The second volume of Mushi-shi continues the same magical atmosphere conjured up so wonderfully on the first disc,and that atmosphere was a big part of the reason for watching this showin the first place. And now that the show’s nailed down the basics—themysterious organisms called mushi, and the wanderer named Ginkowho knows their secrets and aids others in dealing with them—it’s nowstarting to expand on the original premise and use it as an arena foreven deeper things. The stories are not really about the mushi, but thepeople who come into contact with them—good, bad, indifferent,ambitious flawed, what have you—and how they are changed by theexperience. It wouldn’t be wide of the mark to talk about the show as akind of environmentalist parable: We all bear some responsibility forour effects on our world; it’s madness for us to simply use itthoughtlessly and not learn to coexist wisely with it. And finally, theshow continues to deliver one lushly beautiful image after another,like a living storybook. It’s the sort of show you could just watchwith the sound off, like a piece of video art, but then you’d miss outon the poetic dialogue and Toshio Masuda’s spare, precisegamelan-and-piano score.
The five episodes on disc 2 do seem to be more explicitly concernedwith the effects mushi have on societies and people-in-the-specific,instead of just being ruminations on the different ways mushi canmanifest. In “Those Who Inhale the Dew,” the inhabitants of a smallisland habitually designate on of their own as a “living god,” one whocan heal ills and perform miracles at no small personal cost. Thecurrent living god, a girl named Akoya, doesn’t understand that herpowers are due to a mushi—and her father doesn’t even understand thather powers are real (he’s still convinced the miracles she can work areentirely due to the power of suggestion). To uncover the truth of thematter means running the risk of disrupting the balance of things onthe island—it means destroying one way of life and replacing it withanother, something that never happens without pain.
In “Raindrops and Rainbows,” Ginko crosses paths with aman who is quite literally chasing rainbows: his father ran into amushi that manifested as a rainbow, and has since acquired his father’sown obsession with capturing a rainbow. Ginko spells out the differencebetween the mushi he’s chasing and a real rainbow, and the way theepisode plays out is less about the dynamics of the mushi and moreabout the way burdens are transmitted, sometimes unthinkingly andcarelessly, across the generations.
“Where Sea Meets Man” uses the presence of the mushi as aplot device to explore the estrangement between a husband and a wife,and also touches on an idea we’ve seen explored elsewhere in theseries—the notion that mushi have their own sense of time, and thingsthat unfold on one timescale to human beings are taking place in anentirely different way for both mushi and those under their spell. Themushi in “The Heavy Seed” are used to address questions similar to theones in “Dew”—can a society that has become dependent on an injusticeto survive ever completely change? In this case, it involves a villagewhose harvest depends on someone becoming a sacrificial victim ofsorts, a cycle where the mushi play an intimate part. And in episode10, “The White Which Lives Within the Ink Stone,” an artisan has todeal with the consequences of having unthinkingly employed a mushi inone of her pieces of work.
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