Mushishi Zoku Shou: Drops of Bells

After a 9-year run, our tour with Ginko through the supernatural draws to a close with a short film adaptation of Suzu no Shizuku (Drops of Bells), the last arc of the acclaimed young adult manga—Mushishi—by Yuki Urushibara.

In the first half of Suzu no Shizuku, a girl leaves her family behind when she’s summoned to be the next lord of a mountain. Thriving lands, called “Rivers of Light”, require the presence of a lord to maintain the balance of the surrounding life. Choosing a human as a lord is an unusual move, however. Such a task is typically delegated to animals since they live with fewer emotional attachments.

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Several of the introspective themes that were previously explored in the Mushishi world are summarized here—most notably interconnectedness, the indifference of nature, and the necessity of letting go. All life—plants, animals, and humans—are dependent on each other, and are influenced by the ripples of cause and effect. Nature, which is personified in Suzu no Shizuku as the mountain lord, acts as the unbiased mediator. The overarching lesson seems to be that we should appreciate what we have, and not cling when the time comes to move on.

The second half concludes the story without quite concluding the series. The ending leaves some questions unanswered, but it ties up enough to guide your imagination to where the stories and characters could progress into the distant future. I’ll refrain from deconstructing this any further. To me, Mushishi is more of a meditation than a conventional story, and is therefore best appreciated without excessive analysis.

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The art, animation, and sound design have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The backgrounds in Suzu no Shizuku are just as gorgeous as they were when the first season aired in 2005. The character and special effects animation are fluid and precise. And the subdued and ambient melodies that have become a hallmark of this series are present as well.

When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that Mushishi, which is essentially about life experiences and nature, was made with such a substantial budget in today’s hungry and impatient climate. I’m grateful that ArtLand was willing to take a chance on such an esoteric and spiritual story, and that it’s been successful enough to adapt in its entirety. It’s been a truly extraordinary experience.

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Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories. What’s less familiar is for these stories to extend beyond the relationship, and detail the hardships of raising “half breed” children in a prejudiced society. This is what sets Wolf Children apart from the rest of the pack.

On the surface, such a premise may seem difficult to buy into, but Wolf Children works beautifully thanks to the writer/director, Mamoru Hosoda, opting to tell this story as a coming-of-age drama. He balances the tension with delightful humor, embodied by characters who endure hardships we can relate with and take seriously.

Hana is the quintessential selfless mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and children. When she has time to herself, she spends it quietly and alone. It’s heartwarming how helping others seems to drive her, but it’s also kinda sad how little she does for herself. While watching this movie, there were times I wished I could take Hana out for pizza or karaoke. My own sensitivities may be more of the issue here. Perhaps providing for her family is enough?

Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud; Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more feminine, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the funner character, more screen time is spent on her, and, consequently, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels a little abrupt.

Visually, Wolf Children is super clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and the animation is generously in-betweened. The designs fall closer to the realistic side of the 2D animation spectrum. Background characters are 3D cel-shaded, and generally mesh well with the subtle details of the background art. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings.

Wolf Children aspires to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. There are some aspects that could be nitpicked, but, frankly, the negatives I mention in this review should probably just be disregarded; they aren’t that important. Regardless of any supposed drawbacks, the general experience is undoubtedly powerful.