The Sound of Life in Mushishi

Mushishi - Can you hear?

Can you hear?

In my first foray into the wonderful enchanting world of Mushishi, I was treated to a very rare instance of deafness in anime. In episode 3 of Mushishi, Tender Horns (sub here or dub here), we delve into the concept of sound and silence along with a hint of a fascinating biological theme. Naturally, I have a great deal of interest in this episode and thus shall explore this lulling sublime story about a boy and his mother.

Mushishi - Cochlea

Do you know that there is an organ in the ear which looks just like a snail?

The Un is a mushi that consumes sound, and its appearance is that of a snail. So it comes to no surprise to me that it would emulate the organ responsible for our perception of sound itself. This portion of the auditory system is the cochlea, which is from the Latin of snail-shell. Within the fluid-filled cochlea is the Organ of Corti, holding thousands of minuscule hair cells. This is how the cochlea works in bringing us sound: First, sound waves enter through the ear canal and enters the fluid in the cochlea. The waves are transferred to the fluid, creating a wave motion that moves the hair cells. The hair cells, sensing this motion, sends a series of nerve signals to the brain and voila, sound.

When I was born, the hair cells in my cochleae were undeveloped. What this mean is that, although sound waves could go all the way up to the cochlea and enter the fluid, there were no hair cells or they were simply too underdeveloped to help carry the signals to my brain, thus rendering me deaf. Loss of hearing can also happen if the hair cells are infected or damaged by other causes. So beneath all the cases of deafness in this episode, there is a perfectly plausible biological basis on how the villagers became deaf. As for the unceasing sounds that inflicts the boy and his mother, a different biological plausible basis is given, though it is rarer.

Mushishi - Yearning for sleep

I want to get a good sleep in a place where no noise will reach.

The boy, Maho, has grown horns and suffers from ceaseless noises. His mother has suffered the same infliction and has died, unable to bear the noise no longer. I can empathize with Maho’s mother about being unable to sleep at night, as that has happened to me a few times in the sound of either a ringing or steady tone. There is no need to be alarmed about my case, as this is a natural effect brought about my underdeveloped hair cells and it rarely happens, thankfully. So with this experience under my arm, I feel for Maho and his mother as they have had to endure long nights of insomnia. Could you imagine being unable to sleep for more than one night in a row?

The cause of this infliction is the Ah, a mushi that consumes silence, with its shell in the opposite direction of the Un‘s shell. This infliction brings to my mind one similar real world symptom that I previously alluded to in empathizing with Maho and his mother, tinnitus. Tinnitus happens when there is no sound to be heard in the environment, and yet, an out-of-place sound such as a ringing, hissing, humming, or steady tone is heard. There are many possible causes of tinnitus, and there are extremely rare cases of incessant tinnitus like Maho and his mother’s cases. But out of all these causes, one is relevant to this episode, the sound of the human body.

Mushishi - Can you hear it?

Maho... Can you hear it? This is my sound.

The human body is perfectly capable of producing sound. You already know one familiar sound: your heartbeat. And as a special relevant bonus, I’ll teach you where you can hear another sound from your body. That heartbeat is what keeps your blood flowing throughout your body, and there is a vein, the jugular vein, that passes near the ear. This vein can be pulled closer to the cochlea by the muscles surrounding the ear, and the rhythm of the vein’s blood flow in turn stimulates the fluid and the hair cells to create sound, causing a fleeting tinnitus in the sound of a pulse. Unfortunately I cannot attempt this and confirm it, but you can actually try hearing this for yourself; this is most noticeable with your head on a pillow with your ear closed off by the pillow.

Maho’s mother, in the end, was not trying to close off Maho’s ears at all; she only wanted him to hear her sound. It is said that the sound of the muscles in the hands sounds like the sound of lava, crackling. Maho’s mother, once a long time ago, viewed an eruption of a volcano and kept that sound as a remembrance of memory and life. Although I still cannot hear this, the crackling of muscles is another sound that you can hear from your body. That sound, along with your heartbeat, is a testament to the fact that your body is thriving and rich with life.

Mushishi - A Pretty Sound

It's a pretty sound... enough to give you the chills.

Along with the sound and silence motifs, I loved the themes portrayed here in this sublime episode. We are treated to some wonderful moments and to the trained or hearing ear, some melodious and subtle background music as has been pointed out to me by a friend. A tale about the sound of life, this is one sound that I may never be able to relate to in my lifetime, but perhaps, you may just be able to hear your own sound.



Filed under Anime, Editorials, Mushishi, Quietude in Anime

19 responses to “The Sound of Life in Mushishi

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed the episode. I really liked it too, but it’s interesting to know how many other levels there are to enjoy something like this. It speaks wonders about the quality of Mushishi.

  2. Wow, beautiful post~

    I guess I just got quite the lesson on ear anatomy~

    Anyways, I’ll definitely be checking this out over the weekend~!

    • Ahaha, I researched quite a bit on ear anatomy when looking up more info on my deafness. This is really just one out of three small sections of the ear, and is part of the inner ear, so there’s still more to go in!

  3. I’m glad you liked it. It’s hard for me to pinpoint specific episodes that I like better than the others (because they’re all so good), but this one is certainly memorable. Mushishi is probably my…second favorite anime (I actually just wrote a review for it a little while ago), so I’m always glad to see other people enjoy it. Before I joined the blogosphere, it felt like no one else even knew this show existed.

    Nice article, very interesting and informative.

    • Up to a while ago, I have heard about Mushishi, but there weren’t plenty of exposure or hype to warrant my immediate attention. But in the end, it was just one simple tweet that grabbed me and others to watch Mushishi together. I haven’t finished watching Mushishi, but I can certainly say that this is going to become one of my favorite series possibly.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Nice post ephemeral. This is probably my 3rd favourite Mushishi episode. It is beautiful, speaks volumes about the human condition (as does every mushisi episode) but it also has that quality about it that we all seem to be able to relate to. Whilst Mushishi always comes out with very interesting things to say, sometimes they don’t connect as easily – but this episode was a very touching one.

    Like John Sato said above, the more I journey into the blogsphere, the more I realise how popular this show is – whereas I previously thought it unheard of. Good to see Mushishi is getting the recognition, it so fervently deserves.

    • I think that Mushishi’s main quality is that its themes and meanings are sublime and very subtle. One would have to meditate or mull over the episodes to let the impact be realized, as is the case with me writing this post. When I started writing, I had thought about writing about deafness because that was one thing that I could relate to the most. But then my mind began to wander to a different topic, and my deafness took a backseat to tinnitus and the sound of life. I’ve truly enjoyed this journey and coming to a new connection, and I’m very glad to see this kind of series do so well in terms of quality.

      I also agree that Mushishi should get more recognition as well, but I suppose that I’ll need to finish watching it before giving my final verdict, which is sure to be positive. I’ve noticed that this is your first time commenting here, so thank you for reading!

      • I agree about subtlety, Mushishi is a very subtle and elaborate yet simple piece of work. I guess its one thingto throw these words around and another for the show to actually fulfill the criteria but Mushishi does it effortlessly. As someone interested in Shinto mythology as well, I cannot help but notice all the shamanic themes that come up. I’d be interested in writing about it one day.

        It really should get more recognition. Just got a copy of the complete set I found by complete luck. ^^ And no problem, thanks for writing an interesting post.

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  6. Wonderful analysis! It must be a weird experience someone talking about your condition or learning about sounds through words. Have you watched the episode ‘the sound of rust’? I’m curious about your thoughts on it

    • John Sato from the above comments also recommended this episode, and with a +1 from you, I’m now even more interested. I will certainly try to catch up to that episode soon, I hope. ^_^

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Yi

    This post… is quite beautiful, so much so I am definitely watching Mushishi now. ^ ^ I do hope I can find a deep level of connection to the series as well.

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