Mushishi’s Naturalist Themes Put It On Par With Miyazaki’s Anime Masterpieces

The conflict of nature versus mankind has been a theme of human literature and creative works for centuries, from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. That theme is prominent as ever in today's manga and anime industry. Hayao Miyazaki has tackled environmentalism several times in his works and the famous films of Studio Ghibli. Though it's most prominent in works such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a love for nature and general warning against humanity disregarding it can be found in most of Miyazaki's films.

However, Miyazaki is not the only director tackling themes of environmentalism. Though it approaches the ideas of nature versus mankind from a different direction, the manga/anime Mushishi also concerns itself with the balance of nature and progress. Mushishi is lesser-known but just as important of a work when it comes to commentary on humanity and what our responsibility to nature is.

Mushishi began as a manga that ran from 1999-2008, while the anime ran between 2005-2006 with another season in 2014, followed by a movie. Both mediums were very well received and won several awards. Mushishi takes place in a world where Mushi exist as basic yet supernatural lifeforms -- less sophisticated than even fungi -- yet unknown to most due to their supernatural nature. Ginko is a man who's able to see Mushi, and travels to study them and help with problems the Mushi cause. Though the Mushi create trouble for humans, Ginko is always insistent they are not doing so to be malicious -- rather, they are basic creatures just trying to survive and when their habitat is encroached upon, imbalance is created in the world.

The Mushi are supernatural beings, so elements of fear are sometimes invoked -- particularly for the humans who cannot tell the changes around them are caused by Mushi. However, the manner in which the Mushi are appeased and the land set to rights gives an almost peaceful feeling to the conclusion of Ginko's work. Since Ginko works in an unknown time after the Edo period, technology is less sophisticated and allows for a deeper immersion into deep forests where Mushi dwell and are upset by challenges in balance. The message here is clear: even the smallest of creatures matter in the coexistence of man and nature, and to ignore them is to call calamity upon ourselves. If Mushishi is a frightening story, perhaps it is mostly due to the fact the imbalance of man and nature is evident in everyday life and the teachings of the story are going unheeded.

Though the same themes exist in Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films, the fact that they are catered for a younger audience does place certain limitations. Mushishi has a very slow and gentle storytelling method that isn't allowed to children's movies and the content must be somewhat moderated. While Princess Mononoke has its gruesome moments, it never delves into the horror Mushi can bring upon an environment, though it is very clearly a direct conflict between man and nature with Lady Eboshi and Iron Town, which was created through clearcutting the forest and setting Eboshi on a path to defeat the Forest God. When that Forest God's death destroys Iron Town, the romance between protagonist Ashitaka and forest-dweller San -- where one will live with mankind and the other in the woods -- creates a union between man and nature that hints at Mushishi's themes of humanity respecting the the balance of nature.

Nausicaa confronts Ohmu

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is most like Mushishi in that the creatures Nausicaä defends are Ohmu, closer to basic lifeforms like Mushi. They act on a hive mind and needlessly destroy when their world is thrown out of balance. Nausicaä's ability to empathize with the Ohmu is ultimately what saves her home, showing that humanity needs to care for its most basic and often most inconsequential creatures in order to survive. Ohmu might disgust at first, but they are essential to Nausicaa's way of life.

The conflict of humanity and nature will continue in fiction and in reality. What Miyazaki's films and Mushishi teach are that humans need to not only care for the balance of nature, but also take care of our most basic creatures. The equivalents of Mushi and Ohmu might not be as pretty, but they are just as important. These environmentalist works are a lesson that only by caring for our own Mushi can we care for the whole of nature as well.

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