Anime: Mushi-Shi // Sword Art Online

The art of Japanese Animation is vastly becoming more and more popular outside of the uniquely traditional but strangely modern, Land of the Rising Sun. Aside from the massively popular Shonen Jump shows such as Naruto Shippuden, Bleach, One Piece and Fairy Tale, there are hundreds of less popular but equally entertaining viewing experiences to be had. I’m going to be showcasing some of my favorite new and old shows that have been seriously underrated but make for some meaning and memorable watching.

Mushi-Shi via Funimation
Mushi-Shi via Funimation

The first series to be showcased is titled Mushi – Shi and was originally illustrated in manga comic style by artist Yuki Urushibara. Japanese production company Artland Inc then adapted the show in 2006 into a small 26 episode Anime series, which was later re dubbed and distributed by Funimation American in what I must say is a good quality English voice cast.

Mushi – Shi is a unique show in every sense of the word – it follows a non-linear structure with the main character being the focal point as apposed to an over arcing story line driving the show. It tells the story of Ginko, a young ‘Mushi master’ living in feudal Japan who travels the land documenting and ‘assisting’ with strange outbreaks of Mushi related incidents. What may you ask are Mushi? Well, they are described in the show as the “purest form of life to ever exist”. Mushi (hence the name Mushi – Shi) take the form of strange ‘alien’ like creatures that slip between the category of plant, insect and animal life. They range in size, ability and the effect that they have on the environment around them.

There is little known about these strange creatures that are only viewable to a select few. Because of their mysterious origin and distinctly different traits little has been documented about these extraordinary beings and that is where Ginko comes into the story. He is known as a Mushi – Master, which defined, is a mixture of a doctor, a witchdoctor and a shaman all rolled into one. He has had first hand dealings with these strange creatures and seeks to help others learn and adapt to their peculiar behaviours.

The show highlights some complex themes such as nature and man’s impact on the environment; the world’s tendency to shun anything we don’t understand and the important roll one individual can play. The art style is breathing and original, favouring a watercolour style pallet with soft tones to draw the viewer into this mysterious environment. Although the story can sometimes seem slow, it flourishes with its deep meaningful life lessons and interesting outcomes.

If I had to pick a flaw, my only issue would be that aside from Ginko, there is little to no background characters that stay prominent within the series. Secondly, the story overall seemed too short. Luckily Artland has just released the second season after years of hiatus and it promises to be even more gratifying than the first. Those who enjoy something slightly different from fighting ninjas and magical battles should find solace in truly unique charm that is Mushi – Shi. As one of my personal favourites I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Sword Art Online distributed by Madman Australia
Sword Art Online distributed by Madman Australia

Next up is something completely different from the calm and quite space that is Mushi – Shi. I introduce Sword Art Online, an action packed but emotionally involving sci fi tech geeks dream. Originally printed as a light novel by Reki Kawahara and brought to life by production company A-1 Pictures in 2012, Sword Art Online tells the story of a new virtual reality video game released in the year 2022. Using a brain integrated software device called nervgear, players have the opportunity to experience the fantasy world of Aincrad allowing their wildest MMORPG dreams to come to life. Unfortunately, things become all too real when the creator of the game hacks into players nervgear effectively trapping them inside the virtual world. Only by clearing the 100 levels of monsters, quests and strenuous trials can players be free of this horrifying nightmare, but there is more to this impossible mission that meets the eye. Die whilst in the game and your nervgear will end your life in reality.

Whilst this concept is not really new to the world of anime, Sword Art Online takes it to a new and exciting level with its unique blend of drama, comedy and down right over the top gameplay. The show centers around the character Kirito who in reality is a small, sickly Japanese teenager addicted to gaming. Unlike his real world self in SAO, he is an outgoing and strong player who may very well have the ability to beat the game.

The show deals with various themes such as romance, losing a loved one, as well as the psychological impacts of being stuck in a ‘death game’. The overall story should appeal to most as it has a nice balance of action and fighting mixed with a few girly romances which I know we all love (including myself). It does however have a few downfalls that weigh slightly on my overall rating. Firstly, the show moves at a lightning fast pace, which although refreshing does miss crucial aspects of the manga and therefore takes away strong points from the story. The second half of the series takes the show in a completely different direction to the first which although is entertaining starts to fall apart in cheesy love triangles and down right pathetic fan service. Without speaking too soon, redemption may be at hand with the shows highly anticipated second season premiering earlier this month.

Sword Art Online is a great attempt at an entertaining sci-fi anime with its all around appealing aspects. It does a wonderful job of integrating fast passed action and an enthralling romance into a perfectly sized 25 episode series. As an avid gamer and anime fan I enjoyed this show a lot, but it’s lacking of certain aspects were certainly noticeable (in my opinion) I give SAO 4 out of 5 stars.

Words by Shaun Gill