Reviewby Theron Martin, May 8th 2008
Four final tales of mushi and mushi-shi Ginko present themselves for consideration. In “The Sound of Rust,” a 14-year-old girl has remained silent for years after it became apparent to her that some quality in her voice was attracting a crippling rust-like mushi to her village. In “The Journey to the Field of Fire,” Ginko comes into conflict with another mushi-shi over her efforts to eradicate a harmful weed-like mushi by burning it out, efforts which ultimately have an unexpected side effect. In “Eye of Fortune, Eye of Misfortune,” a girl gains clairvoyant vision when a mythical mushi infects her eyeballs, which over time gradually proves to be more a curse than a benefit. The last story, “The Sound of Footsteps on the Grass,” flashes back to Ginko's youth, where a boy whose father protects a misty mountain strikes up a friendship with a boy from a group of travelers who visit the mountain every year during the rainy season. (And no, neither is Ginko.)
The disadvantage to having the kind of purely episodic structure that Mushi-Shi does is that when the last episode comes, the series just ends. There is no sense of closure or finality, no “they lived happily ever after” or “their story continues;” there just aren't any more episodes coming. In fact, Episode 26 does nothing to distinguish itself from any other episode in the whole series, as its lack of the normal opener is not even unique within this volume. (Episode 24 also lacks it.) Mushi-Shi has never made any intimations that it has any grander story than the individual tales of Ginko's encounters with assorted mushi, though, so the way the series ends should not come as any surprise to someone who has been watching it from the beginning.
The advantage to the format is, of course, that a viewer need not know anything about the series beyond the premises described in its Encyclopedia blurb to fully appreciate the wonderful individual stories told in this volume. Of course, most people watching this volume are going to be fans who fell in love with the series early on, but with just a little bit of up-front explanation you could show these episodes to someone who has never seen the series before and they might still fully appreciate it. And while these four episodes may vary a little in storytelling quality, any of them offer up a fine stylistic and thematic representation of the series as a whole.
Of these four episodes, “The Sound of footsteps on the Grass” (i.e. episode 26) is arguably the weakest and most mundane despite offering a couple of the prettiest pieces of background artistry in the entire series; imagine a mountainside shrouded in mist tinged with reddish-purple or gold hues. It actually does nothing wrong and does have its own merits, but it lacks the mushi-focused emphasis of the other three and its more human story proves not as compelling as most others. “Eye of Fortune, Eye of Misfortune” (episode 25) suffers slightly because it lacks the pure originality of many others in the series, but the beauty of an early scene where Amane sees for the first time and a discomfiting late scene where the ultimate effect of the Ganpuku on her eyes is realized more than balance out its minor storytelling inequities. “The Sound of Rust” (episode 23) and “The Journey to the Field of Fire” (episode 24) rank among the series' best episodes, however, as both spin strong, involving, and compelling yarns about misfortune caused by encounters with mushi and the ways Ginko helps discover to work around them. They are the kind of episodes that can leave a viewer with a sense of awe as the music fades into the mellow closer, a sense that the viewer has watched something truly special.
And that is what keeps people coming back to this series, and what has made Mushi-Shi one of the highest-rated shows by fans here at ANN. Sure, its stories may be too low-key and mellow (some might say boring) to sufficiently entertain some viewers, as the series works best when a viewer just sits back and allows themselves to be wrapped up in the mood each episode establishes, but the quality of its production in all aspects except Ginko's character design, and how all of its elements work together to craft the whole, is self-evident. Its human character designs may be unglamorous and offer little major variation in appearance beyond Ginko, but that helps emphasize the plain rural settings and keeps attention on the story and the mushi rather than the characters' appearances, which is much more important here than in the vast majority of anime series out there. Its background art sets the story in gorgeous mountain vistas without overplaying them, while its depictions of the mushi themselves are endlessly inventive and certain individual scenes (such as Amane's first sight) delight with their stunningly effective beauty. The strains of the invariably low-key music and the equally subdued vocal performances keep the tone just right, assuring that the production never descends into needless over-dramatization. Putting an excellent animation job on top of all of that seems like a bonus.
As it has done over the course the series, the English script continues to use “mushi master” where the subtitles use “mushi-shi” but leaves untranslated some other names and titles that are translated in the subtitles. The script varies some through these episodes, but not at much as in most other Funimation productions. Casting decisions and performances should offer little cause for dispute, as the English performances, if anything, are actually a bit subtler on portrayal of emotion in some key scenes. The most noteworthy difference comes with Shige, the young heroine of “The Sound of Rust,” who sounds convincingly hoarse in English but much more forced in Japanese. Also of note is Aaron Dismuke's casting as young Ginko in episode 26; let's just say that he will not ever be reprising his role as Fullmetal Alchemist's Al.
Funimation's production has never shorted the series on Extras and does not start doing so here. In addition to the standard textless songs, on-disc Extras include a 37-minute exploration of the Japanese production site for the series, a sampling of the English translation of the manga version, and an English audio commentary for episode 26 by ADR director Mike McFarland and Travis Willingham, the voice of Ginko; its most interesting comment is that series director Hiroshi Nagahama apparently enthusiastically approved of the English dub when he heard it during its premiere at Anime Expo last year. The case uses the standard slipcover and includes a reversible normal cover, a series postcard, and an 8-page liner book with character sketches and profiles.
One thing that this volume does offer that was rarely seen previously in the series is a faint sense of humor, as one scene each in episodes 23 and 24 has a light-hearted feel. Overall, though, these four episodes are just more of the same, and in the case of Mushi-Shi, that is definitely a Good Thing.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Excellent storytelling, beautiful individual scenes.
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