The first story of Aoi Bungaku, No Longer Human, is covered in a soft, often wintry mist that permeates through to the character's unsurprising end. The remaining five stories however are vividly realised, varying between sharp reality and kaleidoscopic dreamscapes; each conveys the vagaries of humanity with poignancy and skill. So too changes the attitude in each story, from the purgatorial trappings of the first story to the theatrical analogy of Run, Melos! to the Rashomon-esque multiple viewpoints of Kokoro. An ambitious and vibrantly successful venture that wears its literary roots proudly, portraying characters with unflinching amorality and focusing not on full-circle stories but short vignettes of startlingly tangible people.
the stark implications of madness and jealousy, grace and fervour played out with such composure
The first four episodes tell the story of Yozo and his attempt to come to terms with his more base instincts and emotions which more often than not lead him to psychological turmoil, not helped by his sexual reliance or penchant for escapism. The second tale is of Shigemaru, a callous thief who one day comes across the beautiful but demanding Mitsuki whose bloodthirsty attitude is tempered only by her morbid fascinations. Shigemaru battles with his fear of the forest's cherry blossom grove while capitulating to all of Mitsuki's murderous whims. The third story is of a gentleman known only as Sensei who invites a scruffy man, K, into the house where he is staying; told from two differing perspectives, both concern the daughter of the house, her affections and the results of a cross-communication between the men. The fourth narrative is of a man tasked with adapting a story for theatre but the process opens old wounds with the parallels it has with his own life. The final two stories are set within the world of a fickle and flamboyant king: the fifth sees the capture of the wicked criminal Kandata, his execution and descent into hell; the sixth follows the artist Yoshihide who, disillusioned with a kingdom he sees as rife with violence and cruelty, is ordered by the king to paint a vision of the land on the walls of his tomb.
Like the creatures themselves, Mushishi came more or less out of nowhere. A critically acclaimed manga by Yuki Urushibara mostly unheard of outside of Japan, and Studio Artland for which this would be one of their first fully produced series outside of some relatively obscure OVAs. For it to be so unspeakably brilliant is at odds with common wisdom; story and sound fuse together to create an astonishingly beautiful vision of Japan. Blossoming with wonder, it is a world that is delightful to be lost within: enraptured by the craftsmanship applied to the smallest detail and ensconced within the gentle auditory landscapes.
the loss of a child, the desire for the wellbeing of a community, the sacrifice of one for many - these are the heart and soul of the series
Comprising twenty six mostly episodic stories, the series follows Ginko: a silver haired nomad and a self-proclaimed Mushishi. Picking up where physicians may fail, he concerns himself with mushi, a primal and fugacious life force that suffuses the world but is often only known through their effects on its inhabitants. Sometimes these can be as innocuous as a living painting within a kimono, other times causing afflictions such as memory or hearing loss, but sporadically, they can affect entire communities whether inadvertently or through the misguided auspices of humans themselves. Regardless, Ginko travels listlessly from case to case, sometimes stumbling across one and other times cajoled by letters which travel through the mysterious mushi roads.
Based upon well-known Japanese literature, no opening music and a simple perfunctory closing animation, Aoi Bungaku could barely be more art-house. It's an odd situation coming from a media that is still mostly marginalised, even in its country of origin: aiming for a further niche would seem counter-intuitive especially for something with such stunning production values.
when the only noticeable fault is a merely proficient soundtrack, one knows that the series is something particularly special
At times it is breathlessly beautiful, judicious use of soft filters and colour grading means everything has an ephemeral reality to it - helped by a keen eye for details in the most fleeting of scenes. Combined with a story of childhood, loss, sex, suicide and emotion it's dangerously easy to fall in love with the series and be utterly enthralled by it. A live action introduction by Sakai Masato, notable drama actor, explains the aim of the series is to introduce viewers to well known stories, the first of which is "No Longer Human" by Dazai Osamu. At only twelve episodes long and six works to get through, the first story is the longest occupying four complete episodes and tells the life of the troubled Yozo Oba.