In celebration of the 10th Annual Japan Media Arts Festival, attendees were asked to vote for the top ten anime of all time. Neon Genesis Evangelion came in first place, which isn't a terrible surprise. Hayao Miyazaki was heavily represented, again that's to be expected, with four of his projects making the top ten (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, and My Neighbor Totoro.) What was a surprise was the inclusion of a Mushi-Shi in the list, a show that hasn't gotten a lot of buzz here in America. (You can see the complete results here.) That show has just started to be released in the US by FUNimation and Mushi-Shi Volume One shows why the series was rated so highly regarded in Japan. This quiet yet engaging anime has a lot of charm and will quickly win over anime fans.
Mushi are the most pure creatures that exist. Not base and vulgar like humans or animals, Mushi are beings that are in touch with the essence of life. Invisible to normal people, Mushi are all around us, though humans rarely interact with them. One person who is able to see these creatures is Ginko, a Mushi-Shi or Mushi Master. He travels the countryside carrying only a mysterious wooden box on his back and collects Mushi artifacts (items that are created in our world through interactions with Mushi) and helps people who have been infected with malicious or unwanted Mushi. Though his travels he encounters many odd and bizarre situations things that only a Mushi-Shi would be able to understand.
In the first volume Ginko encounters a boy who has a rare and amazing talent; he can create life. anything he draws with his left hand comes becomes alive, and that can be a bit overwhelming for a young kid. Ginko then tracks down a girl he's heard about. She has a disease that no one can cure; he eyes hurt is she sees even the smallest patch of light. Kept locked away in a shed, she encounters no one but the boy who brings her meals to her. When that boy too becomes infected, it looks like the disease will spread, but Ginko knows that it's not a disease, but an infestation.
In a similar story, Ginko helps a boy who can't hear but often covers his ears, something that his mother did just before she died. He then travels to aid a man who can see the future in his dreams. But is this future something that he's just witnessing and reporting or something that he's causing? The volume wraps up with the most creative; Ginko meets up with a traveling swamp, and the woman who lives in it.
This is an episodic show, and though they sometimes refer to previous events in passing, there really isn't any link between the shows. While I prefer shows with a good amount of continuity, this program is so strong and interesting I'm drawn to the next episode like a moth to a flame.
This show is very different from most of the anime out there. If I had to pick one word to describe it, that word would be serene. It is a quite and gentle show. It's like a walk in the forest on a cool day; enjoyable, refreshing, and oddly tranquil. That's not to say that there's no action or that the series plods along, because that's not the case. Every episode has a mystery that Ginko has to unravel, but the mysteries themselves are just as fascinating as the solutions. Why would a swamp want to travel across Japan? What does the girl see in the total darkness that she lives in? Is a man seeing the future or is he manipulating reality?
This show could easily tip over to the horror category, since it's dealing with invisible beings that infest and infect people, but it tries not to. There are some startling moments, like when silver gunk starts pouring out of a young girl's eyes, but these aren't done to shock or horrify more to elicit interest and spark curiosity.
This disc comes in two flavors, the regular version and a limited edition that includes a thick cardboard slipcase to hold the entire series. Both versions come in a clear keepcase with a reversible cover and a nicely illustrated slip cover.
Viewers have the choice of watching the show with either the original Japanese soundtrack or an English dub, both in stereo. As I often do, I alternated tracks and found them both to be very satisfactory. Neither track shows any trace of distortion or background noise. The English actors do a very good job of matching both the lip movements and the feeling of the scenes in the dub track too. A nice sounding set of episodes.
The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced video looks pretty good with only minor problems. The show takes place mainly outdoors and there are a lot of greens and blues in the color palate that they use. These colors are reproduced wonderfully. They are vibrant and strong and really make the show a joy to watch. The blacks are solid and the lines are tight. On the digital side there is a touch of aliasing here and there, but it is a small amount especially when compared to most anime. There are a couple of scenes where banding is a slight problem, but again this isn't major. The only other defect that's worth noting is some mosquito noise in a few of the dark scenes. Overall this disc looks really nice.
This disc is loaded with extras; and good ones too. First off there is a 19 minute interview with the actor who plays Ginko conducted by the director Hiroshi Nagahama. This was the actor's first major role, and they talk about how it feels to be the star in a show and how he got the part. There's a second interview, this time with Nagahama by himself. He talks about how he approached the show, his thoughts on the manga, and the animation style. Both of these were pretty interesting interviews. In addition to these, there is a three minute tour of the studio where the show is animated, a clean opening and closing animation, and a series of trailers.
Included with the disc itself is a nice 12-page booklet that has character biographies and sketches as well as remarks on the background art and some aspects of the story. It's a very nice booklet and I'm glad they included it. There's also beautiful postcard of Ginko walking by a tree.
This is one of my favorite current series. It's a story driven
show, but the tight story telling and unique plots make it a joy to watch.
This is an excellent program that should appear on a lot of year-end Best
of 2007 lists. Grab it now, especially if you want to snag to cool
series case. They won't be around for much longer. Highly