I sat here for quite some time, trying to find the right words for this post. To be honest, I don’t have much to say about the story that you see on the surface. After all, it is a very familiar tale. Basically, nature works in mysterious ways. People used to fear and worship the giant cedar tree. Then after they chopped it down to save the village, they began to wonder if they had angered a god. But as predicted, nature doesn’t work like that in Mushishi. Nature isn’t malevolent. Nature doesn’t bear grudges. Instead, we see the giant cedar tree sacrifice itself in order to help save both the village and the mountain after a great forest fire had struck. Then long after it had been chopped down and sold off to some merchant, the memories of the giant cedar tree somehow resurfaces in Kenta, a simple laborer. Using him as a conduit of sorts, the tree manages to save the village once more from disaster. This time, it is a massive earthquake that threatens to end many lives. But thanks to Kenta’s insistence, the villagers left their homes and fled to safety. But like I’ve said, this is a familiar tale.
There’s not much to say here… except the other story — the story beneath the surface — that almost slips by unnoticed. At the start of the episode, we see that Kenta has just finally returned home after spending quite some time away from his family. When he sees his daughter, he remarks, “You’ve grown so much.” That’s what you would say to someone you haven’t seen in a long time. On that train of thought, that’s not usually what you should say to your own daughter. The thing is, Kenta likes to travel far and wide to find work. Unfortunately, he has a family, and his absence is clearly taking a toll on his daughter Futaba. Nevertheless, Kenta remains stubborn. He tells his wife that he isn’t ready to settle down. “It’s a big world out there,” he says, so it almost seems like a waste for him to not see any of it. But of course, what about his daughter? Does she not deserve to have both her parents in her life? Why start a family if you’re not ready to settle down? Perhaps that is why the giant cedar tree chose Kenta of all people. Perhaps that is why Kenta’s feet has turned to wood. The giving tree continues to give, and this time, it’s giving young Futaba a father that she so desperately needs.
Often times, Mushishi‘s stories are seemingly plagued with misguided and irresponsible adults. And often times, these irresponsible adults are also parents, so their failures unfortunately impact the lives of their children in harmful ways. There’s no need to look too far back, however, for some examples of what I’m talking about. We need only look at some recent episodes. In one of them, we see a boy lashes out against his peers because his father has been keeping him away from his own mother. In another episode, a mother literally doesn’t know how to love her own son, so she thinks he’s punishing her by calling the lightning down to himself. She doesn’t realize, however, that her son has actually been protecting her the entire time. Then just last week, we see an uncle attempt to murder his own nephew. He’s not the kid’s father, but he’s a guardian nevertheless. Over and over again, we see adults screw up, and as a result, it is the children who must suffer. Luckily, it would appear that Mushishi Zoku Shou would like to end on an uplifting note.
Likewise, Kenta has been neglecting his daughter. He says he’ll settle down when he’s older, but who knows when that day will ever come. And until then, Futaba would have suffered silently like most of the children in the previous episodes. As luck would have it, however, Kenta is now afflicted with wooden feet. And as a result, he can no longer travel like he used to. At first, this seems like bad news, because that means Kenta can no longer be the breadwinner as laborer that he used to be. Still, there’s a silver lining to almost every situation, and in this case, it means that Kenta can become more of a father figure in Futaba’s life. Of course, he doesn’t quite realize this from the get-go. At one point in the episode, the poor girl asks her father to tell her a story, but since he is down in the dumps, he tells her that he no longer has any story to tell. Realizing later, however, that the giant cedar tree had saved his village once more, Kenta seemingly acquires an epiphany. It is no accident that the last thing we see in the episode is Kenta calling out to his daughter…
…because he finally has a story to tell her. Nature works in mysterious ways. And with that, Mushishi Zoku Shou resolves one of its overarching themes.