causes some kind of trouble, by no means are they forced to become mushishi. Consider the rainbow man from ep 7, or the girl from ep 19: they lead unremarkable lives in most ways. Being able to see mushi may be a requirement to becoming a mushishi, but it doesn't require that you do so.

      On the other hand, mushi attraction may compel attractive persons**** to become a mushishi simply in order to protect themselves. We know this can be the case--I forget who or in which episode, but someone remarks that they learned the trade of the mushishi as a matter of necessity--but I doubt it's usual. If being able to see mushi does not necessarily attract them, it may be learning about them that does the trick.

      This leads to my condition: if Ginko's exposure to mushi lore in ep 12 made him permanently attractive to mushi, then I concede that he had no real choice but to become a mushishi. I specify his exposure to mushi lore rather than, say, the source of his white hair, because we know that the mushishi in ep 11 also had the tendency to attract mushi, even though he doesn't have white hair.*****

    8. I'm also inclined to suspect that awareness of mushi and attractiveness to mushi are both correlated to the extent to which a human has been exposed to the light vein. There are some gaping factual flaws with such an assertion, but I like it anyway because it seems thematically appropriate.

      Thanks for the response,

      -Chris T

      P.S. Regarding my first* and third*** footnotes, please understand that I'm by no means attempting to rebuke you for bringing up what will be an interesting point of discussion on a later ep. Instead, I'm just attempting to explain why I'm not offering a particularly satisfying answer to your remarks--it's my preference to wait until the ep being discussed rolls around, so I'm avoiding that part of the discussion for now.

      * I have no problem with discussing the entire series, but if we allowed every ep's comments to go this way, we'd probably end up with numerous concurrent discussions on near-identical topics. Plus, we'd cross-reference arguments, which would be a terrible mess. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the comment threads I have going, since I don't receive e-mail notifications of responses.** In my view, we should stay focused on the discussion of a particular episode's content and implications, using evidence from later*** eps as desired--but not discussing them properly until it's their turn at bat.

      ** Just now, as I was typing that, I noticed the "subscribe by email" link. D'oh.

      *** I don't have this problem for eps earlier than a given discussion, since those should already be assumed to have been viewed. The context of this discourse, as I see it, is that we're all watching the episode at exactly the same time; John posts some thoughts, we respond to them or post our own, and things go from there. Some of us may know about later eps, but not everyone joining with us in this adventure has already seen the show. Thus, we shouldn't foster discussions that will exclude individuals who are only watching the eps as John reviews them.

      **** Attractive to mushi, at least. Though Ginko is dang cool by human standards, too.

      ***** This doesn't rule out the mushishi from ep 11 having had an encounter similar to Ginko's and been far less affected by it.

    9. Without actually responding to the discussion (in part because I don't yet have anything to add - my opinions are still settling - and in part because I enjoy the feeling of people, not including myself, discussing things on my blog together). . .You're right, there is a subscribe by email option in the comments. I'd never even seen that.

      Actually, it's a funny thing about subscription buttons on here. A few people fail to notice the "Follow by Email" widget at the bottom of the sidebar, and I barely remember there's another subscription tool by the footer so I expect only a very few have ever even seen that.

      While all of this would actually suggest that things are poorly designed around here, I'm instead going to blame it all on an unnatural curse.

      But seriously, where did that subscribe by email in the comments section come from? I swear that wasn't there before.