“This world is full of life, unknown to man.”
– Narrator (Episode 26 of “Mushi-Shi”)
I was introduced into the world of “Mushi-Shi” way back in August of 2007 thanks to “Newtype USA”. Oh, you remember “Newtype USA” magazine…or if you never bought a copy, you heard a lot about it from the commercials featured on just about every DVD that ADV Films put out. [If memory serves, Greg Ayres did the v/o for some of those commercials, and I didn’t realize it until later on in my otaku life.] In any case, I remember watching the bonus DVD that came with every edition of “Newtype”, and I was fascinated by the story that was laid out in front of me. Four years later, “Mushi-Shi” still has a way of weaving its magic around me. With its unique storytelling, intriguing characters, and deep, earthy feel, “Mushi-Shi” just seems to work for me. But what exactly makes it work? Is it the episodic yet connected feel the story brings? Is it the complex character of Ginko and the people he encounters in his travels? Is it the beautiful animation style that remains consistent throughout? Is it the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack? Or could it be the superb acting styles of both the original and the American voice cast? Let’s find out.
Who Is This Series For? – This series is for you if you are a fan of mystical style anime. “Mushi-Shi” provides this in spades. This series is absolutely for you if you are looking for a quiet anime without a lot of action. “Mushi-Shi” is a peaceful anime that doesn’t go over the top with its action or story telling. Finally, “Mushi-Shi” is definitely for you if you enjoyed either “Kinos Journey” or the “Aria” series, as both have the same style of story.
Who Is This Series NOT For? – This series is not for you if you are looking for comedy. Not saying that this show is overly dramatic with no humor; it’s just not the kind of show you should expect a lot of laughs from. “Mushi-Shi” is not for you if you are looking for an action series. It moves at its own pace, and that pace is slow and methodical. Lastly, this series is not for you if you are not a fan of episodic anime. “Mushi-Shi” does not have any two-part episodes, and resolutions [for better or worse with regards to characters] are resolved within that one episode.
Story and Premise – Based on a manga by Yuki Urushibra, “Mushi-Shi” is a twenty-six episode series that takes place in early Japan and follows a man named Ginko through his travels as a mushi master or “mushi-shi”. Mushi are described as being an advanced cross between plant and animal life. Mushi can also take on many forms; some the size of microbes, others the size of mountains. Though some mushi have properties that are valued by humans, and others are simply harmless annoyances, many are seen as life-altering spirits. Ginko, as a mushi master, acts as an intermediary between humans and mushi, maintaining the balance between the two without favoring one over the other. Each episode features a new character or group of characters affected by the mushi in some way and it’s up to Ginko and his arsenal of knowledge to restore the balance. Even though this story is episodic, with everything being completed within the space of twenty-five minutes, “Mushi-Shi” still finds a way to extend that time with its slow, methodical storytelling style while holding the viewer’s attention throughout. It really is like we’re on the trip with Ginko as he visits the different villages; we hear his thoughts, see his reactions, watch him render his aid and at the end of the episode, we keep walking to the next location. [at least until you have to chance the disk in the DVD player…I guess even Ginko can walk but so far…] (25/25)
Characters – Our lone main character is Ginko, a traveling mushi-master with pale white hair and green eyes. [the remnants of an encounter with a mushi at a young age which is explained in the episode “One Eyed Fish”] As a mushi master, Ginko has a vast knowledge of different species of mushi and the best methods to eliminate them. However, unlike other mushi masters who would rather take the path of killing the mushi in favor of human beings, Ginko opts for a “live and let live” approach, working more towards striking a balance between mushi and humans, allowing both to live in peace. Because of its episodic nature, “Mushi-Shi” has only one other recurring character in the series: Dr. Adashino, a friend of Ginko who lives in a fishing village and collects rare, often dangerous, mushi artifacts. Even though the majority of the characters in this series are only seen once, you find yourself growing more and more attached to them as the episode goes on and you feel their struggles. Each one has been affected by the mushi in some way, shape or form and it’s intriguing to watch the characters both before and after their interactions with Ginko. I especially love the relationship between Adashino and Ginko as they really do behave like old friends; ragging on each other, giving each other a hard time, but still, at the end of the day, they are willing to help each other out with maintaining balance between humans and mushi. (25/25)
Animation and Music – One thing that stood out to me when I first saw “Mushi-Shi” all those years ago was the fact that this anime was really pretty. The colors are so rich and earthy and perfect for the time frame in which it takes place. One thing you have to keep in mind is that “Mushi-Shi” is supposed to take place in early Japan where colors for clothes and housings were based on what was found in nature, so a lot of this series is colored in earth tones with the more vibrant colors reserved for certain mushi and a bit for Ginko himself with his bright green eyes. Character designs are also beautifully done with each one rendered perfectly. I’ve heard from quite a few commenters that all the characters, especially the children, look alike. I disagree with this; it is simply the way the animators rendered them and it’s the overall style of the series. If the characters do bear some resemblance it’s simply because they are all the same ethnic culture, so certain traits, no matter how slight, are going to be the same in each individual. But, when compared side by side, the characters are uniquely and beautifully different from each other; Yoki from “One Eyed Fish” looks different from Shinra in “The Green Seat” but you can tell that they are from the same part of the world. The music of “Mushi-Shi” matches perfectly from beginning to end with a soundtrack that reflects both the traditional aura of ancient japan with the other worldly mystical aura of the mushi. Some incidental music is reused several times throughout the series, but it is never used out-of-place or out of context and it does not get annoying. “The Sore Feet Song” by Ally Kerr is one of the most beautiful opening theme songs I’ve ever heard in any anime. (25/25)
Production – Because “Mushi-Shi” is a show that focuses on one main character, it was important to both the Japanese and English production companies to find the right actor for the role; a character with a low vocal range that can match Ginko’s cool, methodical mannerisms. Both Yūto Nakano and his american counterpart, Travis Willingham, give stunning performances as the infamous mushi master while Yūji Ueda (Japanese) and Chuck Huber (English) both did outstanding jobs as Dr. Adashino. Both languages provide excellent voice actors for each episode with one exception: in the episode “Inside the Cage”, the Japanese went with a voice actor that did not have any prior experience, and he did an awesome job. Who did Funimation Entertainment pick for Kisuke out of the hundreds of voice over actors at its disposal: Vic “My Voice Sticks Out Like A Sore Thumb And Makes Teenage Fangirls Swoon” Mignogna. Now, before you feed me to the alligators, I just want to say I have nothing against the guy; he’s a talented voice actor and singer but he has the kind of voice that is easily identifiable and it really pulls you out of the show. In fact, if you check the Funimation Channel on YouTube and look up this episode, every other comment is something to the tune of “OMG It’s Vic!” or “I KNEW HE WOULD SHOW UP!” It’s a distraction that could have and should have been avoided. (23/25)
Story and Premise – 25 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation and Music – 25 out of 25
Performances – 23 out of 25
Final Grade: 98/100 = 98% (A)
Availability – Funimation did an awesome job with the original DVD release of “Mushi-shi”. Spreading the twenty-six episode series across six volumes, the original DVD cases are covered in what feels like stiff, untreated cardboard and contains lots of goodies like “Mushi-Shi” postcards and small art books. Also, the original DVD’s had interviews with the Japanese production cast, and even a guided tour of sorts led by the director Hiroshi Nagahama. Nowadays you can find “Mushi-Shi” it in its entirety as a S.A.V.E box set from Funimation from many major retailers online like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. There is also a live action movie that I have yet to see, but might consider investing in and reviewing at a later date. At the time of this posting, “Mushi-Shi” is still available in Sub and Dub format on Funimations’ YouTube Channel.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- ADR Director Mike McFarland, who voice the main character Koro in the episode “Raindrops and Rainbows”, dedicated that episode to his father. The dedication can be viewed on Volume 2 of the original “Mushi-Shi” DVD’s as an Easter Egg.
- Hiroshi Nagahama, the director of “Mushi-Shi” in Japan, previewed the English dub of the series at a convention and was reportedly very pleased with the quality of the dub, drawing comparisons between Travis Willingham and the original voice actor, Yūto Nakano.