Review for Mushi-Shi -Next Passage- Complete Season 2
I really did not want to buy this collection. I didn’t want to buy it at all. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Mushi-shi. It’s one of my favourite anime shows, a constant stand-by when the deluge of identikit fanservice shows threatens to get me down. I reviewed the original series some ten years ago, back when it was eventually released here by Revelation Films, and when for the tenth anniversary of that release, they went and made a sequel series, along with a couple of OVAs, I was glued to Crunchyroll each week, falling in love once more with this spiritualistic anime, and its embrace of the circle of life.
That first series release through Funimation was pretty special too, six DVD volumes with some delectable extra features. So when Season 2 came around, with the HD age firmly established, I was rubbing my hands looking forward to getting the show on Blu-ray, seeing those wonderful colours, the gorgeous production design in high definition. That wish got kicked to the kerb by the lament of the modern anime fan, “Aniplex!” They have the licence, and once more they take their toys and go home and sit on them, refusing to let anyone else play. There is no physical release of Mushi-shi Next Passage in the US or the UK. It’s streaming only. It’s like buying a fine vintage and only ever sniffing the cork. But, Australia’s Madman Entertainment have given Mushi-shi Next Passage a release, on DVD only, with 20 episodes plus two OVAs crammed onto three dual layer discs, with no extras quite obviously, and in Japanese only with burnt in subtitles. I so didn’t want to buy this collection, but if this is the only way that I’ll get to own Mushi-shi Next Passage on optical media...
Mushi are the most primitive of life forms. Elusive and ethereal, and existing since time immemorial, they have come to be the cause of many superstitions and supernatural legends. Ginko is a Mushi-shi, a Mushi Master. He travels the country investigating these odd creatures, and helping those people who, for good or ill wind up interacting with them.
The episodes are presented across the three discs as follows.
1. Banquet at the Forest’s Edge
2. The Warbling Sea Shell
3. Beneath the Snow
4. The Hand that Caresses the Night
5. Mirror Lake
6. Floral Delusion
7. Cloudless Rain
8. Wind Raiser
9. Valley of the Welling Tide
10. Depths of Winter
Special 1. Path of Thorns
11. Cushion of Grass
12. Fragrant Darkness
13. Lingering Crimson
14. Hidden Cove
15. Thread of Light
16. Sea of Otherworldly Stars
17. Azure Waters
18. Lightning’s End
19. Mud Grass
20. Tree of Eternity
Special 2. Bell Droplets
The reason why I didn’t want to buy this release becomes apparent here. Three discs, 20 episodes and two double-length specials, all crammed onto three dual layer DVDs. Disc 2 has the equivalent of nine episodes on, on a format which at the most sees seven episodes of anime on a dual-layer disc. It’s so tight for space that the episodes have their subtitles burnt into the print to eke out those extra kilobytes by not having them as separate data. Mushi-shi Next Passage just about gets away with it, because it’s a sedate, gentle show, more focused on visuals and atmosphere than fast motion and complex animation. Ironically, the one place that you’ll see compression is in the subtitles, when they vanish from the screen they tend to pixellate for a frame in the process.
Mushi-shi Next Passage gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, progressively encoded on the discs. It looks fine on a small, CRT set, but since we all have large, flat panel displays, you’ll definitely notice moments of compression, and digital banding is especially strong in scene fades.
This is an anime that takes the breath away in terms of the design and the animation. Mushi are a phenomenon strongly associated with nature, and Ginko’s travels take him to rural idylls and isolated communities in forests full of lavish natural colours. The character designs are simple but effective, but the thought gone into the animation takes it to theatrical quality. The limited palette of colours makes for an atmospheric piece, and the realisation of the ethereal mushi is stunningly accomplished. Mushi-shi Next Passage should have been a four-disc release. Hell, it should have been a Blu-ray release.
You get a DD 2.0 Japanese track with subtitles burnt into the print. Just as with the other Madman ‘exclusives’, such as Gosick, Nichijou, and Rock Lee, they’ve merely used the Crunchyroll subtitle script, which is good enough for Mushi-shi Next Passage. The first season had the sublime Sore Feet Song by Ally Kerr as its opening theme. Season 2 gets Shiver by Lucy Rose and it’s another evocative lyrical piece that suits the show well. The subtitles are typographically correct and legible throughout, and other than one instance 7:58 into episode 18, are accurately timed.
The sad thing about Aniplex owning this show is that it didn’t get a dub to match the first season, as Funimation did some impressive work there.
You get three discs in an Amaray style case, two either side of a central hinged panel. You also get some nice artwork on the inner sleeve. I did notice that the 1st Special is in the wrong place in the episode listing, as it should come after episode 6.
Once again, you have to think wistfully of the Funimation 1st season discs, which came with copious extras, and some good Japanese production featurettes that really added value to the collection. Here you get absolutely nothing. I don’t count the Specials as extras as listed on the back of the case, as they merely appear in the episode run.
When it comes to wish-lists, I wish Mushi-shi’s second season had been on Blu-ray, had been dubbed, had got the same kind of treatment when it comes to extra features that the first season did. But Aniplex put paid to that when they sat on the licence like a ten-ton elephant. It’s practically a miracle that Madman Entertainment managed to briefly wheedle it out from them, and there’s a part of me that’s grateful that I actually do have the show on physical media. There’s not a lot that Madman could do with what they were given, but I can only guess that a desire to cut costs led this to be a three disc release, where really it should have been on four discs, with player generated subtitles instead of having them burned into the print. I really didn’t want to buy this release, but given the lack of an alternative, I am so glad that I did.
You might be wondering if the second season offers more of the same, which if it does would be no bad thing. Mushi-shi’s first season was a delightful, ethereal anime. It was set in an undefined period of Japanese history when the connection between man and nature was far stronger, far more immediate. People’s lives revolved around the seasons, the changes in the world, the circle of life, and at the heart of the stories were these strange forms of life called mushi, somewhere primordial on the evolutionary scale. These odd creatures, usually invisible to all except those attuned such as the mushi-shi, would interact with people in odd, bizarre, often frightening ways, and it would be down to the mushi-shi travelling the land such as Ginko, to deal with them.
In almost every way, season 2 does offer more of the same, more of the same beautiful animation, more of the same measured storytelling, and more stories where people are afflicted by mushi, needing the help of Ginko to deal with their problems. But there is one, fundamental difference that makes Next Passage less a simple follow-on, and more of a companion piece, even a mirror to the first season. The balance in the stories has shifted, almost imperceptibly away from the wonder of the mushi and the effects that they have, to the people that they affect, and the emotional impact it has on them. Next Passage is a far more human series, evocative and empathetic in a way that the first season wasn’t, and is even more adept at provoking an emotional response in the viewer. Or to be simplistic, this time it’s personal.
They are perfectly formed, short stories as before, paradoxically maintaining a sedate, unhurried pace, yet finding the time to tell rich stories, and develop their characters too. It’s an anthology of supernatural mysteries that always hold the attention. There’s a bird-like mushi that hides in sea-shells and will steal your voice if you try holding the shell to your ear to listen for the ocean. Another mushi allows a hunter to kill with a touch, but at a price. A girl catches a mirage, and thereafter wherever she goes, it rains, constantly. A man instinctively figures out how to control the wind by whistling for a special kind of mushi. Another kind of mushi causes a person to live his life over and over again in a loop. A girl touches a shadow without a body, and vanishes, to be replaced by another girl with no memory. A woman becomes able to weave cloth from the very essence of life itself, and so on and so forth. The sheer variety of stories offers hours of fascination.
There are common themes and elements that crop up in the episodes. We do get a few episodes where we learn more about Ginko’s past. Another story idea is that of the Mountain Lord, a being selected to govern the balance and ecology of a local area, which we see in various forms during the episodes. Early on, Ginko gets trapped on a mountain in an overlong winter, where a local mountain lord is trying to heal a damaged ecology. Another episode where young Ginko is apprenticed to a mushi-shi has him discover a fledgling mountain lord with troublesome consequences. The final dual length special has the odd story of a human child selected as a mountain lord, and the trouble that ensues when her instincts clash with her humanity.
But as I said, it’s the human side of the equation that is given greater prevalence in this second season, and there are episodes here that might elicit a few tears, as well as have you recoil in horror, or maybe even chuckle at absurdity. The tale of a father and daughter living estranged from a fishing village is a particularly moving one, as is that of a brother who became infected with an ice mushi after his sister drowned. There is a little humour in a love-sick girl who is stalked by her doppelganger, while there are chills to be had in the tale of a herbalist whose family have been keeping a woman alive and young through macabre means. There’s even a mystery to be solved in a village where the tradition is to leave the dead to be returned to the mountain, and it’s taboo to visit the mountain for days after a funeral. When one man breaks the taboo, the villagers come down with painful growths on their legs, but they are different for the man, and Ginko has to find out why. All of a sudden there are shades of CSI in Mushi-shi.
To my surprise, Mushi-shi Next Passage is even better than the first season. I’m surprised as I didn’t think that it could actually get better. But by focusing on the human side of the stories, it manages to keep all that is good about the first season, the imagination, the sense of wonder, the affinity to nature, but it adds an empathetic element to the stories that makes them far more immediate, emotionally effecting, the characters easy to relate to. The downside is that Madman Entertainment’s treatment of the series has been pedestrian at best. The show deserves far better than this, and far better than Aniplex’s refusal to release it at all. The bottom line is that you get better quality presentation if you are a paid subscriber to Crunchyroll. Of course, I’ll still have the DVDs once Crunchyroll’s licence lapses.