Mushishi Zoku Shou S2 – 02

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This hole…! It was made for me!

Mushishi is an oddly suiting show for this spooky holiday season. It’s not the type for jump scares or throwing buckets of blood in your face, but it sure is creepy sometimes. It’s not creepy in a way that makes you want to scream, but in an unsettling manner that makes you feel ever so slightly off when you think about what you just watched. This episode is about how even the tiniest, almost imperceptible shifts can make a huge difference.

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By now it’s not even that big of a deal whenever Ginko barely plays a part in an episode. We were spoiled rotten with episode 1 giving us more of Ginko’s backstory (again, please watch the One-Eyed Fish episode if you want to know what happened before that!), but it’s more typical for Ginko to play a smaller role.  This week, the starring role is played by Kaoru, a rather normal individual living with his wife and daughter. He lives a rather pleasant life despite some less than perfect moments in his past. It’s nothing severe – he just kind of gets some other little boy in trouble and then has to do hard labour for his family to survive. But that’s pretty typical for the time period, so he’s not getting a bad deal out of life. He’s got a wife, a daughter, a nice piece of land, and no illnesses to speak of. No illnesses except for a rather strange mushi that is hunting him, that is.

The concept behind this mushi is very special. It doesn’t do something simple such as get rid of your hearing, ability to speak or something so easily apparent to the 5 senses. This mushi traps prey in a time loop so that they just continue to live the same period of time over and over. Horrifyingly enough, it’s not just a day or a week. It’s not even a year. Kaoru relives his life from the age of a small boy up until he becomes a older man. He repeats maybe 50 to 60 years of his life, again and again. We don’t even know how many times he’s done it, but even once already sounds like an incredible amount of time. However, to him, it hasn’t been that long at all. Aside from the nagging feeling of deja vu, he doesn’t really grow tired of seeing the same sights since he’s not completely aware of what he’s going through. That’s why the flow of time isn’t vastly altered in the same way it is when the time traveler is aware and they go around changing the past.

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He always pulls the branch down for her, but with decreasing excitement each and every time

Kaoru relives the same events, but they rarely ever change. His thoughts may be different, but he still goes through the same motions. It’s only after reliving the same life many times over that the deja vu becomes overwhelming. That overwhelming feeling leads him to finally do something to break the loop: confide in Ginko. Kaoru admits that he feels everything that happens feels familiar, which gives him his big chance to free himself. Ginko advises him to stay away from weird, sweet-smelling caves (which is pretty good advice for anyone in general, mushi or no) to avoid falling into an endless cycle or even becoming one with this time-looping mushi. Having no real reason to disobey Ginko since his past isn’t all that bad and his future is pretty nice, he successfully ignores the sweet smell of the cave and goes home.

The moment he breaks the cycle is extremely cathartic. I was so, so worried he be like all the rebellious villagers before who heedlessly ignored Ginko’s advice and got themselves into so much trouble. It was such a relief to see him walk away from the cave. Even better, when he arrives home he looks absolutely liberated. The way he hugs his wife with such tenderness and treasures every single second that he’s experiencing for the first time is apparent even without words. The body language just says it all.

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All that’s left is for him to call her some embarrassing petname like Sugar Bunnyboop or something

Such a little thing – feeling like everything is an old movie you’ve seen before but only vaguely remember – can be torturous. Kaoru was clearly very disturbed by this feeling of something being amiss, even though it’s hard to explain exactly what would be so bad about it. He wasn’t in pain, he wasn’t reliving particularly traumatic moments, and he wasn’t concerned about the time loop because he didn’t know it even existed. Eternal life doesn’t sound all that bad…but the slight way you see how it bothers him more and more with each cycle makes me wonder if I would ever want that. Yeah, I get to fall in love again with my first love, but it will feel less and less magical every time I do it. Every special moment will lose it’s lustre. And at the end of it all, these small changes may add up and everything can change. Then will that be a life I want to keep living over and over for all eternity? Maybe not. Living forever is tempting…but not like this.

So of course, now that we realize how much a toll this looping business has taken on Kaoru, he ends up doing it again. So while on one hand I get the feeling that this story is telling us that even slight changes make a huge difference…it’s also telling us that big changes sometimes make no difference at all. Kaoru tries very hard to break the loop and when he does this – a huge accomplishment – he just ends up doing it again anyways to save his wife. Ouch. What a sad way to stick someone back into a dangerous situation. There really wasn’t much else he could do. He could either try and save her again in another loop or live a depressing future with no Iku and a lone daughter. It’s clear which one he would choose. But even that may have been a bad decision, because now Iku feels that same deja vu. One day, she may also go into the cave. One day, she may feel so bored with repeating things that she can’t even stand it.

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The headlines the next day read: dumbass couple mauled by bears in cave

This was an odd, subtle episode. Subtle is a nice word for “nothing really happened” though. The issues here seem so, so minor that it leaves everything to your imagination. What IS so bad about looping over and over again? What will happen to Kaoru and his wife in this newest loop? Will she fall again? When will the mushi become one with Kaoru? What does that even mean for the sake of the timeline? Would Ginko then just come across an empty house in the rain and stay there, now that its residents have been eaten by a Steins;Gate mushi? There’s really not much to go by, especially because Kaoru’s past is so mind-numbingly uneventful. Hell, he even calls it unremarkable himself (which is ironic given how bizarre his whole breaking the time-space continuum situation is). But somehow the simplicity of it all works, because you know something is off…but can’t say exactly what it is. Now, I’ve tried to put my finger on what that weird uneasiness comes from but it still eludes me a bit. But I know two things for sure. One is that Kaoru was clearly suffering, even if he didn’t know it himself. The other is that I’m never going into a sketchy cave at night because “it might be a shortcut” and “it smells nice” and “it totally looks legit.”



A neuroscience graduate, black belt, and all-around nerd. You'll either find me in my lab or curled up in my rilakkuma kigurumi watching anime.
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7 Responses to “Mushishi Zoku Shou S2 – 02”

  1. Sumairii says:

    This hole…! It was made for me!

    Oh god no.

  2. BlackBriar says:

    What a haunting predicament to be ensnared in. As though you’re living your life again simply for the sake of living your life. In a way, there’s some convenience. Any mistakes in the past can be undone because you’ve lived it before and evade the occurrence but that’s all it is. Like hitting a rewind button every time and only existing in a allowed amount of time. It’s not like living forever in the true sense. In that sense, time goes on and you’re free to make various choices. Here, it’s like living in a prison the size of the world itself in an eternal loop. That is an obscure way of suffering for any who can’t cope with such an environment.

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