Mushishi Vol. #08-10 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Ginko finally returns to bring the series to a close
Writer/Artist: Yuki Urushibara
Translation: William Flanagan
Adaptation: William Flanagan
What They Say
Ginko is a master of the ephemeral life form known as Mushi. Their influence can be as visible as a mountain never giving up its winter to allow for spring or as subtle as a prank played in a child's game. To some they are a curse; to others they offer unimagined possibility.
Contains the final three volumes of Ginko's journeys in an omnibus edition.
Let's get the most obvious bit about this release out of the way ... yes, after a long hiatus, Del Rey has chosen to finish off Mushishi by combining the last three volumes into one omnibus release. Complaints on Internet forums notwithstanding -- how dare Del Rey provide us with three volumes' content for the price of two! -- there's not a whole lot to fault with the book's omnibus presentation. The packaging grade has taken a slight hit for the thinner paperstock than previous releases; but excluding OCD collectors with a fixation on consistent packaging, the switch to an omnibus format shouldn't otherwise deter any Mushishi fans from picking up this concluding release. Simply put, any trade-off in packaging is more than made up for by the price point. (Not to mention the fact that Del Rey has seen the series through to the end, in spite of reportedly low sales numbers -- if the choice comes down to omnibus or nothing, I'll take the omnibus, thanks.)
What we get in terms of content in these three volumes, though, is not especially surprising. Mushishi is the sort of series that has found a decent formula for storytelling and largely stuck to it; even as it nears the end of its run, there's not a whole lot of deviation from its standard episodic construction or deliberate pacing. Fortunately, Mushishi is also the rare series where adhereing to a formula works well: as the volumes collected here continue to show, there's still quite a bit of room for creative storytelling within the basic thematic framework that Urushibara has laid out for herself.
Notably, one of the few unsuccessful entries in this collection is also the one that strays furthest from Mushishi's normal territory. The Volume 8 closer "The Mud Weeds" shows a family who's become infested by a parasitic mushishi as a proxy for the uncle's sins, gradually building to a decidedly out-of-character ending. While I respect Urushibara's efforts to surprise the reader, the story's resolution comes off as shockingly mean-spirited, even taking into account the vague sense of justice being meted out.
The fact that I'm picking on just one chapter in particular reflects how well the rest of the volume works on the whole -- the variety and quality of remainder of the stories are generally on par with anything else the series has delivered. Volumes 9 and 10 are particularly strong here, delivering a couple of exceptionally creative chapters that are arguably among the most interesting in the series's whole run. The ninth volume's "Stars in the Jar of the Sky" tells an engrossing story about a family whose daughter vanished under mysterious circumstances; over the father's objections, the mother and sister treat the missing child as if she were still in the house, led on by hazy memories of the daughter disappearing down a well. Even though the phenomenon being the daughter's disappearance is pretty easy for readers to figure out (there's a key plot point I'm intentionally leaving out here) it's still interesting to read through Ginko's attempts to rescue the missing daughter, especially since Urushibara goes through the story in a very slightly non-linear fashion. In contrast, while "The Scented Darkness" is equally memorable, it's more for stylistic reasons than for its plot: the whole chapter plays out under an unconventional timeline that intentionally blurs the distinction between past and present, at least until Ginko arrives to explain a mushishi's role in the confusion.
Of course, this being the last installment of Mushishi, there's the inevitable question of how Urushibara handles the story's conclusion. Without giving too much away, the ending doesn't take a lot of chances; in fact, one of its few unusual features is that it's divided into two parts, a rarity for the series. The story offers up slightly higher stakes than usual, presenting a family who tries to reclaim a daughter assimilated by the mountain as its master, and even seems to deliberately tease readers with hints of a more decisive ending that never was. Otherwise, though, it's pretty much standard Mushishi fare, down to the last frame which quietly announces the "curtain clos[ing]" on the series.
In a sense, giving a recommendation for this release one way or the other is redundant: fans who've already invested seven volumes' worth of time and money into this series have probably already decided whether they wanted to pick this one up the instant the preorders appeared, and anything with a $25 price point that collects the last three volumes of the series obviously isn't intended for newcomers. Still, any readers still in doubt about this collection shouldn't find anything here, packaging-wise or content-wise, to deter them from snapping it up. The ending's a touch anti-climactic, sure, but I can't argue that a more definitive wrap-up would have fit in any better with Urushibara's tone for the series.
Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translation Rating: A
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: Del Rey
Orientation: Right to Left