Mushi are beings that touch the essence of life; they are also described as pure life. Mushi-shi follows Ginko, a Mushi master, as he studies and helps people suffering from Mushi problems.

Mushi-shi is an episodic anime. There is no storyline and very few reoccurring characters.  Ginko travels throughout Japan collecting samples of Mushi from swamps, pillows, people, and other places they live. He takes special care to help people troubled by parasitic Mushi and other problems associated with them. In one episode, a man in a small village had dreams that frequently came true. Both for good and for ill. The dreams were caused by Mushi that slipped from the world of dreams and into the man’s pillow. Every episode has this neutral aspect. The Mushi help and hurt. They are not evil as Ginko emphasizes. They just try to survive like everything else.

The settings of the series are beautiful. The lovingly painted watercolor landscapes really come to life. The characters themselves lack detail, but they are as alive and interesting as the Mushi. The series is full of wonder and sadness. Sometimes, Ginko fails to help people…especially those who don’t want help. Many episodes leave this mixed feeling as Ginko wanders on, never to see the people…or the Mushi… again. It is a very Zen feeling series. Everything is as it is.

Every frame of Mushi-shi is a work of art.

The anime leaves me mixed. It is very beautiful and thoughtful, but the lack of character development and overarching story hurts the anime in my view.I like character development too much I think.

Mushi-shi is by no means a bad anime. It is just not one I can watch back to back episodes. The poignant feeling many episodes left me made for troubled sleep. Mushi-shi is a very deep and thoughtful anime; just don’t watch it in large blocks before going to sleep. Your mind won’t be able to rest with the ideas this series leaves behind.

Spice and Wolf

Every once in awhile I come across an anime that hooks me from the theme song. I’m a sucker for good characters. Spice and Wolf is one of those anime.

The story follows Holo, a deity of the harvest, and Kraft Lawrence, a merchant. Lawrence stopped at Pasloe one night during their celebrations of the harvest. He finds the one they are celebrating in his wagon. Despite keeping her promise to maintain good harvests, she feels forsaken and unneeded. She strikes a bargain with the merchant to take her north to her hometown. Her 600 years of experience helps Lawrence work closer to his dream of owning his own shop, but her true nature pulls unwanted attention from the ever present and powerful Church.

Oh almost forgot! Here is the opening theme, Tabi no Tochuu,  for the first season. Quite a beautiful tune…and hard to find.

Spice and Wolf takes place in a Renaissance stylized world. There is a lot of economics in the series. A lot of time is spent explaining money, exchange rates, and other “money theory.” I’m not business minded, so most of the stuff didn’t mean anything to me. The economics provides conflict to the story. I do like how they conduct business; it is very…and literally… cutthroat. These business associations are modeled after the Medici way of doing business.

Nora caused no end of jealousy for Holo.

The relationship between Holo and Lawrence is where Spice and Wolf shines and what hooked me. I’m a sucker for a good (read not-mushy) love story. Holo and Lawrence are completely independent. They don’t need each other; they are whole people.  They spend a lot of the series arguing and being playful as only close friends can be.  Sometimes, they share their deepest vulnerabilities, like Holo’s fear of being forever alone. There isn’t any “I can’t live without you” mush. They genuinely care for each other, but also have enough confidence in the other to let them do their own thing…except Lawrence when it comes to business. He is a micro-manager when it comes to transactions: which causes him a lot of trouble.

Holo and Lawrence constantly make each other jealous, playfully so of course. Lawrence is a bit of a lunk-head when it comes to Holo. At least he isn’t completely naive and clueless as most anime male protagonists. He sometimes plays at being naive just to stir Holo up.

Even Holo gets tired of her favorite food aftering eating a crate of them

Their strong relationship mirrors what I want in my own. I think that is why I identified so strongly with Lawrence and Holo. Spice and Wolf is a “road” anime. The side characters are also interesting, but Lawrence and Holo steal the show.

Holo is quite a sad character. While she falls in love with Lawrence, she is haunted by how fleeting his life is compared to her own. She covers it up with jokes, but the fear and sadness laces her moments of vulnerability.

The quality of the anime is good and consistent throughout. The setting is refreshing. There isn’t enough anime that takes place in a stylized European environment.

Holo’s tail becomes more sexual in meaning than her nudity

Holo spends a lot of time naked in the series. Her nudity isn’t erotic; there isn’t any detail. Instead, her nudity speaks of a naturalness and other-worldly nature. Holo doesn’t like to rip her expensive clothing when she transforms so it is also utilitarian. She is a wolf and comfortable with herself…much to Lawrence’s discomfort. As their bond grows, Lawrence too accepts her nudity and wolf form as just a part of her. Her tail actually becomes more of a sex symbol than her nudity. The nudity isn’t fanservice (thankfully).

Spice and Wolf tugged at me as much as my favorite anime Eureka Seven did. They both where produced by the same studio. Imagin did the in-betweening of Eureka Seven. Spice and Wolf may well become my next favorite…the characterization is that good.

Parted Roads: The Ending of Samurai Champloo

The ending of Samurai Champloo is a mix of emotions. The journey is over. Trials are completed. Fuu, Jin, and Mugen part down their separate roads. It is a happy yet also sad ending. Despite everything they faced, and the friendship they forged with each other, they walk away without even a glance.

That is exactly the point of the ending, and the show.

People come and go throughout the characters’ journey. Each leave a mark on them, and the road carries everyone away.  Life is full of meetings and partings. Each of us has a road only we can walk, just like Fuu, Jin, and Mugen. Sometimes the roads are the same, but eventually everyone will  find their own. It is a very Zen message.

The ending leaves us viewers feeling off; we expect a ending where everyone lives together happily ever after. Instead the anime ends like it began: 3 people….alone.

The ending is far too realistic for viewers to accept. Relationships are more tenuous than we like to admit. Like the characters Fuu and the guys meet on their journey, we too meet hundreds of people only once.  We too just walk away.

It is simply a fact: all things must end. Even the best of friends or lovers must someday walk their own path alone. Death, like life, is a personal experience.  The truth of ending is distorted by our illusions of continued connection through email, social media, movies, anime, and other media. Samurai Champloo, despite its odd mash of hip-hop, Edo period and reggae, is a great allegory for how life works.

Most of us like to think Mugen finds the detective woman who claimed him as a husband. Jin will return to the island and live with his redeemed prostitute. Fuu will…well, get kidnapped and pulled into some other adventure. But happy endings are not certain in the violent world of Samurai Champloo.  Only this short part of their individual journeys are remembered. They walk away from us, leaving us only with our memory of them.

Imprint – Masters of Horror

Imprint - Masters of HorrorMost horror doesn’t shock me.  Every now and then though I come across one that weedles its way under my skin and sticks with me for awhile.  Audition was one, and Imprint is another.

Imprint was considered so shocking that Showtime banned it from being shown with its “Masters of Horror” series (but then, they allowed the episode called “Jenifer” to be shown, which I felt was just as shocking and was even more brutal.)  Now though you can catch it on Hulu and Netflix.

Imprint is the story of an American journalist in the 19th century who searches for his lost lover, who he intends to save from a life of prostitution and take back to America.  He is approached by a syphilitic Madam, and winds up selecting a girl who is seen only as a silhouette in the back of the brothel.  She is revealed to be deformed, her face all scarred and stretched.

She tells him about Komomo, his girlfriend, and about her own shocking past.

It’s a simple plot and premise, but the shock comes from the ever more grotesque history the deformed prostitute reveals about herself and Komomo’s death.  Abortion, torture, incest, spousal abuse, alcoholism, molestation, and a perverse view of heaven and hell are all present and accounted for in the sensory barrage that takes place as the story progresses.

The ending is a shocker too, as it’s ambiguous; I won’t give it away in case you’re brave enough to give this one a watch.

I don’t normally like depictions of gore and torture (as you might note from my review of Grotesque) but I think they have their place.  As in Audition, Miike uses them well in Imprint to make a shocking, spooky movie that will stick with you for days after watching.

Watch this one at your own discretion.  You’ve been warned.


Ga Rei: Zero

This anime threw me for a loop with the first episode. It was completely unexpected and doesn’t have any real bearing on the main storyline. Ga Rei: Zero is a prequel to the manga Ga Rei. The first episode makes a little more sense with that in mind.

The story follows a group of Vanquishers as they put down various spiritual disturbances like zombies, ghosts, and what they call Category A’s: people possessed by a fragment of the Nine-tailed Fox demon. Category A’s are people who come in contact with a Bane Stone, a crystallized fragment of the Nine-tailed Fox. It gives them superhuman healing and other abilities.

The anime focuses on the relationship of Kagura and Yomi, both raised as Vanquishers.  Kagura moves in with Yomi and her adoptive father after her mother dies. Kagura’s father is one of the most powerful Vanquishers and is always busy. Kagura is in a deep depression until Yomi becomes her adopted older sister.

The show has excellent character development of Yomi and Kagura. You really feel for them. There are a host of other characters that are only sketched out, like Yomi’s betrothed, but they are mostly forgettable. There are a few yuri elements here and there with Yomi and Kagura.

The show is violent…very violent. People are dismembered as only anime can do. The violence is all the more horrific against the sweet scenes between Yomi and Kagura. The series kept me guessing. I was honestly surprised with how it ended, but any fan of the manga already knows what goes on.

Hmmm. Kagura is a little TOO embarrassed about Yomi’s Pocky…

The animation combines 2d animation and computer generated animation for some of the largest demons. The demons seemed out of place compared to the zombies and Category A’s. The animation on the whole is top notch.  The sword fight scenes are particularly well done.

Ga Rei: Zero is a solid anime. Yomi and Kagura are interesting characters. I was able to really feel for them.  The pacing for the show is odd; most of it is a memory that catches up with the first 2-3 episodes. It lacks the fanservice of High School of the Dead (thankfully), but  it does have some.

I would have never guessed Pocky was fuel for fighting demonic entities. That explains some things about Japan.


The Machine Girl

The Machine GirlThere are good movies.  There are bad movies.  Then there are movies that are so bad, they somehow flip around and become good in their own special way.

The Machine Girl lay in the third category, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s so bad that it’s awesome.

The movie follows a college girl named Ami, whose brother is killed by the son of a Yakuza gangster.  She goes out to get revenge for her brother, and winds up losing her arm in the process.  Later she has a machine gun attached to it.

I felt like I was watching an anime (and not a good one) brought to life.  The gore is cartoonish, the dialogue ridiculous, and the plot basically non-existent.

That being said, it’s a fun movie.  Don’t expect to do a lot of thinking, and don’t watch it if you don’t like gallon upon gallon of gore.  The Machine Girl is cinematic junkfood at its finest; little more than fluff and bad special effects that somehow come together to make an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.

I was a bit puzzled as to why it was categorized as a horror flick; it’s not scary and wasn’t intended to be so.  Rather, it feels like a low budget version of Kill Bill.

All in all I enjoyed it.  There’s nothing deep here, nothing scary, and certainly nothing new.  It’s just a fun little movie for people who like flicks with low budgets and cheesy special effects.