deconstructing mushishi

I’ve been promising a post on Mushishi for a while, and I wanted to it justice. It’s been a while since I have crossed paths with a series as unique as Mushishi, and I think I’m developing a man-crush on Ginko. Mushishi isn’t about splashy animation, giant robots, underaged fanservice, alien frogs, twincest assassins, romance between cousins, [insert typical anime cliche], hawt jungle luv, long stories, nor nekomimi meido. Yet… why does it appeal to me so much? My search for answers leads me to somewhere between light and darkness…


The Premise

The world is like ours, yet not like ours. Mushishi is set in an alternate 19th century Japan that is closed off from the outside world (as explained by Manga-Screener‘s translator). In this world, there exists these beings that are life, death, and everything in between: mushis. As the Ginko explained, they are both in the shadows and exist between light and darkness. Think of the mushis as magical creatures that only a chosen few can see yet everyone interacts with them in the tapestry of life. Every episode brings yet another mushi into the spotlight… they can range from the malicious to the benign to the complex to the straightforward. The whole premise is simple yet elegant, and it reeks of something Miyazaki would have done twenty years ago… and not surprising, the theme for Mushishi isn’t unlike an earlier Miyazaki movie.


The Theme

Using this concept of mushis living in the world, Mushishi proports that they are potentially dangerous creatures that are best avoided and ignored. Unwitting interaction between human and mushi usually brings trauma and doom to that person. It reminded me of the spores in Nausicaa… only the humans knew and could see the poisonous plants in that movie. Yet, they share a common theme because Nausicaa, like Ginko, sees the noumenal plants and mushis differently than everyone else. Instead of eradicating or completely avoid the dangerous elements, they choose instead to co-exist with these elements the best they can. Ginko is unique in this fashion as because he can see the mushis, he is an epopt in the study of mushis… a mushishi, almost like a doctor for those afflicted by mushis. However, unlike his compatriots, he would rather find a balance between humans and mushis instead of killing the mushis outright and is highlighted nicely in Tanyuu’s story.

Tanyuu’s ancestor was cursed by a mushi, and the curse continues to her. The way to seal this mushi and the curse is to write stories of mushis being killed, so her family sends for mushishis to come and tell her stories. But after writing so much about the killing of these mushis, she began to have thoughts about the right to do such things… to the point where she almost breaks down and refuses to hear yet another mushi death story anymore. Until she meets Ginko, who, in perfect Ginko-nature, starts telling her stories about living with mushis instead of killing them. Besides showcasing how Ginko isn’t just any mushishi, this action also spotlights how Ginko earned major points with yet another woman and brings us to…


“I’m developing a man-crush on Ginko.”

Mushishi is really a cast of three. It seems like every episode or story features Ginko, a mushi, and some random woman caught in a mushi’s grasp. Like Jing and Kino, Ginko leaves a girl behind every town he visits. Besides dressing up like an Eddie Bauer model (I still have no clue where he gets the clothes, other than “he used a mushi to time travel to 2006”), Ginko is quite a helpful individual. While earning a living and making some money is his primary focus as a mushishi, he does extend a helping hand to quite a few people on this travels. In fact, he’ll even butt into random conversations if he overhears and thinks a mushi could be involved. He’s also quite dependable, and it has earned him a spot in the hearts of various ladies in the show, including Tanyuu and Suzu.

Suzu had a little brother who would wander off in the dead of winter and would later be found asleep and wouldn’t wake up until spring. He can see the mushis, and one snowy day, Ginko stumbled into a storm and sought shelter in their house. He wasn’t planning to stay, but after hearing about the little brother, he decided to stay a bit and teach him about mushis. The boy wanders off again and falls into a deep sleep– caused by a mushi that can spring life even in the depths of winter and lures animals there to be trapped. During and after the case, Suzu asks Ginko to stay more than once. But Ginko, citing that if he stays too long, he’ll just attract mushis and become problematic (is mushis like power of existance in this regard… can’t have too much, can’t have too little?) and moves on. It fittingly paralleled the episode’s plot as it was the inviting mushi that laid the trap for the poor boy (and eventually Ginko) to stay and sleep.

Ginko himself is not a complex character. Mysterious, yes, but his motives are rarely hidden– he wants to help others and is dependable in his role of a paraclete. While some may look at how he withholds information sometime as stingy or even harmful (like when he initially did not tell the man whose dreams came true that there was no cure), he tells people enough and hopes that they make the right choices. Sometimes, they do. Sometimes, they don’t. Whether or not the people act properly with regard the mushis, even with Ginko’s guidance, is one of Mushishi‘s great draws for me is that every episode is suspenseful in how every incident is resolved and that is a big component of the series.



The suspense from each story really sets Mushishi apart. It’s rare to see episodic anime these days, and it’s rarer to find one dependant on a forumla that manages to stay fresh and entertaining. After all, how many episodes of Law and Order: Loli Demon Revenge Unit does it take to figure out every single other episode? But does have a running story over 50 episodes really better than having 50 stories one episode each? Mushishi makes a strong case for 50 stories… each story is unique in how it is told, presented, and concluded, but each is unmistakably Mushishi. Every story has Ginko travelling to some new village where he meets people in help due to a mushi. He explains the background for the mushi and, if a cure or remedy exists, he tries to administor it. He leaves… comes back a year later… and we’re presented with the results.

Saying rinse and repeat with that forumla almost serves Ginko and the mushis injustice as even though there’s no story greater than 30 minutes and no characters other than Ginko and his collector buddy showing up more than twice, every story is told uniquely. Sometimes, the focus is on the victim. Sometimes, the focus is on the mushi. Sometimes, the focus is on Ginko. Sometimes, Ginko only appears for a brief cameo. But every episode has its own kind of suspense and mystery as to the outcome. It’s very rare watch two episodes and get the same feeling or mood from both, and a big part of that is the ending for every story is not always easily seen.

For example, one episode had a girl, Ayoka, who was being controlled by her father using a mushi living in a flower. The father exploited her while she is under the mushi’s effects, and a boy who is in love with the girl implored Ginko to help her. Between trying to rid the mushi from the girl and not getting killed by her father, it made for a suspenseful ride to the finish, yet the ending isn’t exactly predictable when watching it… yet perfectly logical after seeing it. It’s the anti-Mai Otome.


Ginko’s Fables

Another reason why each episode can be so familiar yet seem so different is that each has a slight variation on the theme. While there is a very holistic approach to dealing with mushis, and, extrapolated, our own interactions with nature, each episode seems to have its own sub theme. Tanyuu’s story, for example, wasn’t just about her curse with the mushi, but also how she perservered and survived through such odds. A never say never spirit. For Suzu, it was about how humans can be lured into false comforts, as illustrated both by the mushi and Suzu herself. For Ayoka, it was ultimately about how ignorance can be bliss. For Tagane, it was about how to let go of the past. She was an ink stone maker who accidentially used a mushi into one of her stones, and the side effect of using this stone/mushi ended up hurting and killing more than just a few people including her fiancee. Because of this tragedy, she gives up her promising career in ink stone making… at least as promising of a career as making ink stones can be. In typical Ginko fashion, he helps her exoricise the mushi from her stone, and he eggs her into continuing her trade.

Ultimately, all of the themes tie together like a collection of fables. In fact, the bittersweet nature of most of the stories remind me of a mix of O Henry and Aesop. Whenever I watch Mushishi, I always feel like it’s trying to teach me something… goad me into learning some lesson… lecture me in life. Nevertheless, Ginko does it so subtly, so stealthily, so secretly, the lectures don’t feel like lectures, and they end up making me beg for more. The point of the show isn’t really about the mushis or Ginko but how everyone responds to the lesson that the mushi and Ginko inflicts and imparts on them… like typical human nature, not everyone does the right or the wrong thing. For a series based in the premise of these mystical mushis, it’s a very human story. And that’s the answer the appeal of Mushishi.

16 Responses to “deconstructing mushishi”

  1. Yeah, I totally dig this series. Too bad eps 21 and beyond will only come out in May. I’ve read the manga too and most of the stories are in the anime.

  2. i love this series but its so confusing!
    we watched it in the anime club at my college!

  3. This series grabbed me in right from the beginning. The first episode had such big impact, and that first episode remains as my favorite. I also liked the winter hibernating brother story.
    I’m one of those people who enjoyed watching Kino no tabi, and this series surpasses Kino over the top.
    The series has very Miyazaki feel to it minus the flying theme and young female protagonist…

  4. an anime like no other, is what i’d like to say for mushishi. Episode 8 (umisakai) had the greatest impression on me >> i watched it twice, and was awed by how the writers can inflict that certain something that felt like an utter ‘wow’ in me. and yes, long enough i watched repetitive cliches and finally i found something genuine.

  5. I really enjoyed Mushishi. I like how you commented it’s the anti-Mai Otome, because I just fished with Mai Otome and I was looking for something different. That’s when I found Mushishi.

    Lastly,Great review. Been awhile since I’ve read a decent review. :o)

  6. Wow – you said it perfectly! I’ve been mesmerized by this series from the beginning.

    Is there any hope of finding more anime like this? (So tired of kawaiii crap & boys with powers that can be countered by special “other” powers … uhhhggg.)


  7. Fantastic write-up. I’ll be a regular reader heretofore.

  8. I’m encouraged that Funimation has licensed this series, as I think it will appeal to more of a niche market and maybe open up others to it. We played the first two episodes at the school’s anime club and people were sucked into it.

    And the sound work on it is amazing. It wasn’t until we were watching it on a big projcetor that I really realized it, but the minimalist music and foley work is absolutely amazing and the best I’ve heard in an anime.

  9. Funimation! I don’t know if that’s a good thing? I’ve heard that Funimation does a crapy job. I love Mushishi so I really really hope that do a good job on it!

  10. This is an amazing overview. Thank you for writing it.

  11. I’ve only seen up to ep 6 and I’m already in lurve (Ginko looks so huggable @_@)!! By the second episode I realized how Miyazaki this show was. I always take my time to enjoy anime like these (they don’t come around too often!). I’m sure everyone’s tired of anime overflowing with battle scenes/races/whathaveyou, random humor (which sometimes is frankly not funny), fanservice, whatever. Now, some anime do manage to execute these things fairly well using their own personal touch, but once you get down to the basics your really watching the same thing over and over! It might become detrimental to your very love of anime[gasp!]

    Oh, ja. Why is it that no one ever seems that interested in the anime that really stand out? For example, I can’t get anyone to watch Noein!

  12. Great review! I agreed with what you said 100%
    And, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with comicon (San Deigo)…but, some of the comments talked about exposing more people to Mushishi by way of Funimation. You’ll be happy to know that Funimation is why Mushishi got its own time slot at comicon! as far as exposer goes, that’s pretty big I think. so, w00t for Mushishi!

  13. Isn’t it discouraging how this post gets nowhere as many comments as posts for, say, otome wa boku? Sure, they bring different things to the table, but… I have to say it. Mushishi deserves more love in my opinion.

    At least its ranking in ANN is high. There’s hope for humanity yet.

  14. This series seems pretty interesting.

  15. If anything, Mushishi has gotten the love it deserves now. It has an OVA this year and a whole new second season. I read the manga and am rejoicing in the new anime. The style is similar, but a bit more detailed. It’s all still so refreshing. I love the human nature part of the anime/manga.

  16. I may be a few years late, but the way you explain it really tied me and makes me more than usually have a crush on Ginko. Of course he have a spot in my hearts too haha.. Anyway it’s was great to hear this! thank you for your amazing review!

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