「雷の袂」 (Ikazuchi no Tamoto)
The weather was thundering incessantly while I was watching this week’s episode of Mushishi Zoku Shou, which made for a rather disconcerting experience. To make it worse, when I finished watching a heavy stroke of lightning hit a local electricity substation and the entire street lost power for the afternoon. How ominous.
Even without the dramatically compliant weather, Lightning’s End still makes for, in my opinion, one of the more morbid stories Mushishi has presented so far. It’s probably inevitable; thunder and lightning are traditionally signs of ill omen, in almost any culture you can think of. It’s telling that although Mushishi tends to be positive, even in tragedy (like last week), it’s far harder to find the silver lining this week. The ending was not tragic, but rather just bleak. and even the small hints are left ambiguous. Did his mother find it and give it to him before he was sent away? Or, more likely, did he have it all along, as a token of that maternal connection? It’s something to think about, but not much to be happy about. It’s telling how contrary Lightning’s End runs to many of the major themes in Mushishi. Where we have seen tight-nit families before, we now have a dysfunctional one. Where mothers have unwaveringly protected their children, Shino has only abusive neglect. Where other characters will struggle for life, Shino can only resort to death. Ginko has his work cut out for him this episode; his task is not just to exorcise a mushi, but to heal a broken family. He succeeds at one, but fails at the other. Not even our insightful master mushi-shi can console someone as fundamentally broken as Shino. There’s a lot to make one feel down this episode.
Yet, by playing foil to so many of Mushishi‘s tenants, Lightning’s End serves to highlight their importance. We need to remember that part of the reason Shino is the way she is today is because her own mother had abandoned her in turn. How does one feel maternal love, when they received none of it themselves? The tragedy is that while Shino cannot in honesty muster that love, she still feels like she should, which makes her past iniquities weigh even heavier on her psyche. It isn’t helped by the fact that many cultures see lightning as the wrath of the heaven; with each strike so traumatic, it’s no wonder Shino thinks her son was punishing her. She understands the connection mothers are supposed to have with their children, but cannot form it, and to her that is a sin. Death is the only possible atonement she allows herself.
The one ray of positivity is that Reki understands what the mother/son bond is suppose to be, too. In his own way, he treasures it. So for his mother he wishes life, not death. In a reversal of roles, it is the child who must stoically protect the parent. He lives through that, but sadly the maternal relation does not. With Reki being sent away, it does feel like something died to the lightning strike. The thought of it still puts me in a sombre mood. What was Reki thinking, as he contemplated the thunderheads? I don’t think I’ll be looking at them in the same way for some time. More than many other episodes, Lightning’s End is an ur-example of how Mushishi has a tendency to haunt the soul, even after the storm has passed.
Full-length images: 06.