Mushi-Shi

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, October 9, 2013

mushi-shi

When it comes to anime, I am one of those people that have a tendency to marathon a show in a couple of sittings if its characters and situations grab me right from the beginning. But with Mushi-Shi, I found it best to watch an episode or two every now and then and take time to sit back and reflect on the themes that each scenario presented. The slower pace and self-contained plots may make Mushi-Shi a series that not everyone will be able to get into, but those who are able to appreciate what this anime presents will likely find many of the storylines stick with them more than they may have initially anticipated.

Rather than offering an overarching narrative that builds in each episode, Mushi-Shi offers self-contained storylines but does occasionally reference previous events. The series is centered on mushi, strange spirit like creatures that are said to be in touch with the essence of life itself. Due to their ghostlike appearance and fairly abstract state of being, most humans are not capable of seeing them. However, some that can have taken on the role of Mushi-Shi’s, who travel from place to place researching the various types of mushi and aiding villages that have been affected by some of the supernatural type phenomenon that the mushi create. Ginko, the main character in the series, is one of these Mushi-Shi and each episode revolves around him travelling to a different place and studying what is happening in a particular location while also trying to help those residing in the villages to deal with it. Ginko is the only character that appears in every episode, as aside from a few of his colleagues that pop up every now and then each person is limited to their particular plot line. Although I was initially worried that the lack of character development might hinder the show, as I made my way through each of the 26 episodes it became clear that this was not the case at all.

Mushi-Shi feels like a series of short films or vignettes that all happen to feature Ginko, but he doesn’t always serve as the main character. The real focus of each episode is the villagers suffering from mushi related ailments or dealing with other mushi phenomenon. What really made the series stand out to me was the way it was able to portray these supernatural occurrences in a way that didn’t seem that far off from reality, making it seem like some of these events could actually happen. The scenarios range from a boy whose drawings come to life immediately after he draws them to a woman who is slowly losing her memory due to a mushi that is living in her brain. Each of the situations are interesting to watch as they unfold and they all fit well with the time period that the show takes place in, which is an earlier period in Japan’s history before the country had opened to foreign trade and influence (the manga author has stated it would be sometime between the Edo and Meiji periods). I found myself drawn into each predicament that Ginko stumbled upon, and part of the reason that these tales have continued to stick with me is that not all of them had picture perfect happy endings. Even though this is a fantasy show at heart, the situations felt more realistic in the way that they were portrayed and Ginko wasn’t always able to magically resolve them. Mushi-Shi presented a world that was consistent in the ideas it came up with, and the storylines were stronger for it. The same is true of Ginko, as while he didn’t seem to change that much from one episode to the next he was given a little bit of backstory throughout the 26 episodes and the way that he responded to a given situation was consistent with how he had been portrayed from the very beginning.

Aside from the second half of Yugo that I watched years ago, I can’t recall any other Artland produced series that I have seen. So it definitely helps that Mushi-Shi made an immediate impression and featured some absolutely stunning art design. Although the show may have been first started airing almost eight years ago, the softer tones and almost watercolor come to life feel has made Mushi-Shi age a lot better than some of the other anime that were created at the same time. The majority of the villages that Ginko visits over the course of the show are fairly small, so there are plenty of stunning landscapes to see. The mushi themselves are represented as neither human nor animal, taking on more abstract or alien appearances, but there are a few episodes where they are able to use humans as hosts and communicate. I’ve been watching more and more shows with a spiritual/fantasy influence in recent months that made the spirit type beings very human in appearance, so I liked that the mushi had more of a supernatural feel to them. Admittedly the characters all had a very similar look and aside from Ginko’s distinguishing features it was hard to tell some of them apart, but the environments and imaginative mushi designs are what really helped the show to continually grab me from one episode to the next.

While the majority of anime out there tends to stick with J-pop or J-rock for intro and ending themes, Mushi-Shi opted to use Scottish singer/songwriter Ally Kerr’s song “The Sore Feet Song” for its intro. The track is an acoustic, laid back number that is perfectly suited to the more tranquil vibe of the show. But even though I did like the intro, what stood out the most to me was the background music. This is normally an element that I barely notice, but the arrangements that Mushi-Shi used fit the mood perfectly and really helped to enhance the emotion of particular scenes. During some of the sadder moments the backing piano track made that big of a difference in adding to the mood, and it’s this type of little detail that made me appreciate the show so much as a whole. As for the voice acting, there are only three characters that appear frequently enough to be considered the main cast so the rest are guests that vary from episode to episode. Unlike some of the other anime I have seen there weren’t a whole lot of standout voice actors or voices I recognized right from the beginning, but everything was well acted and I didn’t have any major complaints overall.

Mushi-Shi is a series that truly left a lasting impression on me, and I particularly liked the way that it reflected a theme of adapting to and respecting nature as Ginko often addressed each situation in a way that would preserve the mushi and their natural habits. It’s the type of anime that had enough of a fantasy and realistic mix that it put me into a reflective mood after each episode, and never seemed to run out of unique storylines to tell. Some may be put off by the slower pace, but that was part of the charm for me and I suspect I’ll find myself coming back to watch it all over again in the next few years.

Mushi-Shi is available on DVD and is available to stream on Funimation’s website and Hulu

http://www.funimation.com/shows/Mushi-Shi/anime

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