Monday, April 7, 2014

Anime Review: Mushi-shi

This has been on my to-watch list for years, since early college at least but since legal streaming was in it's infant stages back in 2009 by the time it was online (subbed) legally there was a whole slew of new, more colorful and exciting shows also to watch so it fell by the wayside for me. When news that there was going to be a new OVA came out I remembered I hadn't seen it yet and, since a lot of people were speculating this would lead to a second season (even though the first one came out 8 years earlier, that's a hell of a gap) I started working out my schedule to see it and yep, a new season was announced and I had only two-ish months to finish this first. I would have gotten this review up back in February actually but in February I fell into a bit of a slump and needed something a bit more distracting, more escapist to watch so here I am now, a bit belatedly, telling you to watch a show whose sequel has already started.



Mushi-shi



In this world there are things that everyone can see and other things which are only seen by a few. Those are the mushi and they intertwine and interfere with the lives of people around them regardless of who they are. And so there are the mushi-shi, people who try to solve the problems they cause and Ginko is one man whose entire life revolves around this.

Mushi-shi is not the easiest anime to talk about for all I enjoyed it, that's often how the best slice of life stories are. It's simple but not quite sweet, rough without being uncaring in a way that mimics life. This isn't the kind of supernatural stories that are popular on television, where there has been a great wrong and something is getting revenge, more often than not these stories start with an accident, although a few get worse from there. Very few of the stories are interconnected which makes it even harder to talk about the story since there aren't any great character arcs or overarching plots to discuss, although that does make the nods in the OVA to all of the first season's stories even sweeter. No, Mushi-shi hangs together in a strange way where it's connected more through themes and general tone than anything else and, since it's hard to express the whys and hows it works let me state up front that it absolutely works here. 

The show is all about its' atmosphere yet calling it atmospheric would probably give people the wrong impression. It's not dark, moody, gothic or any of those things yet it's art, music, and the stories themselves combine together to create something that goes beyond just tone and that feeling it makes defines the show itself. The show really isn't about Ginko, the titular mushi-shi, especially since while he appears in every episode sometimes he's just a very minor character, helping out another person whose already solved most of their problems already. Sometimes he is the main character and his background isn't a secret to the viewer for very long and yet the mixture of his sometimes calm demeanor and other times complete bafflement isn't the main draw of the show. It's the stories themselves that will either bring the viewers in or drive them out, it's a show you'll either love to pieces or be bored to tears by.


One problem I did have with the show's lack of connections was that sometimes it was hard to motivate myself to watch another episode, even if I really did enjoy the show. If had months and months to watch it that wouldn't have been a problem but since I was trying to not only watch it but talk about it before the new season aired I was a bit constrained and there were just some nights where I instead watched something with a lot of character drama or an over-arching story that grabbed me and made me want more of the story right this moment instead of wanting to see more sometime next week. And for that reason I can say that this show isn't for everyone, it isn't that the pacing is slow (especially since, if I'm remembering correctly, there's not a single two-parter in the entire season) but that it doesn't have quite that draw that nearly every other series out there has, even other "gentle" supernatural stories like Natsume and the Book of Friends which has a sizable cast of reoccurring characters just pulled me in a bit more. Considering how closely this ties into the tone of the story I imagine this was a deliberate, or at least expected, side-effect so I can't fault the story for poor construction here, it's just different.   



The art in Mushi-shi is very simple, to the point where I wondered if certain characters had shown up before since they looked so similar (funny enough the reoccurring characters have the most distinct appearances so I shouldn't have worried about that). The mushi look a bit more distinct but if you asked me to describe what ones from a certain episode looked like I wouldn't be able too. Just like the people, the mushi are all different but drawn in a very limited style so they all end up looking similar, quite honestly what stood out to me the most about the art were the backgrounds and the particularly lovely and haunting way the often present mountains were drawn, they reminded me quite a bit of sumi-e paintings. The opening and ending are even more limited in looks than the rest of the show, the opening is just a repeated motif of leaves rustling and each episode ends with the credits crawling over a black screen (with a different song each episode). And for those curious, yes the opening song is an English song and you can buy it on iTunes, although I must warn you that the second verse wasn't what I expected.

And for those who want to give the series a shot, the entire first season is streaming on hulu (subbed and dubbed) courtesy of Funimation. However Aniplex has picked up the just started second season (and presumably the OVA that came out earlier in 2014) and those episodes can be watched on crunchyroll instead.




      

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