Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
In five more tales of Ginko's eternal study of the otherworldly creatures known as mushi, the wandering mushi-shi provides his services to yet another group of mushi-affected humans. A boy hires him to cure his sweetheart, who was transformed against her will into a "living god" by her ruthlessly opportunistic father. A search for food brings him to a village that has weathered famine using a forbidden manipulation of the life-force from which the mushi spring, one that sacrifices the life of a villager to ensure a bumper harvest. He assists a young man trying to come to terms with the death of his wife after she disappeared during a domestic dispute, and helps another young man trying to capture a rainbow and bring it to his ailing father. Later his old friend Dr. Adashino requests his assistance in curing three village children after an inkstone in the doctor's care afflicts them with a potentially fatal disease.
Unique works that defy classification are extremely rare in any medium. While not without precedent, Mushi-Shi is quite unique, and definitely difficult to pin into a category. The quality of Mushi-Shi goes beyond simply squirming away from categorization though; it's a work so beautiful on so many levels that it gives chills, a treasure so precious that only a fool would pass it by.
It's a near-perfect confluence of imagery and the story-telling art. It weaves tales of wonder with exquisite images, with mountains, fields, plains, plateaus, rivers and oceans. Settings possessed of a hypnotic natural charm, full of trees and rocks and life; settings enhanced by the ethereal beauty of the mushi while simultaneously being the only imaginable places where such creatures could dwell. Humans and their constructs, instead of standing in contrast to the wild, blend seamlessly in—part of the natural order rather than outside of or in opposition to it. Every episode includes at least one sequence of transcendental power, of almost religious awe—a woman dissolving into a foaming mass of mushi, children on a mountaintop pouring clouds into the sky from their mouths and ears, a rainbow river of light bursting from the ground and flowing into the heavens. The animation of these moments—and the remainder of each episode—is superb without grandstanding or calling attention to the skill with which it is deployed. The indescribable thrill that accompanies those moments would be unthinkable without it, as unthinkable as it would be without the support of Toshio Masuda's haunting, achingly beautiful score.
The stories described by this imagery demonstrate a beauty that goes beyond the merely aesthetic. The structure is purely episodic, which might be a liability in a lesser series, but in Mushi-Shi simply highlights its preternatural ability to weave dramas of often wrenching power in the bare twenty-three minutes allowed per episode. There's a deeply felt sympathy, a core of kindness and understanding that the writers bring to bear on these occasionally tragic tales. The result is warm and unutterably human, insinuating viewers into the mystical via emotions and dilemmas that are often painfully real and familiar. The living rainbows, tidal waves of snakelike mushi and glowing pools of liquid life-force might be little more than fanciful images were not the path to each paved with life circumstances—the desire to make a parent proud, the need for closure after the death of a loved one, the fear and glory of self-sacrifice—that transform them into subtle emotional forces with a power that belies their lack of traditional theatrics.
The series matches the quietly affecting drama with recurrent intellectual concerns explored with equally unobtrusive flair. The mushi have their own ecology—webs of interaction and feeding, their own rules of behavior and logic. Tragedy in their contact with man comes not from malice but from ignorance of their ecology, just as the solutions come from Ginko's understanding and knowledge. The series regularly revisits ideas about subjectivity, in the "living god" episode exploring the differences in the perception of time between normal people and those possessed by mushi. Even the implications of Ginko's lifestyle are briefly explored in the rainbow episode. It's impossible to root under the surface of this series without practically tripping over an interesting idea, but they are free of the ponderous philosophizing and endless sophistry that might otherwise interfere with the series' ability to simply entertain.
Funimation has dubbed this title with unusual fidelity and accuracy given their rather notoriously liberal ways. The tenor of the acting, the careful casting of its lead (as well as Adashino, the only other recurring character), the attentive translation and scripting—it's all pitched perfectly to preserve the unique charm of the series. The issue with retaining some of the more difficult nuances of complex ideas is gone, and every emotional twinge of the original makes the transition intact.
In two separate on-disc interviews, director Hiroshi Nagahama talks with character designer Yoshihiko Umakoshi and art director Takeshi Waki. The two interviews confirm the central role that artwork plays in making Mushi-Shi what it is and demonstrate the unforced affection its crew has for it. A clean version of Ally Kerr's excellent opener is also provided along with, unfortunately, only one of the many unique, delicate closers that Toshio Masuda composed for the series.
Don't let all the digging scare you off; it isn't necessary to deconstruct the series to enjoy it. Doing so allows one to better quantify exactly what the elusive magic of this series is, but the magic is present and irrefutable regardless of how deep one wishes to dig. Unlike the works of more overtly intellectual directors like Mamoru Oshii, this series doesn't try to blast you from your anime doldrums with the proverbial shotgun. Instead it lures you gently away with a siren song of genuine wonder and enchantment, an irresistible tune as compelling as anything the Pied Piper ever composed.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Watch and you'll be touched; dig and you'll smack your head on some fascinating concept; without doubt the best anime currently in release.
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