Watching anime for a long time (I’m talking years, really,) one can fall into certain patterns of viewing. I’ve grown accustomed to knowing what I like, and what I don’t, and picking the anime I watch according to my own tastes. There’s nothing wrong with this, it fundamentally makes sense, but it also leads one to miss out on certain shows that don’t immediately conform to my personal set of ‘requirements’; not every series is as easy to dismiss as I would like to believe (thank god,) therefore, I have devised a cunning plan.
As if to confirm its audacious brilliance, central character Ginko hardly even appears in this final episode and it was still one of the highlights of the Mushishi TV series.
Again bursting with its trademark melancholic tone, this was yet another natural blend of touching storytelling that mixes a retrospective and sad human drama with symbolic and vibrant art. An episode that is not so much about achieving an end, but rather growing to accept our roles in life, learning to move on and trust in our friends – an ultimately a positive and beautiful way to send off this most outstanding of series.
I would dearly love to see Mushishi remembered as a landmark anime production, a series that fans of all generations will come to cherish. Minute by minute, episode by episode, it rarely lost my attention. The art, and particularly the beautiful country-side landscapes, were a joy to behold; the lush details and attractive seasonal shades of spring, summer, autumn and winter were all illustrated to great atmospheric effect, allowing the characters and ghosts of Mushishi to grace a stage fit for a dream.
Mushishi is much like watching a dream really, a plain of human imagination where everything has meaning and symbolism, but often sparkles with an odd flourish of unbelievable supernatural vision. The mushi look like faded ghosts, mysterious apparitions wandering, shuddering, gliding through the world bent on purposes we never truly understand. Ginko is by default the “main” character of this series, but like the mushi he hunts, he often wanders through these episodes as a neutral bystander, interfering with characters and using just enough wit to force them into making life changing decisions. Sometimes it ends well, other times it’s quite nasty, but then so is life. If I had one regret about Mushishi, it would be that we still know little to nothing about Ginko. I crave more information about him, how he feels and if he is happy.
We all have our favourites, our guilty pleasures, but this isn’t like that. Mushishi had no faults, it’s not about being a fanboy or obsessing over certain characters, you don’t need to be an anime fan to enjoy Mushishi, it was just a brilliant and magical TV series. A pleasure to watch.
Although it would be harsh to say Mushishi had been in the doldrums of late, I must admit that the episodes succeeding number 20 have often flattered to deceive. It still looks as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever, but feels like more of a remote beauty, something I can admire but hardly love. I’m rejoicing then that the penultimate fable of Episode 25 is a warm and melancholy return to form.
Mushishi often specialises in a creepy skin crawling kind of horror and 25 plays out as a grotesque and symbolic reminder that our faliure to see into the future — past and present, is a gift, not a curse.
"Even without eyeballs, tears run" utters the female victim of this episode when an eyeball dwelling mushi literally leaps out of her face and into the safe hands of Ginko. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have two gaping holes in place of your eyes, but given our heroine is pleased, one must assume that her powerful ability to see into the future and a hawk-like gift to gaze for miles ahead — even through mountains and trees, yet unable to alter fate, even to avert predicted death, is a painful and chaotic mess to live with. Faced with seeing everything or nothing, she chooses the latter, because with nothing comes freedom.
Mushishi – 24 – Bound for Bonfire Field
Another episode that was only average in comparison with Mushishi’s previously sky-is-the-limit standards, “Bound for Bonfire Field” showcased one of the more deadly mushi Ginko has come across but failed to deliver the profound human empathy I’ve come to expect of this magical series.
The main problem is this episode’s frustrating central figure; a female mushishi who arrogantly spurns Ginko’s advice in favour of brashly burning down a field to kill a poisonous mushi, there by destroying countless trees and massacring the surrounding wild life too. Inevitably she (and her misguided neighbours) pay the price for her ignorance, but her evident lack of emotion by the time the credits roll left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The allegory of this episode; that fear can drive people to self destruction and that in acting rashly, you end up doing more harm than good, was an underplayed and subtle theme. Many allusions could be made to the real world’s current political climate.
As ever the art direction was fantastic and revelled in some beautiful (albeit short) glimpses of wild animals. Just as impressive was the sad yet alluring sight of a burning field, an entire night time landscape enveloped in flame and ash.
Mushishi – 23 – The Sound of Rust
In a village where humans are literally rusting away and being physically covered in (ever worsening) scabby brown marks, only this one girl (Shigure) appears to be immune from the disease. The bitter villagers blame Shigure for their ill-health, curse her existence and treat her as an outcast, and for her part, racked with the guilt of causing such misery, Shigure stopped speaking (to anyone) years ago. As ever, it’s down to Ginko to get the bottom of the mystery of the “Sound of Rust”.
Despite being a relatively straight forward episode by Mushishi’s standards, I still enjoyed the Sound of Rust for its typically emotive human drama. I liked how despite living years of her life in the shadows, ridiculed and insulted, Shigure wants for nothing but to attone for her vindictive neighbours suffering, granting them happiness and peace. It’s often the people who are constantly savaged by such strong hatred that turn out to be the thoroughly good hearted ones. I suppose when you have nothing left to lose, you have nothing left to cry about either.
Sound (as the title of this episode suggests) plays a big part here and Shigure’s voice; or more specifically- her multilayered scream, is suitably creepy and disquieting. Given this spooky sensation, the ending is almost too happy to believe; everything turns out okay (even the villagers are cured) and frankly I’m shocked by just how positively down-the-middle Ginko fixes it all. A refreshing change to get a traditional Hollywood ending for once! Unpredictable as ever, Mushishi.
By following the mysterious legend of the Uminaoshi, Ginko finds himself on a secluded island. Here it is said that when people die, if they so wish it, they can be born again; in a certain part of the sea, where the light shines even at night, the Uminaoshi mushi lives.
What in essence defines the individuality of a person? Are we all destined to become the people we are today, or are our personalities shaped over time, chiselled and refined by life experience? In a fantasy world where the basic building blocks of life can be reincarnated- a dying mother is reborn within her young daughter- the characters of episode 22 are forced to ask themselves these questions. The resolution, at least as far as our protagonists are concerned, is that individuality is as much defined by memory as by sheer physicality, and hence a young woman eventually sees her offspring not as a living, breathing avatar of her dead mother, but as her true child.
Just like episode 21, the new OVA format of Mushishi appears to mean that the animation has gone up a notch, adding an even finer detail to an already magnificent production. The blood-red sunset shading and sombre colour scheme are wonderfully moody, and the new found rapid fluidity of movement generates an extra sense of electric excitement when the episode climax hits its supernatural crescendo.
Mushishi – 21 – Animalistic tragedy
Since the last few episodes of Mushishi left us in upbeat and melancholy moods, this was a timely reminder as to just how heartless a series it can be. I don’t mean heartless in a sadistic sense, rather how a mushi can cause such great tragedy to a couple of people who are quite clearly already at their lowest ebbs.
On its own child birth is hardly a pleasant spectacle, but to give birth to a glob of green goo would be utterly horrifying. Mushishi is filled with this kind of grotesque horror, but within the context of each episode (and as it is here) it’s usually a tragic, sad sight.
In many episodes previous we have seen that Ginko has an underlying passion for his patients; those usually stricken with life-threatening mushi, but here he is almost too clinical. When he tells a couple of budding parents that they will have to murder their mushi-infected kids, you can’t help but feel sorry for them, but Ginko comes across as a bit too detached from their peril and it’s no wonder that he ends up getting stabbed by “their” desperate mother.
Episode 21 of Mushishi is a sad, cautionary tale though this time there is no strong underlying moral. Instead we are again shown the darker side of Ginko’s travels and meet a animalistic mushi that will do anything to survive.
Tobira O Akete (Open the Door)
Being a big fan of the works of Koji Morimoto (Memories: Magnetic Rose, Animatrix: Beyond), I was quite pleased when I managed to track down one of his lesser known shorts – Tobira O Akete (Open the Door).
Imagine a decidedly more colourful version of British animation classic The Snowman; a young girl is swept from her bedroom and taken on a magical flying journey through an amazing fantasy world of vivid colour and odd creatures.
The drawing style, as you would expect of these experimental OVAs, is quite unique. As if to mirror the imagination of a young kid, there is more emphasis put on shape and colour than strict detail, evoking a potent mixture of magic and wonder.
Given just how surreal and vivid Tobira O Akete is, it is hard to know whether or not everything that happens was just a dream. It is fun to watch though and took me back to a time when the world really was a kaleidoscope of wonderful colours and impossible shapes.
Much like a snowball rolling down a mountain, my outright love of One Piece is now out of control, ready to smash anything that dares stand in its way. I’d seen images of Chopper before this arc, but never did I expect his history to be so frightfully tear jerking, so utterly heart breaking and magical. This is no doubt a big reason why I so enjoy anime like One Piece; every character, even a talking reindeer with a blue nose like Chopper, is fleshed out as a brilliant, larger than life personality, dogged with tragedy yet still content, nay determined, to move on with life, to achieve his own personal dreams.
No doubt this will go down as my favourite story arc of One Piece (so far). When an endearing character like Doctor Hiruluk dies out to a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, it’s hard not to get swept up in the moment, overcome with the tragedy Chopper’s loss yet filled with admiration for the deceased final words, a speech filled with the kind of optimistic philosophy that fills your heart with a such reassuring warmth and hope for life.
The idea that someone never dies if you inherit their memories and their will is a message that lies at the heart of One Piece. Gold Roger’s greatest achievement was in his final words, echoed at the beginning of every episode, the words that gave birth to a thousand dreams. Similarly, Doctor Hiruluk’s limitless passion and impossible ambition lives on through Chopper. This was anime at its best, at its most powerful and I love it (to pieces, one might say!).
Story so far
Set during Ireland’s War of Independence, a young Irish lass, besieged by the merciless English soldiers, seeks the help of a legendary swordsman who is rumoured to have supernatural powers.
Studio 4C’s Comedy is a gripping 10 minute OAV from Kazuto Nakazawa; the main creative force behind Kill Bill’s ultra-violent anime sequence. This is a dark, gothic tale with no real historical significance, a vehicle for Nakazawa’s undoubted sense of style. His scratchy, sleek character designs are distinctive and attractive here, as is the hyper stylised violence. The compelling soundtrack is basically one song, but what a song; operatic classic Ave Maria.
It all adds up to be a really quite outstanding OAV, bleeding with moody landscapes and vivid characters no doubt inspired by an old European picture-book aesthetic. Comedy may only be 10 minutes long, but it works perfectly; both as a experiment in surreal atmospherics and an entertaining snapshot of Britain’s bloody history.