Mushishi

When I started watching anime again in 2014 after a long hiatus, I saw fans of a series called Mushishi praising how it was “beautiful” and a “masterpiece.” In these same discussion threads, there were also critics arguing that Mushishi was actually “pretentious” and “boring.” Seeing such strong and opposing opinions, I opted to see for myself how good—or bad—Mushishi truly was.

03.png

About a quarter way through the first episode I was already siding with the critics. The central character, Ginko, who appeared to be a kind of paranormal investigator, is seen traveling deep into an unusually vibrant forest. He’s headed to the home of a child living there to investigate a strange ability that he’s said to have. When they meet, perplexing conversations ensue, which, at the time, I found difficult to follow, and not particularly interesting.

The second episode frustrated me even more. For most of the first half, I grudgingly stared at these two kids sitting in a dark room discussing something pertaining to eyelids; keeping my own eyelids open was a struggle. Before I could get to the second half, I stopped the episode, and concluded that this series just wasn’t for me.

As I befriended more people in the anime community, I noticed that many of those who shared my interests also thought highly of Mushishi. I wondered, “Why do these people with such excellent taste (lol) love such a dull series? Maybe I missed something?” So, I attempted to give the second episode another try, this time approaching it as I would a meditation—or a tedious assignment. I turned down the lights, cleared my mind, relaxed my face and shoulders, took a deep breath, and gave it my undivided attention.

In such a relaxed state, I usually feel a peaceful indifference. Watching the second episode again, I wasn’t as impatient during the first half, but I wasn’t quite enjoying it either. However, I was more receptive. I initially took notice of how ubiquitous the environment was. A scene would often open with or cut to an intricately detailed—and admittedly beautiful—slice of nature. It was around this time that it dawned on me—nature itself is actually a character in this story. There’s Ginko, the various people he meets, and nature. Nature is sometimes the protagonist, other times it’s the antagonist, but it’s not an entity that acts with bias. Nature, and the “Mushi”, which are a supranormal extension of nature, just are. In this context, everything started to make more sense.

02.png

When I finally saw the unexpectedly creepy second half of the second episode, my attention was firmly hooked. As I progressed to the next episodes, another thing that became apparent was how the problems and concerns of the characters mirrored our own, providing an opening for the audience to relate and emotionally connect. Each story guides us through the mental, physical, or sometimes moral process of trying to solve a particular issue. But people’s plights aren’t sensationalized. Mushishi doesn’t seek to make you feel angry or depressed. While there are moments that could make you feel that way, it doesn’t indulge in negativity or drama.

04.png

I was later impressed by how much ground Mushishi could cover in just 23-minute episodic intervals. The directors, under Hiroshi Nagahama’s supervision, did well in balancing the elements of Yuki Urushibara’s award-winning manga. The studio, Artland, didn’t cut corners on the production either. The art and animation quality exceeded that of a typical television series, sometimes reaching the levels you’d expect from a feature film. These visuals are underpinned by a traditional and occasionally haunting soundtrack.

Mushishi is infused with subtle, and easily overlooked, commentary on the ways in which we’re connected with each other and the world around us. Thinking back, it’s amazing the difference eased expectations and a little patience can make. With that said, such an approach can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to like anything. Sometimes you’re just not compatible with something, and that’s perfectly fine, too. In my personal case, I was more compatible with Mushishi than I’d thought as it has since become my favorite anime.

01.png

Advertisements

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.

01.png

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.

02.png

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.

03.png