Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #14. Mushishi Zoku Shou

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The Mushishi franchise is something of an enigma. Originally a ten-volume manga series by Yuki Urushibara which ran from 1999 through 2008, Mushishi is an episodic series telling the stories of various encounters between humans and Mushi, which are the microorganisms closest to the roots of all life on planet earth, and which tend to have adverse effects on the humans who run into them. Ginko is a travelling mushishi–someone who can see and deal with the mushi, and who tries to solve the problems of human and mushi encounters while minimizing harm to either party or to the environment.

Mushishi was first adapted into a twenty-six episode anime series that ran from 2005 into 2006, and was a massive critical success. Even though the individual stories and overarching themes of the series aren’t particularly uncommon to paranormal detective stories, what makes Mushishi unique is its sense of tone and atmosphere which can’t really be compared to anything else.

Most of the episodes are paced methodically, with sparse dialog and music, and tons of contemplative moments. The soundtrack is somewhere between folksy, eerie, and peaceful, while the background art is possibly the most lusciously detailed in all of anime. I really can’t overstate how important the artwork is to the impact of this series, to a greater extent than it is any other anime that I’ve ever seen. I could probably watch Mushishi with just the artwork and music, with all of the dialog cut out, and certain episodes would still be engrossing.

Individually, I don’t find a lot of the stories in Mushishi all that memorable, which is why I’m probably rating the series a bit lower than many other fans would; but I will say that the show is reliable in how it can convey these somber feelings of transience, nostalgia, and the overwhelming force of nature. The series occupies this sort of space between Japanese folk tales and cosmic horror, wherein humans tend to stumble unwittingly across a supernatural force which changes their life forever by pure chance.

As mentioned before, the Mushishi anime first concluded in 2006, and was followed shortly by a live-action film adaptation, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame. I don’t know if anything else happened with the series over the next eight years, but in 2014, seemingly out of nowhere, Mushishi suddenly resurfaced with a new forty-minute special in January, with all the same staff members returning to work on it as if it had never even gone away. This was followed by two ten-episode seasons in the spring and fall under the name Mushishi Zoku Shou, or The Next Passage, as well as an OVA released in the summer.

As far as I could tell, the new series was pretty much the same as it had ever been, although I don’t know that any of the new episodes were as good as the best episodes from the original. I’ve seen fans taking both sides, claiming either that the series is as strong as it’s ever been, or that the newer episodes are weaker–and frankly, I don’t think I could fairly take either side without watching the entire series all at once, considering the possibility that nostalgia or misremembering might cloud my judgement.

Whatever the case may be, I’m fascinated by how the series has remained so episodic that you could pretty much watch the episodes in any order you want and never be confused about what’s going on. Having said that, I’ve always found Mushishi to be such a mood-centric series that I’m almost never in the right mindset to watch it. While the new episodes were airing, I had a difficult time keeping up with the series because I couldn’t put myself into the frame of mind to watch something slow and atmospheric every week. To me, Mushishi isn’t the kind of show that’s meant to be marathoned or watched weekly, but the kind that I stash away like a fine wine, waiting for that special moment when I’m in the mood, and want to bask in that atmosphere. Full disclosure: I’ve never actually finished the first season of Mushishi, nor have I finished the second half of Mushishi Zoku Shou; and I kind of like it that way. It means that even now, I can put on a new episode of Mushishi that I’ve never seen before when I’m in just the right mood for it, and I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can remember what’s going on in the story.

If you enjoyed the first Mushishi at some point in the last eight years, then it goes without saying that you should check out the second one; and if you’ve never seen any of the series, then I recommend starting with season one, if only because the first episode is among the most memorable opening episodes of anime that I’ve ever seen. You can stream the first season legally through Funimation or Hulu, and the second season and its OVAs are on Crunchyroll.

Let me know what you thought of Mushishi Zoku Shou in the comments below, and in case you missed them, be sure and check out my videos on #16, Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis and Fastening Days, and #15, Ookii 1-nensei to Chiisana 2-nensei, and stick around on my channel to find out what my thirteenth-favorite anime of the year is tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #14. Mushishi Zoku Shou

  1. If you enjoyed the worst bits of season 2, then there’s no reason to short-change yourself and ignore the better half of the season or the first season. It explains why it’s merely at #13, because there’s no way someone who enjoys Mushishi would rank it below 13 other anime of 2014 otherwise. Do yourself a favor and finish the series, at your own pace.

    • “Individually, I don’t find a lot of the stories in Mushishi all that memorable, which is why I’m probably rating the series a bit lower than many other fans would”

      Honestly I feel like while Mushishi is an amazing tone piece, it doesn’t have enough of the density that I look for in anime to ever be among my higher favorites.

      • If you haven’t even seen the better episodes then you really wouldn’t know for sure. That’s the problem with watching an episodic series. I didn’t even enjoy the first half of this season all that much – it was “run of the mill” by Mushishi standards. But if I had stopped there then I would have definitely missed my favorite single episodes of anime this year.

        • I guess that’s a fair enough point, though I find it difficult to imagine, given the nature of the series, that even seeing its best episodes would make a significant impact in its placement on this list, for instance. Nonetheless, I’ll get around to it all eventually.

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