Anime Today: The Proverbial Wisdom of Mushishi

Having already written on the current season of Mushishi, I found myself attempting to veer away from this article… yet as it so happened, this seemed to be the most compelling piece to write. The more I watch Mushishi, the more I am convinced that it is one of the finest gems to come out of animation in the last few decades (both seasons). This second season has continued the trend of the first, providing self-contained stories that push for morals as they intertwine with nature.* And it is for this reason that, like with some anime in the past, I must applaud its teaching of simple principles.

Ginko Mushishi
Art by 極限の道 (Pixiv ID 43954629)

I’ve continued to have the joy of watching this second season with my father, which has given rise to some stimulating conversation and review. It is from this connection that I’ve come to realize some of the underlying brilliance of Mushishi. One of these themes that arises in this illustrious series is the idea of “moderation,” generally speaking.

Something that has continued episode after episode, particularly written as coming from Ginko, is that the “powers” people have gained from the Mushi surrounding them, whether by choice or not, should not be abused. The continuing theme has always been that overuse eventually leads to self-destruction… stopping not just at the self, but extending to those around, from family to friends to neighbors, and so on. Be this the ability to control the wind, charm wildlife, seeing into the future, or one of the many other “abilities” featured in Mushishi vignettes, abuse consistently leads to despair.

As I pondered this simple and culturally pervasive (think: “with great power comes great responsibility”) idea, I began to wonder if this was applicable to Christians. As Mushishi has been filled with edifying principles, yet is decidedly non-Christian in origin, one must carefully dissect all that is portrayed as “truth” in order to discover its true nature. And in this light, I stumbled across this passage in Proverbs:

27 It is not good to eat much honey,
    nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.[b]
28 A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Proverbs 25:27-28

Forgive my proof-texting (I normally dislike removing individual verses, which were never originally written as individual verses, out of their surrounding context, though I believe in this case, particularly coming from the book of Proverbs, doing so is acceptable), but I believe that, if one simply looks hard enough, many of the simple, foundational principles found in “thinking” anime such as Mushishi, Kino’s Journey, or Haibane Renmei, he or she can find a connection like this.

After spending some time in the western television world the last few weeks (something I have not done in quite a long time), I am increasingly convinced that anime, when carefully waded through with high boots of scrutiny and skepticism, is becoming one of the more profound mediums. A medium that should be consumed by those who want something that will truly challenge them. Especially Christians.

Notes:
*Some might cringe at this, since Mushishi does tend to contain many naturalistic tendencies, however I have yet to have a problem with this. In fact, if anything, Mushishi’s approach to naturalism actually provides the backdrop for more edifying stories than I believe it would be able to do otherwise.

7 thoughts on “Anime Today: The Proverbial Wisdom of Mushishi

  1. Why must everything that is true come only from “the Bible?” Your point about moderation has been done to death by the Greeks, and especially Aristotle on the 8 virtues. (See also Sophrosyne, or Buddhism.) There are universal topics that know neither time nor culture, and for eons humans have found fitting answers to their questions outside of Christianity.

    1. Hello anon, and thanks for reading and commenting! I’ll try to answer your question with what I believe to be the two most important and relevant parts.

      1) The purpose of Beneath the Tangles is to connect otaku culture and, within that, anime with Christianity and related principles. With that purpose in mind, our staff is comprised wholly of professing Christian believers. Our core values page (http://beneaththetangles.com/our-values-and-beliefs/) lists our beliefs, including our belief on the Bible. Although we would hardly claim that the Bible is the ONLY source of wisdom, it is also our primary source for the purposes of this blog.

      2) In the particular case of this article, I was referencing the book of Proverbs, which is known by Christians, Jews, and atheists alike as a great book of ancient wisdom. While, again, as in point one, I would hardly consider it the ONLY source of wisdom, it actually predates Greek thinkers like Plato and Aristotle by several hundred years.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  2. That purpose is fair enough. However, I must disagree with one factual tidbit. I have not found evidence that the bible is older than Socrates. Socrates was born around 470 BC, and the oldest version of the bible that we have are the Dead Seas scrolls which were carbon-dated to be around 200 BC. Sure, you could plausibly argue that the books floated around orally before that, or that an older compilation had been destroyed; by the same token however, you can just as easily argue that Greek philosophies also had older roots and were simply codified when Plato laboriously wrote them down in one moment, driven as he was to try think of a way to fix humanity’s problems upon witnessing the wrongful murder of his wise master by a misguided democracy. It would do injustice to hard-working ancient minds to implicitly attribute the source of Greek philosophies to the influences of Judaism. Since Buddah and countless Greek philosophers were born before Jesus, we cannot even say Jesus was the first messiah figure to advocate compassion.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

      I’ll keep this short and to the point, regard to 1) the dating you mentioned, and 2) the concept of Jesus being a messiah.

      1) I did not mean to come across as though the Greek philosophies were influenced by or exist thanks to Jewish philosophy. That very well may be the case (I’m no historian), but my point was simply that they are separate. If we are to believe that the book of Proverbs did, indeed, date back to Solomon himself, that puts it several hundred years prior to Plato and Socrates, but his predating them does not make him any more important. As with our purpose (that you acknowledged), this article was simply intended to relate to that bit of recorded ancient wisdom. An article on the Greeks would be entirely appropriate for a different article, however.

      2) Christianity does not advocate Jesus as the first or only messiah figure to advocate compassion (there have been innumerable “messiahs” and martyrs who have done the same, as you seem to well know!). What sets apart Christianity is what it says about who Jesus is (or claimed to be, anyway) and how that affects the entire world.

      I hope this clarifies what my intention was for you. I hope I didn’t come across as though there are no other areas of wisdom from which something can be gained. I, and I think I can speak for the rest of the writers here, would never want to ostracize someone because they don’t believe in the Bible! If there’s anything I can do to better emphasize the point of any articles similar to this one in the future (namely: exploring connections to biblical texts, but not denying the existence and importance of extra-biblical ones), please let me know so I can do a better job in the future!

      Thanks!

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