By Kathleen Townsend
There is no other anime quite like Mushi-Shi, a well-paced, leisurely animation that displays the beauty and ferocity of nature. Its haunting, minimalist soundtrack perfectly echoes the world Ginko forever travels. It’s beautiful, and it’s tragic.
I found myself completely engrossed in the original 26-episode series in a way I’d never been before. At first, I chalked my newfound love of Mushi-Shi up to the basics—a beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous animation, and a great slice of life story. But Mushi-Shi is much more than what it may appear to be on its surface.
It’s familiar, yet nostalgic. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but it quickly became clear: Every episode is a fairy tale, a how-to on living peacefully among neighbors with differing ideologies in a wild, natural world full of rage that doesn’t quite care for its human inhabitants.
The relationship between mushi and humans
Mushi, we are told, represent life at its most basic. Despite their otherworldliness, they aren’t truly supernatural creatures.
There aren’t any spirits, demons or gods in the world of Mushi-Shi. Mushi are simply creatures that can be found everywhere. They are sometimes tiny, almost microscopic creatures, while others are the size of a large swamp. They often go unseen by humans, but they’re an integral part of the world—a force than can never be completely removed.
Humans and mushi live in the same space despite having very different and sometimes contradictory existences. The anime illustrates this clash of human and mushi—the natural world at its most basic components and humans trying to thrive in it.
Through no real fault of their own, mushi can have a negative impact on humanity. Mushi aren’t malicious or capricious beings. They’re simply trying to survive. Still, humans are sometimes hurt or frightened by them. Like all humans facing danger, characters we meet in the series lash out against the mushi and each other.
The mission of Ginko, the mushi master
Mushi masters are people attuned to the mushi, able to see them when most cannot and trained in how to deal with mushi-related issues. Many mushi masters focus only on saving humans, culling mushi in the name of safety.
Ginko, our main character, isn’t like other mushi masters. He is a healer, but not a fighter. His goal is peaceful coexistence. This is something often taught through education, teaching one person, one family or one village about the specific mushi that share their world.
Ginko travels the country, never staying in one place too long since mushi are attracted to him like moths to a flame. He goes where he’s needed, helping people with their troubles.
Peaceful coexistence is Ginko’s ultimate goal, while healing both humans and mushi caught up in one another’s separate lives in the process.
An incredible slice of life
Mushi-Shi is a master class of slice of life. There isn’t a drawn-out, over-arching plot, and the only constants from one episode to the next is Ginko himself and the lesson he teaches. Each episode is essentially standalone.
That means you can watch Mushi-Shi and MUSHI-SHI The Next Passage out of order and it won’t affect your enjoyment or knowledge of the story. It can be consumed all at once or one episode at a time over the course of months.
No matter how you choose to watch it, every episode of this anime hits hard and strong. Each one shares a quiet, beautiful melancholy. Yet, every episode is unique and memorable all the same.
An atmospheric fairy tale
Traditional fairy tales are often short stories that teach lessons, but they are tales streaked with darkness and horror, especially in their original forms. The original Grimm’s Fairy Tales are dark—much darker than children’s movies and picture books let on.
Like fairy tales, each episode of Mushi-Shi is its own story, containing its own moral. These morals are often learned the hard way. There’s loss, tears and struggle along the path to knowledge. Many fairy tales highlight what happens when the folly of man clashes with the cruelty of nature.
But this is what makes Mushi-Shi so captivating. We’re watching fairy tales, the sort of stories that touch a little part of your soul even when you’re too young to fully understand why.
Hope in the face of sadness
Fairy tales have hard lessons. So does Mushi-Shi. Yet, despite the darkness and melancholy that pervades so many episodes, the anime never becomes depressing.
Instead, we leave each episode with a smile. A strange sort of peace lingers long after the episode finishes…
Ginko heals humans and mushi alike. Armed with knowledge, the science of how the world of Mushi-Shi works, humans and mushi can live together in relative harmony. No matter what, Ginko fights for peace.
Even if there isn’t peace now, we’re comforted by the fact that there can be, and that there is a way for us foolish humans to live with the wild chaos of nature and one another.
In other words, finding hope in the face of sadness, and promise in the quiet beauty of the series.