Mushi-shi: Volume One
Based on the manga by Yuki Urushiba, Mushi-shi, as its title would suggest, revolves around the idea of the existence of the mushi, or organisms composes of the basest, most purest form of life, and the impact they have on the people who interact with them. A traveling Mushi-shi (or Mushi Master), Ginko, makes his way around the countryside, seeking out those whose problems have arisen from the mushi and doing what he can to resolve them.
The one word that comes to mind when trying to describe the appeal of Mushi-shi is ambiance–the show focuses on establishing mood and absorbing the viewer into its world. There’s a gentleness about it, even when run-ins with the mushi cause some disturbing imagery–even as Ginko tries to deal with problems that can result in tragedy or even death, the show never loses the sense of understanding that there are no good and evil being fought for in this setting. Just life, and the different creatures trying to live it. It creates a powerful atmosphere, both relaxing and utterly captivating at the same time.
Not enough can be said about the beauty of the visuals. The portrayal of the mountains, forests, swamps, the falling of winter snow–the scenes of nature–are breathtaking and absorbing. Combined with the beautiful, at times haunting, piano tracks, watching Mushi-shi is like watching visual poetry unfold. One particular note of interest is that the ending theme is changed for each episode, to reflect the mood and resolution of the events that just happened.
Also laudable is Mushi-shi’s utter confidence in handling its own constructed world and the rules within it. When Ginko sits down to explain the different varieties of mushi, how they function, and past records of their existence, it never comes across as clunky or far-fetched–even talking about creatures that feed off of silence, or can manifest dreams into reality. Mushi-shi knows the boundaries of its own universe and simply invites the audience to take part and learn.
Ginko’s character is also constructed brilliantly. The only true regular in the show, we slowly come to know him more intimately in carefully constructed glimpses, in snatches of his reactions to new situations–his empathy for one particular victim, his cool professionalism in another. The fifth episode reveals that he’s not as confident in his own abilities and choices as the first episode would have you believe, and it’s a testament to the show’s quiet power that this is both surprising and completely believable, finalizing the understanding that despite the otherworldly aura about him most of the time, Ginko is human after all.
Although none of the episodes are explicitly connected to one another, and share the same premise throughout these five, at least, the structure is varied enough o keep things from becoming old or tired. Ginko swoops in as a mysterious savior in the first episode from the perspective of the ones in need of his help; in another the events of the episode are anchored from his point of view, adding a different flavor; in another we see an incident where Ginko failed and his ‘patient’ was driven to despair and death. The balance of new tone and nuance keeps what by all means ought to be a fairly repetitive concept fresh and interesting.
The English dub is well done. If I had to state a personal preference, it would skew towards the Japanese track, but the English actors do a very good job in their roles, sliding in quite naturally and conveying appropriate emotion when the scene calls for it. Travis Willingham was a good choice for Ginko, and no character, major or minor, comes to mind as standing out as particularly bad or distracting.
No complaints about the audio or visual quality; the show is just beautiful. There’s quite a nice batch of extras to unfold here, too; an interview with the director, explaining his motivations and aims in creating the show, another interview held between the director and Ginko’s voice actor, and a behind-the-scenes look into the animation studio at work. All of them are quite informative, interesting, and provide further insight into the dynamics of the show. And, of course, trailers and creditless songs.
Mushi-shi is a quiet show, its focus honed carefully upon the more subtle pieces of life, using the mushi as a device in order to do so; it’s a show that addresses death, the process of dying, lingering regrets, loss, the desperation to live, the power of dreams–and does it all with astounding grace. Rarely have I enjoyed a show that relies exclusively upon standalone episodes as much as this, but the confidence and beauty of the show just draws you in. I look forward to seeing more.
Overall Rating: 9.5