Another oldie but a goodie, Mushishi is one of the first anime that I watched that showed how deep a story could be without focusing on a huge cast of characters, now that’s not to say there isn’t heavy emphasis on people, their relationships with each other, nature etc. But really the main focus of the series is all about something called mushi. Now what the hell is that?! Well mushi translated means insect and that is completely not what they are so great going on the name, mushishi means a master of mushi which is sort of better.
Mushi are basically a whole kingdom of their own, we have the animal kingdom, plant kingdom etc. There is no one specific way to describe them as each species of mushi varies greatly from each other, in abilities, appearance and intellect. To me their design seems heavily based on microbes or tiny sea creatures and it gives you the feeling that these are primitive creatures, highly sophisticated but haven’t changed much of their functions over evolution and are purely going on survival instinct. In the series they are described as life in its purest form, hiding from the light (most of them glow) and originating from the river of light known as kouki, which is just a river of mushi that you shouldn’t stare at or you’ll go blind. Lovely.
Problems start occurring when these creatures start coming into contact with humans, all but one of the mushi in the series have no malice towards humans, like many of the animals, plants and bacteria we live with today. They are just trying to survive which is what makes this series so wonderful and clever. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean they are safe for humans to be around.
The series follows the cases of a mushishi, basically a doctor of mushi, who goes around helping people who have been afflicted in some way by mushi. Most mushishi understand that mushi are just trying to survive but will take harsh measures to protect human lives if needed. The most sympathetic of these is the main character Ginko, he stands out from the crowd with his white hair and green eye, he didn’t have much of an option in becoming a mushi master as wherever he goes mushi are attracted to his presence which becomes a risk to people nearby. So he must travel from town to town helping people along the way to live with mushi.
Each episode is its own short story with very little connecting them apart from Ginko being the main character in each and people being dumb asses around things they don’t understand. The formula goes something like this… person somehow comes into contact with mushi, ginko hears about it, ginko investigates and tells a person to do thing, person does not do thing, ginko is peeved and must fix. So yeah it’s pretty basic in that sense but as I mentioned before what really sells this anime is the mushi themselves and the effect they have on people. SPOILER WARNING, I am going to talk about some of the deeper aspects of the mushi so if you want to watch the series spoiler free BAIL OUT NOW. Just go, don’t look back! I’ll be here waiting…
One of the episodes that stood out to me the most was about an island of people who were able to resurrect the dead. Now from first glance this sounds like a zombie alert but just you wait. When Ginko arrives he asks the locals about it and gradually discovers what the reality is. There is a mother and daughter on the island, who have a very strained relationship with the rest of their family as they insist on referring to the daughter by her grandmother’s name, this is because she is the grandmother… When someone is about to die or have just died the villagers take a boat out on a moonless night over a sea trench and drop the person in the water, they are then devoured by the Uminaoshi mushi. This mushi feeds on the time that something has been alive, it then reverts the person/animal back to an embryonic state and releases them as eggs in a month or so which if eaten by a female will cause her to get pregnant with the embryo. As you can imagine there is a strong ethical and moral dilemma here.
The mother refused at first as she believed it was wrong, however after her mother begged her as she feared her death, she agreed as long as she could raise her as her daughter with a different name and life (no memories are retained when the child is born again, however some mannerisms exist). As Ginko talks to more of the islanders he discovers many different stories, such as a couple whose child was bitten by a snake and died was then reborn again via this method. There was also a young man whose wife was killed tragically, she was born again and he waited till she was old enough to be married to him again. Ginko decides that although normally this sort of power is forbidden to be abused by humans as the islanders have found a way to use it peacefully he allows them to continue, while keeping their location secret.
I personally found this very unnerving as the people have no memories of their life before, but they are forced then to fill the role of someone they used to be like the girl who was literally raised to get married to the man, who must have been at least two decades older than her when they remarried. She never got the chance to be someone else, and I find it hard to believe she could be the same person without the exact same things happening to her and her reacting in the exact same way. However I can’t deny the allure of knowing that your loved ones can always be around in some capacity. This is what I love about mushishi, as each episode puts forward these dilemmas, it never preaches about right or wrong answers but it kinda reminds me of folk tales/fables as they seem to be more about warnings, when faced with certain dilemmas it will also provide pros and cons for both sides.
There are so many great episodes that I don’t want to spoil for you too much, such as a mushi that infects the womb of women, forcing them to give birth to it and creating children for them to take care of, a dream based mushi that gives the illusion of prophetic dreams but in reality is literally just making whatever a person dreams come true. A mushi that synchronises its one day life span with its human host forcing them to live to old age and die every day before being coming back to life (at the age they met the mushi) as the mushi’s offspring is born. Plenty to get your mind churning with the implications!
This is a really well written series but it’s also one where you have to be prepared to think and realise the implications which can be pretty tragic. It’s well worth the watch though especially as you can mostly watch in any order and pick it up as you please. I would definitely recommend mushishi to anyone looking for some serious depth through an interesting theme.