Mushishi Zoku Shou: Drops of Bells

8UVg2gdOur journey with Ginko, which started 9 years ago, draws to an end with an adaptation of Drops of Bells (Suzu no Shizuku), the last arc of the acclaimed Mushishi manga by Yuki Urushibara.

In the first half of the story, 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 life around that area. Choosing a human as a lord is an unusual move, however. Such a task is usually delegated to animals since they live with fewer emotional attachments.

Several of the introspective themes that were explored in previous arcs are summarized, most notably interconnectedness, the indifference of nature, and letting go. All life—plants, animals, and humans—are dependent on each other, and influenced by the ripples of cause and effect. Nature, which is personified in Drops of Bells as the mountain lord, acts as the unbiased mediator. The overarching lesson is that we should appreciate what we have, and not cling when the time comes for us to move on.

The second half concludes this story without quite concluding the series. The ending leaves some of the questions that were raised in the previous arcs unanswered, but it ties up enough to provide a mostly satisfying conclusion.

The art and animation have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The backgrounds in Drops of Bells are just as gorgeous as they’ve been since the first season aired in 2005. The character and special effects animation are fluid and precise. The soundtrack features the subdued and ambient melodies that have become hallmarks of the series.

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. 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 remarkable experience.

Wolf Children

6711A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories, but it’s less familiar for the story to extend beyond their relationship and tell the story of their children, detailing the hardships of raising “half breeds” in a prejudiced society adverse to the unordinary.

On the surface, such a premise may seem absurd, but Wolf Children works thanks to the decision of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda to take a fantasy story and package it as a coming-of-age drama. There’s a lot of wonderful humor to be found in this film, but the characters and their experiences are taken completely seriously.

Hana is the quintessential altruistic mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and her children. When she has time to herself, she spends it idly and alone. There’s a niceness and a sadness to this. It’s nice how helping others seems to be her biggest motivator, but it’s sad since she does so little for herself. 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, and Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more girly, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the more fun character, more screen time is spent on her, and, as a result, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels abrupt and overdramatic.

Visually, Wolf Children is very clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and they’re animated with generous inbetweening. Character designs are neither cartoony or realistic; they’re a mix of the two, leaning more toward realistic. Background characters are in 3D with cel shading, and the background art is detailed but understated. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings.

Wolf Children seems to aspire to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. While it doesn’t quite reach this level, it comes very-very close. There are some aspects of Wolf Children that could be nitpicked, and some aspects that could even be considered troublesome, but the overall experience of this film remains a powerful one that lasts long after the ending credits have rolled.