「泥の草」 (Doro no Kusa)
It seems that mood of Mushishi this season is as a gentle roller coaster, climbing up with heartwarming episodes and then sliding back down into morbid territory. One can think of Zoku Shou as running like a gradient, with each episode blending into the next thematically but shifting in colour with each time. Mud Grass is perhaps the darkest of Mushishi we have seen to date. I thought last week’s episode was pretty sombre, what with it being about domestic breakdown and all, but this week manages to go one further. Mud Grass is about murder, and as expected it’s not a subject that is dealt with lightly.
Death hangs heavily over this week of Mushishi, and the body count is uncharacteristically high. In the tight-nit, rural communities of Mushishi, humans do not deliberately kill each other—at least, we haven’t seen it happening before. And where Mushishi has framed death as being something to be respected before, only now does it invoke it as something so feared. The villagers of this episode have their funeral rites because of the symbolism of returning to the mountain (and remember that in Mushishi mountains represent the greater life-cycle), but they also have superstitions attached to them. Their fear is not unfounded; corpses can spread pestilence, parasites and other nasty things (i.e. zombies), which is why we usually bury or burn corpses. For this particular village, even handy decomposition-by-mushi carry some rather sinister dangers.
The mokurosou introduced this episode may look like grass, but as a narrative motif it acts awfully like blood. ‘Out, out, damn spot!’ I could almost hear Lady Macbeth shouting, constantly scrubbing at that phantom reminder of her crime. Like Cain, the biblical first murderer, once you kill you are marked forever. Fittingly, there is a lot of contemplation of hands in this episode of Mushishi, and what it means in each specific circumstance is up to interpretation (much like all the clouded expressions). What’s obvious is that murder has lasting and profound effects on all involved. In anime, I am reminded in particular of Kara no Kyoukai, where murder is treated as something that explicitly erodes your humanity. Even killing once makes killing an irreversible part of your identity. It’s so easy to just keep killing as the crimes spiral out of control.
Note the difference between the two brothers. One kills by accident, the other out of vengeance. One eventually confesses his crime, while the other continued to cover it up. And only one, in the end, gets the proper mountain funeral. It’s also notable that even suspicions of murder does not stop Ginko from treating a patient. His end is his own doing. If there ever was a hell in Mushishi, then drowning ignominiously, unable to be returned to the mountain, resting with neither friend nor family, is it. But he wasn’t even a particularly evil man. He had a wife. He loved his daughter. He cared for his nephew. Such a mundane man committing such a cold-blooded crime and destroying his life was a chilling thing to watch. Good though it was, I hope Mushishi doesn’t intend to top it every week.