What it’s about: The world is filled with physical manifestations of life-force, spirit-creatures called “Mushi”. They’re mostly small and usually pass unnoticed by humans, but when something goes amiss, they can inhabit a person’s body and cause illness or madness. Mushi-shi follows a “doctor” of sorts as he travels the country, treating the symptoms caused by rogue mushi and trying to discover more about them.
Why you should watch it: If I had to sum up Mushi-shi in one word, it would be “Meditative”. It has a quiet, relaxing air about it. While its tone is serious and its protagonist stoic, every episode is compelling and oddly credible for a show about spirit-bacteria. If mushi were real, it would make for a fascinating documentary series. As it is, it’s a slow-burning “medical mystery” type of show that manages to cram in a significant amount of character development into every episode without the soap-opera drama that so often accompanies the genre.
Caveats: The show is almost entirely episodic in nature. There’s no real overarching story (which is unusual in anime, really). It’s not really a series to binge on – just take an episode or two before bed.
Themes: Uncaring nature, in all its beauty and terrible power. Doing what can be done and letting go of what cannot be saved. Each episode also comes with additional motifs centred around that particular story, from community to hubris to heritage to any number of others.
Similar works: I’ve not seen much in anime that matches it. Kino’s Journey, perhaps.