Mushi-shi: The Next Passage (part one)
There is the visible and the invisible in this world, the invisible things that are far more basic and mysterious than plants and animals we call mushi and they are everywhere. Sometimes benign and other times they interfere with the lives of humans at which point mushi-shi come in to correct the problem. No two problems are the same and the mushi-shi Ginko has his share of stories to tell on the subject.
As with the first season, this isn't the kind of story where Ginko is the main character surrounded by a series of events but rather one where he's the most central character and the narrator. He's not quite an audience stand in because he often knows more than any other character involved, but there's a difference between stories where things happen to a character (such as the similarly themed Natsume Yuujinchou) and stories where the character just happens to be passing through (such as the again similar Mononoke). This not only sets the story apart from most other supernatural stories but also helps to set the tone, it gives the viewer this detached feeling from the story and really emphasizes the idea that mushi are neither good nor evil, simply a part of nature (the human characters however can and will run the full gamut of good, leaning towards bad with noble intentions, and very morally questionable).
This distance between the story and the viewer does not make the stories any less heartbreaking, sweet, or horrifying however and this season seems to have more horror than I remember in the first part. There's still a lack of innocent victims meeting a horrible end that I'm used to seeing in supernatural stories (which I honestly rather like, it doesn't feel like the show is making a weird play for my sympathy by showing how all these terrible things keep happening around the main character) but a lot of the stories seem to have darker circumstances and endings. I'm not sure if Mushi-shi is being adapted chronologically from the manga, and that the main story got darker, or if stories were picked and chosen from all of the volumes and they deliberately went for these but it is an interesting progression. Actually, normally Mushi-shi revisits very few characters and almost never the same kind of incidents, once an episode is wrapped up then Ginko is out of there, whatever happens next is the result of the other characters' actions. And yet there were a few moments in this half where I felt like the story might be building to one big story at the end, as if it'll draw in several threads to create a satisfying ending to the whole story. I remember hearing positive things about the end of the manga when it came out in the US and fans of the manga have said the series is being paced exactly so it can adapt the rest and I'm rather excited to see if this idea of mine is correct.
To step away from the story for a moment, I watched most of this show on my phone instead of my computer, since I do a lot of my watching during my lunch breaks now, and it seems that while Crunchyroll won't let me watch HD video as a non-subscriber over the web it does over my phone. Between that, that my phone has a newer screen than my laptop, it's smaller size, and that it's been about ten years between the shows, this season looked absolutely spectacular and I thought it was the best looking show of the spring season. Normally I'm not a fan of the art/design books that are just character, prop, and background designs but I would get a book that was nothing but Mushi-shi backgrounds and be perfectly satisfied with it, even with the show's scheduling weirdness I never noticed a drop-off in quality (aside from a few shots where a relatively close-up character's face would fade away but that happens often enough I wondered if it was a stylistic choice). Watching the last two-parter also highlighted how much I like the visual direction in the show, the color and lighting choices are perfect and the show has very few still shots, there's always something moving or at least a pan over those backgrounds. I also really liked how the show did the sound design, much like the stories it's quiet and understated, but even there you know when the sound suddenly stops that something is coming. And the music likes to highlight how human a character Ginko is, despite appearances he's often the most emotional and animated character in the show. When things are at the strangest the show likes to remind us that he's only human, just someone with a better idea of what's going on, and that helps keep the show from getting too impersonal, it's the perfect balance of keeping the viewer far enough away to accentuate the creepiness of the stories and yet close enough so that the viewers still care.
In an odd twist, the original season of Mushi-shi was licensed by Funimation and can be streaming on hulu and yet Aniplex of America has retained the license for The Next Passage and that can be streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu (on a separate show page) with the final part to return in October (the OVA from January can be found on CR but not Hulu as far as I can tell).