I remained as spellbound during the third disc of Mushi-shi as I did for the first two. Isn’t it around this point in the lifecycle (as it were) of most any anime series that things begin to drop off? Not here. This show is inexhaustibly fascinating.
In my earlier reviews for this series, I mentioned how this is a story about an ecosystem — about the cycle of life and death within a world. The closest thing we have to a protagonist in the show, the wandering and taciturn mushi-master named Ginko, has been quite deliberately kept at arm’s length from us. The show wasn’t really about his personality, but about the world he walked through and did his best to understand and help people cope with.xfuni=59 Or so it seemed, anyway. With the third disc Mushi-shi delves a little more deeply into Ginko himself — how he came to be like this, and why he makes the decisions he does. The second episode on the disc (#12 total) deals with explicitly Ginko’s origins. His name was once Yoki, and his family was killed in a landslide which he barely survived. A woman named Nui, herself a mushi-shi, takes Ginko in (however tentatively) and educates him about the mushi in the forest around them — especially the mushi that dwell in the pond and cause the fish there to only have one eye. Yoki himself has seen mushi on and off, never quite certain if they were real or simply his imagination, but what he sees in that place he soon finds impossible to ignore — and the more he learns about why Nui is in that particular forest (and near that particular pond), the more he is compelled to dig until all of Nui’s secrets are revealed.
That revelation marks him for life, and by the end of the episode we now have some inkling about why Ginko wanders as well. It’s not just that mushi follow him and make trouble for others, but for him to put down roots means to develop attachments to that many more things that can be lost. (Moreover, from that point on in the show, every time we look at Ginko we wonder if his cigarettes and low-hanging white forelocks are meant to be a kind of homage to his mentor.)
“One-Night Bridge” involves a girl who fell from a chasm-spanning rope bridge years ago and somehow survived, but is now strangely soulless and distant. Ginko correctly guesses the girl has been infected by a mushi — a rope-like mushi that, not coincidentally, also creates a bridge that spans the chasm one night every several years. The girl was planning to run away with a young man and lead what she believed to be a happier life with him, and the young man has felt increasingly guilty about what he engendered. What he cannot accept, however, is that the girl he loved simply does not exist anymore, and that he has been laboring under a dangerous delusion.
In “Inside the Cage,” Ginko finds himself trapped in a strange forest that seems to lead those who venture in there around in circles. It’s a mushi-trap, and what’s more Ginko finds a man and his wife and child who have become ensnared. Worse, it falls to Ginko to explain to the man that his child is the result of an unnatural union between his wife and a mushi in the form of a bamboo tree.
The more I watch this show, the more I realize just how timid and uncreative many anime are — how they’re willing to settle for violence and phony spectacle instead of showing us something really new and original. Mushi-shi shows us something new and original, not just once but again and again, and I cannot say that for any other show now running.