A show this good should not have to end.
And yet here we are at the sixth and final disc of Mushi-shi, as beautiful and original an anime as any I could ever dare to ask for, and I feel downright glum knowing there’s no more after this. There is the manga, courtesy of Del Rey, which I’ll be getting around to reviewing before too much longer, but this series works so well as anime, is so lush and evocative, I fear reading the manga is going to feel like a step down.
Don’t expect anything like a real climax, though. The final disc of Mushi-shi does not bring anything to a definitive end, because this series has never been about definitive beginnings and endings in the first place. It’s about the flow of life itself, which doesn’t start or conclude anywhere but is simply something you dip into and out of as your time on earth allows. I was worried the show would devolve into a manufactured conflict with some great enemy — maybe a sinister mushi-master who’s creating an army to do his bidding, etc. — but thankfully, nothing of the kind happens.xfuni=59
Mushi-shi hasn’t been about plot, anyway, but it has been at least incrementally about character — specifically, Ginko, the itinerant “mushi master” who’s the focus of the show. He has made it his life’s business to learn as much as he can about these curious, quasi-supernatural beings called mushi and how they affect and are affected by human life. And one of the biggest things he’s learned is that sometimes there are no easy solutions, no “cures” for what might ail us — not unless the cycle of existence itself is an illness.
further we go into the show, the more this conceit comes to the fore,
along with a fairly strong but never heavy-handed ecological message.
Mankind can live in harmony with his world and make good use of it, but
only so long as he doesn’t act out of arrogance. The main episode this
time around that deals with this idea, “The Journey to the Field of
Fire,” shows Ginko meeting with another (female) mushi master and
disagreeing with her about the best way to deal with a mushi unsealed
from a rock and now infesting an entire patch of farmland. Her approach
is to burn it, but Ginko realizes this will only create more problems
than it solves — and indeed, it does. The female master’s huge storehouse
of mushi-related information doesn’t help her; she’s blinded by her
certainty that her solution is best.
Two other episodes deal with another constant theme, the way mushi change human life. In “The Sound of Rust,” a mushi infects a girl’s voice and causes the sound of her speech to spread a strange fungus-like rot on everything (and everyone) in earshot; in “Eye of Fortune, Eye of Misfortune,” a mushi grants a blind girl sight but at the cost of her being able to see far more than society can deal with. With Ginko’s help she’s able to achieve something like peace, but at the cost of her eyesight once more — although, by then, she’s been living without it for so long that it’s not much of a loss. The very last episode, “The Sound of Footsteps on the Grass,” tracks back in time to Ginko’s youth, but at first has nothing to do with him directly; instead, it gives us a village with a waterfall and a mushi within it — the “Guardian,” as he’s called — that looks like a catfish with grass growing from its gills. Two young boys — one a villager, the other part of a wandering mushi-shi troupe — are divided by circumstance, their lives shaped (and reshaped) by the influence of both mushi and human activity. One of the members of the troupe is a young Ginko, and years later he re-forges a connection, however tentative, between the two of them. No big crashing revelations, because none are needed: there’s just the sense that life will continue, as it always has, and as it always does. It’s probably the most fitting way to end a series this thoughtful and mind-expanding, and it leaves the door open for the possibility of more episodes in the future. One can hope.
Aside from being gorgeous to look at and elegantly unhurried, Mushi-shi is one of the few shows out there that embodies its intentions. It doesn’t try to inject false excitement into what’s going on; it doesn’t manufacture conflicts that don’t really need to be there; it just shows us what we need to see and lets us make up our own minds. The real wonder of it is that it has been like that all the way down the line. This was one of the best releases for all of 2007, and it may well turn out to be one of the best for all of 2008 as well.