I finished reading the final triple volume of Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi this morning. As has become popular with translated manga publishers lately, Del Rey published volumes 8, 9, and 10 of the series in a single, extra-large volume (it’s not quite Bottomless Belly Button thick, but it’s very close). Not only is it three volumes-in-one, but it’s the final three volumes of the series. That the publisher actually finished the series feels like some kind of victory. Other series I’ve become involved with haven’t faired so well (or I’m not yet sure if they will fair so well). After rescuing Aria from ADV, Tokyopop seems to have given up on it at volume 5. Tokyopop similarly gave up on Suppli, but now looks like they are trying to finish it out with double volumes (I think there are one or two to go). I’m skeptical Times of Botchan will ever see completion from Fanfare, as I can’t imagine it’s popular and the publication schedule has been glacial so far.
So it felt like a victory to get these final volumes of Mushishi. I even ordered it the same week it came out because I was so excited to read them. But now that I’ve read them, I’m let down.
In my last post on the series I noted:
On this most recent read through the series I did notice more plot threads that connect different stories in the series. I’m not sure they amount to any sort of overarching plot, but maybe, in the end, Urushibara goes somewhere with it.
Alas, in the end, she didn’t go anywhere at all. Perhaps it would have been better if the series had been cancelled, then I could imagine those missing volumes as some improvement on what came before. Instead, these last volumes feel like Urushibara was stuck in a rut. She never abandons the strict episodic nature of the series, which could be fine except she never finds anywhere new to go with the stories. The metaphorical and emotional underpinnings of the mushi stories are not expanded on any by the addition of these volumes. The protagonist, Ginko, is not grown in any way. The art does not improve or change.
Aria provides a good comparison in this respect. It is similarly a work that is not primarily concerned with an overarching narrative (beyond the protagonist’s professional schooling/advancement), but over the course of the series there are new characters and the old characters change some, and stories call back to previous ones. There is forward movement rather than a standstill.
Mushishi makes a great case for the idea that some series need to be short.