Mushishi – 22 – The essence of individuality

By following the mysterious legend of the Uminaoshi, Ginko finds himself on a secluded island. Here it is said that when people die, if they so wish it, they can be born again; in a certain part of the sea, where the light shines even at night, the Uminaoshi mushi lives.
What in essence defines the individuality of a person? Are we all destined to become the people we are today, or are our personalities shaped over time, chiselled and refined by life experience? In a fantasy world where the basic building blocks of life can be reincarnated- a dying mother is reborn within her young daughter- the characters of episode 22 are forced to ask themselves these questions. The resolution, at least as far as our protagonists are concerned, is that individuality is as much defined by memory as by sheer physicality, and hence a young woman eventually sees her offspring not as a living, breathing avatar of her dead mother, but as her true child.
Just like episode 21, the new OVA format of Mushishi appears to mean that the animation has gone up a notch, adding an even finer detail to an already magnificent production. The blood-red sunset shading and sombre colour scheme are wonderfully moody, and the new found rapid fluidity of movement generates an extra sense of electric excitement when the episode climax hits its supernatural crescendo.

5 replies on “Mushishi – 22 – The essence of individuality”

Candidly speaking, I was a little dissapointed with this episode of Mushishi. Judging from the track record of the series, almost every story suffers a bittersweet ending, and Mushishi lingers between something purely evil and harmful and the beneficial. But it seems as if the style has undergone an unexpected and abrupt change.
By drowning yourself at the end of life, you have given immortality much like drinking elixir of life. How is that bittersweet? And how does this deviation fits into the pattern the series has faithfully followed for the past 20 odd episodes? I was fully expecting the Mushishi to devour the drowned victims and somehow materialize as Uminaoshi, instead it merely turns them back to the embryonic state. Hopefully this sad trend end right now and here.

I’m not sure if immortality (especially in the context of this episode) is a good thing, and besdies, it’s not really immortality if the person is reborn without their old memories, and hence their old life. I think the point of this episode is that memories and experience are what define you as yourself and if taken away, then you will naturally become a different person. This is why the woman at the end of this episode is able to heartily address her offspring as “daughter”, it isn’t really her mother anymore; her true mother died when she lost her memories.

I assume the difference in our opinions stems from varied values placed on immortality, taking into account of how it is attained. But if I were to choose between 1. Pass away and retain all my memories or 2. Be converted to an embryo but losing all my memories in the process, I would gladly choose the latter, after all, being a practical person I am, losing memories is not too much of a price to pay for a renewed body, even if means losing the old self.
Memories may be define the identity of an individual, but keeping all my genes 100% intact in a new body is even more important than keeping memories, I think.

It was quite unusual to see the mushi having a (mostly) positive effect on the humans involved; iirc I can only recall that happening once in the series so far. Quite refreshing change from the tragedy of ep 21!
The moral questions are pretty complex though. I can see how it makes people happy but at the end of the day they are getting half of their wish granted – the reborn person looks the same but there are some things that are irreplacable. There’s something not right with being potentially immortal (as in it upsets the most fundamental laws of nature!) so I think it’s only right that should be a price to be paid.
@Lynn: you raised good points there but also highlight my feelings on how thought-provoking and clever this series is! Even if my physical body could be recreated 100%, it still wouldn’t be completely ‘me’ since my memories would be lost – it’s not a case of your view or mine being the correct one, but it does depend on how practical you are in your outlook! I love shows that are open to individual interpretation like that. 🙂
As an aside, there were one or two details that I didn’t really understand (possibly because of glare from a nearby window on my screen!). How did Ginko and the daughter escape the mushi? Didn’t the daughter recall a memory (that of comforting Mio when she couldn’t sleep) even though she was reborn?

"Memories may be define the identity of an individual, but keeping all my genes 100% intact in a new body is even more important than keeping memories, I think."
It depends on how you define imortality; I think for it to qualify as immortality a person has to be conscious of the fact, otherwise it’s pointless anyway. As far as I’m concerned, if my brain was suddenly reset, as an individual I’d be dead. Spiritually, you could say my "soul" would no longer exist and so the person reborn could never become the me of today.
As Martain says, there is no right or wrong answer. Immortality is in the eye of the beholder.
Memento’s review of this episode has touched on the idea of this entire episode being an allegory for human cloning. The only problem with cloning and such is that it inherently limits the evolution of humanity; not only would our genes remain static, entire races could be wiped out by disease. Obviously within the confines of this episode, it isn’t so much clong because the original bearer of the body is pushed back into an embryonic state.

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