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「香る闇」 (Kaoru Yami)
“Fragrant Darkness”

Last week I mentioned ephemerality as an abiding quality of Mushishi, and this week we see it played to its full with an episode filled with the motif of cherry blossoms. Cherry trees, ubiquitous as they may seem in anime, hold special meaning for the Japanese. Cherry blossoms are symbolic of the transience of life, beautiful but short-lived. This appreciation of mortality is part of the classical Japanese spirit, so much so that they have a special name for it: mono no aware. This episode of Mushishi captures that bittersweet wistfulness with artistry that few anime try to replicate. It’s not that we’re dealing with purely Eastern concepts—Classical literature lauded death as its most revered subject, and memento mori, the Romans would say—but Mushishi‘s treatment of both life and death has a beauty quite unique to animation as a medium. If ever one needed an example what makes anime ‘Japanese’, Mushishi is it.

The passing of time is a familiar subject for Mushishi, and never quite like this week where we simply have Kaoru (Furukawa Toshio) and his childhood sweetheart Iku (Kakinuma Shino) grow old together in peace. Fun fact: the seiyuu for our happy couple are actually married in real life; maybe that added to the authenticity for you. In our supernatural Mushishi world, though, it was a strange feeling watching these normal people live through their uneventful lives, only having to deal with their own, mundane troubles. Strange, but oddly satisfying. Unfortunately, to liberally paraphrase Tolstoy, happy people don’t make much of a story, and the peace, as one may expect, doesn’t last. Or does it?

Time travel, or rather a time loop, is nothing new to fiction, and we’ve seen mushi that grant do-overs or warped forms of immortality like this week’s kairou before. Harken back, for example, to episode 22 of the first season, which discussed reincarnation. This time, though, it’s not about fresh starts; it’s about regrets and attachment to the past. The urge to go back in time to ‘fix‘ things is an old chestnut, but that’s not exactly the real temptation as presented in Mushishi. After all, Kaoru manages to turn his back on the Looping Tunnel the first time around. Humans are fickle creatures. He’s actually content with his life, so he resists the urge to revisit his past. The stronger temptation is not regrets for the past, but fear of the future. When Iku was alive, he wishes to see his life continue. When she was dying, he feared to go on without her.

Mushishi notes a subtle distinction: regrets are less about ‘that shouldn’t have happened’ and more ‘what if that didn’t happen?’, less about righting a wrong and more about not having to live with that wrong. It’s the same reason why ‘death before dishonour’—a Japanese warrior tradition tied closely with mono no aware—is the coward’s way out. But Mushishi isn’t too quick to pass judgments. With Iku also drawn into the kairou‘s time loop, the final verdict is left to the viewer. Is her fate a sort of nightmare, or a sort of bliss? Kaoru didn’t deliberately take the tunnel to fix the past, but to delay the future. Is it wrong? Will it last? I suppose that will remain, pardon the pun, in the dark. Fragrant Darkness is not just a literal description. It’s also a metaphor for the future, both alluring and unknown, desirable but terrifying. And it’s not always pleasant flowers down the end of that tunnel.



October 26, 2014 at 11:23 am
  • October 26, 2014 at 11:44 amPetit Orenji

    Really loved the ending, when Iku started to have déjà vu as well. I guess it only happens to those who go through the loop themselves? Otherwise Ginko would have felt it with them?

    What I fear is that this actually continues several more times until Kaoru realizes that the only way from saving his sweetheart is by not marrying her. Then it’ll be like those Madoka moments all over again.

  • October 26, 2014 at 2:48 pmChris Lejman

    Not sure if it was just my imagination or now, but I thought that after Kaoru went through the tunnel last time, his eyes appeared darker afterwards. I don’t think Ginko explained what exactly will happen when he will become one with mushi, so maybe in those last scenes that already happened?

  • October 26, 2014 at 7:05 pmDwarg

    This was some depressing shit alright, the guy is stuck in infinite loop of death, like Keiji from All You Need Is Kill but worse, because he has to literally live his entire life, from birth to death, repeatedly.

    • October 27, 2014 at 8:51 pmKeltian

      It’s actually not even from birth to death but from birth to walking into that dark tunnel again. He’s never lived out his entire lifespan. He keeps interrupting it by walking into that tunnel and restarting the time loop all over again.

  • October 26, 2014 at 9:32 pmjustin

    this doesn’t necessary referring to the reliving the past, a day is loop, a week is a loop, a year is another loop. at the end of the day, you will go in the tunnel, and repeats again tomorrow, next week, then next year.

  • October 26, 2014 at 9:43 pmHelloWorld

    I’m kinda glad actually that your post on Mushishi isn’t a big “ride-on-Mushishi-d**k” like Guardian Enzo’s one ^^

    • October 26, 2014 at 9:47 pmHelloWorld

      Pardon me. What I was trying to say is “suck-on-Mushishi’s-d**k” =_=”

      • October 27, 2014 at 7:57 amj

        *needlessly filthy language* “Pardon me” *more needlessly filthy language* Lol what.

  • October 26, 2014 at 11:41 pmZJZJ

    Loved your review. As with most mushishi episodes, I don’t really know what to say about it other than that it was captivating from start to end. I don’t know what sort of ending I hope for the couple, but I personally hope it’s a ending, and not them reliving their lives eternally.

  • October 27, 2014 at 1:57 amKingofConquerors

    This episode is one for the ages. And that’s no small feat given the established quality of the series.

  • October 27, 2014 at 8:00 amj

    This episode was a real horror movie one O_o
    Look at the screencaps, they looks so innocent. While watching, as usual, the story telling is so calm and they’re living such common lives. Yet I was reduced to sitting and going omgomgomg at the end.

  • October 27, 2014 at 9:27 amilion4o

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for picking up Mushishi!!! I really enjoyed reading your review! Nothing else to say really ^^

  • October 27, 2014 at 8:28 pmHogart

    Wow. Chilling episode. Kaoru sacrifices himself to the tunnel to save his wife, only to trap her with the same fate. After all, she doesn’t even know she entered the tunnel. And since he became one with it, he has no future past her “death”… so is it be a paradox she cannot escape, or if she breaks the loop somehow, will he be gone for good? Maddening stuff.

    • October 31, 2014 at 11:17 amshytende

      He’s actually pretty egoist in his choice. He fears a life without her so much he prefer to sacrifices his future instead. Whether it’s a beautifull love story, or an horrible act is up to you. It may even be both. Can I condemn his action ? Wouldn’t I do the same thing in his place ?

      I’m really impressed by this episode. It managed to evoke so much with so little. That’s always more or less true with Mushishi, but this time more than ever.

      It could have been really boring to see the same things over and over again, but it was passionating.

  • October 27, 2014 at 8:38 pmBanana Furikake

    I’d say this time loop is much better than say the one in Suzumiya! :P

  • November 3, 2014 at 9:24 pmKaZuHiRo

    Piccolo (Dragon Ball) and Naru (Sailor Moon) doing voices together <3