Hidden Gems: Mushibugyou

Have you ever been interested in something made before you were born?  That’s sort of my thing being a History major and all.  Anyway if you look at cinema you will notice a trend in 50’s and 60’s where there are tons of cheaply made scifi movies where humans had to fight super-sized versions of everyday animals like tarantulas, ants, and so on.  Now imagine these massive bugs are attacking Edo-era Japan and viola, you have Mushibugyou.  Mushibugyou is a patently ridiculous show and a battle-shounen at that. I know I’ve done a bunch of battle-shounen  posts recently, you can see some here and here if you like the genre, but Mushibugyou is a show I think deserves some attention.  This is saying something since I originally dropped it after a handful of episodes.

Now you might be wondering why the hell I would recommend a show I myself dropped.  That’s because I found a reason to come back and it delivered.  I admit that it is a bit tough to get through in the beginning, the first 4 or 5 episodes basically just introduce the cast as they have a 1 on 1 with our main character Tsukishima Jinbei.  Jinbei himself can also get kind of annoying since he’s the typical, obnoxiously loud and stupid shounen hero.  But if you can make past these episodes the story starts to pick up, and it becomes apparent how important the Insect Ministry, the place where Jinbei works, is as well as the sheer scale of the insect problem.  I should also mention at this point that not all the enemies in this show are bugs, the early episodes are all Kaiju (big monster) Extermination Simulator – Insect Edition, but more interesting enemies lurk just beyond the obvious threat of huge man-eating bugs.  Now at this point I should probably note that I’m one of those people who will push through shows when they are a slog if I think they will get better and only drop shows I hate right away or ones that just don’t look like they will get any better.  When I dropped the show initially I never thought it was going to get better and until I found a random AMV where the show got fucking awesome, and surprise it was like 2 episodes past where I stopped watching.  Anyway what does the show have offer?

Let’s start with the basics, it’s a battle-shounen so it better have decent action or it will flop.  The action is interesting because initially all of their enemies are nightmarish and huge versions of insects, so naturally they fight differently depending on the opponent with the exception of the strongest guy who can basically do whatever he wants in early episodes.  For example the tactics used when fighting a huge dragonfly are nothing like the tactics used to kill massive centipede.  Even though each character is limited to a single style of fighting, the group tactics they use to win vary greatly.  The battles also just  have good flow to them, none of them are overly long nor are they too short.  Also for the most part there are no shounen power-ups nor any long slogs where the heroes take tons of damage and win with willpower and friendship, instead injuries have to be avoided most of the time since they are fighting bugs that could kill them with a single blow, or maybe a few hits if they’re lucky.  Which brings me to my favorite part, the lethality.  There are a lot of fights where I feel exactly zero tension because both sides just launch a fucking barrage of attacks without doing much to each other, or where both sides beat the living shit out of each other and then just keep going on and on to the point where the lose the tension they began with.  In Mushibugyou because most blows are deadly enough to tear humans apart, every fight feels deadly, even the ones you know won’t be.  I mean plot armor exists and this show isn’t freakin’ Akame ga Kill but just knowing a single misstep will at bare minimum lead to horrific injuries is a good way to make fight seem like it could have consequences, thus building tension.  This doesn’t hold true for the strongest character but the story rarely focuses on him so whatever.  And speaking of the characters…

The characters are something of a mixed bag.  Most of them stick closely to common archetypes, like tsundere, the cold and brooding badass,  the guy who is easygoing but turns terrifying in battle, and so on.  And with one major exception the characters don’t have much of a backstory, though in some cases their lack of backstory is an actual point of interest, not just a missing part of their character.  What makes the characters work is that none of their personalities really overlap.  Jinbei is polite, honorable and trusting to the point of being obnoxious.  Hibachi, the tsundere, is aggressive, blunt and often rude.  Also I should note that she is nowhere near as annoying as the typical tsundere nor is she useless in battle.  Tenma is this little omyoji boy and a bit of wuss, he’s not all that engaging but he’s not annoying either.  Koikawa, a former criminal, is jovial and casual but gets swept in his emotions when pushed to it.  And Mugai is one cold, distant motherfucker.  In addition to be different in terms of personality, they all fight differently too.  Jinbei fights in the traditional samurai style albeit with some special moves.  Hibachi has a tanto, a type of long dagger, but her main weapon is various explosives.  Koikawa uses multiple swords, he fights without a formal style and just sort of charges in and massacres shit. Tenma uses these hilarious shikigami (paper familiars) that, I kid you not, slap enemies to death.  And Mugai uses this fucking ridiculous katana-ish blade that’s roughly the size of his body and has a grip as long as he is tall.  Overall the characters themselves are not the strong suit of the show but they do have surprisingly good interaction with each other and if nothing else contribute to the absolute absurdity that is the world of the show.

The world of the show is actually really done despite it’s ridiculous nature.  They really managed to make an Edo, it’s the old name for Tokyo FYI, that feels relatively historically accurate and adjusted to deal with the giant bug problem accordingly.  This is in no small part to the show’s artwork and visual design.  It struck a good balance between the outrageously colorful and vivid parts of the show, like the major characters and the bugs, and the realistic parts of the show, like the towns, topography, and Edo buildings.  The giant bugs generally look awesome or at least disgusting, the buildings are period authentic and the cast manages to have mostly period-accurate clothes that also have enough color and flair to mark them out without making them seem way out of place.  Some of the visual effects for the special attacks in the show are interesting as hell too.  Overall the visual department did its job very well.

So in summary, I would say Mushibugyou is a solid and good looking show with a ridiculous premise that it manages to make work most of the time.  This show is weakest in the early episodes, so if you don’t want to slog through mediocre beginnings to get to better arcs, you may want to skip the show.  If possible I would encourage anyone to try slogging through the early stuff if they can because the show gets so much better later on, at this point I should probably point out it has 24 episodes instead of the usual 12 in case that helps.  Anyway I don’t have much else to say so I’ll wrap up here.  Hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.


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