「常の樹」 (Tokoshie no Ki)
“Tree of Eternity”
It’s interesting that some shows feel like they end before the final episode, while others, like Mushishi Zoku Shou, reach the last episode without feeling like it has ended. Such is the way of Mushishi, with Ginko wanderings going ever onwards, much like life itself. That’s why episodes of Mushishi is, by and large, standalone, without much emphasis on an overarching continuity. Each story is timeless in and of itself.
Tree of Eternity is yet another meaningful addition to Mushishi‘s prestigious portfolio, though I admit I carry a fair amount of personal bias. I suspect that Castle in the Sky Laputa and all the Japanese media it has influenced has conditioned me to feel sympathy for giant, ancient trees. Stories of sacrifice are not uncommon to Mushishi, but Tree of Eternity is at the same time on a whole different scale and a whole different level of subtlety compared to other tales. Parents sacrificing for their children, siblings sacrificing for each other, sacrificing for your love, all bear a certain sense of humanity that makes it easy for us to empathise with their sentiments. But a tree is, in the end, just a tree. A very majestic tree, yes, but it’s still harder to infer noble intention from a plant. Ginko only suggests the possibility that the tree let itself be cut down to save the forest and the village, and it is due to Mushishi building up the tree’s long history and chequered relationship with the villagers that I was so willing to believe it.
Way back in episode 11, when I first started to cover this second half of Mushishi Zoku Shou, I mentioned the Shinto underpinnings of Mushishi‘s mythology. Tree of Eternity may be the episode where this is most apparent. At the very least, there was an emphasis on the divinity in all things, and a certain reverence for nature that is hard to put into words without talking about spirituality. Fitting, it is in this episode that Mushishi plays most with the tension between cynicism and mysticism that had shown itself regularly in previous weeks. It starts with Ginko suspecting Kanta (voiced by one Tsujimoto Kouji) by one of running a con (and that’s a bit ironic in itself), but is fully embodied by the village’s relationship with the tree over the generations. When man could not cut it down, it was revered as a god. But man eventually overthrows its gods, and the tree’s divinity is treated as superstition. Then, in hindsight, the knowledge and experience of the tree that saves the village from disaster once again elevates it to a state of divinity. What that says about humanity’s historical treatment of spirituality I will leave as an exercise for the reader.
The weight of the tree’s long experiences is important, because what makes Tree of Eternity appropriate as a final episode is its emphasis on the past. The entire episode may remind you of episode 14 of the first season (In the Cradle), but there are other references that you might recognise. Subtlely, it reminds us of all that has come before, and how much the viewer has seen of Mushishi‘s world after almost fifty episodes. That parallels with Kanta, who uses the tree’s vast experience to avoid an earthquake. It is the past that builds towards the future, and Kanta’s fate is true to that. Kanta’s wanderlust came from always wanting to experience new things, but you don’t always have to travel to see the world. He inherits experiences from the trees, and passes those experiences to his daughter in the form of stories. That’s how humanity’s collective knowledge has traditionally endured, as stories. It’s apt that the final episode of Mushishi, a collection of meaningful stories itself, takes some time to note their importance. Of course, this is not the last story Mushishi has in store. A movie has been announced for 2015, which may perhaps bring the world of Mushishi and its open ends (like the Forbidden Mushi) to a close. That’s a slice of future worth looking forward to.
There is little praise I have reserved for Mushishi that have not already been conferred by myself and others before, and Mushishi deserves all of those honours. For the anime world, Mushishi is almost an arthouse piece, but it never felt the need to be particularly avant-garde. Instead, it always strove to be unerringly beautiful in both style and substance, no matter if it was being light or being dark. It never proselytises heavily about its weighty themes, instead choosing to let its beauty move the viewer, letting beauty itself be evidence for its principles. It worked for Einstein, and it worked for me. As such, Mushishi remained didactic while also being a pleasure to watch.
Great credit must be given to original mangaka Urushibara Yuki for penning the incredible world of Mushishi, but I would also like to extend commendations to the anime staff for their work on this adaptation. The background and colours of the anime speak for themselves, but the animation, though sparse, always felt very deliberate. It combined well with the music, a score of minimalist brilliance that always managed to create that air of otherworldly fascination that Mushishi thrives on. The haunting power of the music and the atmosphere it created follows the viewer beyond the end of each episode. It showed great mastery over anime as an audiovisual medium. Indeed, there wasn’t a week where I finished and didn’t feel the need to sit back in my chair and ponder what Mushishi was all about.
I always feel that Mushishi has something to say, and I’m glad that each week I got the opportunity to talk about what I thought that was. Thank you, gentle readers, for following these ten episodes with me this season. It hasn’t been a very long ride, but I enjoyed every week of it, and I hope you did too. It’s been a great pleasure to have had the opportunity to cover Mushishi Zoku Shou here on Random Curiosity. I suspect that we will not soon see the likes of it again.