Genre: Fantasy, but see below
Creator: Yuki Urushibara
Length: 26 and 24 episodes
Year: 2005-2006, 2014-present
Highlights: Nature and serenity
Set in feudal Japan, Mushishi centers around the concept of small creatures called mushi. They occupy a nebulous zone of the natural ecosystem and can have characteristics of animals, plants, or even natural phenomena such as rivers or rainbows. They are rarely sentient, and whether they are supposed to be supernatural or not is more often implied then outright stated. Most people cannot see mushi, and those rare few who can often become mushi masters. Halfway between doctors and shamans, their job it is to help people having conflicts with mushi. The series follows one such mushi master, a man named Ginko.
The genre of the series is hard to nail down to any one category. While it certainly has broad fantasy elements, it also has elements of a slice-of-life series, showing ordinary people just trying to live their lives while being disrupted by the mushi. There are also bits of mystery, with each episode generally presenting Ginko with a specific mushi-related problem to solve. Bits of horror also creep in, but it’s different than the regular sort; you can’t really blame a part of the natural environment for what it does, even if it is horrible in the minds of humans. Ultimately though, the nature of the series can sometimes make it seem like a fantastical nature documentary.
The series has a calm, peaceful, meditative tone. Action is extremely rare to nonexistent, with Ginko trying his utmost to solve conflicts without harming the mushi causing the problems or the people being affected. Rather than focusing exclusively on the humans, Mushishi takes a deep look at things like the flow of the seasons, the relation of people to the natural environment, and nature of life itself. The feel is complemented by absolutely beautiful animation showcasing the natural beauty of forests, seas, and mountains. The simple but haunting soundtrack fits right into the naturalistic feel of the show. Ginko is the only character who always appears, and there are only a couple of other recurring characters. In general, the human characters are not very noticeable compared to the vastness of the natural world surrounding them, with their problems being merely hiccups in the rhythm of the world that Ginko needs to fix in order to restore harmony.
Each episode of the series is completely independent, with no overarching plot. In addition, the episodes are not told in chronological order, with their specific order being unimportant due to the lack of a greater story. Unusually though, Mushishi is one of the few series for which a second season was produced, under the name Mushishi Zoku Shou. This is especially odd as it was made eight years after the first season (technically it’s a sequel series, but they are so similar as to be indistinguishable). The first ten episodes of Zoku Shou have already been aired, with the last 14 to be released this coming autumn.
While anime shows with larger than life characters and epic plots are tons of fun, sometimes it can be nice to slow down and enjoy something a little calmer. Like they say, if you live life too fast, you might miss some of it. When you feel like you need to slow down, take a look at Mushishi. It may not be epic, but sometimes we all need a bit of serenity.