Series Name: Mushishi
Year of Serialization: 2005-2006, 2014-ongoing
Author(s): Yuki Urushibara
Artist(s): Yuki Urushibara
Genre(s): Supernatural, mystery
Current Status: Ongoing (26+ episodes)
Moment of Reviewing: Completed first season + OVA
Other Formats: Manga (1999-2008; 10 volumes)
A mysterious man named Ginko makes his living as a Mushishi, or "mushi master", who deals with problems relating to mushi - bizarre, often invisible creatures that are neither flora nor fauna, and possess supernatural powers that often have negative effects on those around them.
There are really only two types of people that come out of watching this anime. There are those who are severely bored by its utter lack of extravagant occurrences, then there are others who are taken aback by its strange and beautiful world, which I'll go into further detail on as I divide up its different elements.
There have been numerous episodic anime in the past (most of which are directed by Shinichirō Watanabe), but even the most detached series have at least a handful of elements that tie everything together, a chronological order at the very least. Mushishi, on the other hand, doesn't even have that. In fact, the only things that tie together all 26 episodes (until the second season starts) are the world in which they take place and the series' single recurring character. This is ultimately the anime's biggest weakness, as several people steer away from it for this, but at the same time, this method allows it to weave in story after story, each one unique and more beautiful than the last. Plus, the lack of even a linear timeline allows one to watch them all out of order, which is good because the first season's worst episode is also technically its last.
As I said above, Mushishi has only the "mushi master" Ginko to give each episode some sense of familiarity, but another thing that sets this anime apart is the fact that he can't really even be called the main character. Each episode involves him meeting new people with problems concerning mushi, and these people are given far more attention than he is, as they technically should. This isn't so much a terrible thing, though, as many of these characters are given wonderful characterization (i.e. a boy whose drawings come to life, a woman who gave birth to her reincarnated grandmother, a fellow Mushishi whose ideals conflict with Ginko's, etc.). It's often how well one can connect with these characters that decides whether or not each story works (which is a bit difficult, since most of their designs are highly similar), but still, having Ginko around along the way is quite the treat in itself. As far as development goes, only a brief (but informative) glance into his mysterious past is given, but his laidback attitude and undeniably cool profession make him a thrill to watch all the same.
It's a tough call, but even amongst wonderfully animated series like Attack on Titan, Ghost in the Shell, Wolf's Rain, or even Highschool of the Dead, I still believe Mushishi to be the most beautiful anime out there today. Aside from the aforementioned flaw in the character designs, everything about the visuals is absolutely breathtaking. The scenery, be it a forest or the ocean, is consistently lovely, and even more so are the diverse creatures around which the series is built (those in the picture above are hardly their only shape and color).
It's difficult to decide just what the anime's standout element is, cause despite how breathtaking the animation is, the soundtrack that accompanies it is just as beautiful. Subtlety is the key in Mushishi, and the music plays along perfectly with this. Soft and gentle, but also eerie and unsettling, each melody heard works like a charm, and when combined with the visuals, this show gives off a comforting vibe that is almost indescribable.
If taken from an anime and manga and turned into another form of creation, Mushishi would almost certainly be a painting, a work of art meant to be stared at and admired. Unfortunately, there's an old saying some people can't appreciate fine art, and the same holds true for this series. Still, it's a joy to watch for those who can recognize its beauty, and taking its minor flaws into account, I'd leave it with a 9.5/10. Now, in regards to the sub-dub decision, for this one, I can easily recommend the English dub without question. Both are perfectly fine, of course, but there's a gentleness to the dub that the original occasionally shakes off, and as I said before, subtlety is key in Mushishi. Plus, some performances actually prove better or more realistic in the dub, so there's also that.