Has there been another multi-cour anime as consistent as Mushishi? It may not be in a class by itself, but it sure doesn’t take long to call the roll. What’s truly astonishing is that the transition to the second season has been so utterly seamless – I’ve seen some jokingly call last week’s premiere “Episode 27” but that’s not so far-fetched. The better part of a decade has passed but Mushishi doesn’t look much different, sound much different or feel much different. If we still heard “The Sore Feet Song” every week I might almost believe it was 2005.
That consistency and the self-contained, confident perfection of Mushishi can make this quite a difficult series to blog. This is a lament you’ve heard from me before, but it’s true – when a show makes its statement as clearly and succinctly as this one does, it doesn’t leave a whole lot that needs to be said. It leaves me to muse on questions such as on what Nagahama Hiroshi (who handles scripts as well as directing Mushishi) bases his decisions about what order to adapt chapters.
There are certain exceptions – last week’s premiere was the premiere for obvious reasons – but in general, every chapter/episode of Mushishi is like a little movie. They’re timeless in the same way Ginko and the series setting are – literally removed from time. Every so often we get a “signpost” episode that refers to earlier events or returns a character, but they’re fairly uncommon. Just as it’s impossible to say what time period Mushishi is set in and how Ginko relates to it, with probably 80% of the chapters I think it would be difficult to place them in any inherent sequential order. The good thing, of course, is that with this rebirth we’re going to see every one of them adapted in time (and the one airing in two weeks is one I especially look forward to, as it’s one of my favorites).
After two weeks, it feels as if Nagahama has intentionally chosen to ease the audience back into the Mushishi experience after such a long absence. The premiere was first because it directly played off events in Episode 26, but neither of the first two episodes has offered much in the way of conflict, tragedy or heartbreak. These have been gentle, contemplative stories (of which this series has many) where Mushi are mostly beneficial and even helpful forces for the human characters. They certainly aren’t all like that – this can be a very frightening and terribly sad series when it wants to be – but I suspect that side of Mushishi has intentionally been deferred for a little while.
As Mushi go, they don’t get much more benign than the Yadokaridori. Not only are they the reason tragedy is averted this week, but they’re freaking adorable too. Seagoing Mushi that resemble small seabirds, when they sense disaster coming they head for land and take shelter in abandoned sea shells like hermit crabs, singing to call their brethren in as well. Their tiny birdlike cries (the “Warbling Sea Shells”) catch the attention of a passing Ginko, who realizes that a disaster must be coming, and proceeds to warn the residents of a small fishing village – starting with a young girl named Mina (Tsuda Ayaka – another real child in a child’s role) and her father Sakichi (Naka Hirofumi). They live by themselves on the cliff above the village, the father refusing to allow his daughter to mingle after her mother was killed by a shark ten years earlier.
In truth, “The Warbling Sea Shell” is mostly a human drama about human relationships. Sakichi blames the village elder (Yara Yuusaku) for his wife’s death because he pulled his own wife out of the water first; in truth he knows he would have done the same, and it’s a cover because he blames himself for trusting her life to another. The Elder is so consumed by guilt that he concocts a fish farming scheme (whatever timeframe Mushishi is set in, this is ahead of it – by a lot) to make sure it never happens again. No one blames Ginko for being the bearer of bad news, or even disbelieves his warning. The only real Mushi-caused drama here is Mina losing her voice, because that’s what happens when a human listens to the Yadokarodori’s song too closely – and even that is temporary, and gives Ginko a good reason to argue that Mina should be allowed to interact with the village children (hearing more voices means learning how to talk again that much faster).
As with so much that is Mushishi, the sum of the experience is the feeling it creates – it really is like a form of meditation. There is a disaster (a red tide), but thanks to Ginko and the Yadokaridori no one is killed. Old pain doesn’t go away, but is dulled to the point where common sense prevails, and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one. And the sublime moment comes when the Yadokaridori leave their shells en masse and return to the sea in a flutter of thousands of wings, as Mina discovers a special ability that few humans share. It’s the sort of quiet, reflective beauty that no other anime provides in quite the same way Mushishi does, and gives us all yet more cause to celebrate that it’s miraculously back on our screens.