If there is an animé seires any fan of the medium should see, it’s Mushi-Shi. Not because of ground breaking action scenes or a host of lovable characters, but for a, poetically delivered, take on the concept of life. The series is a bizarre exploration of existence, borrowing deftly from three schools of thought on the subject, to offer viewers an – almost educational – glimpse into the supernatural realm.
Based on a Manga series written and illustrated by Yuki Urushibara, the animé had a 26 episode run from 2005 to 2006. With a second season, Mushi-Shi: Zoku Shō. first airing in 2014. The series was first brought to life by director, Hiroshi Nagahama, for the animation house, Artland. Later licensed by Funimation and various other firms for international distribution.
The show has garnered critical acclaim for its surreal atmosphere and unique storyline. Set in a time between the Meiji and Edo era’s of Japanese history, the narrative centers around a fellow known as Ginko. Ginko works as a Mushi-Shi, or Mushi Master, who traverses the countryside, helping people who find themselves affected by Mushi. Ethereal creatures, which possess otherworldly abilities that can either be beneficial or detrimental to humans (in a symbiotic, or parasitic kind of way).
Capable of affecting nature, Mushi are said to be the most primitive form of life and are invisible to most people. With the exception of Ginko,who possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the entities. Ginko also attracts Mushi for some reason, and is therefore always smoking to keep them away.
Episodes of the show follow no main overarching narrative, but rather, play out like a textbook of Mushi related cases, with Ginko and the Mushi being the only constants. The character serves as the tour guide through this bizarre, dreamlike, exploration of the very concept and functional parameters of life.
The show borrows a great deal from Japanese folklore, with Mushi suggestively being fingered as the root of such myths. The Shinto faith also has a noticeable influence on the storyline. The ancient faith believes that all natural forces, wind, water, mountains, plants, animals etc, are all connected to a single spiritual source, or kami.
Japanese Taoist philosophy also seems to play a big role in the development of the story, as nature is a central theme in the tale. Taoist belief is similar to Shinto, except that it puts emphasis on water as being an example of Taoism as work. Water is gentle, nourishes life, and constantly adapts to the shape of its path. Ginko gives viewers a glimpse of life itself, in one episode, depicted as the Kouki, a river of light, said to be the birthplace of Mushi.
There are times when the series seems to be trying to give us an idea of how people explained diseases and other ailments, in a time before science revealed the microbiological world, with the invention of the microscope. Mushi-Shi is unoffensively bizarre, artistically surreal and gently prods one to consider more deeply, the very nature of existence itself.