Time has already come
The sun is gone – no more shadows
Can’t give up, I know, and this life goes on
I’ll be strong
I’ll be strong
It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally had a moment to sit down with the Mushishi manga. I say a long time coming because I was the most ardent of fans during the anime’s original airing. The 2006 anime holds a special place in my heart. Between it and Eureka SeveN, my faith in quality anime was restored. I could’ve been the typical anime fan, who gives up when they hit some form of adulthood (I graduated high school in 2006,) but because of Mushishi I persisted, and am now the ultra-nerdy woman you see.
And it’s with that sentiment that I let myself sink into the green world of Mushishi once more.
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.
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.
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.
Great music and great anime usually go hand in hand, but the sign of a great song is that anyone can enjoy it, irregardless of their love (or lack there of) for anime. I remember thoroughly enjoying the music used in Honey & Clover, but on its own it is a disappointing, minimal experience I often compare with the dull instrumentation of easy listening elevator tunes. Within the context of falling in love with the Honey & Clover anime, I imagined this soundtrack would mean so much more to me.
From back to front, there are few anime soundtracks that truly transcend the chains of being locked to their respective TV series. Without stating the obvious example of Mistress Yoko Kanno, I genuinely feel Toshio Masuda’s ethereal Mushishi score is a consistently lush and driving musical master class. I can play these songs at home, in the office at work and even to my damn family- everyone (relative to their undeniably bad taste) will love it.
Of course, as is their nature, soundtracks aren’t designed to be stand alone albums anyway but it’s certainly a bonus to know that in sixth months, hell…, six years down the line, I can still enjoy listening to some of this music without having to revisit the TV series first.
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.
Looking back on Mushishi, I suspect that this episode (episode 20) will rank as one of my favourites. Every episode has had that unique air of mystisism; a beautiful sense of magic that I have come to love, but still, rarely have a felt so attached to the characters as I did in this episode.
It begins with Ginko paying a visit to an old friend called Tanyu; this young woman (who I guess is around the same age as Ginko) suffers from a curse brought down on her family by a particularly strong, and frankly evil sounding mushi. The curse means that from birth, her right leg is paralyzed and covered with a pitch black birthmark, and the only way she can lift the curse is by listening to and then writing down the tales of the various Mushishi that pass through her part of the world. By means of flashback, we discover this is how Tanyu first meets Ginko.
Despite being one of the slower episodes, the unsettling world of Mushishi is presented here in a striking and magical way; mirroring the first episode, here written words literally jump off pages and fly about rooms- essentially, we are overcome by the simple notion of taking something we all assume is a static, never changing medium and injecting it with life.
Stunning aethetics aside, I loved this episode because of the underplayed friendship between Ginko and Tanyu- and indeed, Tanyu herself. Far from getting down about her disability, she is a notably strong willed and good natured person who’s boundless optimism bounces off of Ginko’s sarcastic wit like sunshine. The way they interact and talk to each other shows us they have an undoubtedly warm friendship (and forgive me for getting ahead of myself here- potential romance) and rather than let themselves be overcome with sadness, the characters here are full of life and a joy to watch.
A lot of Mushishi is about conveying a moral, or an idea concerning as vast a subject as spirituality, but episode 20 deals not with such an overbearing sense of responsibly as the simple friendship between two adults. It was a great episode.