Monday, October 20, 2014

Mushishi -The Next Passage-, Ep. 11: Where I Belong

It's your lucky day: instead of just my usual weekly ramblings, you get a full blog post from me today!

Mushishi is definitely an incredible anime series. I have really come to fall in love with this show and the various ways it explores the human condition, as well as the overall atmosphere of the show. Perhaps one of the best, and yet somewhat more underrated aspects of the show, is how its lead character, Ginko, reacts to every situation he encounters. He may approach every case as a relatively objective outside perspective, but he is by no means a stoic, unemotional presence; he has his own reactions to everything, and over the course of the show we get to see his own personality unveiled and even develop. As the one constant between every otherwise (mostly) stand-alone episode, he is a very important part of the show, and what ultimately makes it more than just a "mushi of the week" show.

It was then to my joy that I found that the first episode of the second half of the second season (listed as episode 11 of -The Next Passage-), which just aired last Saturday, focused on Ginko as a child, after his encounter with the Tokoyami (which we first saw in episode 12 of the first season), but before he officially becomes a mushishi. It's a very welcome opportunity to learn more about Ginko himself, and how he has come to be who he is now. And the episode most definitely did not disappoint on that count, providing what has been the best episode of Mushishi yet.

Ginko as a kid. That cigarette actually makes mushi-repelling smoke, but of course, we still can't show minors smoking on TV.
And if that was not enough, the episode gives some very thoughtful concepts of interest to Christians. Warning: Some moderate spoilers follow after the jump.




This Ginko of the past is in many ways vastly different from the present Ginko. He's a lot less trusting of people, and overall has a rather negative view of the world. He is impulsive (upon waking up and seeing a bowl of rice, he stuffs the rice into his mouth with his hands) and at one point considers making a very selfish decision. Perhaps more than anything, he can be described as one word: insecure.

This largely comes from his circumstances: not only has the Tokoyami eaten his eye and his memories, but something about him causes him to attract mushi to himself, which lead to disasters if he stays in one place too long. His life between his encounter with the Tokoyami and this episode has involved various mushishi taking him in and using his mushi-attracting ability to get jobs for themselves, until things get out of hand and the mushishi kick him out. The cycle then repeats, and the experience has left Ginko feeling like he has no place he belongs in the world.

This time, he finds himself at the house of a more ethical mushishi, Suguro, who takes care of him and teaches him various things to help him out. Right around this time, a nearby mountain's mountain lord is about to die, while there does not seem to be any sign of a successor to take its place. This would be troublesome, as if there is no mountain lord, the natural order of the mountain will collapse and life on the mountain will die. One day, Ginko goes with Suguro to the mountain to investigate, when Ginko wanders off on his own; he then discovers an egg that contains the mountain lord's successor. He picks it up and, in a moment of selfishness, considers taking the future mountain lord's power for himself to rid himself of his mushi-attracting tendencies. He eventually decides against it, but not before he gets startled by a bird and drops the egg, breaking it and suddenly sending the mountain into an early state of autumn.

Panicked, Ginko rushes about trying to find some way to save the dying future mountain lord, and ends up falling into a mysterious realm with a Light Vein. There, he sees the spirits of past mountain lords, and gets the distinct feeling that if he were to go forward into the Light Vein, he would never be able to return. However, convinced that he has no place in the world anyway, he goes into the light.

I talked in my wrap-up post on Hanayamata about how two of our biggest drives in our lives are to find security and significance. While that show was about significance, this episode looks at security, specifically having a place to belong. Security is not just about physical security (though that is certainly part of it), but also about emotional security--a peace of mind about having a place where you are accepted and do not have to be worried about being forced out or pushed away. Unfortunately, for young Ginko, he never had that security; naturally, he acts in a very insecure way, culminating in what is essentially a suicidal pursuit of death.

Thankfully, things end well for Ginko. The spirits of the past mountain lords--the natural order itself--accept the dying mountain lord successor, allowing the mountain to eventually recover (though it will have to die for a time); meanwhile, they also lead Ginko away, as if to say that he does not belong with them, but with the world of the living. He returns to Suguro and explains the situation; Suguro tells Ginko that he has to leave, as he cannot forgive him for what he's done. However, he does tell him one last thing: there is no place in the world where he does not belong. He cannot belong to any one place, but instead, he belongs in every place. That is what the natural order was telling Ginko.

This is an incredible display of grace from the natural order. Ginko did nothing to deserve it; if anything, he deserved the opposite, to be kept away from the world as punishment for killing one of their own. And yet, he is allowed to return, to show him that they have forgiven him and he has a place to belong. Suguro, on his part, cannot forgive Ginko, because the forgiveness he needs is not his to give; he can only put into words the grace Ginko had already received.

That grace, however, changes Ginko. It gives him the feeling of security he had been looking for, and moreover allows him to view mushi not as his enemies, but as simple natural forces trying to survive in their own way. And it allows him to settle into his role as mushishi, never staying in one place, but doing his best wherever he is to help out. That grace changed him from the person he was at the start of this episode, to the person he is now.

Many Christians are told that they do not belong in this world. There is a certain truth to that statement, as our "home" is with God in Heaven. And for many Christians, particularly those called to missionary work, they cannot get too attached to any one given place, as they will frequently be called by God to go somewhere else. Even for those who find a certain place that they can stay for a long time, the possibility of being called elsewhere--or being called "home"--still remains. This is why many theologians refer to Christians as "pilgrims", passing through a land that is not our final stopping place to do God's work, much like how Ginko is a wandering mushishi.

This is all well and good, except it does not really do much for our desire for security and having a place to belong. Perhaps we can learn from this episode an alternate way of looking at this, though: because we do not belong to any one place on Earth, there is instead no place we do not belong, thanks to God's grace. After all, if we belong to God, and God is everywhere, then likewise, we belong everywhere. So if we find our security in God, we can take comfort in that security even if we are moving from place to place.

Regardless of if we are frequently moving or if we stay in one place for most of our lives, God's grace allows us to find our ultimate security (and significance) in Him, which has the power to change us. Of course, for those of us who have been Christians for a while, we know this already, but being able to see this idea come to life in a show like Mushishi is still an amazing experience... mainly because God's grace will never stop being amazing.

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Mushishi is easily one of the best anime out there. There's so much that one can take from every episode, whether you want to look at human nature or just want to sit back and experience the show as a piece of art. It is a show I highly recommend to everyone, to be sure. I don't know if I'll be regularly blogging this final season of the show, but if I do decide to do so, I know I can trust it to give me something good to write about every week it airs.

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