「冬の底」 (Fuyunosoko)
“The Heart of Winter”

I don’t know what the future holds for Mushishi, but I know this – if you love great anime, you should be damn grateful that it exists.

Thinking back on this episode, the only word that seems to fit is “sublime”. It was every bit as perfect as last week’s masterpiece, though completely different. One of the great pleasures of Mushishi, of course, is that it has so many contrasting facets at which it excels, and can present all of them while still feeling completely consistent. As I’ve said before the experience of Mushishi really is an experience rather than simply an act of viewing – it transports you mind and soul in a way few other anime (or other artistic endeavors) can do.

As we’ve come to expect from Artland, production-wise things are a confusing mess with Mushishi. The last two episodes (a two-parter that manga readers have been seriously jonesing for) of this cour have been cancelled for TV broadcast, and won’t be released until the November Blu-ray volume (at least in theory). The end card for “The Depths of Winter” confirms another cour is indeed “planned” (their word, not mine) for Fall 2014, but given this studio’s history you’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical. Artland has perpetual production delays and seems always on the edge of insolvency, yet they still produce heartbreakingly gorgeous episodes. What’s one to think, really? For me, it’s best to view the prospect of more Mushishi as a hope rather than an expectation.

Given that context, we can at least take solace in the fact that “Depths of Winter” works astonishingly well as a finale, in addition to being a brilliant episode on its own merits. It’s all Ginko, start to finish, and brings the season to a close with a story that showcases the ethereal beauty and mystery of the world of Mushishi as well as any could, in addition to leaving us with a good deal of mirth. And again, it’s gorgeous – Artland again displaying matchless aptitude for snowscapes and the art of depicting falling snow, then topping itself with equally beautiful panoramas of the rebirth of spring in the mountains. As a whole it’s a cleansing, meditative experience of the sort that only Mushishi can really provide and it leaves the series in a wonderful place, whatever happens next.

“Depths of Winter” is a study in economy – an elegantly simple story with minimal dialogue that relies equally on sound and vision to appeal to every aspect of the viewer’s consciousness. Ginko is passing through a mountain on his way to respond to a summons when he sees the signs that the Mountain Gods are about to have the “awakening” – the rebirth of spring after the long winter’s sleep. As this means the return of hungry spring Mushi from their hibernation, Ginko decides to hole up in a homemade lean-to, protected by Mushi-repelling incense, for a few days until the process is complete. But when he wakes, he discovers that he’s in the midst of a blizzard – even as the surrounding mountains have begun their spring.

We’ve seen Ginko caught in these sorts of “closed” worlds before, but this telling is especially beguiling. Unable to escape Ginko goes in search of the lord of the mountain, who he finds at the edge of a small pond – a withered old turtle covered in snow. The only sounds are the haunting BGM and the even more haunting screams of the Oroshibue (“whistle of the mountain wind in winter”) – the winter Mushi who should have migrated north, but remain trapped in the closed mountain. I can’t say enough about the way these Mushi are drawn and, especially, “voiced” – it’s unforgettable – and the Mushi-dono calls them down to drive Ginko backwards into the pond. This turns out to be a mud of some kind, inside which the creatures of the mountain are sleeping, nourished by Kouki welling up from the Koumyaku deep below, protected against the damage of the typhoons that had ravaged the mountain earlier. And Ginko, too, is pulled into slumber for a time, unable to resist the elemental power at work around him.

When Ginko is released from the spell, he breaks the surface of the pond – now water again – and sees that spring seems to have sprung all around it. His own bottle of Kouki has spilled and the Oroshibue are hungrily consuming it, nourishing themselves for the trip north. And Ginko realizes what’s happened – the wily old turtle has lured him into a trap, needing his Kouki so that the winter Mushi could replenish themselves the way the animals in his induced hibernation have. He slumps to the ground in a meadow covered in flowers, hands behind his head, flashing a rare, wry yet truly mirthful smile – a bit vexed at having been taken in, but respectful of the guile of the Mushi-dono at doing what had to be done for its mountain. It’s a wonderful moment, a celebrating both of Ginko’s character and of the fascinating world that Mushishi has created.

And so it ends, for now. It does seem likely that we’re going to see more Mushishi one way or the other, so I won’t treat this is a farewell post but as a reflective one. Apart from the production issues this season of Zoku Shou has met expectations in every way – any fears that the series would have lost its magic were quickly dispelled. It truly was as if no time had passed, so seamless was the transition between the Mushishi of 2006 and 2014. The gorgeous art and music, the quiet brilliance of the writing, the vocal performances so unlike traditional anime – it all worked every bit as well as it did then in casting a unique spell. Mushishi is a great manga but the anime is even better, utilizing every tool available to the medium to make the experience even more magical and engrossing. Apart from the production delays which plagued both the old and new seasons, Mushishi now as then stands as a model for how a great manga should be adapted – faithful in every way to the source material, yet not limited by being so. It’s one of the all-time anime classics irrespective of genre and a true gift to those that treasure anime as art.


Summer 2013 was the best season of the year – can 2014 duplicate that feat? Check out the LiA Summer Preview post – and vote in the season preview poll!


End Card


      1. Dualash:
        Don’t. Mushishi in my opinion is not a series to be watched all in one go. Enjoy every episode and savour each episode’s atmosphere. Watching so many at once will just dilute each episode’s impact.
        Mushisi is also best enjoyed just before you sleep, warmly snuggled with a blanket and having a cup of hot chocolate.

        PS: How do you reply to someone’s post? Tried clicking Reply and nothing happens

      2. mushishi isn’t bad to marathon. However, you’ll need to marathon it 2-4 times in order to get an ‘overview’ idea of the stories and world. I found week to week a bit too ‘high res’ so to speak. your focus changes from each episode to the series as a whole when you marathon it so it’s a different experience altogether. Both series are great to watch in whichever manner you choose though – just goes to show the detail and depth of the title.

    1. There were 2 weeks where no episodes aired but instead they were replaced by talk-shows (sadly Japan only). Since the studio probably only has license for 12 slots, they can not show the last 2 episodes then.

      As for why did they do a replacement,no idea. I have read guesses such as production issues or budget issues.

  1. So after hearing near critical praise for this show I’m thinking about starting it. Would I have to watch the first season that aired back in 2006 or can I just start off from this one?

  2. Lovely episode.
    While Ginko is the main character and obviously can’t die I did get worried a couple of times.
    The message at the end came as a total suprise, I thought there would be 2 more eps now 🙁 Super sad-face. I really hope that there will be more in fall.

  3. I know Mushishi is a manga adaptation but halfway through the episode I started to think that this is an allegory of Artland’s financial winter…

    The mountain – Artland
    The turtle – The studio’s head honcho
    The beasts – In-house staffs
    Ginko – Nagahama
    Kouki – The director’s effort and talent

    Mrs Arkadin
  4. It sucks knowing there should be 12 eps, but only getting 10. But regardless even if Mushishi 2014 ended on ep10 I’d be completely satisfied.
    Very happy 2014 lived up to and in some ways exceeded 2006. What an accomplishment!~

  5. I never heard of Mushishi before it aired this season. I read that it had a prequal 8 (!) years ago, which is rare, unheard of even. So I decided to watch the first episode of Zoku Shou, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Even with my busy schedule I managed to devour the first season, enjoying every single episode to its fullest. True a wonderfull series and I can’t wait for fall, or whenever the second cour will air.


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