Mushishi Zoku Shou – 18

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Even by Mushishi standards, that was a dark ride.

Mushishi can be quite an uplifting show at times.  The thing is, pretty much the entire emotional spectrum is covered within the boundaries of this series – nothing is off-limits because it has limitless range.  We see stories about the redemptive power of love – often that of a parent for a child – but also stories about the darker side of the emotional spectrum.  Humans are capable of brutalizing each other in ways that can be far more damaging than physical violence.

For the third time in four weeks, we see a chapter centered around the relationship between a mother and a son.  This is a very different sort of tale, though – every bit as heartbreaking as “Azure Waters” (though for entirely different reasons) and probably even more painful to watch.  In “Azure Waters” and “Thread of Light” we see the power of a mother’s love for a son deemed strange or difficult by others, the power of that love unaffected by the way outsiders (or even other family members) view the child.  Here, we see the damage that the absence of a mother’s love (and worse) can do to a son.

Reki (well-known child actor Yamada Akira, who’s asked to carry a heavy load here and does so beautifully) is a boy with an obsession with lightning.  He lives near a tree which has a reputation as one that “calls” lightning, which has caught the attention of Ginko.  The boy’s mother Shino (Megumi Kobashi) has a cold and alien presence to her.  And the father (Taisei Shuji) seems entirely disconnected from the others in his family.  When the others leave the room, it’s telling that the first question Ginko asks the father is “Are the two of them related by blood?”

It couldn’t be more obvious that something is very wrong here – there’s an unsettling and bleak quality to the episode from the very beginning.  But through flashbacks we soon learn the truth – Shino was forced into an arranged marriage she didn’t want.  She tried to miscarry her baby rather than birth it.  And once the boy was born, she was cold and distant towards him from the beginning.  This culminates in her trying to murder him by tying him to the aforementioned giant tree during a thunderstorm, which results in Reki not just being struck by lightning, but possessed by the Shouraishi (“Lightning Summoner”), a lightning-eating mushi whose larva will enter a human body through the navel when unable to return to the sky after a lightning strike.

It’s no secret that Mushishi is really much more a study of human relationships than it is of mushi, and that Ginko to varying degrees often becomes a counselor as much as a Mushishi.  Still, this is a fairly terrible situation he’s walked into here.  I don’t think there’s any question that Shino is a pretty horrible person – arranged marriage or not, she’s emotionally abandoned a child who’s blameless in all that.  And not just abandoned, but attempted to kill.  This makes Ginko’s job much harder, because not only is Shino unable to find the umbilical cord Ginko needs to make a medicine to extract the Shouraishi ( we’ll later find out why) but Reki is completely indifferent to his own survival.  In order for Ginko to save Reki, he was to want to be saved – and he believes it’s only Shino that can make that happen.

There is a redemptive side to “Lightning’s End” and it’s the fact that in spite of his loveless upbringing, Reki has become a noble person.  He’s content to let his mother think that he calls lightning to strike him in the tree as punishment for her (richly deserved) but in fact, he does so to make sure the house is safe and the villagers (wary of the tree) uninjured.  And when he flees to an open meadow to call lightning so Ginko won’t interfere, he pushes his mother away after a hollow embrace when she declares that the two of them should die together.  The terrible truth is that she’s just admitted that, despite Ginko’s urging, she can’t bring herself to tell Reki she wants him to live.

Even for a mother who’s just told him she wouldn’t be sad if he dies, Reki has consideration – would Shino have done the same, if their situations had been reversed?  It’s not exactly what you’d call a happy ending –  but Reki does survive, the Shouraishi using this last meal of lightning to complete its growth and emerge as an adult, returning to the heavens.  And he leaves his home (severed cord in hand) to live with relatives – hopefully ones who can give him the affection and care he deserves, while his mother gets another chance at the life she frankly doesn’t.  Mushishi isn’t about manufacturing happy endings for every situation, and sometimes the solace we take isn’t from the redemptive power of love, but the strength to go on even when life in painful and unfair. In Reki’s strength there is a certain comfort to be taken, because the sense is that after having faced what he has, he’s going to be all right.

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End Card:

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  1. N

    God, this is why I love Mushishi so much. In another typical film,book or anime, the mother will learn to love her son after he saves her. It's contrived and predictable. Mushishi understands human. We can be very good or downright terrible. Happiness don't come easily and sometimes we have to accept that and live on.

  2. v

    Is it wrong that I feel sorry for Mom as well? On the one hand I feel so sorry for her being stuck in an unwanted marriage and having to raise an unwanted child. But I also feel that infanticide is a horrible, unforgivable sin. Argh I'm so confused with how I'm supposed to feel.. and therein lies the beauty of Mushishi in exploring the human condition.

  3. I think if there's any character in Mushishi that deserves to be judged, it's Shino. I suppose one can say that anyone who attemps to murder a child (their own or otherwise) is mentally ill. But Shino comes off as quite logical and self-aware – indeed, perhaps her only redeeming quality is that she knows how despicable she is. She was forced into a marriage against her will and went into a lifelong pout, making an innocent child her victim. In the end she couldn't even bring herself to say she'd like him not to die in order to save his life. Judge away, I say.

  4. g

    Eh? I didn't interpret it as her wanted to kill her son actively. It was flashback of a lightning striking him first time. Yes, she tied him to the tree, but I guess as a punishment for something, maybe she even wanted to scare him. But it started to rain suddenly and she couldn't know then he is going to be struck by the lightning. She wasn't be so shocked if it was planned. And if she really wanted to kill him there so many better, efficient ways to do it, without leaving it to a chance. So no, I don't agree.

    Therefore, in my interpretation, we're left with a woman, who didn't have any say in who's a wife she will be and if she wants a child. Many people have now a privilege choosing by themselves, it's liberating, especially to women, but till this day, for many, it's decided for them.
    And what about so called "baby blue", depression after giving birth? Do you think it's a modern illness or even maybe a caprice? Do you know you scorned many women, who actually was screwed by mother nature? Only because something didn't click right way and everything went south but nothing of it is their fault, that they look at their child and feel nothing or feel only despair.
    Actually, seeing it from no-so-modern perspective, she fulfilled her duty as a woman. She got married, she gave a birth, her first-born is a boy. Nobody would expect her to love any her child.

    I would recommend to you to read a book Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of the Lost Daughters of China, if you'll have a time, but I'm afraid you would hate almost every damn woman described there.

  5. g

    Oh, and before: "You don't feel anything for a boy?!" or "Do you excuse a mother in her behaviour?!" then I have to say no. His tragedy is the worst, because to live without the first, most basic love it's like not living at all. I mean, yes you can live but you're damaged inside, probably forever. And he's a good human being, who did nothing wrong. Sympathy for him? It's very obvious for me and it goes without saying.
    But I haven't felt the narration in the episode wants me to hate the mother. It has painted the whole story rather subtly, with complicated circumstances. It was rather: look how story unfold, feel it, understand them and learn from it than look and judge, harshly.

  6. Everyone is legitimate in feeling what they feel. But I must confess, the notion that Shino tying Reki to the tallest tree in the area during a thunderstorm is strictly coincidental smacks of making up circumstances because the real ones are too damning. It's frankly preposterous on the face of the evidence. Defend her if you want, fine – but do so in the real context, which is that she tried to murder her son.

  7. g

    I'm really baffled and confused, because I really didn't think about Shino wanted to kill Reki before reading your review. I've rejected the idea, I guess unconsciously, because: A) it isn't in Mushishi's style to paint somebody so obviously villainous, (it isn't Psycho-pass 2 with "Look how evil, he killed puppies") and B) I can understand a notion she didn't want to dirty her hands directly but that she counted for lightning to strike him? Especially there were other prominent trees, just like Ginko said, and open spaces too. I guess he could die from pneumonia or hypothermia, which is more probably than lightning striking him.

    Could this episode be so simplistic? Did I search subtlety, when there was none?
    I guess, I'm going to reach the chapter from the manga, maybe her intentions will be clearer for me.

    PS:Oh, it cut my sentence, I wanted to say: "Oh, and before: "You don't feel anything for a boy?!" or "Do you excuse a mother in her behaviour?!" then I have to say – no, don't go there."

  8. v

    My interpretation is that Shino did have the intention to kill. Not because she is evil or villainous but more so of her own guilt that she is unable to love Reki. If Reki goes away, the problem goes away because she no longer has the duty to be a mother.

    As for why she chose this method of murder, my guess is so that she can ease some of the guilt of murdering her own son. "The chances of getting struck by lightning is so small but yet it happened. Surely, the gods must be having mercy on me" – I'm guessing that's her line of thought.

    Now the reason I feel sorry for Shino is because she is completely aware of her own flaws and the guilt is killing her. But yet she does not know how to fix the problem. She does not how to love Reki. I feel that there is a good person here who has been pushed to the extreme with her limits through circumstances (forced arranged marriage) and her own mind (the guilt).

  9. S

    10 days late to the discussion, but there's no doubt in my mind that even the first scene is an attempted murder.

    The beauty of Mushishi here is that although I see that Shino is a rotten person who blames her situation on an innocent child (and not so much the husband, her parents or herself), I can understand w h y she feels the way she feels. I pity her situation but she shouldn't be forgiven in any way for what she did and still does.

  10. g

    I've gone and red the chapter and I'm much more confused than I had been reading your review. It doesn't bring anything new to the narration. There wasn't many differences except couple dialogues' lines. But I don't know, which translation is better.
    The most prominent differences are in two places – when Shino is telling the story to Ginko she said in the manga: "But I don't know how to make him love me…" What?! That doesn't make any sense, because if she attempted to murder him, how she could think he would ever love her?! (except we know he does, but to wish something like that…)
    And second one, where she wants to die with him, she doesn't makes wish for herself being reborn as a good mother, who loves her children but rather for him being born in the next life into loving family. Which makes her aware not loving oneself children is a heavy sin.

    BTW I've red couple random chapters and I have to say, the anime is better. The stories in chapter seems so short and feel much dryer and without any emotions. I guess a longer given time, in which stories unfold themselves steadily, music and voices and lush colours make the difference here.

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