Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 3 & 4: Depression & domestic abuse

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Yep, I’m going to give it a shot, and devote a dedicated post to Mushishi each week. Let’s hope I do it right.

Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 3

This is an obvious tale about clinical depression. Once afflicted, we see how Toki socially withdraws from both his family and his friend Tae. It gets so bad that even their body temperature hurts him. What’s most fascinating, however, is how Toki has accepted his condition as a new state of equilibrium when it is anything but. Toki feels fine in the cold, but according to Ginko, the kid’s body will eventually suffer from frostbite if he doesn’t seek help. Again, you can see the parallels in depression. A lot of depressed individuals will adjust to their new mindset without realizing that there’s necessarily anything wrong. Maybe they’ll stop bathing as often, grooming as often, fulfilling their responsibilities as often, etc. It’s not until someone points it out to them that these depressed individuals will go, “Aha… I need help.” But if they don’t get help, the depression will eventually hurt them in ways that goes beyond, “Wow, this dude hasn’t bathed in a while.”

There are two unfortunate problems for Toki, and they compound his problem. First, Ginko tells him that he needs help, but by this point, it’s probably already too late. Once depression settles in that deep, it’s hard to drag yourself out without seeing a proper professional. After believing that everything is normal for so long, one man’s words aren’t going to snap you out of your funk. Second, his loved ones didn’t take Toki’s condition seriously enough: “It’s not snowing… anymore… Toki… I had a bad feeling that this might happen someday… I should’ve stopped you!” This is familiar to anyone who has ever had to see a loved one fall victim to the downward spiral of depression. The fact that the snow has stopped means that the signs of Toki’s depression were always there. They were simply brushed off by the people around him, however, as a natural occurrence that couldn’t be helped. This is similar to how we can sometimes ignore depressed individuals and the obvious signs that they need help: “Oh, he’s just stressed” or “She’s just having a bad day” or “You just need to snap out of it.” We don’t realize how grave the signs really were until they are gone.

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So what finally saves Toki’s soul anyway? After all, it’s not like there’s a therapist in the village to help him cope with his problems. Well, I guess nothing short of a miraculous coincidence will do the trick. When Tae nearly dies the same way Toki’s sister had died, Toki starts to realize that his depression isn’t just hurting himself, but it’s hurting others as well. And sometimes, we have to force ourselves to do certain things even if those things make us feel uncomfortable. We see this in how Toki forces himself to withstand the burning sensation he gets from carrying Tae back to the village. Likewise, depressed individuals may not want to socialize. They may not feel good reaching out to others. But at the end of the day, you have to admit that you need help in order to save yourself, and admitting that you need help also means that you’ll have to reach out to others.

I like that Toki’s affliction isn’t without its consequences. No, I’m not cheering for the fact that the kid ends up losing some of his fingers and toes. Rather, I appreciate the anime’s realistic approach to depression as a mental disorder and not just a passing phase in the kid’s life. Depression isn’t just something that someone can snap out of; depression will leave scars. How minor or major these scars end up being depends wholly upon how long it’ll take the individual to get the help he or she requires. Toki’s scars are a warning, i.e. this is what’ll happen if we don’t take mental health seriously.

Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 4

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On the surface, we have the age-old tale of living in harmony with nature, taking from the land only that we need. Like his father, however, Tatsu starts to hunt for fun. Rather than having a symbiotic relationship with the mountain and its creatures, he tries to dominate his surroundings. It comes to no surprise then that his hubris leads to his downfall. After abusing the mountain and its creatures for so long, the tables eventually turn on Tatsu when he is at his most helpless.

What I find even more striking about this week’s story, however, is the way the fuki passes on through the family bloodline. Not everyone in the family is immune from the effects of the fuki though. Some, like Tatsu’s brother Usuke, will eventually die from being in such close contact with the toxic mushi. This reminds me of domestic abuse in a way, and how it can pass through the family from parent to child. It isn’t a coincidence that the siblings’ mothers have apparently run away: “If you ever think we’re in danger, we’ll run away like Mom did.” Mothers don’t typically abandon their children except in extreme situations; I’d characterize domestic abuse as an extreme situation. Tatsu isn’t as far gone as his father — and this is evident by the fact that he still cares for his brother’s well-being, but these words are very reminiscent: “I’ll drink mine when I feel like it.” Abusers always feel as though they’re in complete control. In fact, their need to be in complete control is a large reason why they become abusive. Furthermore, the episode emphasizes the distinction between a bad touch and a good touch:

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What’s evident from this story is that those who are strong enough to survive the abuse nevertheless do not escape unscathed. Rather, they often come to embody the abuse, thereby hurting the loved ones around them. This nearly ends up being Tatsu’s fate. Despite hating his own father for the old man’s destructive behavior, his own destructive desires are born from those same feelings. He was helpless before his father, so his quick fix is to make others helpless before him. The way the fuki works is also very familiar. It starts off by giving off a sweet scent much like “rich, fruit wine.” Once the victim is drawn in, however, the smell quickly turns sour. Not only that, the victim is literally paralyzed. In this process, we see not only deception but volatility, a reflection of how a domestic abuser might appear to his or her loved ones.

As I’ve said, those like Usuke will not inherit the fuki and thus carry on the sordid legacy of domestic abuse. Perhaps it is not in Usuke’s temperament to ever be abusive. So for children like him, they simply suffer until they die at the hands of the abuser or are luckily enough to be rescued by outsiders. As for why the siblings’ father eventually faded away, we know officially that the “fuki spreads until it gains total control over the body.” In other words, he became mushi himself. But what’s the subtext? As I see it, the abuser will no longer become recognizable to their loved ones. You can only suffer abuse for so long before Dad is no longer Dad, y’know? In that sense, the parent has disappeared entirely.


5 Replies to “Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 3 & 4: Depression & domestic abuse”

      1. I’m not pulling your leg. I’m going through a difficult phase psychologically and it’s absolutely true how people ignore the small signs of mental illness until it gets awful. Your analysis was something I hadn’t thought of and resonated greatly with me.

  1. “You can only suffer abuse for so long before Dad is no longer Dad, y’know? In that sense, the parent has disappeared entirely.”
    Even if it doesn’t actually “cross that line”, the damage can be so deep that it’s effects can last decades.

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