I can sit here and say that Mushi-Shi is like a cross between X show and Y show, or two other shows, or something, but I feel that no matter how many comparisons I try to make, none of them will really explain or show what Mushi-Shi actually is. This show can really only be explained by explaining it itself; no comparisons will really help that much.
This show never really caught my interest when it was airing. It seemed okay, maybe a bit intriguing, but not something I wanted to sit down to really look at. However, a few friends of mine saw the show and loved it, and, with a certain amount of pushing, got me to sit down and try it too.
In 1800’s Japan, our main character, Ginko, travels around the country, offering to help people, families, and even entire villages, as they face problems with a certain kind of supernatural being.
These beings are “mushi”, small spirits that are life in its most basic essence. They come in varying shapes and sizes (although most are relatively small), and they tend to keep themselves separate from humanity, but not always. And when the mushi do get involved with humankind, it usually isn’t in the human’s favor. It’s not that mushi are intentionally harmful creatures (most of the time); they simply have supernatural abilities or properties that tend to interfere with a human’s ability to have a normal life when the two come into contact.
Each episode features Ginko traveling to a new location. Ginko is a white-haired, middle-aged man with an eye missing (not that you can usually notice, though) and a proclaimed “mushi master”. He generally tries to be helpful (he’s also relatively forward), but he tends to like his privacy and isolated-ness as well. Ginko doesn’t have a place to call home, and he just continues to travel, with every new place and every new person he meets providing him a chance to interact with a new type of mushi.
Some of the mushi he ends up meeting include mushi that consume sound (quite literally), a living and traveling swamp mushi, and mushi that live within the writings in paper. There’s even one that is basically a physical rainbow. In any case, every new episode features a new mushi to talk about, and a new adventure to be had.
The Plot and Characters
Mushi-shi is very episodic; the events in every individual episode never overlap, and in general, it tends to work in the show’s favor, allowing them to show you a wide variety of situations with a wide variety of mushi. This does mean that the characters we meet in one episode are never seen (or mentioned) ever again though. In some cases, it kind of stinks, because I’d like to see more of these characters, but at the same time, the episodic nature keeps things new and fresh.
However, the show’s episodic storytelling also leads to it being annoyingly inconsistent, from a worldbuilding perspective (which is something I really focus on). There is an archive of tales from mushi masters all over Japan, for example, that’s never mentioned prior or after that episode. And while this series writes off many of the mushi we see as “rare” or “only lives in a specific place”, there are some that you’d expect to be more present in multiple episodes. While the lack of a consistent world doesn’t hinder you from enjoying what Mushi-shi has to offer, it makes it hard to wrap your head around the lore that the show presents to us.
This show has only one recurring character (well, two, but we only see the other character, like, two or three times), and that is Ginko. Ginko tends to be pretty helpful and kind person, but he has a consistently stoic face. He never displays extreme emotion, in one way or another; I suppose his mellow and calm nature tends to make him more helpful in dire situations and keep others grounded, but it’d also be nice to see the guy get a bit agitated or something at times. His backstory is feebly explained in two different episodes, but it didn’t really do too much. All in all, he’s not a bad character, but there’s not really anything to him that really grabs me and attaches me to him. For him being the protagonist we follow around every episode, that is perhaps a tad disappointing.
When it comes to the show’s pacing, it’s pretty slow. And this isn’t really a bad thing. I feel a lot of today’s shows have grown too fast, so it’s nice to see a slower-going one become a bit more popular. The slow pacing is rather relaxing, and it gives you enough time to really ingest the atmosphere and feelings.
That being said, there are definitely episodes where Mushi-shi lost my attention for a short while because things grew too slow. It generally doesn’t fail in grabbing my interest later in the episode though. I could play this on my TV and have Minecraft running on my laptop and enjoy the both just fine.
If there’s one thing I really do have to praise Mushi-shi for, it’s its visuals. I watched this show in late 2015, and I thought it had pretty decent visuals. And then I learn that this show actually came out in 2006 (9 years prior!), and I was flabbergasted. This 2006 show’s art and animation directly competes with the art and animation of shows coming out a number of years later! If you had asked me, I would’ve said it came out in 2011 or 2012, not as far back as 2006. That’s just impressive. This show seriously has not aged.
However, despite how impressed I was with the quality of the visuals, I can’t really say the art is “beautiful” (which is a word I’ve heard a number of people use to describe it). I think, however, this more stems down to what I perceive as “beautiful”, which is usually expansive shots and bright, vibrant colors. In comparison, this show used nearly exclusively muted colors, a choice that does fit the more natural, spirit-y tone of this show. It does have some pretty great looking shots, though; It’s certainly pretty good looking, no matter how you put it.
The show’s background music works pretty well for the show. It generally has this more natural, traditional Japanese sound to it, really fitting the feel of the entire show, as well as blending in with the scenes itself. It is pretty good, but I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack on its own. The opening song is not something you’d generally hear in anime nowadays, and its relaxed tone sounds good, but I don’t necessarily think the song is that memorable. The opening animation is rather short, and simplistic. It is pretty looking, and fits the show.
In fact, returning to the visuals again, I actually like Mushi-shi’s simplistic take on the common aspects of a TV episode: the opening credits/animation, the ending credits, and showing the episode title. The opening animation is nothing more than a bunch of images of nature, and the ending credits is just white text on a black screen while music from the episode continues through. The episode title is displayed in a colored rectangle that appears within the first few minutes of the episode, usually during an establishing shot. Again, I like the simplistic approach they took here, and I think it really helped with the atmosphere. Anything flashy would be unsettling for this series.
I watched this show in English, and here I present my gripes with Ginko again: I don’t necessarily like Funimation’s casting of Travis Willingham as Ginko. I’m not quite sure if it’s this casting that made me like Ginko less, or if there’s something about Ginko that just caused me to be upset about the casting (although I think it’s the former). It’s not like he did Ginko or this show injustice, but I just wish they had chosen someone else to be him. If I were to watch this show again, it’d be in Japanese.
Final Remarks / TL;DR
I think that throughout the writing of this review, I convinced myself to like this show. When I walked away after finishing the last episode, I thought to myself, “well, that was alright, I guess”, but as I write this now, I find myself saying, “Mushi-shi is pretty good”. The relaxed, simplistic tone and atmosphere of this show really helped keep focus on the various adventures and stories we get to experience in each episode. I still can’t help but be amazed by the fact that the show still looks like it’s barely aged since its airing in 2006. My biggest gripe would be the English casting of Ginko, but if that’s the biggest problem here, that’s saying something.
That being said, though, I have a bit of a hard time making a recommendation for Mushi-shi. I certainly wouldn’t say this show isn’t worth your time if you can give it. However, I wouldn’t imagine this show being the most enjoyable to watch by yourself. I’d suggest you get a group of friends together, pull the first episode up, and go from there. Of course, you and your friends will have to be interested in a show that tends to take things at a slow, more natural pace.
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ relaxed pace and atmosphere, visuals barely look aged, episodic stories keep things fresh
— something about Ginko irks me (perhaps casting), slow pacing may sometimes lose your attention, inconsistent (or complicatedly expansive?) lore