There are many who struggle with wrapping their heads around certain folklore that is completely different from the cultural roots of their own country. It can be a herculean task for the ill-prepared minds that nevertheless wants to explore all facets of any country’s folklore that captures the entirety of how it’s culture evolved from its roots to the present. There hasn’t been many shows, or anime for that manner, that have handled folklore with the level of atmosphere and creativity that the show Mushishi has to offer and for this we have to be thankful for its existence. It’s beautiful existence to be more specific.
How Mushishi develops itself from the ground up, in terms of its overall narrative, is by separating plot arcs into every individual episode that has their own personal story that are very thought-provoking and unique. The people, who Ginko comes across on these individual episodes, are never seen again as he tries to make sense of how these “Mushi” behave and how they adapt in the landscape of Mushishi’s world by engrossing them into the people. What makes it extraordinarily admirable is the level of detail that encompasses the entirety of the show despite not having an over-arching “story” from how almost every single character feel like actual people rather than one-dimensional caricatures that shows, like Mushishi, typically fall into when they try to do the same formula. I wouldn’t go so far that it’s every bit as perfect as one would hope but it’s more than enough for it to be garnered anything but warm praise for its in-depth characterization. Ginko himself proves to be a very competent lead in giving him the great detective mind that is akin to other great detective characters in other mystery works in the past by giving him a strong back-story to his past life and how he came into being a mushi-shi himself.
The absence of an overarching narrative in Mushishi however doesn’t bold too well for it, since it is bounded by a slight disconnect of a tightly structured world that it wants us to feel engrossed and connected but it ultimately doesn’t come across as anything but average. While most of the episodes prove to be good in-of-themselves, watching them altogether and trying to encapsulate the very nature of the particular world they want to portray feels empty and shallow. It wants to make an episodic show but at the same time it tries creates this living, breathing society on a macro-level, which doesn’t fit well on an episodic show. Its two properties of world-building that don’t really coincide perfectly and because of this, Mushishi comes across as far from perfect in this facet. The structure of Mushishi might’ve taken it took into a slight nose-dive, but there’s one true detail to the show that makes up for it, the atmosphere.
In order to succeed in developing a relaxed tone, the atmosphere has to be just right for the viewer to be engrossed in it for which there’s plenty to go around in Mushishi. One other crucial detail that every person always mentions about Mushishi that comes from the melancholic atmosphere, is that there’s not one person who finds the atmosphere nothing but beautiful. It’s hard to make an atmosphere that is faulty but the one thing that would make it a disservice to any show of Mushishi’s nature is how poor it creates a mood that is too blatantly lifeless or absolutely monotonous in how it integrates with the tone to which I applaud Mushishi for bringing itself to its knees and flourishing. The lack of a lot of music actually helps in this aspect a lot in order to let us breathe in the atmosphere without any distraction for long periods of time while looking at the great artistry of the scene in question. In fact, I would’ve appreciated even more if there was no music at all since the random musical instrumentation spread out at certain points of the episodes don’t feel like they were needed at all.
With something as slow and methodical as shows like Mushishi typically come across, Mushishi manages to pace itself near-perfectly in taking its time to let us take in the scenes at face-value without hinging on quick interludes that would hamper on every scene. Yet, despite its slow pacing, it never feels like a slog to go through. It’s like listening to really good drone/ambient album that goes on for 2 hours and once it’s done, you’ve felt as though only mere minutes have passed because of how entranced you were from the experience. That is one thing to describe Mushishi: Entrancing. Once you’ve set your sights and overall attention to the subtle details put into, not only the art, but how hypnotic the writing of the dialogue is and the amazing Mushi sequences are, you just can’t take your eyes off of it for one minute.
Great care is given to the tone of Mushishi as it builds up the tone at certain points to feel very compelling and strong on a mental and emotional level into the stories. The Mushi sequences alone are all extremely breathtaking to experience because of their lucid creativity and imagination that was put into practice by the brilliant artistry of the show. They’re the types of sequences that will forever be burrowed into your memory just by the sheer awe-inspiring imagination that was obviously inspired by Japanese folklore with the designs of the Mushis themselves and how the sequences themselves were directed brilliantly by how tense and uneasy they were portrayed whenever they appeared on-screen or any of the mushi incidents.
The artwork itself borrows heavily from influences of old Japanese artistry you’d see on an old Ukiyo-e print from early 17th Century Japan. It gives the atmosphere a much added bonus from the wonderfully detailed backgrounds and the creative animation of the sequences I mentioned beforehand. There’s not much in the way of overall breathtaking animation because of its very slow nature but it doesn’t do a disservice since it fits very well to the tone. The character designs themselves look like actual human beings and have very minimal detail to the foreground of the palette on-screen.
Mushishi is a show that cannot be done justice by just talking about it and that you have to experience it for yourself to see the qualities come full force; it certainly did for me. Despite my thoughts on it not being perfect in how I view on all of its positive aspects, that shouldn’t be a clear sign to not go through a genuine calming experience that you’ll hardly ever see in most anime. Watch it before you go to bed or anything that has to do with trying to make you reach into a state of tranquility. It should prove worthy of any acclaim to people who’ve been interested in the pure Japanese mythology that this series has created for itself. If there should be an anime show that could rank along with “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” as one of the most important contribution to Japanese art that showcases its aesthetic insight to its own culture, Mushishi would be that anime, bar none.