It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to my readers that Mushi-shi would make it to my top twelve for the year, being as the original still stands over the past eight years as a show I consider to be among the best, even including other visual mediums. The timeless emotions that well up upon watching the familiar and the alien intermingling with one another never completely melt away. They seep into your eyes; they push through the tiniest of crevices and become one with your consciousness. When the second season started in the spring, it was if the long break never happened. It’s almost a miracle how the years fall away upon that first episode of Zoku Shou and you are again with the mushi-shi, as if just waking from a long sleep.
It’s hard to pull a particular moment or even string of moments from the anime, since every episode is a carefully crafted masterpiece in storytelling. Some particularly poignant themes include loss of senses and renewal after death–they also frequently overlap and leave mixed feelings about how to interpret scenes. This just makes each moment all the more compelling.
Several episodes feature characters who have lost one or more of their senses, be it touch, sight, and so on. Usually this is the result of a mushi that has either robbed the person of an ability, or substituted something else in return. Often the absence of sense highlights a deeper loss, like that of a loved one. At this past spring’s Sakura-con, I watched a newly released episode from the new series, “Beneath the Snow.” It was without subtitles, but the visuals and voice acting still reached me. A young man had lost his sensitivity to cold, which sounds like a wonderful loss all things not considered. However, that inability to feel the cold came at a cost to his body, which was still human and still needed the warmth that he no longer gave it, even avoided as heat had become painful to him. That lack of sensitivity to the elements followed the devastating death of his little sister, a pain he had not given the chance to fully be realized, thus never healed from. He was frozen body and soul from the day of her drop through the ice. It took another human body and heart pressed firmly against his own to drive out the cold and force the blood and tears to begin moving again.
Another episode, titled “Floral Delusion,” was hands down the most disturbing marriage of mushi, nature, and man that I’ve seen in the series, both old and new. It wouldn’t be strange to imagine the story as one of out of a collection of horror short stories. The miraculous discovery of a baby inside a sakura tree begins as a tale of everlasting youth, then later becomes one of murder and delayed death. Dark desires overtake the hearts of men who surround Saho, and they do whatever they can to keep the young woman alive who, though beautiful, lacks the ability to see or speak. The truth behind Saho’s handicaps and the family who protects her comes out in a frightening scene where Ginko acts more decisive and violent than in any other story. As the house burns and spreads to the nearby sakura, the tree grows to a quick bloom and Saho, too, blossoms brilliantly before expiring along with the mushi who sustain her. The image of the pink-colored foam seeping out from the lines in her neck where other bodies have been grafted on to keep her alive is repulsive, yet strangely pretty. Do the men love her for her, or is it the kodama mushi inside her that entrances them in a perpetual state of sakura viewing?