Creator: An Artland Production
Director: Hiroshi Nagahama
Length: 26 Episodes
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+ Beautiful animation
+ Script is subtle
+ Sublime voice acting
In her review of this series, Sci Fi Weekly reviewer Tasha Robinson complains that there is "little continuity between episodes…Ginko is constantly explaining 'Oh, this is X kind of Mushi, it does Y,'…" which she finds repetitive and "overstretched narratively". Perhaps the problem is that Ms. Robinson is listening to the words, not the music. Mushi-Shi is a visual poem. The director of the series uses its repetitive structure to reinforce the themes of the series the way the poet uses rhyme to reinforce the rhythm of his poem. Viewers expecting typical action and adventure from this series will be disappointed. Those who let this series wash over them like a poem will find it a work of great beauty, a work of art that surpasses the typical anime experience.
5 out of 5 · An Unequivocal Recommendation
Mushi-Shi Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 8/3/2008
Before the advent of science and technology, most cultures in the world believed in spiritual creatures that moved through the world, unseen by most. If they were perceived at all, it was a glimmer in the corner of the eye, a hair raising sense of someone watching the back of your head, a movement so quick that the witness could not be sure it had actually happened. These invisible beings were called demons, angels, spirits, or even faeries. They have been worshipped, feared, hated, and loved. Depending on the culture those few who could see them have been called shamans, priests, witches, or madmen.
In today's world belief in such creatures is little tolerated. At best it is seen as antiquated and quaint – nonsense from a superstitious age, usually it is denounced as irrational, unscientific, unfit for contemporary society which only puts stock in what can be perceived with the senses, measured, categorized, and rationalized. In 1999, manga artist Yuki Urushibara began exploring this unseen world in her manga series Mushishi. Originally published in Kodansha's Afternoon Magazine, Mushi-Shi tells the story of Ginko, a freelance Mushi Master, traveling the countryside investigating the beings known as Mushi and aiding those who are in some way troubled by them. The manga series was adapted into a 26 episode anime series by Artland Studio in 2005.
If the average anime series unfolds like a novel with episodes linked together by a common plotline, then Mushi-Shi is like a collection of poems on a common theme, each episode exploring the consequences of contact between humans and Mushis. Sometimes contact between our world and theirs is beautiful, sometimes horrible, almost always profound.
The series first episode opens with a lush shot of the Japanese countryside. Ginko, a freelance Mushi-shi (Mushi Master) has come to the country to investigate a young boy whose drawings mysteriously come to life if he draws or even writes with his left hand.
Show More His secret was zealously guarded by the boy's strong willed grandmother who has since passed away, leaving the boy seemingly alone in vast house deep in the woods. He's not quite alone however, as Ginko investigates he discovers a Mushi in the house. Or rather a half-Mushi, a human trapped between the two worlds through contact with the creatures at a Mushi banquet. The story of this being's origins and her relationship to the boy is lovingly told through evocative flashbacks and beautiful, charming visuals reminiscent of Japanese landscape painting and story book illustrations rather than the comic book imagery of the typical anime.
The second episode tells the story of Sui, a little girl whose contact with Mushis has left her incredibly sensitive to light. She has been shut away in a rural warehouse and virtually forgotten by everyone except Biki, the warehouse owner's son. He visits her in the warehouse every day and because of prolonged exposure begins to develop the same problem. Ginko arrives in time to save Biki's eyesight with simple medicines but curing Sui requires more drastic measures. Sui has rediscovered the secret of humankind's second eyelid and used it seal herself in complete darkness away from all light, including the river of light formed by the Mushis which flows just beneath the surface of the Earth. Although Ginko manages to save Sui from the Mushis, Sui has been in total darkness with her second eyelids shut for so long, her eyes no longer function. In the end, Ginko sacrifices his own eye in order to restore Sui's vision.
Perhaps the most profound episode of the series is its finale. Told as a reflection by a young man named Taku, the episode depicts the transformation of the rural landscape from protected wilderness to agriculture district. Taku's family has protected the local waterfall and mountain from agricultural encroachment. The villagers want to dam the waterfall and divert its water to their crops. However, Taku's father refuses to allow this due to an ancient bargain between his clan and the local Mushi, a giant catfish who guards the water. The mountain also serves as the main pathway for a band of nomads driven out of their homes by Mushi activity and it is along the river of light that is the Mushis' conduit through the world and the reason the landscape is so lush. When Taku's father dies, he leaves Taku in charge of the land. However, Taku is still a young man and his relatives use this to take control of the mountain. They dam the waterfall; divert its water to their crops and inadvertently change the course of the river of light. The mountain suddenly erupts lava and ash and the land is transformed into an ordinary forest without the magic that once inhabited it.
Show More Mushi-Shi is a breath of fresh air in the testosterone saturated anime world. While the original manga was serialized in a magazine aimed at male readers, it was written by a woman giving it a refreshing softness and subtly often missing from anime TV series. Unlike most anime series which follow Aristotle's model, building rising action to a climax followed by descending action, Mushi-Shi moves like a river with each episode a tributary off the main branch. Instead of a major climax we get small waves and ripples that have lasting effects throughout the series. Actions taken in early episodes often have repercussions far down the line. Hints at Ginko's origins and biography only make sense in hindsight as Ginko's story is layered in subtly through flashbacks, memories, and differing points of view. Instead of a clear portrait we get an impression of what he is like from those who encounter him.
The subtlety of the series writing is paralleled by the series' character designs and animation. Continuing the trend of series and films such as Serial Experiments: Lain, Grave of the Fireflies, and Millennium Actress, Mushi-Shi eschews the doe eyed cartoon-y look of traditional anime for naturalistic character designs. The Japanese characters not only look Japanese they move like real people, and have realistic facial expressions and body language. The naturalistic characters are placed in realistic, lush environments that reflect a concern for nature on par with the work of Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. Each frame also evokes a sense of mystery and spirit through layers of mist, rain, ripples on the water, and sun dappled foliage.
As beautiful as it is to look at, the animation would have been a failure if the actors hadn't matched its subtly with realistic performances. Fortunately the series' actors forgo the histrionics associated with anime for nuanced performances that transform animated characters into living, breathing human beings made of ink and paint. Although the characters find themselves in fantastic situations they react in realistic ways, the voice actors project real, weighty emotions. There is a moment in the finale when Taku apologizes for the destruction of the natural world wrought by his family and his half whispered sentences carry more emotion than an entire monologue shouted at the top of the lungs.
Mushi-Shi is noticeably different from most of the anime series produced. It is one of those rare anime TV series that surpasses the clichés of the anime form to become art. It combines subtle writing with sublime acting and beautiful animation to produce the near perfect animated series. What it lacks in action, titillation and violence it makes up in beauty, mystery, and a sense of spirituality.
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