Mushishi: The Joy of Watching an Anthology

8 Min Read

R E V I E W – A N I M E

Noosrat Tasneem

The thing about an anthology series is that it can venture freely and go beyond perceivable lines in its pursuit of an objective more than plot-bounded shows can. And that is exactly why it is so hard to come by anything good in this genre. Because just like a free floating omnibus, while watching episodic shows, most of the time there isn’t really anything holding us back and so, often we drift away. That being the case, to find something which is arduously difficult to let go in this thematic genre of episodic anthology is a masterpiece in itself. Mushishi is one of these rare pieces of works.

To tell a hundred different stories just to sketch one single picture, and to make us believe that the stories are more important than the final painting is what Mushishi does. Droplets of stories, an almost unending journey towards uncertainty, and, much like life, it misses the ultimate conclusion which punctuates the spirit of the series.

As the title alludes to, our guide in this show is a specialist in “mushi”, a mushishi. So, what is a mushi? This question is asked numerous times in the show, and, in most cases, the answer begins with — “it’s hard to explain”. Mushis (which just means “bug” in Japanese) are organisms, beings that are more primitive than any other life form, in which they represent earth’s life energy itself, the golden liquid “kouki” which tastes like sake and flows through the limbs of earth – the mountains, forests, and rivers making the greenery vivacious. It’s this kouki, the light that flows brimming with life, that mushis and every other life emerged from. But mushis are closer to the kouki than any other living being. 

Mushis are everywhere, floating around almost as if in a psychedelic joy. With time, as men have distanced themselves from nature, they are unable to sense the ubiquitous presence of the mushis anymore, it’s only a chosen few here and there who can see them. Ginko — our only link (other than the mushis) between the apparently random episodes of this show is one of those few people. More to that, his presence alone acts as a mushi magnet, inhibiting him from staying at one place for long. Hence, he wanders, as a mushishi — investigating mushi related phenomena and curing mushi affected people. The theme of understanding the apparent paranormal as natural, seeing it through a more perceptive lens, seeing it through Ginko’s eyes (well, eye, to be precise) is what makes Mushishi so unique.

The passive forgiveness that emanates from him, the calm indifference with which deals with the mushis — both the good ones and the bad ones, knowing that there are no good or bad ones because mushis are incapable of having any intention, he walks through this arbitrary world in a nonchalant posture yet with an incredibly deep humanism. Ginko is hardly the protagonist of this show, he’s merely the medium through whom we see the events as they occur and in being so minimal that he exerts his real importance.

Mushishi is resonant with an inherent mysticism. Wikipedia says (perhaps according to the manga or the artist’s interview) that Mushishi is set in an alternate timeline, somewhere between the Edo and Meiji period. But the complete lack of anything political, any mention of a central authority blurs the idea of time here. A mountainous, islandic, rural Japan is probably the perfect setting to stage this achingly beautiful saga. And Ginko — with his white hair, green eye and western clothes — a perfect foil for that. The rising smoke from his mushi-repellent tobacco speaks of an innate stoicism towards things that are not in his control — just as these distant words echo which are now forever veiled in oblivion ― “Don’t let yourself be blinded by fear or anger. Everything is only as it is.Mushishi is an abstract tale of life; it doesn’t pronounce its motif in words, its wisdom is in its quietness. 

The central and the most human element of this show comes from the people that we see in the different stories — children, village folk, fishermen. They are not your regular bustling characters, lacking any thread of attachment. Most of them are composed and thoughtful, their mistakes familiar, their yearnings conceivable, and soon you’d realise that this ordinariness is hardly a cliché. Because Mushishi is so intent on going beyond the internalised bonds of regular life, human emotion flows in a different velocity here. Here pain is visceral, loneliness all-consuming, happiness fleeting, that inkling of hope like flickering flames. And to finally get to know your heart, the experience is bathed in the light of a cold, winter moon — as if to know the harmony of life is bound to weigh on you. Very few shows, even in their many episodes long run, can come up with such strong, compelling characters — Mushishi does that in almost every episode. A second installment, Mushishi: The Next Passage, kept up with its predecessor and the animation improved to near perfection. 

The brush paintings that Yuki Urushibara uses to describe the verdure beauty of the mountains, the azure deep sea, and the crimson sunsets make the scenes come alive. The soothing music complements the scenery. In all its existence, Mushishi is a feast for all senses. It’s a classic weekly night watch unless you’re a binge monster (like me) because to rush through it is to run out of it. 

To watch Mushishi is to experience life itself — the calmer, more sobering part of it, where it just flows by. It’s an elegant attempt to capture nature and life in one frame with the quirk of something ethereal. And it does that with splendor, with precision, with nuance, and thoughtfulness. Its visuals, its music, its heart — they all unite to create something more than the sum of those elements, something which is grand in its simple, unadulterated, earthly presence.


Noosrat Tasneem loves music, books, cinemas, and rain! She enjoys seeing the many worlds through frames, and likes to believe she’s on a journey to learn how to live better.


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