Mushishi Zoku Shou – 04

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Mushishi is re-introducing itself to the world, shade by shade.

To follow up on my analogy of last week, Mushishi as a series seems more than ever like a painting – one where we’re privileged to see the brushstrokes applied every week.  Every color is part of what defines the series as a whole, and more so than with almost any other anime they each maintain a distinct presence.  No episode or chapter uses the same palette as the last or the next.  When it’s complete we do see the picture as a whole, only fully realizing then what it was the artist was trying to create – yet we maintain a distinct image of every blue, red, green and black that makes up the final image.

“The Hand That Caresses the Night” definitely brings us a shade of Mushishi that we haven’t much seen since “Zoku Shou” began, but one which viewers of the first series and readers of the manga can recognize well.  This can be a very scary series, in that peculiarly Japanese way – “unsettling” is the best word for it in my view.  The detach which accompanies the seemingly sentimental side of the series has a similar effect here, making these frightening moments impactful in quite a different way than with conventional horror anime.  Mushishi calmly peels back the cover of darkness to reveal that which unnerves and disquiets us, both in the natural world and in our own nature.

This chapter also finds Ginko more at the center of the action than he has been for most of the season.  It begins with him trekking through a forest in the mountains (so many of them do, don’t they?) at night.  He detects a sweet smell in the air, initially mistaking it for Kouki – but when a sour note joins, he realizes it’s something quite different.  In a rare occurrence we see Ginko frozen with terror, unable to move, as a human appears in the distance, a shadow among the trees.  Upon realizing that Ginko is a human, he drily offers an “I’ll let you live” and the mysterious paralysis leaves Ginko – though the disquiet of the encounter and a residual weariness do not.

That figure in the night turns out to be local hunter Tatsu (Uchiyama Kouki, a rare appearance by a popular seiyuu in Mushishi), a young man who lives with his little brother Usawa (played by child actor Kijima Yasunari, another in Mushishi’s welcome practice of casting real children in child roles).  No one will buy the meat the little boy sells at the market every day because of its rotten smell, which even the meat from animals freshly killed by Tatsu shares.  This, Ginko realizes, is the result of Fuki – a kind of dark mirror image of Kouki, the result of what happens when Kouki decays.  It’s toxic, but among those that can tolerate it, it grants them a special power – an eye-shaped mark on the palm that emanates the sweet/rotten smell which attracts and binds the prey.

If you’re a believer in the symbolic side of this series, arrogance is certainly the dominant theme of this story.  It’s the arrogance that makes Tatsu believe he’s “King” of the mountain because of his ability – the same arrogance that slowly took over his father, changing and warping him into something cruel and vain.  This is a very dark tale indeed – that father simply disappears one day, and Ginko tells us that he’s wandering, lost and without soul or physical form, among the mountains.  Tatsu himself – who refuses the Kouki that would drive the blight from his body, even as his brother is cured by it – is shot by hunters (a rare appearance by a firearm in this series) and then has his arm gnawed off by birds once the fearful eye symbol on his hand is covered.  It’s the price he must pay for his arrogance – the toll required to gain his self back and not follow the path of his father.  Is it just or fair?  No – but these are not factors that play a major role in Mushishi.  Mushi, like the series itself, are unsentimental.

I wouldn’t be able to tell you which of the many sides of Mushishi I like best – as distinct as they are, they’re also inseparable.  But I can say that episodes like this one are among the most personally affecting for me.  Perhaps the most remarkable quality of this remarkable series is the ability to completely transport you mind and soul into its world, and this sort of chapter does that better than any other.  I can’t say how pleased (and frankly a little surprised) I am that Artland is still able to deliver stunningly beautiful and detailed backgrounds and solid animation, because that’s a vital component of this immersive effect – along, of course, with the judicious use of Masuda Toshio’s music and the extremely naturalistic performances of the cast (all those children being a major part of this).  Uchiyama Kouki is about as good a choice as you could make if you were going to cast a “regular” here – while recognizable, he’s about as naturalistic as any fashionable seiyuu.

All in all, this episode was – again – just about flawless.  Every piece fits perfectly and works in concert to take the audience to a strange yet oddly familiar, frightening yet still beautiful place.  This is something Mushishi does better than any anime of the moment, and perhaps better than any anime of the 21st Century.  It’s the result of taking what’s already a visionary and unique manga and using the power of the anime medium to enhance those qualities – which should, after all, be the goal of every manga adaptation.

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15 comments

  1. A

    The opening scenes in particular were very much like something from a nightmare, I felt, and very effective. The horror of what might be out there in the wild, in the dark, is often the best kind.

  2. M

    This is the side of Mushi-shi I was waiting for. I do prefer when Ginko has a greater presence too. And we all know Nagahama – as evidenced in both Mushi-shi and Flowers – is a master of atmosphere. Perfect restraint through out as well.

    Stunning episode.

  3. K

    I liked Ginko being more pronounced than he has been but this was probably one of my least favorite episodes this season. The arrogance theme just didn't really do it for me in comparison to say, the ones presented last week. but there were certainly bright spots here that I loved, particularly the beginning and ending of episode. I really liked how essential fear was in the whole thing too. Even Tatsu arrogance came derived from being able to [seemingly] overpower his fear (by becoming it, like Batman [yeah, comparisons end there], which made the character more relate-able and did help the episode for me.

    Geez, I kinda feel like my opening sentence contains negative connotations but really, saying it's not one of my favorites is a really weak insult since every Mushishi episode, on some level, is a great piece of art. I think out of the entire series, there's only one I don't like on any level, this one excelled on several.

  4. n

    The power trip Tatsu goes through is relatable for me. The showdown between Ginko and him makes me imagine what I would choose if I was on his shoes having some magical power like that. I'd like to believe that I would not choose the darkside over that little brother but I don't know really… I may as well choose to disappear in the woods like he was about to. The subtle yet powerful depiction of something as absurd as "the hand that can kill any life" in this episode was just too believable in the sense of how everyone reacted to it.

  5. N

    I have no idea who Tatsu's VA was, but he really stuck out. There was always an arrogant tinge to his voice in his interactions with Ginko, as he dismissed all the concerns of others. He had the magic hand, he could handle anything.

  6. Z

    Uchiyama Kouki

  7. R

    Yes, Uchiyama Kouki is a pretty good seiyuu amongst the younger generation. He's doing Smile in Ping Pong now, and I like his work in ZnT as Yoshino and Hotarubi no Mori e as Gin.

  8. Z

    I like this darker atmosphere to Mushishi more.

    Best episode.

  9. Z

    Also, I think the dominant theme this week is more aptly described as hubris, rather than arrogance.

  10. R

    The only downside the watching Mushishi is the fact that it reminds me of how much I miss the early 2000's. Maybe there are a lot of anime fans who like the current content more, but I'm still convinced that my favorite era of anime as gone and passed. It crops up now and again, but no where near the amount as back then.

    That aside, I was, unfortunately, waiting for the episode to buffer and didn't quite realize it had started until the BGM kicked in and I nearly jumped because I hadn't realize where it was coming from XD Wonderful way to start this particular episode.

    Too be fair, I would never call Mushishi "scary". In the same way that a lot of Japanese horror isn't outright scary. It's disconcerting, and suspenseful, and gives you this sick to your stomach feeling where you expect something horrible to happen but it never quite does and in some ways that suspense is worse than people getting their limbs hacked off or what have you.

  11. s

    But that's what fear truly is; that disconcerting, suspenseful, and sick to your stomach feeling. The older you get, the more you start to realize that what's scary arent those jump scares or frightful images, but rather those lingering feelings of suspense and doubt. When a piece of media is able to make your mind wonder to a dark place with atmosphere, that's when something is truly scary because at that point, its not a momentary fear; it has become apart of your thought process and that is an uncomfortable feeling that few horrors are able to accomplish (those that are able to are good horror pieces). Not to say that mushi-shi is a horror, but there are psychological elements to mushi-shi that are presented in a horror-like style, and with Nagahama hemming the series, it's no surprise. The mind can be a scary place so the connection makes sense. It kind of reminds me of Lain in a way in which that anime was a psychological cyber-punk series directed as if it was a horror film; Again illustrating the parallels between psychology and horror

  12. R

    Alhough to be fair I still jump out of my seat screaming bloody murder at normal horror shows and games sooooo

  13. R

    "Every piece fits perfectly and works in concert to take the audience to a strange yet oddly familiar, frightening yet still beautiful place."

    Very well said, and this totally is Mushi-shi. This is the best episode of the second season so far, and the atmosphere was done so well. I like how the second season is getting darker and darker each week. It's a great way to ease the new viewers in and a smart way for the old viewers to not only reminisce about the first season, but say it to ourselves once again how awesome Mushi-shi is.

    It may be too early to find out, but I really can't say if the second season will be better than the first. Besides, since each episode is so unique, it will become pointless to make a comparison. I guess I'm just happy that the second season has kept every essence of the first and delivered to us as remarkably as it did almost a decade ago.

  14. To be fair, this isn's a one-way street, continually darkening for 26 episodes – I think Artland is just wisely easing the audience back into the Mushisiverse.

    Better? Hard to say. If anything, it's plain this series is amazingly consistent. It might be suspected that Nagahama chose what he considered the best chapters for the original 26 episodes, but there is a broad tendency for them to have been chronologically from the first half of the manga. I suspect this will be looked back as being about on-par when it's all said and done.

  15. R

    No, I agree. Mushi-shi is not just dark — it can be very heart-wrenching or heart-warming at times. It's that every episode feels distant, restrained, yet powerful in drawing the viewers in, as if you were there with Ginko. That's Mushi-shi's magic — the kind of magic that's rare these days.

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