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Manga / Mushishi

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Neither good nor evil, they are life in its purest form. Vulgar and strange, they have inspired fear in humans since the dawn of time and have, over the ages, come to be known as "mushi".

Mushishi is a seinen manga that ran from 1999 to 2008 in Monthly Afternoon by Yuki Urushibaya. It was adapted into an anime that ran for 26 episodes, ending in mid-2006. The spring 2014 anime season saw a sequel series, Mushishi Zoku-shou, running for an additional 20 episodes. Three OVAs were also made: two in 2014 and one in 2015note . Most episodes are stand-alone stories, though a few interconnect with other episodes in an oblique manner.

Ginko is a mushishi — a person who can see the small pseudo-nature-spirit entities known as mushi, which both mystify and plague mankind, and whose profession is to investigate them. With little more than his wits and experience to guide him, Ginko walks the earth (or more specifically Japan) helping humans who have become unpleasantly entangled with the mushi. The mushi themselves are rarely sentient and occupy a nebulous zone between things that can be identified as life forms and things that cannot, such as a swamp that travels from location to location, or tiny heat-absorbing microbes. Usually the motivation for the mushi is as simple as survival or reproduction, such as a sound-eating mushi infecting a human, causing deafness. However, because of their mystical properties, they tend to cause a variety of troubles when they interact with humans.


The series' general tone is extremely mellow and in some ways seemed toned after a PBS docudrama. Though many civilians take offense at whatever mushi-related troubles they have, Ginko sees problems to be solved by understanding rather than pests to be exterminated (even if he does often wind up killing the mushi from necessity). Personal tragedy and triumph tends to blossom for many of the individuals Ginko encounters, yet the overall theme seems to be a reverence for the mundane as well as the fantastic; people learn to appreciate such simple joys as the sound of their own heartbeat, for example.

The series was born from two short story comics Urushibaya wrote under the pen name Soyogo Shima: "Banquet on the Rooftop" and "Azure Music". These stories were collected into the 1997 compilation Bioluminescence and its edited 2004 re-release Filament.


A Live-Action Adaptation Movie was made by Katsuhiro Otomo (AKIRA), which won many independent film awards.

The series is now available on Hulu. See also Neko ga Nishi Mukiya by the same author, a Spiritual Successor of sorts set in the modern day.

This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Akoya's father in "Those Who Inhale the Dew" has no problem reducing her to an Empty Shell who dies and is reborn each day for his own benefit.
    • Shino from "Lightning's End" feels no affection for her son and has neglected him since birth. He got infected by a mushi because she left him tied up to a tree when he was five-years-old (going inside and covering her ears so she couldn't hear him scream), and the tree was then struck by lightning.
  • Accidental Murder: In "Mud Grass", Shigeru's daughter Yuri was killed when his brother, Shinobu, accidentally ran her over with his cart.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Kai, the focus character of "The Coat That Holds a Mountain", eventually becomes a renowned illustrator over the course of ten years. Throughout his rising popularity, he originally was very homesick and treasured a homemade overcoat his elder sister gave to him as a parting gift (even using it as the basis for the cloth painting that earned him a real apprenticeship), but as he grew he started turning away from his hometown. The worst case was when he received a letter from his sister, but thinking it was just another one of his commission requests or fan letters he burns it without even reading it. It was actually a letter detailing how their home got caught in a landslide, and he didn't realize this until he returned well after three years when he lost all motivation to paint.
  • Adult Fear: Someone close to you (and it's often a child) becomes ill with a strange affliction, and you're helpless to do anything about it because you've never heard of the cause or any kind of cure.
  • Always Night: Izumi, from "Sea Of Otherworldly Stars" lives alone in a world where there is no daylight, because of a mushi she came into contact with after falling down a well.
  • Amnesia Danger: Sayo, the forgetful mother from "Sunrise Serpent", has fallen victim to a mushi that slowly eats away all of her memories — including her ability to recognize basic bodily functions. It is a permanent and irreversible process reminiscent of both the rarely explored anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia; should the memories run out, the host will probably be killed. Sayo manages her condition by attending to her loom so she doesn't forget her husband, and later (at least in the anime's explanation), taking up a job at a tea house where she can converse daily with travelers and hear stories of their travels, creating a constant supply of new memories.
  • Anachronic Order: You can watch the episodes completely out of order and still not miss anything important to the overall story, especially since the series jumps around in terms of which story from which manga volume it adapts. That said, some stories connect in ways that make it recommendable to watch them specifically before another (like "The Light of the Eyelid" and "One-Eyed Fish"), but this is hardly a necessity.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Word of God states that the series takes place in a fictional period between the Edo and Meiji eras, in which outside technology has arrived, but Japan remains a closed country. Therefore some anachronisms exist, such as Ginko wearing very Western-style clothing and using scientific equipment far in advance of what was generally available at the time (like a wooden microscope).
    • In the very last episode of the first anime series, one boy tells another boy a garbled story he heard about a young Ginko, mentioning his strange eye and hair color. The other boy speculates as to whether Ginko is a foreigner, in a way that makes it seem like people are aware of foreigners but they are extremely uncommon.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different:
    • Ginko is nowhere to be seen in "One-Eyed Fish". Instead we are introduced to a timid boy named Yoki who can see mushi, and learn how he ends up under the care of a mushi master named Nui after becoming injured in the landslide that killed his mother. Subverted - Yoki is who Ginko used to be.
    • Ginko also makes little more than a token appearance in "The Sound of Footsteps on the Grass," which instead focuses on a young man whose family has assumed the responsibility of caring for a mountain through which a Light Vein flows, and his encounters with the wandering Watari people who frequently pass through the area.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The final compiled story isn't conclusive to Ginko or his cast, but it ends the same way it always does, with the man setting off for another leg of his endless journey.
  • Art Initiates Life: Shinra, the boy from "The Green Gathering", has this power, but only when using his left hand.
  • Asleep for Days:
    • In "Pretense of Spring," a boy named Miharu falls asleep for months every winter after visiting a place that is miraculously full of life due to a mushi's influence. Then, something goes wrong and he is asleep for over a year. Ginko investigates the false spring and they both end up in a coma. Thankfully, they wake up the following spring.
    • Ginko sleeps for days several more times in the manga, including "Depths of Winter" during which he is put into a long hibernation by the local mountain god.
    • In "Sunrise Serpent," Sayo's condition leaves her restless and unable to sleep for more than a few seconds at a time, but after she learns what was really keeping her missing husband away from home, the shock is so much that she runs until she collapses from exhaustion, sleeping for several days.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Inverted, as Ginko wears modern clothes in a feudal setting. In the manga, this is inverted with Biki (the cousin of the blind girl locked in a storehouse) as well.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In "Pickers of Empty Cocoons", the audience may be led to believe the missing twin disappeared because a door was carelessly left open or closed, as their mentor warns them numerous times not to do. Instead, the accident is caused by a sheet falling off the clothesline, trapping one of the mushi underneath it alongside the sleeping Ito. Then Aya lifts the sheet up...
  • Badass Bookworm: Ginko. While he may not be brawny or get in many fights, he is definitely the one you want to be standing there unflappably to tell you what to do when some immense Thing you can't even see is slithering overhead.
  • Berserk Button: Ginko doesn't really do "berserk" exactly, but seeing anyone give in to despair or attempt suicide really upsets him. He flips out in "The Sleeping Mountain" due to this. People losing their humanity or becoming mushi seem to unnerve him as well, probably because that subject is a bit Close to Home.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: "Lost in the Flowers," adapted as the episode "Floral Delusion" in Zoku-shou: Generations of a family keep a strange yet beautiful woman, found as a baby in an ancient cherry tree, alive and healthy for over three hundred years by "grafting" her head onto different bodies. The Minai clan, as detailed in "Path of Thorns," can also count as this, considering they replace the souls of their Mushishi with an artificial mushi made from Kouki, as seen with the current head of the family, Kumado.
  • Bittersweet Endings: All over the place.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: "The Drops of Bells" reveals that the announcement of a new Mountain Lord (marked by beautiful bell-like ringing and a special fruit being produced from vines) also comes with the immediate death of the previous Lord. When Kaya gives up her mortal life, the vines finally bear fruit, and while the audience doesn't see the new Lord the manga makes it perfectly clear that the new Lord has been born.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: See above about being very similar to a documentary: the mushi and their strange powers and ecology are sort of the point of the show.
  • Blessed with Suck/Cursed with Awesome:
    • Many mushi-infected people are granted powers that prove useful—until the mushi grows in power and gets beyond the infected person's control. Ginko tries to give advice that allows these people to live with their condition, with varying degrees of success.
    • There is a man whose dreams appear to be prophetic. Instead his dreams are infested with mushi that make his dreams into reality.
    • Teru the rainmaker. She makes the best of her condition by traveling to places stricken by drought and relieving them, but before she realized her condition the endless rain caused rot and sickness wherever she lived.
    • Ginko himself is a walking example. He can see in the dark and watch The Lifestream, but on the other hand he's minus an eye, is potentially a danger to everyone around him, and will probably eventually be consumed by the Tokoyami.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • The cleverer mushi tend to possess this. Few are actively malicious, but they mostly seem oblivious to the harm they can do humanity.
    • The Light Circle and nature in general operate on a completely different morality system than mortals do. It prioritizes the wellbeing of the environment over any personal fulfillment, and even the act of longing for someone else is seen as a major crime. This is because as a Mountain Lord—the representative of nature— the master's attention to the needs of the mountain keep nature from being thrown out of whack. Kaya learns this the hard way when she's reintroduced to her birth family.
  • Body Horror: Many of the mushi cause trouble by entering people's bodies and taking over one small part of it, although some of the less fortunate people have been transformed into mushi completely.
  • Bookends: The manga begins and ends with a chapter involving the 'Ring of Light'. "The Green Gathering" involves an unlucky girl who becomes a mushi after consuming kouki from the Light Circle, and "The Drops of Bells" involves another young girl submitting to the Light Circle and sacrificing her mortal life to save Ginko and become a part of the life essence.
  • Booze-Based Buff: In the story "Banquet at the Forest's Edge", a sake brewer creates an artificial version of the river of life (his dad got to taste the real thing and has been trying to recreate it for years). The other mushi-masters are amazed, but warn him not to sell the stuff to the public as it grants the ability to see mushi to people who normally can't, which would cause panic. Instead, on Ginko's advice he reserves it to sell to mushi-masters for use in their work.
  • The Bus Came Back: For Ginko's friend Tanyuu (the scribe with a mushi sealed in her body). She is a minor character in the "Shadow that Devours the Sun" OVA and the "Path of Thorns" episode.
  • Cheerful Child: There are a few— Jin's young daughter Mayu from "The Pillow Pathway" and Isana from "Shrine In The Sea" in particular.
  • Cain and Abel: Played with. The pair of brothers Shinobu and Shigeru are one who's nicer and one with a violent temper, but they are shown to respect and love each other up until one of them accidentally kills the other's daughter. Enraged, Shigeru pushes Shinobu down a cliff and then pretends the death was an accident.
  • City of Canals: Ginko visits a village like this in "Hidden Cove".
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: "Heaven's Thread" shows that anyone affected by the Tenpengusa needs to have a tether to the mortal plane in order to keep existing. Seijurou and his love Fuki have to deal with the problems of the latter slipping in and out of the mortal plane after being touched by a Tenpengusa, and while his love for her keeps her from disappearing entirely, his uncertainty over her condition and his father disapproving of their coupling throws her out of wack. In the end, he slowly gets around it by marrying her and acting as if she was right in front of him for years before she finally reappears to the public.
  • Closed Circle:
    • Kisuke in "Inside the Cage" is unable to leave the bamboo forest near his home village due to the influence of a mushi. No matter which direction he goes, he and anyone with him end up unconsciously circling back to the same area.
    • In "Depths of Winter," Ginko finds himself trapped alone on a mountain where winter mysteriously refuses to end even as neighboring mountains are visibly thawing. Even though he can see he's climbing down, he keeps going in circles because the mountain lord has sealed the area.
  • Cold Flames: One variety of mushi featured, called the "kagebi," feeds off human body heat by appearing to its victims as an open flame. If a person huddles close to it for warmth, it slowly saps their heat from them until they freeze to death. Bizarrely enough, the flame of a kagebi can be used to cook food or boil water... which, when ingested, freezes the body from the inside, giving the unlucky victim a case of internal frostbite. ingesting the flames of the kagebi, however, can kill the hidane that's nested in the unlucky host's body.
  • Collector of the Strange: Dr. Adashino, Ginko's be-monocled pal, is an avid collector of mushi-related odds and ends—the stranger the better. It comes back to bite him in "The White Which Lives Within the Inkstone" when some Snooping Little Kids go through his collection and end up afflicted with a mushi that slowly freezes their bodies from the inside out. Things work out all right thanks to Ginko's efforts, but judging by Adashino's behavior in later episodes, the lesson doesn't quite stick—in Zoku-shou he goes so far as to try rummaging through Ginko's travel case while Ginko is sleeping.
  • Colour Coded Eyes: Ginko has lovely, vivid blue-green eyes, as did Nui. This, as well as their silvery heads of hair, are a result of being exposed to a mushi named Tokoyami.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In the OVA, as the eclipse reaches its climax, we are treated to a montage of each of the people Ginko met in his travels during the first season, watching it happen.
    • In the Zoku-shou episode "Wind Raiser," the inkstone from "The White Which Dwells Within the Inkstone" and the fake painted coat from "Clothes that Embrace the Mountain" can be seen among the objects in Dr. Adashino's house.
  • Covers Always Lie: The blurb on the back cover of one manga volume describes mushi specifically as parasitic, malevolent entities. Talk about missing the point.
  • Credits Jukebox: Every episode gets its own ending tune.
  • Creepy Child:
    • The Hitotake, although they're not so much children as they are a viral parasitic Hive Mind...
    • Sui from "The Light Of The Eyelid" dips into this territory as a result of the mushi she's afflicted with, as well as spending most of her time in isolation and darkness.
  • Cruel to Be Kind:
    • Ginko takes Aya into a part of the uro-passageways used by mushishi so she can see how hopeless a labyrinth it would be to someone taken into a random section without guidance. Aya is forced to accept that her sister, sucked into them five years ago, is unlikely ever to find her way out, nor would she find the letters Aya continually sends through deteriorating cocoons. However, the epilogue reveals that Ito does emerge from a silk weaver's tub of cocoons some years later with one of Aya's letters tucked into her clothing.
    • "The Hidden Channel" has this happen to Yura. Her father forcibly separates her from her Parental Substitte Sumi because he feared that Yura was getting too attached to the woman, to the detriment of Yura's relationships with everyone else around her. Sumi also decides to stop spiritually contacting her, since the Kairogi that facilitate their contact are slowly infecting them both the more Yura reaches out to her.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Aside from the myriad horrible uses a mushishi could put his knowledge to should he be inspired, there are the techniques that manipulate the Light Vein itself. Anyone who can do so has the power to become immortal, or create a seed that will ensure a truly bountiful the low, low cost of someone's life. Doing so risks disrupting the balance of nature, and "The Heavy Seed" revolves around Ginko dealing with the legacy of such an abuse.
  • Dark Secret:One mushishi family made it their life's work to take their heirs without the ability to see mushi and give them the artificial ability to look at them by playing God—essentially, making a kouki-born dragon like mushi and emptying out the soul of the heir to make them its host.
  • Déjà Vu: One chapter involves Ginko meeting a man who is lured by a mushi, that causes him go through a "Groundhog Day" Loop over and over. The result being the man is constantly having a lingering feeling of deja vu, but since the loop begins at his childhood he doesn't remember what is causing it.
  • Downer Ending: Many of the stories throughout the series have a sad (or at least not pleasant for all involved) ending.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Ginko in the first few chapters hardly looks like he normally does. He resembles a much more anime styled, lanky teenage version of himself, and he even has some stubble in The Light Of The Eyelid. Additionally, as mentioned elsewhere on this page, there are instances of characters having contemporary styles of clothes in an early chapter.
  • Elopement: Attempted in "One-Night Bridge" by a pair of young lovers named Hana and Zen, in order to escape from her disapproving mother and the threat of an Arranged Marriage. Sadly, Hana hesitates while trying to cross the eponymous bridge, causing her to lose her footing and fall. And that's just the start of the story.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: More than once, this is all that's left after a person's body turns to mushi completely.
  • Endless Daytime: Those transported into the realm of the Oumagadoki are implied to be in a place like this. At least in Akane's case, she was trapped in an endless field with no one else present, against an eternally sunset sky for decades until she was pulled out.
  • Eye Scream:
    • "The Light of the Eyelid" has a little girl afflicted by a mushi that made her eyes so sensitive to light that she was eventually locked away in a shed to live out her days in darkness. Unfortunately, this particular mushi thrived in darkness, and slowly ate away at her eyeballs until they were completely gone. The part where Ginko takes out his fake eye to replace one of hers also has this effect on another character.
    • It gets worse in "Eye of Fortune, Eye of Misfortune". A woman's mushi-infected eyes jump out of their sockets and wriggle away! The author finds eye damage especially squicky.
  • The Fair Folk/Fantastic Flora: Mushi are pretty much the X Meets Y of these two tropes. Sometimes with Festering Fungus thrown in.
  • Flying Dutchman: Due to Ginko's power to attract mushi, he can never have a permanent home.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Ginko is a pretty nice guy, but not very emotive. He smiles considerably more when children are around and they seem to like him as well. Isana, the girl from "Shrine in the Sea", seems especially attached.
    • Adashino is this to the children of his village, too; there's usually a gang of them following him around when he's not seeing patients or hanging out with Ginko.
  • Foreboding Fleeing Flock: In "The Warbling Sea Shell," a large number of normally-seagoing birdlike mushi take shelter in the shells that have washed up on the beach, prompting Ginko to warn the nearby fishing village that some kind of disaster will occur at sea.
  • Foreign Language Theme: The opening themes of both seasons, "The Sore Feet Song" and "Shiver", are both in English.
  • Genius Loci: Some mushi take the form of (very large) natural phenomena. One of the most prominent is the Traveling Swamp, which is generally harmless unless someone drinks of its waters for too long (causing them to eventually dissolve into water themselves). It saved the life of a young woman who would have been drowned (by being thrown in a river as a sacrifice).
  • Genre-Busting: It's quite hard to pigeonhole the series precisely. It's kind of slice-of-life, kind of fantastic Mystery of the Week and kind of documentary with an overall peaceful and bittersweet tone.
  • Green Aesop: A lot of the stories tell about living in harmony with the environment, as pollution can cause all mushi to leave, with possibly worse effects on the people than when the mushi were present.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Often built around this. It's irrational to blame an animal for doing what nature made it to do, even if 'what it does' is eating eyes, parasitically living in people's ears or devouring fetuses and taking their place. The mushi are bizarre and sometimes frightful, but mindlessly innocent, and the mushishi who handle them can come off as Knight Templar or Well Intentioned Extremists for exterminating them.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: In the story "Fragrant Darkness", a guy has been living in a "long, happy nightmare" since his encounter with a time-warping mushi. Ginko warns him not to go through it again but then his wife is mortally wounded and they can't get back to their village in time. He goes through with her and now she's the one experiencing deja-vu...
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Some mushishi less enlightened than Ginko have this view about all mushi, seeing them as pests or threats to be exterminated. Tanyuu in "A Sea of Writings," who scribes and archives mushi lore as a means of binding the dangerous mushi trapped inside her, grows more and more frustrated with the prevalence of this attitude, and bonds with Ginko because he's one of the few who shares stories of harmless and/or beneficial mushi.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Oniko, children between a mushi and a human, which are very rare and inherit traits from both parents. In "Inside The Cage" Ginko meets a woman and her daughter who are descended from Magaridake, mushi that look like white bamboo. Though they look completely normal, both were born inside bamboo shoots and need water from said mushi to survive.
  • Here We Go Again!: The stories "One-Night Bridge" and "Fragrant Darkness" both end with someone else being afflicted with the same mushi as their loved ones before them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Narrowly averted, though only through another character's not-quite-so-heroic sacrifice. In the final story, Ginko risks his life to save a teenage girl who was chosen as a mountain-master but was rejected when she returned to her family and began to miss them even after returning to her mountain. He's about to be disintegrated into the Light Vein (which he's fine with since his days were numbered anyway) when the girl takes his place because she couldn't stand being away from the mountain — because she was the mountain.
  • Human Sacrifice: Io in "The Traveling Swamp" was sacrificed by her village, in the hopes of ending an onslaught of massive floods by appeasing the river god with a bride.
  • Identical Grandson: Played with in "Shrine in the Sea." A particular island has a mushi called Ryuuguu no Nushi that can seemingly reincarnate a person into a child form so they can be reborn to someone else, such as their daughter; people who go through this are dubbed 'Uminaoshi.' Turns out that the Uminaoshi actually are that person, at least physically; the mushi reduces someone to an embryonic state and allows them to be reborn if the egg is ingested. But since they have no memories of their 'past' lives, are they really the same people? There's no way to prove the reborn even have the same soul.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss:
    • Ginko doesn't tell anybody about the nature of the Imenonoawai because their reality-shaping nature will inevitably affect the host's dreams as well, once they become afraid of what the mushi will do. Jin learns this the hard way.
    • The unfortunate couple who had to watch their Hitotake "children" burn down their house to get rid of all traces of the mushi were told by Ginko that a ball of mud was its "core", and that they could probably get the "children" back if they wait for it to open up in a few decades. In reality, after destroying the source of the Hitotake, it and its vestiges would likely die in a day; the couple had already been through so much (including the wife previously being divorced for being barren and then three years of dealing with the "children" rapidly growing and then dying) that telling them this wouldn't do them any good.
    • Invoked in "The Sunrise Serpent". Sayo forgets nearly everything after learning that her husband has another wife and family, but her son Kaji notes that she went back to her bubbly old self not long afterwards. Ginko guessed that her depression after discovering this allowed the Kagedama inside of her to eat any memories she didn't want to think about anymore.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal:
    • Ginko, although he accepts the necessity of his wandering lifestyle, occasionally gets wistful for the idea of settling down and having a normal existence. He felt this more strongly when he was a boy and continually attracted disaster because of the mushi that hang around him.
    • Teru, the girl who attracts rainstorms because of a mushi that's clinging to her, begs Ginko for a solution because she's sick of having to move all the time.
    • Ginko's friend Tanyuu had this mindset as a child, before she fully understood her family's legacy and the strange black birthmark that left her leg paralyzed.
  • Ill Girl: In "The Hidden Channel", a girl named Yura has had heart trouble since she was very young. She's also developed a kind of telepathy, thanks to the influence of that episode's mushi, and uses this power to connect with her former caretaker, Sumi, the only person she trusts to help her through her pain.
  • Interrupted Suicide: In "The Pillow Pathway", Jin the swordsmith overdoses on the medicine Ginko gave him after his mushi powers overwhelm him, but Ginko intervenes in time to save him. The epilogue reveals that Jin ultimately stabbed himself with his own sword, after slipping further and further from sanity.
  • Kill and Replace: This is the modus operandi of the Watahaki mushi—entering the womb of a pregnant woman and destroying her fetus in order to take its place. The Kuchinawa takes this several steps further by eating and replacing mountain masters.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • In "Cotton Changeling", the Watahaki parasite attempts this on itself in order to force itself into hibernation rather than be killed by Ginko. It doesn't die, but its power is diminished enough for Ginko to carry it off in a bottle.
    • In "Journey to the Field of Fire", Nohagi thinks doing this to the unknown plant-based mushi will solve their weed infestation problem. While it does stop the weeds from covering the whole mountain and getting to her village, it only happens to escalate into a bigger problem that kills seven villagers and threatens her own life. Ultimately fire is the solution, but not in the way that anyone intended; the flames from the kagebi would be used to burn the Hidane seeds, thus preventing them from maturing and spreading.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Ginko has the retrograde variant. It plays an important role in his backstory, and is irreversible.
  • The Lifestream: Many references are made to a river of light, called the Light Vein, that only Ginko and certain other special people can sense. This river is the primal life force that the mushi come from, and strengthens and bolsters nature when it is near the surface of the earth: normally it's deep underground...
  • Living Shadow: Shadows made from the Oumagadoki mushi end up this way. They take on the form of a shadow with no body attached to it, and can switch places with anyone that stepped on them or whose shadows were touched by them. In the meantime, they can also move and the person inside never ages until they are pulled out once again.
  • Locked into Strangeness: One of the possible effects of mushi. See Io, the girl in "The Traveling Swamp," with green hair that turns black again after the swamp dies, and Ginko and Nui, as well as Hiyori in the Hihamukage special, with white hair.
  • Magical Underpinnings of Reality: A lot of strange everyday happenings are actually caused by mushi.
  • Magnetic Medium: Ginko's reason for being on the move all the time. This seems to be a trait of some, but not all people who can see mushi—the first mushi-shi he met as a child also attracted them, as does another man who attracted them in his youth.
  • Mama Bear: The Victim of the Week in "Cotton Changeling" is full prepared to stab Ginko to protect her children. Too bad she was protecting a parasitic mushi who was responsible for the death of her actual child...
  • Marriage to a God: In episode 5, the girl thrown into the swamp as a sacrifice considers herself the bride in the spirit of this trope.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Inverted in "The Milk of the Valley". Hyoichiro is fully aware that his birth was a factor in his mother's death, and nobody (least of all his father) blames him for it, but he feels it's his responsibility to make up for the loss of life and do right by his family by working the fields every day.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: It does not appear to be a Mayfly–December Romance at first, however Ginko quickly deduces that Saho in "Floral Delusion" has lived for hundreds of years thanks in part to the family of gardeners who love her.
  • The Mentor: Suguro, a mushishi who finds the young Ginko after he was abandoned by another mushishi who used him to drum up business. Suguro deplores such methods, explains some of Ginko's questions and begins teaching him how to become a good mushishi himself (including how to make the special cigarettes to repel mushi). And although he sends Ginko away after a terrible mistake, he does tell the boy that there must be a place for him in the world and not to give up hope of finding it.
  • Mind Screw: Not a very severe case, but there is some — as to be expected of a series that blends psychological, fantasy and slice-of-life themes together.
  • Monster Protection Racket: It turns out that Ginko was dragged into a couple of these as a child — some mushishi would take him in (knowing that mushi tend to gather around him and cause trouble) so they could increase their business.
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Sui in "The Light of the Eyelid" uses the light of the Light Vein to see within the dark storage shed she's confined in.
    • "Pickers of Empty Cocoons" shows a mushi that inhabits enclosed spaces in areas close to the Light Vein, mostly silkworm cocoons, linking them together through a labyrinthine network of extra dimensional silk tunnels. Anything that's enclosed with them gets carried along through the tunnels, a characteristic which the mushishi take advantage of by sealing the mushi into a specialized pair of cocoons which can then be used as a sort of pre-modern email.
  • Mystery of the Week: Whatever mystery crops up in invariably caused by a mushi.
  • Mystical White Hair: Quite a few people.
    • There's Ginko, of course. It's because he came into contact with a certain kind of mushi as a child. His mentor, Nui, also had white hair, because of the same mushi.
    • One of the girls from "Shadow that Devours the Sun" appears to be albino due to her mushi affliction.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero/I Did What I Had to Do: It's up to the viewer to decide which of these applies to Yahagi in "Journey to the Field of Fire." Ginko is 100% correct that burning the mountainside wouldn't get rid of the mushi, but there is nothing but his own confidence to suggest that he could have come up with the correct solution in time to avoid all of the vegetation in the area being poisoned (including the rice fields, which would have caused a localized famine). Worse, instead of thinking clearly, he's so upset that he berates the villagers in an insulting way, which predictably does not make them want to listen to him.
    On the other hand, Yahagi should have been able to recognize, as Ginko does, that burning a mushi which emerged from a volcanic rock would probably at best be unhelpful and at worst could be catastrophic. Whether burning the mountain was the best option or not, it is colossally stupid of her not to admit right away that she'd swallowed one of the mushi that resulted from the fires, and her overconfidence in her ability to deal with the kagebi despite their unusually large numbers results in several villagers dying from exposure to them. If she'd swallowed her pride and asked for Ginko's help, they probably would have worked out that the larval "weed" form could be killed by the false hidane fire sooner.
    Still, she wasn't wrong to point out to Ginko that the hidane were more manageable than the previously unknown larval stage that they'd burned, and if the villagers had been more diligent about listening to her warnings, no one but herself would have been harmed.
  • Oddly Named Sequel: The second season of the anime is called "Mushishi: Zoku Shou," or "Mushishi: Next Passage."
  • Oh, Crap!: A dramatic example in "Pickers Of Empty Cocoons", when Ito wakes up to see that the mushi capable of making people disappear is right in front of her.
  • One Myth to Explain Them All: Ginko says that most supernatural phenomena, like ghosts, are actually mushi.
  • Only Six Faces: Despite Ginko's unique appearance, the series (especially the manga) suffers heavily from this. It's even more apparent with the darker-skinned characters, who will always have one person, male or female, with the same facial features and short haircut.
  • One Steve Limit: You'll see some subversions from time to time. For example, Volume 6 has two things named "Fuki"; however, one Fuki (from "Heaven's Thread") has the kanji for wind, while the mushi Fuki (from "The Hand That Pets the Night") has the characters for "rot" and "liquor".
  • Origins Episode: "One-Eyed Fish", for Ginko. "The Bed of Grass" extends this to show how Ginko was accepted by the mushi.
  • Our Souls Are Different:
    • A boy from a mushishi family couldn't see mushi and underwent a process that replaced his soul with one, making him "the can" in order to help the girl who's Sealed Evil in a Can. As an adult he's usually The Stoic, but occasionally the mushi-soul leaves and he becomes The Spock.
    • A woman who can pull the life-force from living things eventually becomes overwhelmed by it and her soul essentially separates from her body, becoming an angel-like being only her son can see.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They're harmless, used as a way for a physically weak species of mushi to migrate, and mostly sit in the sun all day photosynthesizing.
  • Parental Abandonment: In "The Hand That Caresses the Night," it's mentioned in flashback that Tatsu and Usuke's mother abandoned their family because of the effect their father's mushi affliction was having on his personality.
  • Peek-a-Bangs:
    • Ginko's haircut covers one eye. Or rather, the empty socket.
    • After Ginko gives up his glass eye to her, Sui in "The Light Of The Eyelid" sports this hairstyle as well.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Most of the events of "Wind Raiser" might have been avoided if Ginko had explained to the young sailor why he shouldn't whistle at night, instead of just telling him that "something bad will probably happen." Because of the vague warning, when Ibuki slips up and absent-mindedly lets out a whistle after dark, he assumes that nothing's happened and goes right on whistling... leading to a chain of events that isn't resolved until after a good bit of damage has already been done.
  • Promotion to Parent: Suzu from "Pretense of Spring" and Tatsu from "The Hand That Caresses the Night" are both in charge of their younger brothers, with no parents in sight.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Ginko's troubles in "Depths of Winter" reach a nadir when he finds the mountain lord and it summons a bunch of wind mushi to knock him into a swamp that rapidly pulls him down. Once at the bottom he realizes he can still breathe. All of the animals of the mountain are hibernating in there too; the mountain lord is keeping them safe until it has enough kouki to recover—once it spits him out, Ginko realizes it basically mugged him for his own supply.
  • Reality Warper: Certain mushi can make people's dreams come true, making them Reality Warpers with power incontinence. Medication can usually let the person live a normal life just thinking they have prophetic dreams. In a bad case, though, a man blaming himself for not foreseeing his daughter's death goes off his meds and accidentally wipes out his entire village by imagining a plague that turns them to dust.
  • Reincarnation: Played with. "Reincarnation" as it appears in the series usually involves the deceased coming back from the same genetic pool.
    • "In the Cage" ends with the implication that Kisuke's oniko wife and daughter were reborn as babies thanks to a new Magaridake taking residence in the bamboo thicket they live in. Kisuke burying their bodies in the thicket might also have something to do with it.
    • "The Sea Palace" has a whole island that functions on a reincarnation system thanks to a local mushi. Once a person is on their deathbed or critically injured, they or their family members take them out to sea to drown. Once in a while, the sea will pop up "fish eggs" that a female family member can ingest to give birth to a healthy child that eventually looks and acts like the deceased with none of their memories. What's actually happening is that a mushi lives underneath the water, and when people send down the soon-to-be-dead to drown, the mushi eats them while they're still alive and converts them into a fish egg-shaped embryo. Ginko had very little information on how, exactly, this works at the time, since very few reports on this mushi exist.
  • Ret-Gone: Happens to Mujika in "The Sleeping Mountain". As an aging and injured Mushishi, he decides to sacrifice himself for the village under his protection, letting himself get eaten by the Kuhcinawa mushi who devours Mountain Masters and assumes their role. On one hand, this means that the mountain and village have a more permanent and experienced guardian spirit that can control its energies better than a human could; on the other, being devoured by the Kuchinawa means that every instance of their existence on Earth is wiped away. Tragically, only his apprentice Kodama and Ginko are spared from that, since they were on the mountain when it happened.
  • Scenery Porn: Only Six Faces notwithstanding, the backgrounds are breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Tanyuu, Ginko's friend who is introduced in "A Sea of Writings" has an especially dangerous mushi sealed in her body; it makes her leg black and prevents her from walking on it. The sealed mushi has been passed from it shows up every few generations, each host gradually wearing it down by siphoning it a little at a time into scrolls. Previous hosts were all but completely paralyzed.
  • Secret Other Family: In "Sunrise Serpent", Kaji and his mother Sayo discover that his missing father had settled down to raise a new family in the city. This devastates Sayo so much that her condition worsens to the point where she remembers nothing except her son, their home, and a few personal effects.
  • Shoot the Dog: Ginko does this a few times.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the "In the Cage" chapter, Kisuke ended up lost in a bamboo thicket for three years, with his only solace being his building a home with his wife and daughter. He longed to return to his birth village, but he was unable to, because he was actually magically compelled to stay in the thicket thanks to the water secreted from the Magaridake mushi. Setsu, his wife, realizes that she is the reason he is stuck in the thicket (as she's a human-mushi hybrid made of the same substance as that mushi) and cuts it down so he won't be compelled anymore. The instant he returns home, his family rejects him and his daughter, saying they're cursed. And then both wife and daughter die in half a year, because their life force was tied to drinking from the Magaridake.
  • Shown Their Work: Many aspects and objects of rural Japanese life are depicted accurately, and there are a lot of references to traditional folktales as well. It's also obvious to anyone who's ever been to Shirakawa-go that the author has been there too and took careful note of the architecture of the communal farmhouses there. For mycophiles, there's even an accurate representation of a Russula mushroom in "One-Eyed Fish", complete with what happens when you chew on the cap.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man:
    • Women seem attracted to Ginko for his reliability and helpful, caring nature. In particular Suzu in "Pretense of Spring" likes him because he's good with her little brother Miharu, who also reckons she got lonely without a man around the house. Masumi from "Mirror Lake" out and out flirts with him after her issue with the Mizukagami mushi is resolved.
    • Setsu of "In the Cage" ended up falling in love with her childhood friend, Kisuke, because he was the only person who accepted her mushi-human origins and considered her a normal girl.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Subverted. Though the smoke from Ginko's cigarettes has the effect of warding off the mushi that are attracted to him, it does not contain normal tobacco (or any type of narcotic, for that matter); and he couldn't stop even if he wanted to, lest he be swallowed up by a swarm of mushi.
  • Starfish Aliens: This is what pretty much all of the mushi are.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: The fate of Akane in "The Last Bit of Crimson". She is finally released from the Oumagadoki, but all of her childhood friends are either old or dead while she hasn't aged a day, and on top of that she's had her memories wiped. Luckily, it's implied she might not be this for long, as an old lady who used to know her instantly recognizes her and takes her into the village.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: The study of mushi is more or less treated as a science...that just happens to analyze things that can live in your dreams or eat silence.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Izumi's father from "Sea Of Otherworldly Stars" may count. He insists that his daughter didn't fall down a well and disappear, but rather that she was kidnapped.
  • Supernaturally Delicious and Nutritious: Ginko to the mushi.
  • Symbolic Blood: The Shinboku tree from "The Eternal Tree" had this trope applied to it. When the villagers that usually venerate it decide to cut it down and sell it to make ends meet, the tree first flowers red petals as if it could sense the danger coming towards it, and then is cut down senselessly. The Kouki that flowed out of it after it had been cut looked like the pooling blood of a hunted animal.
  • Taken for Granite: Or wood, anyway: A carpenter eats a mushi that lived in an ancient tree, giving him access to the tree's long memory. When he finds the tree again he narrowly escapes being assimilated back into the wood, but it's implied he will eventually become a statue.
  • Tears of Blood:
    • Young Ginko bleeds from his mushi-occupied eye socket when he tries to cross the light river.
    • A variant occurs in "Valley of the Welling Tide," in which a woman cries tears of milk just before her mushi-induced death.
  • Time Dissonance: Anyone who takes on the time-POV of a mushi (see "Those Who Inhale the Dew" and "Sea Meets Man").
  • The Virus: One of the mushi Ginko encounters has the ability to enter soon-to-be-pregnant women and replace their unborn fetus with a copy of itself, which spawns clones that the fetus' unwitting parents raise to maturity.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Suguro, the benevolent mushishi who takes in young Ginko for a brief time, calmly tells him to leave because he can't forgive Ginko for accidentally breaking the egg of the new mountain lord.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: In "The Shadow That Devours the Sun", a particularly powerful mushi strikes during a solar eclipse, drawing other smaller mushi to it and blocking out the sun for far longer than the eclipse should have lasted.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Some sibling pairs will engage in this. Shinobu and Shigeru from "The Mud Weeds" and Hiyori and Hinata from "The Shadow That Devours the Sun" are two of many examples.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Reki, the boy in "Lightning's End", whose mother once tied him to a tree during a thunderstorm, and refuses to love (or acknowledge) him even after he repeatedly allows himself to get struck by lightning so their house won't get burned down. In this case there is no favorite; his mother is simply incapable of loving him, and believes that she's just not emotionally equipped to be a mother.
    • The stepmother of the ferryman who can summon bird/wind mushi in "Wind Raiser" is more concerned that he can't make money than the fact that he could have died when the ship he worked on sank.
  • Unnamed Parent: Zigzagged. Many parents are minor characters who play this trope straight, such as Yoki's mother in "One-Eyed Fish". On the other hand, parents who are important to the story in their own right are given proper names, such as Isana's mother Mio in "Shrine in the Sea".
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • Ginko has stark white hair, green eyes, pale skin (at least more so than any of the other men in the show) and wears Western clothes. Very few people ever question this.
    • Biki in "Light of the Eyelid" had Western clothes in the manga (he even had a toy airplane), but he got Japanese clothes in the anime after the artist retconned the setting away from modern times as it was in the original one shot chapter.
  • Vertigo Effect: Used in the episode "The Sleeping Mountain" when Ginko wakes up feeling that something is wrong.
  • Victim of the Week: Almost every episode has one or two in the form of Ginko's 'client(s)'.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: The story "Valley of the Welling Tide" begins with a man finding Ginko unconscious on a snowy mountain and bringing him back to his home.
  • Wandering Culture: The Watari, a wandering tribe who study mushi and aid the mushishi, are also eternal wanderers. Ginko tagged along with them for a while when he was younger, and still meets up with them briefly from time to time.
  • Walking the Earth:
    • Ginko is forced to do this due to the amount of mushi he attracts. There are other mushishi who do the same, though not all of them have to.
    • Teru, the woman followed by rain in "Cloudless Rain." If she stays in one place it'll cause floods, sickness, and famine. Fortunately it's starting to weaken.
  • We Are as Mayflies: There are several stories that reinforce this belief. However, in general the message seems to be that a life well spent is good no matter how short.
  • Weirdness Magnet: It's not too uncommon for people, such as Ginko and Nui, to be born with the tendency to attract mushi, which naturally brings a lot of oddity to their lives, if not outright danger. The best way to keep it under control is to keep moving and smoke a lot of mushi-tobacco.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Apart from Ginko, most other mushishi are shown to prefer killing mushi. Even Ginko will kill a mushi if it is endangering someone's life, but he prefers not to.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: On two separate occasions Ginko tells a village mushishi that they should evacuate their people as a way of dealing with a crisis. Both times the mushishi in question rightly point out that the village will starve if they abandon their crops. Beyond this practical consideration, Ginko fails to understand the emotional attachment the villagers have to their land, which while an understandable kind of dissonance between a perpetual wanderer and settled agriculturalists, doesn't win him any points (especially after he insults the villagers from "Journey to the Field of Fire").
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The head priest in "The Heavy Seed" is turned immortal thanks to Ginko feeding his recently-deceased body the Narazu seed—though the head priest agreed to consume the seed, in order to watch over his village.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside:
    • The mushi in "Where Sea Meets Man" has this effect. A woman lost within it for three years thinks only three days have passed, and when Ginko and the woman's husband spend an hour or two under the mushi's influence, they're missing from the real world for a month.
    • Played with in "Pickers of Empty Cocoons". Ito has been gone for about five years, but when she returns, she hasn't aged at all. However, since she came back incapable of speech, it's not known how long she perceived her time in the mushi passageway to be.
    • Similarly, victims of the shadow-mushi shown in "Lingering Crimson" can trade places if they're touched by another person's shadow. No one knows how long Mikage was trapped, and Akane returned unaged after many decades.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It:
    • It's possible for something or someone to become a mountain master by killing one and eating its flesh. After hearing that this is the only way that Mujika can get rid of his Flying Dutchman status and stay with his lover, Saku, she goes out to kill the resident mountain master to do just that, and dies in the process.
    • Ginko almost did this as a kid when he found an egg which was the new mountain master. He briefly considered taking that power for himself, then accidentally dropped it. Fortunately the mushi took it back and found a new master. Unfortunately for Ginko, the man he was staying with wasn't pleased with what had almost transpired and told him to leave.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Nui, who was exposed to Tokoyami and would eventually be consumed by it. It's also very likely that Ginko doesn't have much longer before he suffers the same.


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