Tuesday, July 14, 2015

[Anime] Mushishi Zoku Shou Review

Mushishi - 9.5/10
Mushishi Zoku Shou (sequel series) - 8.5/10

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself." 

Mushishi holds a special place for me. It doesn't say what it's about, but is able to portray it beautifully. I went into the sequel series unsure if it would be able to maintain my high expectations, but I was gratified to see that it retained the unique quality that made the original so wondrous.

What makes Mushishi powerful is not an original premise, surprise twists, or a complex plot. In fact, it is startlingly simple in these regards. Instead Mushishi flourishes on its rendition of the world that exists. It does not says.

The most obvious aspect are the titular mushi. The thing about Mushishi is that unlike your usual monster-of-the-week series, the mushi don't have any special relationship to humans. They don't exist to help humans. They don't exist to hurt humans. They are not good. They are not evil. They came before humans. They will be here after human are gone. The world that Mushishi portrays is one not bounded by human experience; we occupy a small portion in time and space, but all around us the world moves to a rhythm we are scarcely aware of.

But this does not mean humans are insignificant. While they are small actors on a vast stage, they are still present. There is no grand narrative. Ginko's travels are a simple meandering, a series of coincidences and connections made with the people he meets. These people don't have to exist. They aren't necessary for some cosmic plan. However, they are not diminished by this. Every episode you are introduced to real characters who have their own needs and wants. In a sense, humans are just like the mushi: they need no justification to exist.

It is this balance that makes Mushishi so special. It never has to preach. It just weaves a beautiful tapestry and asks you to appreciate it.

The Good: The art, sound, and atmosphere that it creates. It is able to get across so many feelings and express this vision of nature without resorting to blunt exposition. Not much else to add here as I've already covered it above.

Ginko's personality is also a strength of the series. Ginko is human, nothing more or less. Sometimes he is successful, sometimes he is not. But he doesn't rage at the universe, swear to get stronger to protect what he loves, and set himself to overcome the world. Instead he moves in stride with what happens, doing his best. It's a very profound mentality despite its simplicity.

Finally, what I also appreciate is that Mushishi is not devoid of humor. I write about these grand themes but the series isn't somber like a church sermon. It has humorous moments and funny gags. I got a kick out of the episode where after helping the romantic girl with the mushi problem she immediately starts hitting on him. He has a priceless look on his face as he starts searching for the nearest exit. Mushishi is not a comedy, but it will make you smile a few times.

The Bad: The primary thing that keeps Mushishi from being my absolute favorite series is its unevenness of quality from episode to episode. I don't mean in production values but in its mismatched representation of mushi. Unfortunately the second series has continued this trend.

Mushishi is at its best when the interactions between humans and mushi are essentially accidental and the mushi are thoroughly inhuman. When the series dips into scenes where the mushi are treated more like supernatural beings it loses much of what makes it special. For instance, in the last episode of the second series Ginko confronts the master of the mountain. It understands his words and apparently is able to command the mushi to do its bidding. This doesn't fit at all with the ethos of the series.

Still, that said I find Mushishi to be a jewel that is both beautiful and profound.

A Little Less Gravity
Appropriately, this AMV is short and simple just like the series.  It really captures the drifting, mysterious, strange, and beautiful essence of Mushishi.

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