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Mushishi vol.2: The Strange Beauty of the World
I read the first volume of the "Mushishi" manga a few months bacjk, but at the time I didn't write a review of it. However, now that I've read volume 2, I feel I might as well write one for the series so far.
"Mushishi" is set in a Japan of an indeterminate time period (people generally dress and act as they were living before the Meiji era, except the main character, who wears modern-ish Western clothes and smokes cigarettes). Its protagonist is Ginko, a wandering mushishi, who is able to see and deal with the mushi, mysterious entities which act as inscrutable nature spirit-like entities or living natural phenomena. Ginko views his job as attempting to solve whatever problem people troubled by mushi, hopefully without killing them (which sets him apart from most mushishi, who often act like pest control).
Ginko is a strange fellow, and we don't get to know much about him, He has to travel constantly, as mushi will swarm around him if he stays to long in any one place, and besides this he seems to be a mushishi because he wants to learn more about the mushi, entities he obviously considers fascinating. Despite being a rather mysterious protagonist, he was charasmatic enough to keep me reading, as I wanted to see how he would deal with the mushi of each episode.
The art style implied by the creator, Yuki Urushibara, is very cool. Especially for backgrounds he uses water-based inks, which gives them a flowing, water color-like feeling that conjures up a feeling of impermanence and constant shift. Characters are fairly distinct, and Ginko is extremely interesting physically (white haired and with a strange distant look in his eyes frequently.
The mushi themselves are interesting, as they are weird mixture of supernatural force, natural phenomena, and wild animals. Some resemble animals, others fungal colonies, and some basically act as natural phenomena (for instance, vol.1 had a living swamp that moved around, and vol. 2 has a living rainbow). Some even resemble people to a certain degree. Urushibara deserves kudos for creating a very complicated mixture of mythology and ecosystem theory, and I am looking forward to vol. 3 just to see what he comes up with next.
If you want a series that mixes beautiful art with strange but wondrous stories, this is the series for you. Definitely check it out if you can track it down.