17 December 2006
It occurred to me that there haven't been any anime reviews on here for a while. This must be rectified. I just got around to finishing off Mushishi, so that's the anime you're going to hear about, since I am attempting to withhold my overflowing endorsements of Death Note until that particular series is a little further along.
Mushishi is a 26-episode series that follows the tales of Ginko, a travelling Mushi specialist. 'Mushi' are mysterious existences that are neither plant nor animal, and in places where too many Mushi gather or wind up interacting with humans, strange, supernatural things start to occur, which is where a Mushishi, or Mushi master, comes in. The anime aired in Japan earlier this year, and is based on the manga by Yuki Urushibara. It appears that Funimation has since licensed it, so we can probably expect the first DVDs of that to turn up in another year or two. And in my opinion, these are DVDs to look forward to.
Mushishi is a quiet anime, with very little in the way of action and high drama and lots in the way of zen mood and fantastical elements. In fact, the series is a little bit like what might be created if Hayao Miyazaki made a television show. Each of the episodes are a stand-alone story and do not require watching in any particular sequence. Actually, more than anything else, this series feels very much like a collection of Shinto folk tales - even right down to the frequently morbid ending to most of these stories. Indeed, Mushishi isn't the sort of anime you want to be watching while in a noisy environment - I recommend this one for quiet nights and rainy days, preferably when you already feel pretty miserable, as it has a very heavy mood with the only relief coming in the way of fantastical wonder at the ethereal Mushi. Each of the individual stories are compelling, however, and every single one is like a small masterpiece. In this regard, it also reminds me a little of xXxholic - in fact, if you enjoyed xXxholic, there's a good chance you'll enjoy Mushishi, too.
Visually, Mushishi is stunning. The animation is of a marvellous quality for a television series, and the designs for the Mushi are both strange and beautiful. The backgrounds are lavishly detailed and the character style is soft, similar to the style adopted by Studio Gonzo. That said, many of the characters look remarkably alike, with only the few key reoccurring characters having much in the way of visual distinguishment - so much so that if it weren't for the different voice actors, you'd have a great deal of trouble recognising them as being new. Thankfully, that's the only real visual criticism I can level at the series, and given that characters aren't the focus or strong point, it can be easily forgiven.
Aurally, it's just as distinct. The soundtrack lends itself nicely to the overall mood, with eerie tones and a mixture of delicate piano and traditional oriental instruments that matches the material and story telling style nicely. The musical pieces are all unobtrusive and small sounding, very effectively contributing to the sleepy ethereality that permeates every episode. Toshio Masuda (composer of the soundtracks for Naruto and Jubei-chan, just to name a couple) is one of those Japanese composers that really doesn't get the acclaim he deserves because his work so fluidly integrates with the anime, rather than taking it over as is the case in some other series. In terms of sound effects, it's nothing fancy - as I've mentioned before, the anime itself is very quiet, so there's no call for big robust bass-filled effects to test your surround sound system with. But it is effective, and that's what counts. The same goes for the voice-acting. There's not really enough dialogue to test the true mettle of the voice actors, but all of the performances are very well executed.
It would be pertinent to point out, though, that Mushishi is not for everybody. If you detest 'depressing' animes, or are more a fan of action and comedy sort of fare, you might find it boring (perish the thought). If you enjoy the more artsy or cultural animes, though, Mushishi is a must see. It really is a captivating series that whisks you off into a whole other universe - to the point where you will never look at rainbows or swamps or flowers growing in dark places the same ever again. And closing your eyes or covering your ears? CHANGED FOREVER.
Overall Score: 931,777/1,000,000.