「花 惑い」 (Hana Madoi)
“Floral Delusion”

I’ll never o-hanami the same way again.

One of the dirty little secrets about Mushishi is that most of the time, it’s not really about Mushi but about people. Each story is like a self-contained parable about the vagaries of human nature – our hopes and dreams, our capacity for love and compassion, for possessiveness and greed. The Mushi are primarily there as catalysts to reveal the true nature of the human characters in the stories. In fact, over time I’ve come to view each of them as almost symbolic of some archetypal element of human nature.

Looked at that way, it’s hardly a surprise that Mushishi continues to be riveting chapter after chapter, because there’s really no end to the diversity of the human animal and the human condition. After a gentle start Zoku Shou has veered sharply to the dark side of late – stories of tragedy, suicidal depression and sheer psychopathy (that would be this one). The many faces of Mushishi are the faces of ourselves, and Ginko the constant who guides us on our strange journey through the collective unconscious like some kind of chain-smoking Carl Jung.

"Floral Delusion" is a dark journey indeed, though it starts out with scenes of tranquil beauty. The Sakura, so beloved and revered by the Japanese – indeed, there is something almost hypnotic about the way the entire nation falls under their sway every spring. Ginko meets a young woman while admiring the local cherry blossoms, and asks her about a famous local Sakura, and she tells him it’s next to the house of a local doctor she’s on her way to visit for medicine for her ill mother. But when they arrive, the tree – gnarled, huge and ancient (Ginko estimates 600-700 years old) is bare of so much as a single blossom or leaf.

I can say truthfully that from the beginning, I felt something off about the "doctor", Masaki (Miyamoto Mitsuru). There have been a few episodes where Ginko has been assaulted without warning by his human acquaintances, and there was something in the air here that made me want to shout a warning at the screen almost from the first moment. But things start out relatively innocently – Masaki tells Ginko he’s no doctor, just the latest in a family of "humble gardeners". And he’s quite tender and kind with the strange, chillingly beautiful girl who sits under the tree, Saho (Toshimi Muto). Saho is quite helpless – "almost entirely" blind and deaf, and seemingly quite unable to fend for herself. Ginko soon links her condition with the strange foam inside the tree, actually a Mushi called Kodama (the Japanese term for a tree spirit, as Hoozuki fans will know), which greatly extends the life of any tree it inhabits, but takes away one of the five senses from any animal that consumes it. Masaki has been selling it as a medicine, and Ginko asserts his authority as a Mushishi (which is surely only moral, not legal) in telling the man in no uncertain terms that this has to stop. He also tells Masaki that he would be able to drive the Kodama from Saho and restore her senses, but he can’t say whether there would be any life left in her if he did.

I think it’s fair to say that the broad nature of what’s happening here is pretty apparent from the beginning. Saho’s spirit and health are directly linked to that of the tree, and Masaki is keeping some of the truth from Ginko. Superficially the chapter seems to be building towards a sad and sentimental conclusion, but that nagging sense of deeper wrongness grows stronger and stronger – and indeed, the full breadth of the darkness in "Floral Delusion" is far greater than meets the eye (or Ginko’s eye). As Ginko slowly puts the pieces together based on the odd nature of the family records Masaki allows him to investigate, Masaki reveals his true stripes – he’s the latest in the line of psychopaths in his family that have been killing young women, stealing their bodies and grafting Saho’s head onto them whenever her own body starts to decay (as it is at this very moment), just as they graft branches of the tree onto other trees to make them bloom gloriously.

There are so many fascinating elements to the resolution of the episode, starting with the bold and dangerous choice Ginko makes to save the life of the girl who’s come for medicine and found herself on Masaki’s chopping block. He kicks over a lamp (put yourself in the place of someone living in a time and place where all buildings are wood, with thatched roofs, and all light comes from flame) and burns Masaki’s house down while he flees with the girl. We’re left to wonder about the nature of what we’ve witnessed – was it simple human possessiveness that prompted Masaki’s family to so zealously defend the life of the "tree spirit" they saw Saho as, or was the Kodama itself exerting a hypnotic hold over them? As Saho lies expiring she exhorts Mansaku (Masaki’s ancestor, who first discovered the crying infant in the hollow of the tree) "No… Don’t!". It seems very likely to me that whatever part of the human girl that still exists was trying to keep her life from being extended in this gruesome fashion.

Finally, we’re left to ponder (Mushishi always leaves us to ponder) the ending itself. As the house burns the ancient tree blooms breathtakingly, and Saho "blooms" as well – than expires in a most chilling fashion in Masaki’s arms. What became of the man, who Ginko tells us was never seen again? And what part of Saho still exists in the tree which one day blooms again next to the burnt shell of the house, as two travellers unsuspectingly rest beneath its beautiful blossoms? As is life itself, Mushishi is more questions than answers – but I like it that way. This was a beautiful episode, suspenseful, sad and gripping from start to finish. It was also another display of just how crucial Masuda Toshio’s incomparable soundtrack is to the alchemy of the series.

Next week, by the way, brings us an anime-original story, the first of the season.

18 Comments

  1. Quite a metaphor- voluntary euthanasia or pulling the plug on the comatose anyone? And as to which position this show takes, well, I think it’s quite obvious…

    Zen
    1. I did not see it that way but I do have to agree that it does touch on that.

      I remember this other story,in Aoi Bungaku, that there is also this motif of meeting a beautiful woman under the blooming sakura tree that eventually leads to the demise of the man, which of course opposite to other genres but I wanted to bring it up.

      I would say the story focuses more on the crippling desire of the beautiful.

      Jack Vojack
  2. If someone is wondering, that here is so “many” postings, then i try an explanation.

    This kind of Stories and their background, are really Nippon Hardcore. I dont think, that outside and in Nippon today. many knows this old Stories of Mushi’s

    So i wonder, if the fans are young to want to know these old tales or just old fans that stayed young in their hearts

    and outside of Nippon, these Mushi stories are nearly unknown. And i guess that the most Curisity random fans are world wide, these stories are unknown to them (like me)

    So, i am sorry. Not because these Show is not worth able to watch, it is just i dont know these kind of stories. Sure we have Disney or old Children Tales, but to compare them with Mushi is not right

    Hope i am a bit right

    Germanguy
    1. I find this response puzzling. Is the assumption that we need to “know” a story before we can enjoy it? Say, a first-time reader of Cinderella would be immediately turned off by there being a fairy godmother and a pumpkin coach?

      Or is Mushishi simply too Japanese for you? In which case, it’s a matter of personal taste. Personally, I find each story dips into something very universal about human nature. Regardless of my knowledge or appreciation of cherry blossoms, Mushishi almost always manages to move me.

      titus
      1. Well, to enjoy this kind of Stories you must had or have connection with the Nature and their tales around them of Spirits or Ghosts

        But for someone that born and been raised in a City environment, and only know the Nature from books and some Trees in the park and some “nasty mosquito”, this is a world behind their imagination.

        The red line so far, are around “nature based” spirits or ghosts so far. And try to ask yourself, how many peoples that grown without the old tales, know them so much? Curiosity and understanding are two different matters

        i was lucky to born and life over 10 years in a valley just with well’s and other stuff. Living in the city is easier, but you get dull with the time, for the nature

        Germanguy
      2. The Tree make to much rubbish in Autumn? Cut it down. The earth get dirty after a rain? go and put asphalt over it. What to do with this garbage? i am to lazy sort them out. Ah dammit, no one see it. i just trow it into the River.. Out of my eye, out of my mind…

        Germanguy
    2. I don’t believe for one second you need to have a clear, define connection with nature to enjoy this series. It’s not only about the nature (trees, bushes, non-city environment), it’s about the people and the NATURE of HUMANITY. You are guilty of it, I am guilty of it. The mushi are just happen to be there and help push along the more unattractive qualities of humans.

      The first episode was about impersonation. It was not known to the son of the sake maker, but the long and short of it was he was trying to impersonate the sake he tasted that night in the woods.

      Another episode we see a family (father and daughter) who have drawn away from the village due to a tragic event that happened to the man’s wife during a diving expedition. He couldn’t forgive anyone for what happened, feeling as though there had to have been some way to save her, when it was just pure chance that caused it to be her. He was forced to over-come is pride and forgave in order to help him and his daughter, as well as the rest of the village.

      A girl realizing there’s more to living than a boy; and being so depressed when she was rejected by him that she was willing to allow herself to “die” and let a mushi take her spot so that she could cease to be.

      Again, it wasn’t about the mushi. It wasn’t about the trees or animals or spirit of forest. It was about the human nature. Even this episode. Yes, it may have been caused by a mushi, but the end result was very human emotion–one way or another. Good or bad, it’s humanity.

      I think, Germanguy, you need to approach the series in a different way. Watch with your heart instead of your eyes. Place yourself in one of the weeks main characters (besides Ginko) and ask yourself what you would do.

      Also, rewatch the original series. Two of my favorite episodes are “The Light of the Eyelid” (episode 2 of the original series) and “Tender Horns” (episode 3 of the original series). There are a lot of good episodes. You should give it a watch. 🙂

  3. Wait, excuse me for asking but did it say next week will be an original story ep?

    If I’m not wrong there enough materials(chapters) left in the entire manga to fit the whole 25-26 ep but anyway, if indeed next week will be an original one, was it also created by Yuki Urushibara?

    Zxenon
    1. I haven’t seen a writing credit so I have no idea if she wrote it or not. There did seem to be enough manga material (just) for two split cours, so perhaps they’re intending to have an OVA or two to fill out the series.

  4. I can’t do Hanami like the same way again…
    nice post as always Guardian! really appreciate it!

    well this show might be too hardcore for our “young” viewer
    but at least for me and of course Mushishi fans. This anime is like our feast in years
    heck! Mushishi’s dark tales is not for kiddies who compare anime to disney.

    keep blogging Guardian! Thanks

    Yuki
  5. It’s said that the cherry blossom’s flowers were once snow-white, and grew pink after a body was buried under it (dyeing the flowers red with its blood). One popular re-telling says that a cherry blossom would bloom spectacularly if a body is buried underneath.

    With this in mind, I believe we can interpret the ending in two ways.

    One: That Masaki commited suicide under the tree and became himself the (hopefully) last offering to the tree.

    Two: That the tree has bloomed, and will continue to flower, with or without human interference. Which makes what the murders committed by the gardener clan seem even more wasteful and meaningless.

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