OP Sequence

OP: 「Shiver」 by (Lucy Rose)

「野末 の 宴」 (Nozue no Utage)
“Banquet at the Forest’s Edge”

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

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.

 

ED Sequence

End Card

32 Comments

  1. Watching this gave me this incredible sense of deja vu.

    Turns out that I had read this chapter in the manga a few years ago, and they animated it absolutely exactly as I had imagined.

    Perfection.

    CarVac
  2. That’s one of the shows I immensely enjoyed and one of the few i gave 10/10. So it’s remarkably pleasant to be able to see it again in it’s full glory.

    Glad you are covering it up cause I really like to read your (or stillt’s) impressions. They are so close to what I think or experience when watching a show and on top of that shaped into accurate and beatiful words.

    Urizithar
  3. I was never able to finish the original Mushishi (some of the unhappy endings where Ginko couldn’t resolve the problem were getting too depressing for me to keep going), but I can nevertheless recognize it as a truly excellent work. Very beautiful, very atmospheric, very emotional. It was amazing how it could get me to care about and sympathize with characters who were only around for a single episode, yet it managed to pull it off again and again.

    Because I didn’t finish the first series I’m not going to be watching this one, but I still wish for it to do its best in the spirit of the original. The fact that I got too depressed by the first series is a personal issue on my part, not a failing by the series, and it would be in poor taste for me to do anything other than wish for this to be the best series that it can be.

    Wanderer
      1. I don’t mean to turn anyone off to it. The series is very good. It’s just, you know, Ginko isn’t living in a perfect world. Sometimes he can solve the problem he comes upon and help the people it’s afflicting, sometimes he can’t. Some of the good ends can be very good indeed. I really liked one time where he turned out to be wrong: telling a girl whose sister had been taken by a mushi in an accident years ago that she needed to let go and move on, because the nature of that mushi meant is was practically impossible for her sister to ever return. And he was wrong: her sister found her way out and was returned to her precisely because she didn’t give up, and it was wonderful.

        The good in this series is worth seeing. It’s just that there were enough of the times when things didn’t go well that I got worn down by them and couldn’t go on. But that’s me. I think the series is well worth anyone giving it a try, at least.

        Wanderer
  4. Dat feels . . .

    Just got home from my stressful work with frustated feelings and this first episode managed to calm me down very quickly. It’s really great storyteller. In a medium occupied mostly by loud characters with exaggerated personalities, this show feels like a breath of fresh air. Each characters behave in mature, and subtle manner. And talk calmly like there’s somebody sleeping next door. Nothing was excessive. And the visual (the Mushi, in particular) looked absolutely stunning. Combined with relaxing, melancholic atmospheric nature, it felt like i was drowned completely into its world. Definitely one of extremely rare experience in my 5 years of watching anime.

    And i would definitely nominate the OP song as the best of this season. Will buy the CD once it comes out.

    Amiluhur
  5. What time period is Mushishi set in?
    The main character’s clothes appear to be 1900s-2000s, but the setting and other characters appear to be rural 1800s-1900s Japan, or perhaps even older.

    zztop
    1. Apparently the series takes place in a fictional period between the Edo and Meiji eras, in which outside technology has arrived, but Japan remains a closed country.

      Wanderer
      1. It’s certainly one of the things I’ve always loved about this series, how Ginko with his modern western style clothes looks kind of out of place among the other characters and their ‘old Japan’ style setting. It adds mystique to his character.

        Dop
    2. It’s impossible to say exactly, which I think it intentional – this is a fictionalized reality. There are simply too many anachronisms to explain away in any realistic sense. I prefer to think of Mushishi as “timeless” in every sense.

  6. I didn’t watch the first season, but I decided to give this a shot after reading the many positive things said about it online. All I can say is that the first episode is sublime…enjoyed it a lot! Definitely a keeper for the spring season.

    parochi
  7. Yeah! All right in heaven and earth! Probably, one of the 10 best anime from the last ten years are back, and I hope, maintaining the quality of soundtrack from the first serie. For the people that didn’t see that, certainly will pay back (with interests) the time.

    Joesargent
  8. I found it impressive that with almost a decade gone by, the second season of Mushishi retains very much the same “feeling” as the original. For me it was as much a season one episode 27 as a season 2 episode one. As Enzo notes, that wasn’t a forgone conclusion even with most (all?) of the original staff returning.

    I thought the first season was quite good so picking up right where season one left off bodes well for the second season. Still, I’d like to see a bit more continuity – a less episodic “mushi of the week” approach this time around. JMO of course, and if that doesn’t happen, I still think this will be one of the best shows of the season. Perhaps needless to say, but I’m in for both cours.

    daikama
    1. I wouldn’t think so. The first series was extremely episodic: out of the episodes I watched there was only one recurring character aside from Ginko, and that other guy only showed up a few times. I only remember Ginko referring to events from a previous episode once. Generally, what happens in each episode stays in that episode, so as long as you remember the basic concepts of the series you should be pretty much set.

      Wanderer
  9. One of the things I’ve always liked about this series is that the Mushi aren’t really an antagonist in the common sense.
    They can’t be reasoned with, or argued against, they’re not evil, there’s no malice to them.
    They’re just a force of nature, like a storm, or a drought. They can be investigated, and worked around, but they are what they are.

    I think that’s a good view.

    Dop
  10. …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)…

    This just made my day, so thank you for that.

    On another note, I am restraining myself from watching Mushishi Zoku Shou until I finish the first season’s last eleven episodes. It just wouldn’t be right. This also gives me an excuse to watch the series all over again from the beginning.

    I thank you for covering this wonderful series, Guardian Enzo and the staff of Random Curiosity. There are always great match-ups between writer and series that make me keep coming back and appreciating a site with people who definitely love anime.

    ichigo_daisuki
  11. One of the best shows of the season has arrived already.

    I practically devoured the first series and the manga, so I’m stoked for this. More Mushishi is never a bad thing.

    Dvalinn
  12. It starts off right where it left off almost 10 years ago. I remember hating the moment when I realized the episode was about to end during the first season after being absorbed by the atmosphere, the characters, and their story. It was the same this time around. This should really be called episode 27.

    Peds
  13. I have marathoned Mushi-shi over the last week and I can say that its an anime how it should be pure and it has a story that isnt made for people with the intelect of a doughnut. It captures my full atention and its best to watch it in full silence. Its like reading a good book that you cant let go of. I wish we could have more of this type of anime because I just cant watch violent moronic anime anymore and its a shame since there are only 1 or 2 watchable every season.

  14. I was extremely excited when I found out about a sequel. After watching this pilot episode, its made me feel like Mushishi never left. It doesn’t feel off at all, the characters, the atmosphere and the way the story is told are exactly the same.

    *shivers* I can’t wait

    chibiheaven

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