They are known as Mushi- a range of primitive life forms close to the ‘source’ of all living things. Most people cannot see them, but they exist all around us, and their effects are often labelled as supernatural or simply inexplicable phenomena. There are, however, a select few- known as Mushishi- who devote their lives to studying Mushi and dealing with the problems they cause. Ginko is one such Mushishi, and as he travels from place to place, he not only encounters many differents kinds of Mushi, but all the people whose lives have been affected by them.
Usually it is desirable for an anime to have (or at least attempt) some kind of ongoing plot, but every so often a worthy enough example comes along to demonstrate that is possible to have a successful series whilst remaining completely episodic. Mushishi is one such series, a collection of folk tales that just happen to be linked by the involvement of the main character.
On the surface, it would be easy to accuse Mushishi of being formulaic- apart from a handful of exceptions, each episode can easily be summarised as “mushi causes problems, Ginko arrives, Ginko solves problem”. Nonetheless, from this simple structure, Mushishi is able to create a myriad of interesting stories, from a mushi that continually devours the memories of its host, to one that infects a pregnant woman and regularly creates copies of the child she would have given birth to. As to be expected, there are a few weaker instalments, but the vast majority of episodes are nothing less than a high quality fusion of character drama and fantasy elements that never fail to disappoint.
Given the style of the series, it should come as no surprise that aside from Ginko himself, there isn’t really anything in the way of recurring characters. Each episode has its own cast of generic villagers, from likable personalities painted with simple yet well-defined strokes to the inevitable dull and featureless ones included to fill out the numbers. The laid back and easygoing Ginko is often more of a catalyst for the stories of others rather than a central figure in his own right, but there are nonetheless a handful of episodes that offers insights into his background.
Visually, Mushishi is never short on beautifully detailed pastoral settings, however in comparison the character designs suffer a little. Whilst there is nothing actually wrong with the simple and spare style used for the designs, the result is that practically all the one-shot characters look to have been cloned from the same family. Background musics covers a range of mystical and folk themes that perfectly enhance the atmosphere of the series, but are a little too spare and simplistic to make for good listening on their own.
A beautifully presented series of powerful and absorbing tales, Mushishi rarely fails to deliver on the high standard it sets for itself. If you enjoy an atmospheric story that always leaves you with something to think about, then Mushishi is highly recommended.