Directed by Hiroshi Nagahama
Animated by Artland
Suitable for 13+
Terror takes on many forms. For some, it’s the fear of the unknown, of the dark blanket of night slinking ever closer. For others, it’s blood and gore, living with constant anxiety that a masked sociopath will come to slaughter them in their beds. Yet, for others, dread comes as a shiver, slowly creeping underneath their skin and situating itself there, constantly on their mind. The anime Mushi-shi: The Next Chapter features this latter sense of foreboding, the constant wonder of what will happen next. Mushi-shi manages to provide this niggling sense of terror in a variety of situations, with something here for everyone.
“Perceived as strange and alien… Inferior and grotesque… These are beings who appear entirely unlike flora and fauna familiar to us. Since time immemorial, man has feared the misshapen ones. Over time, they came to be known as mushi.”
The very fabric of Mushi-shi’s story is woven with these mushi, beings that are invisible to the common man. There are few who possess the ability to see them, and they are called “mushi-shi.” They’re usually travelers, using their knowledge and ability for the common good. They assist those who are plagued by the various problems mushi can cause for humanity. Mushi-shi focuses on one such titular individual named Ginko, whose past is as mysterious as his appearance. He has snow white hair that always covers one of his eyes, and a cigarette is almost constantly in his mouth, whether lit or not. His demeanor is very mellow, his speech calm and to the point. One can’t help but wonder at the past and motivations of this mystery mushi-shi, who seems to know so much more than his years should allow.
Based in an alternate history Japan, Ginko travels the country studying mushi while aiding those affected by them. His encounters can really slither up the spine before one even notices it. So many of these mushi he discovers do terrible things to humanity. Let’s take Episode Five as an example: “Mirror Lake.” We open to a young woman admiring her hair in a pond. She looks happily at her reflection as she runs her hands through her long locks. Soon, content with her looks, she jumps up and runs away. As she disappears, we see the surface of the water is disturbed by something. An eerie form emerges from the water… and waits. A cut brings us to a trail of water on the floor of a home, an older woman wondering what it’s from.
Enter Ginko, sitting against a tree, signature cigarette in his mouth. He turns around suddenly at what he thinks is the sound of water, only to see the young woman from the beginning walking languidly through the forest. Ginko sees the same form from the water stalking after the woman. He follows her home and reveals that she is actually being followed by a mushi that lives in ponds. When a creature comes to the water, the mushi comes ashore and mimics the original’s form. As the mushi follows the original around, it begins to weaken it. Eventually, the genuine creature loses its being to the point that the mushi takes its place. It is only by taking over a body that the mushi can travel in search of ponds with higher mineral content, which it needs to survive.
Here is a mushi—and a storyline—that literally gets inside one’s skin. Coupled with Mushi-shi’s calm and even pacing, this is a story sure to provoke an emotional response from viewers. There’s a reason why the Invasion of the Body Snatchers tale has been rehashed over and over. It’s an eerie thought, that something could take over our bodies, our control, maybe even our souls. In the case of this episode of Mushi-shi, the young woman has a defense: show the mushi its reflection when it tries to take her body. Seems simple enough, but when your body has been weakened to the point of being unable to even crawl, it’s difficult to say what you could or couldn’t accomplish.
All of the stories in Mushi-shi are much like “Mirror Lake.” The leisurely pace of the plot lulls you into a false sense of security, only to stab you in the back. This languid narrative speed might not appeal to everyone; if you enjoy your horror anime to run along faster than Usain Bolt, Mushi-shi is not your series. However, if you think you’d rather enjoy a more relaxed supernatural tale, Mushi-shi is perfect.
No matter how you like your stories to progress, Mushi-shi is a series that will have you thinking back on it years later. Something will happen in your life that reminds you of an episode, and soon you’ll find yourself wanting to watch it again. Just as subtly as it brands itself into your memory, Mushi-shi also sometimes includes a subdued sense of humor. While Ginko is a generally emotionless character, he does run into some situations that would make the best of us sigh. A great example is an episode that features an elderly couple. Ginko is invited to dinner with them, and as he attempts to settle in, the couple begins to fight with each other. An even blanker look than usual crosses his face as he simply tries to stay out of it. This muted sense of humor fits in perfectly with the tone the rest of the series sets.
While Mushi-shi is much more subdued than many a horror anime before, it’s clear that the mood is effective, since this Mushi-shi is actually the second season of the show (Mushi-shi: The Next Chapter). The original season of the show is much of the same understated genius, but unfortunately not available to watch on Crunchyroll.
If you’re looking for a series that will stick with you long after you watch it, there’s none better than Mushi-shi. While it doesn’t feature any stereotypical fears, that’s what makes it great. Mushi-shi’s charm is that it creates new terrors. Even simple things you never thought you needed to be worried about will have a different meaning, like looking at your reflection in a pond. While the original season is not available to watch on Crunchyroll, it is worth hunting down. It’s a case of lightning striking twice, or mushi, as the case may be. Allow Mushi-shi to weasel its way under your skin, and you won’t regret it.
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