Anime about ghosts and spirits are a dime a dozen, crossing a variety of genres, including action, horror, and mystery. Most of them frame spirits as something unnatural, whether as sinister invaders, echoes of a terrible crime, or some lack of balance between the realms of the living and the dead. In all these cases, they are to be dealt with by getting rid of them one way or another, either through allowing them to move on or just kicking their butts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but there’s one series that approaches spirits in a novel and unique way, and that is the 2005 series Mushishi.
Mushishi is the story of Ginko, a man with one green eye that allows him to see spirits, or Mushi. This is a doubled-edged sword as Mushi are also drawn to him, which makes him smoke special cigarettes that repel them. Ginko walks the countryside, drawn to help people deal with problems caused by interactions between them and the Mushi. The series has no overarching plot; it simply follows Ginko from case to case. While the episodic nature of Mushishi might be frustrating for some, it stresses the idea that the spirits of this setting are not engaged in some grand or sinister design, but instead just beings that are part of the natural world and trying to survive. While most don’t speak or directly interact with humans in a way that is comprehensible to us, they can become entangled with us in a way that is harmful to both species. Ginko is quick to stress to his clients that the Mushi aren’t evil, however, and usually tries to solve problems without violence.
While I love a good fighting series as much as the next person, maybe even more, what I like about Mushishi is how peaceful it is. That’s not to say there’s no conflict or that everything is easily resolved, mind you, but it’s not a story about violent people fixing the world through violent means. In many ways, the series resembles a nature documentary, with our host going from place to place and helping both the people in his charge as well as the strange beings that only he can understand. Another aspect that adds to this is the visuals. Few outside of Miyazaki movies do such a good job of portraying the vast beauty and strangeness of the natural world. It’s also worth noting that Ginko himself is often a background character in his own story, allowing his clients to take the stage as he helps them to solve their own problems.
Mushishi isn’t the kind of show that’s built for binge-watching or a big adrenaline rush. It’s a series to take your time with, to think over as you go. If you want a change of pace that might even develop your empathy muscles while you watch, Mushishi could be the show for you.