Mushi-Shi is a series that had been floating around the edges of my awareness for a long time it seemed, and one I finally sought out specifically only last year.
As part of my research I looked at blogs and posts from various sites that discussed the show as ‘underrated’ and it seems that over the years, Mushi-Shi has grown a lot more popular in western fandom. So much so that I think it’s no longer underappreciated and overlooked but instead it appears in more lists without the word ‘underrated’ attached at all, which is awesome.
And maybe I’m putting too much stock in what I’ve found online, but I think even before the second series was produced, that the popularity of Mushi-Shi was climbing steadily. And I’m obviously more than happy to recommend Ginko’s travels to nearly anyone reading this… that is, unless you have a hard time with episodic storytelling. However, if you dig that structure then you can also enjoy a beautiful, at times really pastoral and poetic series to go with those self-contained plots.
Mushi-Shi is full of fable-like episodes that seem to draw on equal parts Japanese folklore and creator Yuki Urushibara’s fantastic imagination, exploring the lives of regular and remarkable people in an almost-Edo-period-setting that includes lots of supernatural elements mixed in with the natural world.
For a change today I want to try a couple of different things, nothing drastic, but here’s five things I wanted to highlight, ranging from fairly micro-level to bigger picture stuff:
I hope Yūto Nakano, Ginko’s voice actor, is getting heaps of work, because I think a lot of his performance; it’s both calm and commanding. Superb change of pace if you’ve been on a shounen binge, for instance.
In terms of our hero’s costume you’ll notice that it’s almost anachronistic… but it is an alternate Japan, not a historical one. The obvious effect that choice has for me is that the coat really helps Ginko stand out – it’s a brilliant piece of costuming when most other people dress reasonably similar from village to village, yet it’s still unassuming which suits him so well (a quick comparison is below).
I’ve read reviews here and there that bemoan a ‘lack of character development’ in Mushi-Shi but I think that’s not a fair assessment of a series that often plays out like Detective Fiction. In such mysteries, the crimes/stories/settings change but the main character doesn’t because that’s not the purpose of an episodic show. Instead, I’d argue that Ginko has to appear ‘fully formed’ and stay stable, stay as much ‘himself’ as possible in order to help connect the episodes and add that extra cohesive element to the viewing experience.
Mushi-Shi is at times quite sombre, which isn’t to say it’s depressing but on the other hand, not every story has a happy – or sometimes even a completely happy ending, and so some fans tend to space out their viewing, and I certainly found that I watched it at a similar pace.
Finally, I think it’s possible that you won’t always be able to predict the way Ginko solves some of the problems he faces, which is a real gift in storytelling of any type.
Okay, so there’s that section sorted – and I wish I had more to say about Mushi-Shi actually. I perhaps don’t because, like a lot of well-known favourites out there, it feels impossible for me to add much in the way of new analysis or discussion. Even so, I found that I had to include my thoughts anyway, that’s what the blog is for, right? 😀
Some storylines and characters will stand out more than others for different folks, a bit like an anthology really, but here’s my favourite five episodes to finish off this write-up:
So, this was just a fleeting but fun meme doing the rounds on Twitter the other day but I didn’t end up posting there because I was too slow but also because the platform is rather ‘cramped’ when it comes to sharing reasons behind your choices 😀
And so, here’s that meme – the bare list first and then a few thoughts to go with it:
Anime I hate:I have no pithy answer here – so I’ll start with a nice ‘N/A‘
Anime I think is overrated:Anything
that has 200+ episodes
Anime I think is underrated: Mushi-Shi
Anime I love:Nadia
Secret of Blue Water
Anime I secretly love:Steins;Gate
Favourite anime of all time:Cowboy Bebop
Firstly, I don’t have much to report on the ‘anime I hate’ section because anything I haven’t enjoyed enough to continue watching… I didn’t continue watching, and so don’t have that much to say. I did do a short ‘Abandoned’ post a while back but I didn’t care enough to hate any of those shows, that’s for sure.
For the second item on the list I imagine you can guess the kinds of shows that I don’t have time for (literally and figuratively). If I’m feeling a bit grumpy I might even adjust that number to 100+ and yeah, I’m sure if I looked I’d find some exceptions quite easily… but for me, the risk to reward ratio is way off. More, the way a story ends is so, so important and obviously I hope, a show that eventually becomes more of a cash-cow* than an endeavour to tell a story, tends to dip sharply in quality all too soon and worse, fails to actually have an ending at all.
Now, in some ways calling Mushi-Shi ‘underrated’ might be a bit inaccurate as it’s highly regarded really, but certainly it tops few All-Time lists out there. I love Ginko, Yuto Nakano’s performance too and all the folktales woven throughout the episodic narrative. There’s a sombreness to the show too, which can even bring me down a little at times. Still, it’s my clear pick for the third item on the list.
For the ‘anime I love’ slot there are dozens of shows I could have included but today I went with Gainax’s lesser-known precursor to Neon Genesis – namely: Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water. No doubt I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a sucker for both the Adventure genre and Coming of Age stories too. I’m also sure at least a few anime fans are aware that Nadia has more than a few very obvious and painful filler episodes – but I’m able to both overlook and skip them. Eventually, I’ll do an episode/arc-based review on the series but for now, I’ll say that the slow reveal of the true darkness of some characters and the drip-feed of truth when it comes to their world really balances nicely against the optimism and determination of the young heroes.
‘Secretly’ isn’t quite right here but I chose Steins;Gate simply because I haven’t reviewed it yet (though I will sooner or later) so that’s as close as I could manage to a ‘secret’ show I love, I guess – though if I can come up with something that fits the implied criteria of embarrassing I’ll update this list 😀 In any event, Steins;Gate can really put you through the wringer – it’s got time-travel, drama, comedy and romance, all pluses!
And finally! I have to go with what some may well consider a boring choice here and go with Cowboy Bebop… mostly due to all the reasons in this post (and more reasons I haven’t got around to sharing yet!).
Update: Forgot to do this yesterday:
*Cash-cows serve that secondary purpose (financial security being the main) even if they become dull shows, because the money they earn a studio can then be used to produce works that are still great but might not appeal as widely, and also might not have ever been made without that income.