Monday, March 28, 2011

Anime review: Mushi-Shi

Every so often I come across a story - whether it be in the form of an anime, a novel, a video game - that captures my imagination seemingly without putting forth much effort to sell itself. Mushi-Shi is one such series, combining more modern day fantasy with old folklore. Each episode is presented as a distinctly separate narrative, with new characters coming into play with each, yet all of the stories have a commonality - they all involve Ginko, a Mushi Master who is travelling the land to further his research on rare Mushi.

Mushi are a mysterious lot. They are the most basic of life forms, visible only to certain people. Mushi influence the world around them - some in minute and barely noticeable ways, others having a direct and noticeable impact on individuals. While Mushi have no sense of good or evil, there are some that act as parasites, living off of host organisms at the cost of the vision or free will of the host. Similarly, the conclusions of the episodes will vary from bright and positive to dark and gloomy, with a handful ending on somewhat of a neutral note that may leave viewers divided as to whether the characters actually earned or lost in the grand scheme of things.

Ginko is the only major character and one of only two recurring characters in the entire series. He constantly carries with him a small chest of drawers containing both information on the Mushi and some samples of them for research material. Ginko is incredibly knowledgeable about the Mushi and their influence on the world around him. Unlike most other Mushi Masters, however, Ginko has the strange ability to attract Mushi no matter where he goes, so he must be constantly on the move for the safety of others. His nomadic nature does alienate Ginko from society, though he seems to be able to relate much more easily to children and teens than with other adults.

During his journey, Ginko meets a myriad of people who are either directly or indirectly affected by the Mush that live throughout the land. Some are fearful of the Mushi and their powers while others aren't entirely convinced that Mushi exist. Regardless of who is in need of help, Ginko always seems to aid people during his research. The secondary "guest" characters that come into play with each episode are, for the most part, fleshed out quite well. In some of the earlier episodes, less time is spent exploring the stories of those affected by the Mushi with more time devoted to exploring what the Mushi are and how Ginko's knowledge of them. As the series progresses, the opposite becomes true, as viewers are relatively familiar with the different types of Mushi. In some cases, an expanded backstory will help Ginko pinpoint some key trait of a character in order to aid them, but the biggest reason behind this shift in storytelling is seemingly to keep episodes from becoming predictable or monotonous.

The time period in which the series takes place is never definitely defined, nor is the land through which Ginko travels (The latter, however, is largely implied to be Japan). Even the time spent between the first and last of the series' twenty-six episodes is not clearly defined. The architecture and clothing seen throughout might lead viewers to assume the series to take place in the Feudal era. However, the fact that each town Ginko visits has a relatively small population combined with the fact that none of them seem to be within close proximity to more largely-populated areas does not solidify this assumption, and for all the viewer knows, the series could take place in a modern day setting with Ginko travelling to a number of small isolated villages. This sense of ambiguity that the series carries from beginning to end fuels an atmosphere of mystery and fantasy.

The series relies quite heavily on its art style as both a selling point and a means of conveying the various stories. It's very simplistic, yet conveys the mood through beautiful watercolor backgrounds and excellent lighting/shading effects. The soundtrack conveys more mellow moments through soothing - if not occasionally haunting - melodies, while more tense moments are accompanied by more primitive sounding drums. It's a minimalist approach to an extent, which is exactly what the series as a whole aims for - getting back to more traditional tales of fantasy and folklore.

Mushi-Shi breaks the conventional methods of anime in favor of a more simplistic delivery. Each story combines just the right amount of fantasy and folklore while still grounding it in a very real and believable world. The delivery of the series is done so masterfully, utilizing an art style and soundtrack that stand out and beautiful and captivating without trying to be particularly edgy or in-your-face. Admittedly, the format of a few episodes late in the series feel as though they've been recycled from earlier on, but all in all there's something new to explore with each episode. A very unique anime, Mushi-Shi is one series that can deliver a phenomenal story without requiring the aid of constant edge-of-your-seat action, or even a recurring cast.

My rating: 9.5 (out of 10)

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