Mushishi Zoku Shou S2 – 03

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Ginko’s taxi service: he charges extra for smiles.

It’s pretty cute to see Ginko ferrying an old lady back home with a special piggyback service. Even moreso that the lady takes all this for granted and doesn’t seem even mildly alarmed that she can’t remember why she wandered out into the forest. There are plenty of cute and funny moments where I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I can’t figure out how all this joking around can fit in an episode that’s so achingly sad. It’s not “boo-hoo” sad but more “someone ripped out my heart and left a gaping hole that can never be replaced.”

All the heartbreak, regret and yearning that Youkichi felt – I ended up feeling too. Mushishi is one of those shows that can make you cry like a baby, but it never demands you to do so. In contrast, I was incredibly turned off of Ano Hana because it seemed like it was out on a mission to make you cry. It felt like I was being violently shaken and forced to feel things when I didn’t even feel particularly attached to the characters or whatever drama was being presented to me. I disliked the forced nature of the director trying to manipulate my emotions far too much. Mushishi, however, doesn’t go out of its way to manipulate you into feeling sad. Mushishi simply wants to tell a story, and most of the stories worth telling involve some sort of loss. As the story naturally unfolds, it’s hard not to get so wrapped up in things that you just naturally end up feeling empathetic. And even if you don’t get emotional, it’s still an incredibly engaging story in its own right.

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This is a story full of things that were never meant to be. Mikage (an apt name since kage means shadow) gets her shadow stepped on when she is a young girl, and is replaced by someone who we never actually see. Lonely and confused, she eventually switches with Akane in order to escape this crimson, twilight world she’s stuck in. But the very nature of this mushi calls for sacrifice. One must be caged for the other to be free. Akane is forced into a life of shadow-dom and is replaced thus with Mikage. It’s not a happy ending for either of them. It’s obvious that Akane is sad because she’s trapped as a shadow, but less obvious what trials Mikage has to go through. For although Mikage has escaped her crimson prison, she is now stuck in a new cage. She is forced to take on the position of Akane’s replacement in a completely new village. As much as she wishes she could successfully replace Akane, she knows that can never be. The other villagers know it too.

Imagine being thrust into an entirely new home without any memories and suddenly being forced to adopt the life of someone else. You cannot forge your own identity if one is being forced upon you. Mikage’s childhood is therefore rough and full of confusion. It’s an incredibly eerie situation, to just suddenly replace one girl with another one you find in the woods. But time moves on and everyone eventually just gets used to this new girl. She blends in and becomes one with the villagers. Despite this, there’s still the nagging question: what would have happened if Akane were here? After all, this is not the way things were supposed to happen. Happy or not, Mikage has irreversibly changed the fate of everyone around her by replacing Akane. Maybe for the better or maybe for the worse. But whatever the future with Akane could have been has been stolen, and can never be retrieved.

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If Mikage hadn’t appeared, I believe Youkichi may have married Akane. It’s not certain since “what if’s” are never certain. However, it seems implied that Mikage stole Akane away from him. Throughout her life, Mikage is nothing but a shadow of Akane. Although she is free of being a 2D shadow, she is still trapped in this lie. But Mushishi presents an interesting side to this dilemma. Yes, Mikage robbed Akane of a happy childhood where she belonged and never really fit in with the villagers. But even so, she found happiness in the end. Youkichi does not blame her for trapping Akane and changing things. His kindness towards Mikage reflects his true love for her despite all of this. Because even if it seems like this future is something that shouldn’t have been…it happened. And that alone may mean this future is just the way it’s supposed to be. It sounds contradictory, but Mushishi often likes to show us both sides of the coin. Does Mikage truly “belong” even though she replaced Akane, or is it wrong to judge how much she belongs based on what one thinks should happen?

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Dat Ghibli hair

After Youkichi forgives Mikage, things move on….sort of. The ending is another one of those non-endings where the cycle simply continues and we’re left to imagine the rest. The result of leaving your imagination to its own devices is often more haunting than actually showing the viewer something. This ending hit me pretty hard. We find out that Akane spent years – from when Mikage was around 10 years old until she was an old lady of perhaps 70 – just wandering around in the twilight as a shadow. Let that time frame just sink in for a moment. She waited all that time because she couldn’t stand to put someone else through this torture. This shows that she too forgives Mikage. She never attempts to trap her back despite knowing where to find her. She’s happy simply as she is.

Unfortunately, Youkichi treads on her shadow and now he is stuck in eternal twilight. Will he continue the cycle or will he be like Akane? And furthermore, what will Akane do? Her memory is completely wiped so she’s going to enter her old village without remembering anyone. All of these people will having aged so much since when Akane was little and now she’s suddenly back. It’s terrible. She’s back where she belongs in her village but now she will be just as much of an outsider as Akane. She won’t remember anyone, she’ll be forced into the role of the “old” Akane (which likely is very different from who she is now), and everyone will have changed so much that even when she does remember, everything will be too alien for her to connect with. After finally coming home…she’s just going to be even more lost than before. It’s a non-ending that lets you picture so many things, but not one of them makes me want to smile.

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A whole new meaning to the word “shadow tag”


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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3 Responses to “Mushishi Zoku Shou S2 – 03”

  1. BlackBriar says:

    What a coincidence. I just got to finish watching the episode a few minutes before the post notice showed up on my Outlook inbox. Right on time, OC. I feel like I’m about to write an essay. “Okay, now that it’s finished, explain what you thought of the events.” 😀

    Anyway, whenever I begin thinking I could no longer be disturbed by whatever this series can throw at me, I always end up proven wrong and rattled. Absolutely no one has come out unscathed or completely happy with their situation. While he was moving on with his life, Youkichi must have been self-loathing as I’m sure all what he went through over the years with Mikage, a part of him wished it was Akane instead. Making Mikage a surrogate to project his thoughts on. All of which probably weren’t intended but happened anyway. So I can’t help but feel sorry for both him and Mikage. She’s suffered equally, if not more.

    The puzzling thing that comes to mind is wondering what the other world is like and what rules it is based on. As we see at the end with Akane who still maintains her youthful appearance, the sacrifice that is exchanged doesn’t age until they’ve found a way back out.

    • Overcooled says:

      Haha, good timing on both of our parts, I guess!

      Mushishi is disturbing in the weirdest ways. Basically, no one gets to be happy with this outcome and then the suffering just repeats in another cycle.

      A lot of the rules of that world are unknown to us, but I’m definitely curious too. It seems like no one ages in that realm, since Akane’s shadow is still child-sized when she meets Youkichi at the end. And when she returns to reality, she remains unaged. But without memories, she must be completely unaware of how long she’s lived. That’s not a place I’d like to be trapped in…

      • BlackBriar says:

        That’s not a place I’d like to be trapped in…

        Not that you’d remember those thoughts, though because if you did get trapped, your memory would get wiped in the process.

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