Mushi-Shi is an artful telling of an unusual story that is paradoxically familiar. The original manga was by Urushibara Yuki. I haven’t read it but I hear it was equally awesome. The anime version, which artfully brings this incredible world to life, is directed by Nagahama Hiroshi.
The story revolves around a travelling Mushi-Shi. Mushi-Shi are a mix between doctors, scientists, and agents involved in the handling of paranormal phenomenon. Mushi are themselves, primordial creatures that teeter on the edge of living organisms and paranormal spirits. They are somewhat like living dark matter. They are both a part of the living world and also a part of the underlying foundations of the world. The closest analogy that I can think of are bacteria. They are essential to the ecosystems on the planet but they generally go unseen and while it is obvious that they play a large part in our world, their contributions are hard to describe and quantify. The majority of humans can not comprehend them. And this is where Mushi-Shi come in. Mushi-Shi study them. They have deep knowledge of the Mushi and many of them have the ability to see Mushi.
The Mushi Shi that the story follows is a white haired, one eyed traveler named Ginko. Ginko has a mysterious past filled with the problems of being a person who can see Mushi. His back story is a bit confusing but quite incredible. It is portrayed to the viewer via a series of random flashbacks during the series as well as an episode or two that focuses on a specific point in his life.
Ginko travels around Japan helping people to deal with circumstances caused by Mushi interacting with humans. The setting of the story is medieval Japan so people’s understandings of natural phenomena are steeped in mystical thought. This creates an interesting dynamic in the story, especially when it comes to people’s reactions to Ginko’s recommendations for how to handle things. Mushi influence the lives of regular people in so many interesting and profound ways. I love this quality in the story. Some of the Mushi behave in an extremely understandable way. They make people sick like any virus or bacteria might. Ginko examines them. Makes a note of symptoms and then cures them. Other Mushi have paranormal qualities that transforms Ginko’s role from health care provider to something akin to supernatural investigator. In doing so, he often finds himself in very dangerous situations that do not feel in any way contrived for action but feel like a normal part of the life of a traveling Mushi-Shi.
The story is very inventive and the world of Mushi-Shi is easy to get lost in. It is so immersive. And one of the biggest reasons for that, besides the story, is the animation. The animation is gorgeous. It is reminiscent of Ghibli but with it’s own inherent quality that separates it from anything else. The environment plays a large role in the story so natural settings are given intense emphasis. When you see the snow covered mountains you almost feel as though you yourself are covered in a blanket of snow. When Ginko finds himself deep within a forest in the middle of summer, you feel the thick stifling air. And
when he is by the sea you can almost taste the salty gusts blowing over the surface of a lazy sea. It is beautiful. Probably my favorite character in the series. And quite possibly, the art for the settings is the most important character in the series given that Mushi are particular to their environs and play a major part in their ecosystems. One of my favorite instances of this in the series revolves around the recurring “Light Vein”. The “Light Vein” is a flowing river of energy that is perceived as radiant golden light. The path of the “Light Vein” is used to describe the changes that environments experience. What was a healthy forest, teeming with vitality, can become a field of fallen trees and grass. A once gushing river may one day experience a sudden and devastating drought. These kind of things can be understood through the movement of the “Light Vein”.
The characters are also deeply believable. And the narrative is fair to the range of human motives and emotions. You receive the full array of emotions that could be tied to life in those times in a world filled with Mushi. The story harps on this idea of not being judgmental which is a recurring theme in period manga and anime. You get the strong sense that the average person is just doing the best they can do to get by in a difficult world. They would do things nice and easy if they could but the world does not always necessarily allow for that.
Mushi-Shi is an amazing anime series and from what reviews say it is a very good manga as well. If you want to step into the world of something new, something inventive, something beautiful; then I suggest you give Musi-Shi a view.