I liken Mushi-shi to a warm blanket. It’s the kind of show I turn on when I want to be in a meditative mood. In this age of digital streaming and Twitter, it’s easy to fall into the trap of live-tweeting while watching a show. It’s fun to do, but can distract from the mood of a show, and Mushi-shi is at its most effective in a dimly-lit room with all distractions removed. You need to let the emotion of the show take you in completely to get the most out of it. Mushi-shi is not bombastic, action-packed, or comedic like a lot of other anime from this year that I love, but it serves as a nice counterpoint to shows like that. The second season of Mushi-shi has many stellar episodes that put me in a good mood, but one of my favorite episodes is a little chillier, yet all the more warm for it.
“Beneath the Snow” is the third episode of Mushi-shi‘s second season. Each episode of Mushi-shi acts as its own complete story, centering around someone inflicted by a mushi, a supernatural creature with many forms and abilities. Beyond the mushi and Ginko, a mushi-shi or “mushi doctor”, each episode is standalone with a different cast of characters and different conflict. The victim of “Beneath the Snow” is Toki, who has been possessed by a Tokoyukimushi, a type of mushi that consumes the warmth of its host and causes permanent snowfall. Ginko warns Toki that if he is unable to get warm, he’ll lose his limbs to frostbite, but Toki ignores his advice because the cold doesn’t bother him.
What makes for a great episode of Mushi-shi is not the fantastical nature of the mushi, but the human emotion in the metaphor the mushi represent. Often, the real problems characters face are not caused by mushi, merely exagerrated by them. What Toki suffers from most of all is the grief of losing his sister and being unable to move past it. It’s startlingly real in the face of the supernatural elements, but this is one of Mushi-shi‘s greatest strengths. His inability to feel anything and his avoidance of warmth, even the warmth of human touch, reflects his emotional state of being. He’s locked in a state of self-destruction. The story is about exorcising personal demons and coming back to the world of living. The beautiful and deadly stillness of snow is a perfect setting for such a story. Snow is harsh and cold, but it makes the emotional journey all the more heartwarming when Toki regains his ability to feel in the end.
This is an episode for those who love stories of overcoming despair. Stories like Madoka Magica and Wolf’s Rain are near-and-dear to my heart for similar reasons. “Beneath the Snow’s” setting even makes it a great companion piece to Wolf’s Rain if you’re in the mood for great anime in wintery locations. Not many episodes of Mushi-shi‘s second season actually take place in winter and it aired in spring and fall of this year, but I can’t help but associate it with winter because of the show’s opening theme, “Shiver” by Lucy Rose. With its quiet folk tune and icy imagery, it just screams winter. While I may not live in a snowy climate, to me Mushi-shi seems like the perfect show to watch when its cold outside and you want to feel warm. Wrap yourself in a hot blanket, drink hot chocolate, turn off all distractions, watch some Mushi-shi and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a different realm. After the episode is over, the feelings still linger, as if you too have been possessed by a mushi.