We ran across an older anime show last week, Mushi-shi, which we inhaled this week and are all now bereft to find that there are no more episodes.
Twenty-six eps of gorgeous, intriguing, atmospheric stories and that’s it. It’s surprising how quickly someone fictional can take root inside you. I feel I’ve lost good friend that I didn’t get to know nearly well enough.
Who am I talking about? This guy:
Gingko, a one-eyed, chain smoking, wandering Mushi master. As for what mushi are, its kind of hard to explain but basically they are a class of organism—“mushi” means insect—that is very nearly non-corporeal, with many, many types, that produce many, many strange side-effects as they interact with humans who largely cannot see them. Some mushi can seem paranormal, in fact, some “ghost” activity are actually mushi. Many kinds are harmless, some are very, very powerful, some are parasitic, some are protective, some take the form of humans, others are barely aware of humans at all.
This little guy can see them, and for a moment, through his eyes, so can we.
In other words, mushi are a totally cool, completely original, endlessly fascinating fantasy world.
Gingko is a person with a strange affinity for these creatures. He’s one of the few humans who can see mushi, and he attracts them—not usually a good thing. Because of this, he is forced to keep moving. But as he travels, he helps the people he encounters who have some kind of mushi entanglement in their lives. He’s like a traveling doctor, only…weird. For example, there’s the mushi that eats dreams, or the one that eats sound. Or the one that looks like string hanging from the sky. Or the one that brings false spring. The stories are episodic with no over-arching story-line, except in the slow-drip revelation about Gingko himself. I would gladly watch 100 more episodes, if only they existed, just to find out more about this mysterious man and his mushi experiences.
Huge Godzilla-sized kudos to Yuki Urushibara, the Japanese author and illustrator of these moving, quiet stories. She has created something amazingt. I also have huge respect for the creators of the anime who 1) knew enough to keep her stories intact, and 2) who brilliantly animated them with a style that is thick with emotion, texture, mood, story, meaning—in every single episode.
Part of this is the gorgeous scenery art. Part is the atmospheric music that dissappears seamlessly into the quiet stories. But mostly, I think, it’s in the writing. Not every story is perfect, but there are no duds, and many are deeply moving. You won’t want to miss one. (For those watching with kids, the second episode was by far the spookiest. Maybe skip that one and come back to it later when you know and trust Gingko more. The other twenty-five are much less intense with the creepiness.)
As a writer, something I find fascinating about these stories is how they are a near perfect example of developing an opaque character, building him entirely from the outside, from his actions and speech. We do hear Gingko’s thoughts at times, but it is always about the case he is working on—we never get him thinking about himself, his past, his wants, dislikes, anything like that. Gingko is mysterious and enigmatic, with few expression and only rare displays of strong feeling revealing how deeply he cares about life. He is opaque as a character, and in his personality, and in the way he is presented to us. And yet we get to know him over the 26 eps.
Perhaps it is this opacity that drives me to know more. I turned to the manga, which do have three volumes of stories (the final omnibus that holds volume 7, 8, and 9) that were never animated. I’m enjoying them, but I miss the lush colors and the voices of the characters. Still, a few more glimpses into Gingko’s life are satisfying.
Gingko’s cool pack is a wooden box full of drawers. We find out what is inside only a few of the boxes. GAH, I want more!
If you like well made stories, atomospheric, quiet story-telling, intriguing characters, and fantasy critters with mysterious powers, I highly recommend. As a bonus, you’ll also get gorgeous drawings of Japan and lots of beautiful Japanese houses and kimonos.
When we finished the last one, Luc said, “I guess we’ll just have to start over and watch them again.”
So that’s what we’re doing.