Mushishi is the type of anime that makes you question what you expect out of an anime. It’s not explosive, not romantic, and barely even episodic. What it does do is make you think about what you are getting out of it. It doesn’t try to get you to learn anything but somehow by the end of an episode, there’s a chance that you may have learned something applicable for the real world.
Mushishi is a series of short stories following Ginko and his travels doing his work as a Mushi-shi. He goes across japan during what looks like late Edo Era and early Meiji (based on his western style clothing while everyone is still where more traditional clothing) studying mushi. Mushi are spirit-like creatures that are described as “life in its purest form.” Most are symbiotic with the natural habitat they reside in. Yet others, such as those featured in the series parasitize off beings around them, humans included (which is usually unbeknownst to the human).
Ginko goes about at first helping those afflicted by these creatures. The first couple of episodes present him like he’s a protagonist and the mushi are the enemy. However, in later episodes, the solution is shown to be not so simplistic, and neither is the relationship between Ginko and the mushi. Ginko is not a protagonist and Mushi are not the enemy. Mushi aren’t good or evil. It is the intent of the person afflicted with them that’s the deciding factor of what happens. The show uses the mushi to flush out aspects of humans: what they feel, the depths of their despair, the emptiness, the yearning, the rush, and what these things will cause them to do if they gain the power to do something. But unlock other anime where these spirits are evil and they make men do evil things, the mushi just seek to survive. It’s the impression or illusion of power or strength that makes men do what they can or what they will.
Mushishi isn’t the most engaging series but neither is it a terrible one. A good chunk of the episodes are downright depressing but these are usually the episodes that make you think deeply. The lack of reoccurring cast outside of Ginko makes it hard to get emotionally bonded to the series. But at the same time, you’re not hung up on expecting exciting conclusions, plot holes, cliff hangers, and random fanservice. Mushishi plays out like a documentary and unlock canonical anime, you can start watching episodes in whatever order you want without losing any context. Every episodes is beautifully rendered with soft colours and vibrant environments. Mushi are drawn in various abstract shapes and sizes because they’re representing the various aspects found in nature. Their appearance doesn’t always depict their nature but it does prove that beautiful and small things can lead to terrible ends. In addition, the music that is weaved into the series adds a “relaxing” and “melancholy” feel to some of the sadder tales. It’s not to depress the listener but truly invoke a feeling of calm yet mysterious.
Bringing this to a close, Mushishi isn’t your everyday anime. There are sure to be people who are put off by its uncommon style of storytelling as it doesn’t hook you in like a lot of anime. But stick with it anyway, this one is definitely a gem. There’s a beautiful story here and a sadness that it ended when it seemed like there was more stories to tell. It is the kind of anime that you enjoy after a long day. And here’s hoping that you can enjoy it too.