Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mushishi Episode 10: Taking Responsibility

     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. For those looking for a brief refresher, there's a list of brief episode descriptions here.

     While some episodes of Mushishi are mysteries in and of themselves that require extensive unraveling (like episode 3), others are more straightforward stories simply enjoyable for what they are at face value. Episode 10 was one of these. The technical competence of the episode was as enthralling to behold as ever, with gorgeous visual and sound design. The story, at its heart one of a former inkstone artisan returning to her craft, requires little more than the viewer's attention to make sense.

     I'm okay with that. One of the things that has always made Mushishi a special piece of media is its blase attitude towards itself. Sometimes it has incredibly nuanced, uplifting, or grim ideas and themes it wants to explore, and just as often it simply wants to tell an unusual tale and leave it at that. It's a series that walks its own path, at its own pace, and welcomes you to travel with it, skip ahead, stay behind, or ignore it entirely. It's just. . .there, and that's fantastic.

     That being said, it isn't hard to excavate ideas from stories that don't necessarily revolve around them. Episode 10, The White Within the Inkstone, isn't a story about responsibility, per se, but as a motif it rears its head on more than one occasion.

A visual representation of owning up to a mistake.

     Most of the characters in this episode have their actions motivated by needing to take responsibility: Doctor Adashino for leaving his warehouse unsecure and allowing children to contract a deadly mushi related virus, Tagane for making an inkstone that causes people's deaths, even the children for breaking into Adashino's warehouse. Every one of them took an action (passively or not) and has to deal with the consequences, one way or another.

     Note that this differs from the idea of redemption. Redemption is being forgiven for some transgression. You did something horrible, and now you have to go do something good to make up for it. Taking responsibility is sort of the alternative. You aren't trying to erase the consequences so much as mitigate and accept them. Adashino doesn't try to just help the other villagers really well; he does everything he can to cure the children - which isn't much, to his dismay, but he still does it.

     As seen in the episode (and real life), taking responsibility is incredibly hard. Tagane's dream was to be a craftswoman and she had to destroy her best work - literally, the piece that stood at the pinnacle of her achievements - to make things right. Perhaps more harrowing is the thought that she abandoned her craft entirely for years while trying to find it so she could do so.

This didn't seem so poignant until I realized she was watching her masterpiece figuratively (and literally) fall to earth.

     While difficult, however, the idea is also depicted as liberating, in a way. Adashino gains a fuller perspective on the dangers of his pastime. Tagane becomes ready to craft again. You could extend it to the children as well; had the girl not confessed to breaking into Adashino's warehouse, she likely wouldn't have survived.

     In the end, this is a rather base theme. Fessing up, admitting your mistakes, and accepting what comes of them is hardly a foreign idea to us, nor is the fact that doing so can be monumentally difficult. Still, it's nice to be reminded sometimes that good does come of it, to ourselves and often to others.


  1. Hey John,

    I'm glad you've still been able to find time to post occasionally! Pardon my absence; it's been a busy life, lately. And pardon my brevity, since I'll have to exercise it for perhaps the first time; I've not much more time to type after the excessively long and rambling comments I left on your prior post.

    The theme of responsibility may be a fairly basic idea, but it's one that runs through the entire series and is of immense importance. Nearly* every decision Ginko makes is driven by a sense of responsibility, either to his principles, to mushi, or to people; he has many motivations and an ambiguous role, and the situations that arise around him are complex enough that determining what ought to be done is typically a bigger problem for him than figuring out how to do it.

    This ep provides an interesting contrast between Ginko, who has chosen to help despite having no responsibility toward any of the characters involved, and the doctor (who is a marvelous character, though not as cool as Ginko), who clearly dislikes his own responsibility not to endanger others' lives with his odd interests, but who doesn't fail to acknowledge the part he played in endangering the children's lives.

    The woman is an even more interesting study--but I said brevity, alas. I'll have to come back and talk about her some more later.

    Good-bye for now!

    -Chris T

    P.S. Just picked up Jing King of Bandits: Seventh Heaven to watch thanks to your review. =) Also got Elfen Lied on sale, despite not having any idea what it is. If you're familiar, I wonder if you'd indulge me with a thought or two on it? I am, and shall likely remain until I've got time to watch it, curious as to what sort of show it is.

    * The rest are mostly because of curiosity.

    1. Chris,

      As usual, an intriguing insight on Ginko's psyche. I'd love to hear the rest of your thoughts should you ever feel compelled to add to what's already here (and find the time to do so).

      Regarding your post script: You know, I've actually been meaning to buy that myself. With my tastes and intellect having had about a year and a half to mature since writing that review (though I couldn't say how much improvement has actually occurred in that time), I don't know how much of my argument holds true anymore. If nothing else, I think I'll always like it for so fully realizing the potential of the series. The original was riddled with issues, and in a mere three episodes Seventh Heaven fixes all of them. It takes the absurd, the nonsensical, the mad, and it treats it with reverence. (Which, as an aside, was what made the 2012-2013 Jojo anime so enjoyable.) Nothing should make sense, but it all sort of does, and I guess I'll always like that. (That and I think the soundtrack is phenomenal, at least as far as psychedelic jazz goes.)

      As for Elfen Lied, I'm afraid I've never seen it. I recall starting the first episode (and maybe finishing it. . .?) and being terribly confused, feeling no compulsion to continue on. From what I've gathered from others since that time, it's apparently gore-filled to the point of being over-the-top, but I can't remember if that was supposed to be a point in its favor or not. You're entering unfamiliar territory to me, let me know how it goes.