Monday, March 9, 2015

Mushishi Episode 14: Blood is Thicker Than Bamboo Water

     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 in need of a refresher, there's a list of brief episode descriptions here.

     A lot of people see family as something to be endured. They're restrictive. They don't understand. They disagree on crucial aspects of society, culture, and life in general. Family is more hard than anything else. And that's. . .fair. I personally have kept on pretty good terms with my family and have the great fortune of them being, in my eyes, largely intelligent, compassionate human beings. And you know what? They still get on my nerves. I've never been so full of rage or frustration or sadness at anyone the way I have been at family members. I can't imagine what it's like when you have blood relatives as vile as some of the ones I've heard of from other people.

     That said, I've also never loved anyone so completely as my family. They are so, so precious to me, in a way I can't fully describe. You know how people bond over hardship? I guess it's kind of like that, only. . .more. Family doesn't have to be anything special, and for a lot of people it isn't. But it can be something amazing, something important, something precious. They're can be a lifeline, a safety net. They're like a big warm blanket that might also happen to be incredibly itchy and uncomfortable; you can despise it and adore it all at once, but however you feel about it, it might be the only thing keeping you from dying of exposure.

     That's what this episode is about; families, the things they take from you, and the things they give you.

Well, families and my favorite thing about Mushishi: bamboo!

     Let's look at our first protagonist, Kisuke. His is a communal family; having been orphaned at an early age, he and his sister were raised by their village as a whole. Everyone was friends with everyone. That's what Kisuke's family gave him, really, was friends. He grew up with an entire community built around supporting and helping one another. Kisuke himself is obviously a child of this environment, being agreeable and cheerful with anyone and everyone he meets, even complete strangers like Ginko. Ironically enough, this family's greatest. . .defect, let's say, is its insularity. They are mistrusting of things they can't understand (like, I don't know, tree people) and are close-mouthed and wary around outsiders. In the end, we have the oddity of a community built on including people, yet whose most glaring fault is its tendency to exclude.

     Setsu, Kisuke's wife and the other main protagonist, has a slightly more. . .complicated family. Which is to say: she's half sentient tree. Setsu's mother, one way or another, mated with a Magari-Dake, a mushi that masquerades as a white bamboo tree. Setsu (and her daughter) rely on the Magari-Dake for its life giving water - they consume nothing else. In return, however, they are trapped in the forest. The Magari-Dake exerts complete dominance over its body - and, by extension, anyone who has drunk from it, Kisuke included. It commands its lifeblood as it sees fit - Kisuke and Setsu are, as the episode title implicates, inside a cage. This is a family that gives its offspring (for lack of a better word) life - or rather, the privilege to keep living - but in return strips them of their freedom.

     The Magare-Dake's relationship with the surrounding forest is itself yet another family dynamic. In Ginko's words:
"Bamboos in a bamboo forest all share the same roots. Together, they are one, or a family of successive generations. Magare-Dake are mushi that live off these roots, posing as one of the family. They grow by sucking nutrients from the roots of the bamboo[. . .]"
     It is a creature built around duplicity. It pretends to be a member of the forest's family only for its own gain, sapping those around it. I'm sure some of us are all too familiar with this.

     With the actual family structure down, it's worth taking a look at what comes from all this. Kisuke turned out pretty well, all things considered, with his greatest flaw being that he is perhaps too naive. He just wants everyone to get along and be friends, just like how he grew up. His repeated attempts to reconnect with his village are unsuccessful, however, and idea of tree people is just a little too much for the tight-knit commune. They cut off all ties with him.

     Setsu is the more troubled of the two. She lives with the guilt of being the one keeping Kisuke trapped in the forest, and is convinced he wants to leave so he can be with his village again. Not so difficult to understand, given her family's roots (haha, get it? No, I mean, because it's a tree, and. . .nevermind) in deceit and its controlling nature. Setsu, like Kisuke, avoided its worst traits, but she also can't help but feel guilty because of them. When she discovers from Ginko that the Magare-Dake is what keeps them in the forest, she cuts ties with it, freeing herself, her child, and her husband from its influence.

No, I mean like she literally cuts it. With an axe.

     The consequence is, as in much of Mushishi, bittersweet. When you cut off from your family, you rid yourself of all their failings, all their evils, all of their influence - at least, all that you don't carry with you. But you also lose all their love, all their good, all of their support. You lose the blanket's itchiness, but also its warmth. How much warmth Kisuke & Setsu's provided in comparison with how uncomfortable they were is, of course, debatable, but whatever the case they only have each other for family now. And for a time, they're happy, probably more than they'd been before. Without the Magare-Dake or the village's support, however, things eventually take a turn for the worse. Setsu and their daughter die without their lifeblood, and Kisuke is left truly alone, isolated in a forest with no one to call upon.

     Sometimes, your family might be a burden, a yoke to be thrown off and left behind; but on the other hand, it sometimes might be all that keeps you alive.

     Additional Notes:

          The episode's ending deserves special attention as being simultaneously creepy, hopeful, hilarious, silly, and kind of beautiful, all at once. I have absolutely no idea what to make of it, and I love that.

          I can't say her plan worked out particularly well, but Setsu is still a champ.

          While not directly related to this particular episode, my good friend Ayame recently wrote a post over at OASG discussing fatalism's presence in Mushishi and some of the virtues of the show in general.

          On to disc three! And it's only taken me. . .eighteen. . .months. . .oh.


  1. Oh indeed. I really like your interpretations of each episode. They make me look at each episode in a new light, realizing things about the anime that I didn't notice before.

    1. Hey, thanks! Always glad to hear I'm bringing something to the table, as it were.