Anime review: Mushishi
Status: watched 13 episodes (out of 26)
Mushishi translates as “bug master”, but on this show we’re not talking about regular insects. Mushi are primeval creatures close to the lifeforce itself, so pure that even though they are sentient, they are amoral. Very few people even know they exist, but those who have encountered them think they are seeing ghosts or spirits or even gods. They take many, many forms, from tiny wiggly wisps of smoke, to rainbows, to living marshes that move from valley to valley.
The show is set in Japan in perhaps the 18th or 19th century and follows the travels of Ginko, a mushi-shi, as he investigates mushi sightings and sometimes even cures “infestations”. Midway through the series he is still a mystery, although it is clear he has a strong connection to mushi and even seems to benefit from them. (In the above image from episode one, a spirit created by a mushi encounter is enveloped in a smoke lasso issued from the end of Ginko’s cigarette.)
I love this show, no reservations.
The animation is lush and detailed and extremely artistic. In many instances, the lines soften and blur, or else entire scenes are reduced to one or two characters on a blank screen. The visual style flows beautifully from the story and characters, which are always mysterious and yet full of depth. Even though the show follows a formula (Ginko arrives to investigate; Ginko encounters mushi; Ginko deals with mushi) the show is full of surprises. It’s like eating something you’ve eaten before but that is cooked in a creative way, by a masterful chef. There’s always something new to enjoy.
And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the sound. I watched the first episode with headphones on and I’m so glad I did because I discovered the love and care that’s been put into sound. I’m a radio producer, so sound is a big part of my life. What’s amazing about the sound in Mushishi is that so much of it is real and not just foley elements combined in the studio. When Ginko is walking through the forest, it is the sound of real feet walking through real underbrush. And when he enters his tatami bedroom, you can hear the gentle scrape of the wood door and the changing room tone as he crosses the threshold. This attention to sound heightens the physical realism and emotional impact of the show.
It has taken me a long time to get through the first half of this series because I am savouring it like a humidor full of fine Cuban cigars. I want to make the whole series last as long as possible, although I am sure I will watch it – as I already have individual episodes – many times over.