Mushi, as pointed out by the main character Ginko, have a distinct dynamic with humans: “there are those who fear them and those who like them.” Also, I should add, there are those who can’t see mushi at all – this leads to the question: which is worse, being able to see something that could potentially harm you, or being completely oblivious to what is quite possibly some of the craziest stuff happening in nature?
Mushishi’s story is entirely episodic in nature, as it follows the travels of Ginko as he moves from place to place to avoid attracting too many mushi. Each episode shares a common premise with its predecessors, revolving around his encounters with various illnesses and ailments that can be attributed to the presence of mushi. While Mushishi’s episodic approach works well and allows for the introduction of many unique mushi, I wish the series had included at least a few two-parters to allow more time for the more interesting scenarios (the mushi mail system, for one, comes to mind).
Each episode has a clear cut story, but usually the focal point of the story is Ginko, the white-haired, green-eyed, cigarette smoking traveler, who also happens to be a mushishi (someone who studies and documents mushi). To fully appreciate Mushishi’s story, an understanding of him is essential. Through the combination of his dialogue and mannerisms, Ginko’s presence light-heartedly foils the minor characters well, especially when juxtaposed against the numerous horrors they face.
In many ways Mushishi comes across as a rather abstract series, especially since the mushi are enigmas to say the least. Some of the things that occur around mushi are downright creepy; who wouldn’t be freaked out by some weird-looking thing that resembles a tapeworm coming out of your eyes? Mushishi pushes the limits of creativity in its concept of mushi and their balancing-act with humans. With each new mushi, my brain simultaneously thought something along the lines of: awesome…no, gross…oh crap, what is that…man, that is a sweet representation; all the while, Ginko stands by casually observing the mushi, ultimately taking care of the situation the way my boyfriend would calmly kill an ant.
Mushishi’s animation, particularly its scenery, is gorgeous and well done. Given the mushi’s bond to nature and Ginko’s rootless qualities, this grants the series an essential sense of vivacity. Mushi come in all shapes and sizes, and many take forms that resemble existing life; they are often translucent, which reinforces the fact that many people cannot see them. My main complaint is that the detail on the human characters is soft at best, making many of the characters from different episodes indistinguishable.
The music within the series could not be more fitting; it complements the story with a minimalistic style and is never too loud or overly dramatic, even in the most explosive situations. One of the strengths of Mushishi is its use of silence, rather than overwhelming the series with constant background tracks.
I did not really appreciate the opening title until I came to understand how well it complements Ginko’s personality, as it sets the pace for each episode with its soft, relaxing tone and solid sense of direction. This series does not have a common end theme, but rather uses the different music that is played towards the end of each episode, keeping with the episodic nature of the series.
Episodic anime frequently fall into the trap of not developing their characters since they must quickly develop a new plot each episode. Mushishi shares this problem in the sense that its minor characters receive no lasting attention; however, since the true focus of the series is on the mushi and mushishi, this flaw is relatively minor. In this manner, the individuals present in each episode serve primarily as constructs for the development of the main cast.
Mushishi does a good job of developing Ginko, not only in the present sense, but also with some glimpses into his past. He is compassionate and calculating, taking a pragmatic view of both his world as well as that of the mushi. The majority of the minor characters are brown-haired and brown-eyed (indistinguishable, as mentioned earlier), so the choice of Ginko’s green eyes and white hair really allow him to stand out.
Mushishi is unique in concept and execution; a series filled with curiosities that many could never dream up (or even if they could, would hesitate to concoct for fear of twisting their minds). It is one of those series that is difficult to pinpoint why someone may enjoy it, suffice to say that Mushishi is an anime that should not go unwatched.