26 episodes was pretty much the standard for anime back when I first became a huge fan. I’d guess (no, I haven’t counted) that 80% of series in the first six or seven years of the 21st Century were at least two cours, and most two-cour anime had this episode count. Nowadays two-cour series are the exception, and most of them are 24 or 25 episodes. It’d fitting, because Joujuu Senjin!! Mushibugyou feels very much like a relic of another time. And thank goodness for that.
I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from this finale, because Mushibugyou is a show that delivers on expectations most of the time. It isn’t long on surprises, and what surprises there have been are generally at just how good it is. I figured we’d get a major showdown between Jinbei and Yukimura, I figured everyone else (even Mugai) would pitch in and then cede the spotlight, and I figured it would be Jinbei’s relentless faithfulness that restored Kuroageha’s memories (and that we wouldn’t see any real romantic development). And the finale delivered on all fronts.
As usual, what sets Mushibugyou apart is not what it invents, but how well it executes. There’s not a lot here that we haven’t seen in shounen many times, but it’s not often brought up with this much feeling and impact. It’s also brought off with a very lively and attractive visual style, outstanding voice work and a great soundtrack. If that sounds like a simple formula, it is, but it fits such a straightforward show as this. And having a main character like Jinbei fits like a glove too, because it’s his uncomplicated courage, loyalty and compassion that form the spine of the series. And it fits a character like that to scream the unpretentious signature line of dialogue “Ohayo gouzaimasu!!” at his greatest moment of triumph.
As great as this show is at the basics of Shounen 101, the one element that does consistently take it beyond those boundaries is the relationship between Jinbei and Princess Naa, brought to life superbly by Kenn and Han Megumi. They’re one of the best-matched seiyuu pairings in years (perhaps that’s why they’re being re-teamed in Neppu Kairiki Bushiroad – if we ever get any actual anime out of it) and they really nail the essence of each character. Jinbei is superficially a pretty generic shounen hero, but he’s more than that – rather than generic, he’s actually iconic. Iconic, not ironic – a relative lack of irony is one of the things that makes this show feel so retro – and Jinbei is so believably pure, honest and dedicated to the samurai way of chivalry that he comes to personify everything we like about the classic shounen lead.
As for Kuroageha, it starts with a gorgeous character design and that great performance by
Gon Han Megumi, but it’s the way her character is written that makes her arc really pop. I love pathos in a character arc, and Princess Naa’s is bursting with it, starting with her origin story (revealed late, but pretty easy to guess early on). She’s a good person who’s become a slave to a fate she didn’t ask for, torn between two sides who need her but with no one that loves her. Relationships that are built around the redemptive power of one character’s belief in the other are often some of the best in anime, and Jinbei and Naa’s is one of the best this year. It’s not a romance in the classic sense of the word (though she obviously loves him in that way) but it is a love affair of the soul. I could watch the two of them all day long, and it was when Kuroageha became a prominent player in the story that Mushibugyou really took it to the next level.
As to that finale, as I said it delivered pretty much what you’d have expected so there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. I felt a little bad for Yukimura, starting with the fact that he had to fight the decisive battle in boxer shorts, but also because I think his character was sold a little short both by his origin story and his demise. But he’s not the point here, Jinbei and Naa are, and there moments were pretty glorious. The finale was full of terrific action, but the best moment was when Mothman-Jinbei, trying to inhale as much of Kuroageha’s poison as possible to help her regain her memories, hugged her sanity back into her before collapsing. I also liked the montage at the end, where the original OP (my favorite of the two) played over a series of vignettes depicting the heroes’ return to Edo. It may be anime-original (or so they tell me) but it’s a great shounen ending.
That ending pretty much seals the deal on any chance of a second season, but that never seemed like a real possibility anyway. I was happy to get 26 episodes, and Mushibyou told a compelling story that felt complete in them, even if it left us with a few mysteries unsolved. It’s been a long road for me with this series, which I picked up despite a few poor reviews and a lot of general disinterest because there was just something about it which appealed to me, right from the beginning. It has a timeless quality about it, much as shows like Blood Lad and Majestic Prince do, and it’s nice to have those sorts of series on any anime schedule. And it’s yet more proof that one of the worst ways to judge a show’s merit is by how much attention it gets.