First Impressions – Mushishi Zoku Shou

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God’s in his Heaven, and all’s right with the world.  Mushishi’s back.

OP: “Shiver” by Lucy Rose

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Mushishi is back – and it’s still the same masterpiece it ever was.  How can you put something like that into words?  It’s rare enough in anime to get a sequel almost a decade after a series has left the airwaves, rarer still when it’s one of the very best anime of all-time.  There was really no reason to think that things wouldn’t be the same – this series is continuing where the first left off in adapting the magnificent manga by Urushibara Yuki (it will do so in two split cours), and almost all of the original staff are returning – but still, until that first episode aired there was always going to be the tiniest sliver of doubt.  Would the Fates really allow something so wonderful to happen?

Truth is, I saw the premiere a few weeks ago at Anime Japan (with a live appearance by Nakano Yuuto) so I already had a pretty good idea that we were all right.  But those were tough conditions – a screaming loud hall at Big Sight, no subtitles – and all I could really tell is that it looked the same.  Still, that’s important, because if there was any aspect of the revival that was in doubt it was the production values.  Artland hasn’t exactly had a string of successes since Mushishi, and the Hihamukage TV special showed a few signs of corner-cutting (CGI in Mushishi, for example).  But this episode looked better than the special, no question – in fact, I’d say it was basically indistinguishable from the original.  That’s a compliment to how great this show looked in 2005 as much as anything.

I mentioned in my post on the Hoozuki no Reitetsu finale that it was a great example of a studio and director using the advantages of their medium to make a great manga even better, and Mushshi is another case in point.  Start with the OP – once again, it’s a gorgeous English (the country, not just the language) acoustic folk ballad.  There’s the casting of Nakano-san as Ginko – he’s utterly unique and irreplaceable – and the added realism of using mostly unknown actors and casting the many child parts mostly with real children.  There’s Doi Mika’s affecting narration and the superb soundtrack by Masuda Toshio.  All of this in concert affirms the impression that Mushishi just isn’t like any other series.  It bears a certain spiritual kinship with Natsume Yuujinshou – I think of it as a more austere, reflective cousin – but in truth, Mushishi can’t really be compared to anything else.

This episode begins Zoku Shou as a sort of symbolic handoff from the first series – combining elements from the premiere and the finale.  The experience of watching Mushishi can be akin to meditation – you find your conscious thought process stopping and you immerse yourself in the moment, only becoming aware of the emotional power after the fact – and this was one of the more reflective chapters director Nagahama Hiroshi (let’s just pretend Aku no Hana never happened and call him a genius) could have chosen as an opener.  Very often Mushishi ventures into the realm of the tragic, usually with children involved – though always with great restraint – but this is more of a gentle passage back into the world of mushi and the humans who live their lives in concert with them.

Sake has always been an important element in Mushishi (as it is in Shinto), and kouki – the glowing, golden nectar that is but isn’t sake – was a crucial element in the first series’ premiere.  Here we meet a young sake brewer named Rokusuke (Uemura Yuuto) who introduces himself to us by introducing us to his father.  When he was the brewmaster (he’s since fallen ill, we later discover) he became lost in the woods and stumbled upon what we know (but he doesn’t) is a gathering of Mushishi.  The ever-refilling cup of the series premiere makes a re-appearance (as does Isaza, the young Mushishi who follows the River of Light, whom we met in the finale), and Rokusuke’s father snuck into the party last night in order the try that magical elixir.

In the present, the young Rokusuke, desperate to recapture the magic of his father’s brewing mastery, resorts to trying wild yeasts when changing the rice and water fails to make a difference (any fan of Belgian beer can tell you the amazing powers of wild yeasts).  One of those yeasts produces a mysterious golden sake, which Rokusuke samples on his way to bring some to his ill father, hoping for a miracle recovery.  After doing so he can see strange things – strange lights dancing in the air, tendrils clinging to him and grabbing at his sake jar.  And he too stumbles on a strange gathering of strange people in the woods late at night before being approached by the blonde-haired Ginko (Nakano Yuuto).

What Ginko eventually figures out is that what he’s mistaken for Kouki is in fact Rokusuke’s sake – but made with a mushi called Sumitsutou rather than yeast.  It’s so good it’s fooled the choosy Mushi Shoujounohige (Beautiful Girl’s Beard) who normally only drink Kouki itself.  There’s some trouble with the Mushishi after Rokusuke unwittingly trades some of his sake under the guise of Kouki, but Ginko (who’s one hell of a problem solver) handles it easily enough.  He tells Rokusuke that he’ll let him off if he promises never to sell the sake to the general public, but that he’ll tell his fellow Mushishi about it.  While a sake that allows muggles to see Mushi could cause all sorts of problems, for a Mushishi it could be invaluable.

In the end, what matters most here (as is so often the case with this series) isn’t the specifics of the plot but the strong emotions of the people Ginko meets and the intensity of the experiencing of falling into this world.  When Rokusuke’s father tells his son that sake is a “living thing”, and when that son tells his father that he doesn’t care about Kouki, he just wants to re-create what his father did, we completely understand on an elemental level.  Mushishi is all about the mysteries of the universe and of the human heart, and the places where they intersect.  There’s just no other series that can gently draw you into its sensory and emotional world the way Mushishi can – I’ve missed it, and it truly feels like a miracle to have it back.

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ED Sequence:

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End Card:

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  1. t

    that was terrific.

    many years passed by, but Mushishi hasn't lost its charm, not even a little.
    animation has certainly improved in the last decade and we can see it in mushishi 2nd season too. although animation is much more modern, Mushishi preserved its uniqueness in animation and all, and is still able to induce the right atmosphere for that era.

    choosing the "shining sake" as 1st episode isn't something random. it's so smart choice. in this episode, there is some sort of festival and/or ceremony to mushi-shi people that revolves around that shining sake. and there is this man who follows in his father steps but also in his own dream for the sake of sake (hope you got the joke :-P). and the episode just flowed like the sake is poured to the glass. the mystery and the's all so mushishi – mysterious, magical, touching.

    I was really moved by this episode as the opening one. it was so right complex. and you see it's a smart choice, since adapting the episodes isn't necessary in respectful order to the manga chapters. and it felt so right… truly terrific.

    great review Enzo. really looking forward your next reviews in mushishi.

  2. A

    I absolutely loved the way the show just picked up the reins and carried on from the previous series like the last eight years had never happened. The new OP was brilliant too, I'd been wondering what it was going to be.

    But I'm not going to pretend Aku no Hana never happened. That was one of my favourite shows of the last year and stands for me as another reason why Nagahama Hiroshi is a great director.

    But back on topic, this is unparalleled work and it's so good to see it back!

  3. K

    I revere every bit of sublimity involved in Mushishi. Yuki Urushibara is irrefutably a creative writer, and Hiroshi Nagahama on the other hand is a really crafty director when it comes to adaptation (well, Aku no Hana in exclusion). With Toshio Masuda's beautifully somber musical pieces and Nanako Yuuto's great performance as Ginko, this episode does feel as if a production pause hasn't even occurred, and this only makes me more compelled to see the latter volumes of the manga transitioned with Artland's animation. The OP also befits the series' serene ambiance, although not as excellent as "The Sore Feet Song."

    Since I haven't rewatched some of the first season's episodes lately, have there been lots of still images and closeups before? If there were, that probably speaks of the budget restrictions, but it's still an amazing premiere nonetheless.

    I always fancy reading your thoughtful posts, Enzo, and I rarely write responses. However, Mushishi's magnificence is persuasive enough to spark appreciation in words. 😀

  4. t

    Aku no Hana's adaption is admirable in that it takes the source material and becomes its own thing. Having read the manga until Volume 9 however, there is no way the style Hiroshi Nagahama chose is suitable for what follows.

    I truly wish I didn't read the rest of the Mushishi manga as the anime is the rare masterpiece which improves upon the source material; draws out its flavour. There's no way I could have known Mushishi would come back 8 years later though, 4 years after I decided to read the remaining half of the series.

  5. B

    I'm so happy that this spectacular show is back. And i'm even more happy that i started this season by watching this! i just hope that this season, at least one or two other shows get close to this level.

  6. K

    I love Mushishi, it's my favorite series and even though I love the manga too I think it is one of the few cases where an anime is both faithful to the source material and adds something to it to. This first episode was great in almost every way except (and maybe it is a false perception) I didn't feel the art direction was up to the standards of the 1st season.

  7. M

    *dusts off beret*

    "let's just pretend Aku no Hana never happened and call him a genius"

    No, that would be insincere and snobbish. Aku no Hana is nothing to sniff at – the show is as stylistically resolved as anything Nagahama Hiroshi has done since Mushi-shi. Never hear you sing his praises for his other work (which is queer in itself of course), but seems clear that the inability to appreciate/understand his vision outside of your evaluative range is your failure, not his.

    No doubt I'll get slack for lashing out at you in the name of art, but try approach unconventional productions from a different angle for once, especially one that directly challenges the narrow perceptions of anime audiences. To paraphrase a gifted individual; we need more shows that understand making the audience "feel good" is only one potential purpose of art, and far from its highest calling. There are plenty of superficial reasons to dismiss a work like that, but how can you hope to understand it if you stop there?

    Sorry to those who think this overreacting to a bit of cheap snide, but I won't be an accomplice in turning a blind eye to Nagahama-sensei's genius.

  8. s

    I absolutely agree with you that Aku no Hana was brilliant and i dont want to forget that it happened (hiroshi's directing talent is all over that show regardless of how one felt about it); i wouldnt go as far as to dust of my beret hahaha…but i do feel like Hiroshi did a wonderful job with the source material. What the end result was was something that was dark, gripping, tense, and a wonderful display of directing (with the exception of some scenes). I know Aku no Hana was very divisive, but i personally thought that hiroshi captured and actually enhanced the overall unnerving and sinister tone of the manga and made it a great piece of work; something that felt real, not because of the rotoscoping, but because of the way hiroshi directed every meticulous detail and the voice acting. Most of the time seiyuu voice act in an animated fashion because well…you're watching something animated (duh)…but this time around the seiyuu brought a much more subtle and realistic performance and it really helped pull me into the series (I especially loved Ise Mariya…but then again i love her most of the time so that's a given). I love what Hiroshi did with Aku no Hana but i understand that not everyone else will (what with its intentional visuals, pacing, and tone) and that's A- ok…everyone's taste's are different.

  9. M

    I appreciate that about this medium sonic, but to artificiality label someone a genius whilst negligently dismissing their other work on the pretence that it is not worth serious regard, is condescending the artist and inconsiderate of those who resonate with their vision. It's that inherent small-minded intolerance that you'd expect from the typical anime fan.

  10. s

    Trust me i know where you're coming from (You're insinuating that whether or not Enzo liked Aku no Hana, the fact remains that on some "objective" level, the show was done in a skillful way that can be respected upon analysis and that he should have at least given credit where credit is due instead of what you perceived to be him unfairly writing it off), but then you can say the same about other people who dismiss works like one piece or bleach as people who are being inconsiderate of an artist's vision and the ones who resonate with his/her work.

    The way i see it, there will always be some people who are going to disagree with some sort of medium regardless of the quality of the work. I dont think it's always a case of typicality or a lack of ability to understand the ingeniousness of the craft Sometimes it just really comes down to taste; Enzo has repeatedly shown that he has an appreciation for the finer things so it's safe to say that it this was an instance of aku no hana not vibing with him and him expressing his feelings on the matter. I disagree with the opinion, but its understandable. That's like me saying that tomomi michizuki is a brilliant writer, but let's pretend Pupa never happened (that may not be a strong argument on my part though; the difference being that with Pupa, I cant see Tomomi's brilliance around it I i dont think many people can; it doesnt feel like his handy work regardless of the short runtime and its not like there's any skillful directing going on that i can resonate with) I dont think it's an insult to Michizuki's talent, but just pointing out that pupa is an "off-day" for him in my opinion.

    Ive recently been re-watching aku no hana actually (at night to increase the creepy factor) and i am really hoping somene digs their hands into the jar of barb wire and salt and produces a second season or movie that continues the story. On a side note, it's great to have mushishi back….the only series i am really really interested in from the spring; spring looks good so far; could be better but still good (need more time for a final verdict). The weird thing is before the spring season started, i caught glimpse of the summer anime chart and for some reason i was looking forward to that more than the spring line-up. That notion completely blew my mind.

  11. M

    Not really. Shounen anime are built on a theoretical and calculated framework designed to be commercial successes. We're currently seeing the modern version of that with all these trendy sports franchises.

    Aku no Hana is in the vein of an experimental independent film with the director's auteur stamp all over it. There's no guarantee the resulting outcomes will click for everyone – but there's no denying its cemented status as an important piece in the director's career. I object to those 'anime academics' who deem a production like this objectively "ugly" and a rejection of their perceived notion of what animation should be. No, in a situation like this you really need to step away from your modern preconceptions to at least appreciate the intent of the director. Dismissing that is dismissing their identity as a visionary.

    I didn't hate Pupa as much as most (though it was far from great), but that's a completely different case again since Mochizuki's hands were tied behind his back before production went ahead. Thing is, I actually admire him more for attempting to pull something together despite all the odds stacked against him. A sure sign of the ages. If there's anything worth celebrating about shows like Pupa and AnH, it's the artist's resolve.

    It's reassuring to know there are a couple of people who can still appreciate daring productions in the industry in a time when creativity is so stifled. I'm not even talking about old school/big budget heroes like Bones.

    Apparently the Aku no Hana manga is drawing to a close soon, doubtful that means more anime – but wouldn't put it past Nagahama to revisit the work in some shape. Judging by his portfolio, I think it's abundantly clear he cares less for commercial viability than he does for his art, which can be said more of his whole body of work than most active in the business. Bless him.

  12. m

    I can't think of one time where something good has followed "dusting of a beret" or anything related to a beret. Can you call something snobbish while touting the value of something as "art"? It's not that people who don't enjoy anything you might call "art" don't get the vision, or are acting snobbish, it's just we find those things boring or pretentious. Snobbish is saying "if you don't like this you must not get it", but by all means please hand down life lessons to the people who clearly aren't intelligent enough to appreciate things in the way that you are so seemingly capable of doing. Aku no Hana's animation style isn't for everyone and neither is the content. Things you like aren't going to be liked by everyone (that goes for me and literally everyone else on the planet), but it's a extremely childish notion to say that the things you like are inherently of more value or could only be appreciated by the truly artistic or intelligent or whatever qualifier you wish to place on it. That's just self-satisfaction in the most annoying way imaginable.

  13. M

    That was clearly a joke. Guess it also went over your head that I was responding to a load of needless short-sightedness in Enzo's provocative statement, but then we all have our ways of interpreting things I guess.

  14. m

    Yeah it was a joke, but also a tie in to the artistic value rant you were about to go on. His comments weren't needless they were pure opinion which is what a blog is. It begs the question that if you don't like someone's quips, opinions, or sense of humor why read what they write? It's your right to like whatever you want and anyone else's to dislike it. That's not open for interpretation, that's just reality.

  15. M

    Yes, and no one's opinion is inviolable – which is so often a routine treatment of popular blogs. There's no harm in levelling the field with a dose of scrutiny once in a while is there? Perhaps my sticking around is a way of showing regard and a desire to engage with other's perspectives, irrespective of such exchanges being good or bad. As sonic mentioned, Enzo clearly shows an appreciation for fine things, and I think he generally conducts himself in an amicable manner. He's also occasionally prone stubbornness and condescension, but as a blogger (especially one with strong opinions) benefits from having a thick skin.

    I know you'll likely reject likely my ideology or whatever the hell it is – but shoot, might as explain where I'm coming from: When you throw "genius" into an evaluative assessment you assume a higher level of critique beyond simply "I like this, but I don't like this". I've already acknowledged that people respond to works like Aku no Hana differently, but even if you still regard it as an ugly piece of shit (a response nonetheless) – like art before and beyond its time – it still has its place in the gallery as a widely confounding, loathed or misunderstood statement. If we are to suggest Nagahama a genius for one work whilst relegating the rest of his creations to a silent void you're not exactly being earnest in your evaluation of him. You may wonder why I view him as an artist – it's because his past work evidences that he approaches his job with an artist's perspective. That's a rare and beautiful thing in this heavily commercialised climate, and I argue against its belittlement, no matter how big or small.

  16. m

    I'm not getting this discussion cos art is a very subjective thing. i just hope you, Maxulous-san, would refrain from using harsh words that may in some way insult Enzo-san, cos after all, this is his blog. You're still entitled to voice your opinions of course. Just be nice about it

  17. R

    Screams to the heavens and then proceeds to flail about. Because that's about the only thing I could do for a while, starting with when I heard that Mushishi was being picked up again.

    I don't think I could possibly overstate how much I love this series. I was a manga reader first, and from the very first book I was completely captivated. There's just something about this magical, somewhat eerie, and often time transient world Mushishi has built. It really it one of those series where the gut reaction, the basic emotional reaction is something that's just felt and can't really be put into words. There's something about Mushishi that's just magical to me, and I could write an essay and still not be able to fully express why. But it's return alone would have made this year one of the best in anime for me personally.

  18. G

    So much feels. Honest, Mushishi is such a meditative show that it sort of cleanses my soul. No exaggeration at all. The premiere is exactly what I would expect from a Mushishi episode. It doesn't have the weight of some of the episodes from the first season, but it's an interesting episode in its own right. It actually feels like a direct continuation from where season one left off. Can't wait more!

  19. O

    Having just finished the first season of Mushishi (thank you Enzo for making me wanting to watch it), I approve with your opinion that this premier of Zoku Shou gave me the exact same feeling as the episodes of the first cour.
    I would like to sing praises of this show, but I find it very hard to put into words the experience of watching a fiction like this. I think the best I can do is this : It is a wonderful experience, and everyone should give it a try.

  20. J

    Do you feel the first series is needed to jump in here?

    I wouldn't mind going back and watching the first series, but I tend to like to pick up a series as its coming out, or I might lose the momentum for it.

  21. Boy do I get that question a lot!

    My answer is that you could get the gist without watching the first season – this is a very episodic show. But you'd lose a lot of the nuance, and the first season is so great I just don't see any good reason not to watch it first.

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