Post Reply MUSHI-SHI: The Next Passage
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Posted 12/17/14 , edited 1/5/15
by Zerogouki

Writing about Mushi-Shi in 2014 feels almost suspect, because one can only imagine that everything has already been said about the series since 2006, when the first anime premiered, or earlier during the run of the manga. It's not a point of criticism from my perspective that the series has remained resolutely of the same tenor, the same tone, and the same level of quality throughout those years. What makes it stand out is that it is so consistent, in maintaining a high quality atmosphere and managing to be so unlike most other anime in existence today.

MUSHI-SHI: The Next Passage follows, as it always has, Ginko, a somewhat mysterious and offbeat traveller who assists those forlorn individuals who have come into a problem due to mushi, small spirits with mystical properties and powers. It's a fairly typical fantasy set up that results in something quite unlike others of its' type, largely because, although the tone can vary from whimsical family drama to tragedy to out and out horror, the mushi themselves are never truly malevolent. It might be lazy to mark this as a uniquely Japanese trait, but it's most certainly the product of a society with a deep vein of tradition in animism and having a productive and understanding relationship to nature: The natural will exist no matter what mankind does, and we must learn to exist alongside it.

That's what makes the people Ginko encounter so fascinating: Although one might expect to encounter many stories of blameless nature being corrupted by evil people, for the most part, the people whose lives are turned upside down by mushi are merely curious or struggling with minor vices. There are almost no outright "evil" characters who have to be "punished." The moral universe of Mushi-shi, and Next Passage in particular, is one where people's motivations are never clear and there's rarely an easy answer to who is right in the end. GInko himself stays somewhat ambiguous, his passion for mushi more a result from of his own skill with handling the creatures and a desire to protect them than any specific need to help people. At times, it almost seems like the show is content to let people be ambiguous, but allow Ginko to judge them as harshly as possible, a neat "have your cake and eat it too" trick.

Moral complexity is what makes the simple and fantastical stories of the mushi come so alive emotionally, but visually, the series is yet again in territory all its own. The character designs are simple, almost to the point of minimalism, which pervades the entire series' visual landscape: Clean, neat facial designs and simple, traditional Japanese clothing and architecture create a land where the human element is neatly defined, letting the supernatural and the natural take on a sumptuous, sensual significance. It's no coincidence that so many mushi end up creating stormclouds, or rainbows, or perpetual winters or new cherry blossom trees. The series positions mushi and nature in opposition to humanity only if humans insist on manipulating it to their will instead of accepting it, and the animation conveys that wonderfully: The landscapes are both gorgeous and oppressive, and it's all too easy to lose yourself in the beauty of the frame while trying to follow the story of one of the human characters. It's a struggle both the audience and the characters can share together.

Everything about the series relies on that minimalism. Each episode is one self-contained story, with a handful of special long episodes or two-parters. The opening and ending credits feature single images, to slow, quiet, almost whispery music; in the case of the opening credits, English folk music, recalling yet more pastoral traditions, as if the basic moral about nature transcends languages and continents and cultures. The credits and titles themselves are simple white text. Even if the characters struggle to understand at times, MUSHI-SHI: The Next Passage, like the rest of the series, understands all too well the importance of getting out of the way.

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