The premise of Mushishi is eerie and difficult for me to explain.
Consider existence as a whole. Say there is a part of existence called life and another part called non-life. Between the two, there is a vague and primitive third existence which is neither alive nor not-alive.
This is as close as I can come to defining that which is called the “mushi” in my own words.
The mushi are a ghostly and ever-present existence. Diverse, ethereal and supernatural, the mimic both living and non-living things. People. Insects. Rainbows. Bodies of water. You name it.
Most humans are oblivious to the presence of the mushi. The few who encounter them are bedeviled, transformed or even spirited away.
Each poignant tale in Mushishi revolves around different characters and types of mushi.
Ginko, the protagonist, is a mushishi (a mushi master/researcher). He himself has been infected and forever transformed by the mushi. The mushi are attracted to Ginko’s existence. They gather to him like bugs to a light. For this reason, he can never remain in one place for too long.
Ginko leads a nomadic life. Traveling on foot from village to village, he renders aid and advice to some of those who have been adversely affected by the mushi.
Others, he is powerless to help, and he listens to their stories in order to gain new understanding of how the mushi interact with the human world.