I’ve been trepidatious about writing about the second series of Mushishi. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because when I write a review of an anime series it puts a mental full stop on it. And of all the series that I’ve watched, Mushishi is the last one I want to do that to.
meddling with the unknown, the unknowable, rarely ends well when the hubris, obstinance or folly of people is involved
It’s difficult to overstate exactly how important the first, and now this second, series is to me. It’s the series that I turn off my phone for. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume until my skin tingles with anticipation and the drawl of Ally Kerr, and now Lucy Rose fills my ears. I clutch pillows close when I watch it and dare not move until each episode is finished, letting out a contented sigh as it does. It’s the series I reach for when under the weather, that I put on during bouts of insomnia, and memories of it often come drifting back to me when I least expect it. I can name nearly every episode from the first series and tell you offhand which ones my favourites are. The story of Ginko, the mushi and everyone in between is a story that I don’t want to end, despite knowing that the upcoming movie marks the end of the manga source material.
A few years ago I almost lost the hearing in my left ear. The gory details are best omitted, but I was left with (what the doctors claimed) was 20-30% hearing and only two thirds of the bones I should. For all intents and purposes I was deaf in that ear, a lopsided and mono world where car alarms didn't exist (a boon at 3am) but wearing headphones was painful.
Two years and two operations on I have most of my hearing back. All of this is just context for me to say: my hearing is precious to me and I am precious about it. It is a cliché to say that you don't know what you've got until you've lost it, but when it's personal it really brings it home.
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.
Describing microbes and bacteria as "cute" or "adorable" is not something one ever expects to do, but this is just one of the plethora of things Moyashimon manages to achieve without being overbearing or trite. With only a petite eleven episodes to play with, the first three are wryly amusing, frequently educational and, ironically for a show with a starring cast of fungus, remarkably fresh.
the first episode is surprisingly gruesome, featuring a seal carcass filled with deceased sea-birds
When the central characters of a show are the sons of sake and yeast producers, a mole-like professor with a perchance for sucking the bowels of fermenting sea-birds and a rocker-chick graduate student who is frequently treated as a missing persons case, the show is either going to be very weird or weirdly excellent. Moyashimon tends more towards the latter than the former and focuses on a young man, Tadayasu Sawaki, who can see, hear and interact with microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Far from the black-and-white electron microscope visions of these that we're used to, the microbes Sawaki sees are anthropomorphised versions, all bright colours and huge grins, they squeak and chatter about their business in a charmingly jaunty way.