Valley of the Welling Tides 「潮わく谷」
Milk turns to blood. Milk begets blood and returns to the earth. In time, the earth becomes imbued with a living tide.
It may be Fathers’ Day today but this episode of Mushishi was more fitting for Mothers’ Day. Oh heck, it’s for both parents. Ginko arrives in a valley in what looks to be the dead of winter and has hurt his leg bad enough for him to collapse. Houichi and his family take Ginko in and care for him until he is well enough. When a child slides the house door open, Ginko swears he saw a paddy field and true enough he eventually goes out to see that he wasn’t imagining it – there are terraced paddy fields in the valley with green grass and crops, in the midst of winter. As confused as we viewers are, Ginko even thought he was freezing to death and is actually dreaming the scene before his very eyes.
Of course Ginko isn’t dreaming. It’s all the hard work of Houichi, a man who simply doesn’t allow himself to rest. The workaholic feels uneasy if he’s resting and so barely sleeps, spending his days tilling the ground and building the terraced fields. But behind it all is the chishio (milk tide) mushi. Chishio is parasitic and chooses newborns as its host, turning their mother’s bodily fluid into milk for nourishment. Once the host matures, he emits a sweet scent that promotes the growth of plants around him. As he does so, the mushi will push its host to neglect sleep and keep feeding himself so that it itself gains strength. Once the host collapses from exhaustion, it leaves its host and lures another infant to it.
Houichi’s parents struggled to survive with their infant son when they first arrived at the undeveloped valley. Things were so bad that Houichi’s mother couldn’t produce any milk to nurse him. The couple stumbled upon a golden pond (not kouki, although if that was your first thought, well done for being a mushishi diehard ^_^) one day and Houichi’s mother took a sip of the sweet liquid. Since then, she was able to nurse Houichi and it seemed all was going to be alright for the young family. The pond was nowhere to be found yet again and as the chishio mushi made its way through Houchi’s mother, her blood and tears turned into milk and eventually led to her death. The mushi caused her death but in a way, Houichi’s the one who fed on her dry. Knowing her son might feel guilt over the truth, she made her husband promise that Houichi would never know.
Ginko knows what’s going on and the right thing to do is to warn Houichi and to purge the mushi from him. But that would mean Houichi’s father spilling the beans on how things got that way in the first place, which he’s adamant to stay silent on seeing as how he’d promised his late wife. When Houichi himself eventually collapses from exhaustion, the truth was told. But rather than purge the chishio, Houchi chooses to live with it. He admits that he can’t let go of this power, even if it’s the same power that killed his mother. He justifies that he’s no longer an infant who needs protecting and in turn, has become someone who has something he must protect himself. True enough, when a harsh winter comes over the valley, Houichi and his family survive through it thanks to the multiple paddy fields he’d cultivated.
It’s yet another simple but powerful story from mushishi but one that touches on the often told and somethings cliche how-far-will-you-go-to-protect-your-family theme. The mushishi version of storytelling is always so tangential yet on the dot, so around the bush yet when you see it, so clear. Children grow up and become parents themselves. It’s been that way for generations throughout humanity and we’re here to pass the baton on from parent to offspring. Protecting our young is in our very bones and speaks volumes of the capacity of human beings to do whatever it takes to protect them. Mushishi does its best with the narrative each week but this episode made me really appreciate the multitude of facial expressions the various characters had. The art’s gorgeous as usual and humans are drawn with simple lines, not exaggerated like the rest of the anime universe is. Keeping things simple is what mushishi is all about and it traverses through everything the production team does with this show. Lovely barely describes it.