November 30, 2008
It’s pretty rare to see a purely episodic anime that isn’t a comedy, and that’s just another reason Mushishi was such a treat.
STORY – The series follows the journeys of a traveling Mushishi named Ginko who investigates paranormal phenomenon usually caused by creatures called Mushi. Each episode describes one of his encounters with self-sustaining villagers in and around vast mountain ranges. Something is wrong, and Ginko does what he can. It’s very straightforward, but even though each episode more or less follows the same format, it isn’t a simple case of Ginko saving the day every single time. Sometimes things are beyond his control; sometimes nothing can be done regardless, and sometimes, nothing need be done at all. It can be frustrating sometimes when Ginko has revelations that he won’t explain until later, and because of the supernatural nature of the Mushi, Mushishi has quite an expository air to it. The mysteries aren’t of the sort you can really deduce yourself, and there’s a lot of talking and explanation.
Nevertheless, the way the Mushi and humans interact can be very fascinating at times, disturbing at other times. Sometimes Mushishi feels like a cross between a nature documentary and a paranormal investigation. Fans of either would definitely enjoy this.
CHARACTER – Ginko is really the only reoccurring character in the series, though his collector/doctor friend, Adashino, does show up now and again. Each episode contributes a different situation involving different people in a different place, and they almost never have anything to do with one another. Naturally, this means the exclusive cast of each episode remains pretty generic. There is the generic little girl and little boy character, the young woman, the young man, the middle-aged woman and man, the old woman and the man. Sure, the individual characters may have unique characteristics depending on their situation, but for the most part, the cares, worries, and priorities of each of these archetypes are standard. I didn’t really mind though. After all, their situations did set them apart from one another, and as almost all these characters lived in small, self-sustained villages, it’s conceivable to say that their lifestyles made them similar.
Ginko, as the protagonist, gives us a little more depth and insight into his personality, but even he remains a mostly enigmatic character for the length of the series. His intentions are generally altruistic, but there is more to his actions than that. Actually, I wish Ginko’s thoughts and personal feelings about Mushi are touched on more — there are definitely morals and deeper philosophies involved, but they’re only touched on in one or two episodes. Still, those are the episodes that give Ginko the most personality, and I think it’s very easy to relate to him as a result. His quirky habits and mannerisms are kind of endearing too, and he’s just a fun character to watch. He’s easy-going: very fitting for this kind of episodic series.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Mushishi definitely has some of the most gorgeous backgrounds for an animated series (as opposed to an animated movie) I’ve ever seen. The forests are lush with detail and vibrant colors. It floors me the way every plant and flower and tree branch and leaf is expressed. Views from mountaintops are breathtaking, and the oceans glitter with tiny waves and light. Cloud formations are grandiose and powerful, and the night sky is always vibrant with stars. These are some really, really amazing environments, man.
The character designs, in contrast, are pretty plain. Ginko stands out with his white hair and teal eye (which have a legitimate explanation beyond “he’s an anime character!”), and his face is pretty unique in itself, but all those archetypal villagers? In every episode, you’ll have deja vu. “Hey, isn’t that the character from the last episode?” No. It isn’t. None of the villagers get repeat episodes, but you’ll think so for a while because all of them look the same! Every little girl character looks like every other little girl character, and every middle-aged man villager looks like every other in the same category. It’s actually pretty amusing, and I didn’t particularly mind this repetition simply because… well, it doesn’t matter all that much. Since none of the characters repeat, it isn’t like it’s that confusing. Anyway, I can accept that they blew all their character design budget on the backgrounds; it’s really not that bad of a trade-off at all. :P
I also really liked that Mushishi had a very tranquil air about it. The title screens of every episode appeared quietly into the existing scene, calmly and without interruption. There is no bridge animation/page to frame where the commercial break would be. It just fades in and out very smoothly.
MUSIC – Mushishi has some really minimalistic music. The soundtrack throughout the series is mostly of the traditional Japanese sort — bells, gongs, bamboo flutes, biwas, and other string instruments. They’re all very, very fitting to the series and definitely enhance the scenes they’re used in. They’re moody, eerie, calming, and occasionally cheerful. Sometimes there’s only silence, but that fits too. For being so minimal, the sounds in Mushishi are incredibly effective.
The opening theme is already an indication of this. It’s soft and slow and reminds me somewhat of something they’d play in a yoga class: soothing. The lyrics are in English (not Engrish!) and also fit very well with the themes of the series. I love the name of it too — “The Sore Feet Song.” The ending theme is always an instrumental and changes with every episode, something you don’t see often at all. The composer is none other than Toshiou Masuda of Naruto fame, and he once again does an awesome, awesome job (even if you don’t like the Naruto anime, it’s hard to deny that it has an amazing soundtrack). The end themes are generally very mellow, bittersweet, which echos the endings of many episodes. More yoga music!
VOICE ACTING – I saw all of the series subbed, and interesting enough, Mushishi has a gigantic cast list because there’s a different voice actor for pretty much every single random villager character in the series. I thought since many of the villagers are reasonably similar, they’d just use one voice per archetype. No! All of these people have their own voice! I guess that’s a pretty good way of making up for the lack of variation in visual designs, and it works out pretty well. It’s worth noting that a majority of the little kid characters aren’t annoying! Some of them are actually… reasonably cute? I really did enjoy Ginko’s voice also; it’s pretty “normal” sounding, but it fits his character very well.
Edit; I just discovered that the entirety of Mushishi is available streaming off FUNimation’s website, dubbed. As such, I took the liberty of checking out a few episodes, and it’s pretty good! I really wasn’t sure about Ginko’s voice at first, but Travis Willingham does a pretty decent imitation of Yuto Nakano’s voice and it warms up to you fairly quickly. Willingham also somehow manages the same quirky kind of tone. While the American cast of villagers isn’t quite as extensive as the Japanese, there are still a good number of varied talents there so it isn’t too much repetition. All in all, I’d say FUNi did a pretty swell job.
OVERALL – Mushishi might be one of those series you should watch a bit at a time just because it’s entirely episodic and might feel a little repetitive in large doses. (I watched it all in two or three days, but hey, that’s me.) There is no ending, and actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing another season of this. There is an origin episode or two to flesh out Ginko’s past and development as a character, but while they do help the general story along and I’m glad for them, I don’t think they’re entirely necessary either. If you like scientifically presented supernatural stuff and don’t mind a very easy-come, easy-go story, then I’m sure you’ll like Mushishi. :3