Genre: Supernatural, Detective, Mystery, Slice of Life
Length: 26 Episodes
The story centers around creatures called Mushi that due to being more closely connected to the essence of life are capable of creating a variety of supernatural effects. However, most people are unable to perceive their existence and may not even believe they exist. Mushishi follows the travels of Ginko, a mushi-shi ('Mushi master'). A rare individual who can see the Mushi he wanders the countryside studying Mushi and helping those who have been negatively Affected by
The setting is ambiguously Japan around the late Edo Period. Ambiguously Japan because despite visiting a new location every episode no place names are ever given. Clothing of secondary characters and architectural styles are also decidedly Japanese. Ginko's clothes and equipment are a different story and out of place for the time period/location.
The series is episodic with few recurring characters aside from Ginko. Ginko himself is less of a main character and more of catalyst for moving the story forward. Although the viewer does learn some background details about him occasionally. The focus is on the Mushi, people who have been affected by the Mushi, and relationship issues that arise or are pre-existing.
As expected of an anime depicting rural Japan there are some absolutely beautiful natural scenes. One scene in particular scene uses the artwork very effectively. A girl has just regained her eyesight after being blind from birth. Cue a noticeable increase in wildflowers from before.
The Mushi take their design inspiration from single-celled organisms, bugs, fungus, etc and a good effort is put into using their design to show their other-worldly nature.
If there is a criticism of the artwork it is that, other than Ginko, the faces tend not to be different from each other. Several
characters appear nearly identical. However, as they appear in different episodes and only once this is not too jarring.
'Mushi are not evil' comes up more than once. Ginko, while having to kill Mushi from time to time, prefers not to and takes a live-and-let-live approach to them. As he notes they are just doing what they can to survive as he is. It is implied in a later episode that most mushi-shi take a more hardline view than Ginko.
Bittersweet endings- There are a bunch. Things often work out...to a point. Rarely do characters completely return to their old lives after encountering the Mushi. Ending are often deliberately vague with a narration tweaking the previous scene's ending slightly.
The traveler's viewpoint- Several things mentioned (lack of place names, similarity of faces, vague endings) may be an attempt to shift the viewer to the perspective of a traveler. Since Ginko has no particular destination, place names are unimportant. Since he meets many people on his travels faces tend to blur together (some of the only unique faces are ones he sees repeatedly). And since he is constantly moving he may only hear about the full resolution of different
episodes well after the fact, and perhaps not by first hand account. Ginko's suggestion at one point that a village relocate for a year exemplifies how a traveler's view differs from those of a settled community.
Amazingly laid back and peaceful. In fact it belongs to a class of anime referred to as Iyashikei (healing). A soothing effect is sought in these types of anime and Mushishi delivers. Even with the aforementioned bittersweet endings and sometimes weighty concepts discussed you are left feeling that the story resolved 'properly'.
"Nothing really happens, but in a really good way."
— Sayaka Ohara, voice of Alicia in ARIA
Similar anime that I have watched: Natsume's Book Of Friends
Mushishi can be watched on the Funimation website for free.