ムシブギョー (Japanese)
Keywords: , , , , , , , , ,
Notables: AKESAKA Satomi
Back in the Shogun era, apprentice Samurai Jinbei has come to Edo to serve with the Insect Magistrate's Office--an outfit created to deal with giant insects and spiders that have been threatening the public. The man the Office really wanted was Jinbei's father, a renowned Samurai, but since he is currently disabled, Jinbei will go in his place. Can he perform adequately along with the eccentric fighters of the IMO?

26 episodes
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(All episodes watched):

This is a show which should have been 13 rather than 26 episodes long. While the premise had potential, the story seemed to be stretched out far longer than it needed to be, with plenty of tiresome fights-of-the-week. The plot was diluted with spam to the extent that it became difficult to maintain interest in it. A trimmed down and tightened up 13 episode version, on the other hand, might have been much more fun.

The show got off to a good start; I must have liked the basic premise, because even though I found the audio and video to be out of sync due to an error on my part, I muted the episode and watched it anyway. All of the different elements seem to be well balanced: the spiders are disgusting, the action is cool, jokes are OK, the artwork is pleasing, and the characters are interesting. Jinbei is plucky but has a few things to learn. The other fighters at the Insect Magistrate's Office have intriguing skills and personalities. Each gets an episode which fleshes him/her out. This show seemed to have grasped the secret of good anime: make sure you have interesting and likeable characters before you do anything else. This definitely was a good move, though as it turned out the character development which each fighter got at this point was about all he/she would get in the series as a whole.

In episode six the main plot takes off. But whereas the introductory episodes had suggested an organized, disciplined approach to storytelling rather than the haphazard approach of many anime, things quickly get pretty haphazard after all. It's unclear where things are going; presumably the main question(s) behind the story are 'where did the giant bugs come from and how can they be defeated'? I thought episode seven went completely overboard and made little sense at all: there's no way in hell that a 'fortress' sized bug could exist, and even less of a way that one man with a blade could take it down. It was basically an example of casting the laws of physics to the wind, and hoping viewers would respond by thinking this hero was totally awesome. But heroic deeds have got to be plausible to be taken seriously, otherwise they strike us (or at least me) as patronizing. I couldn't help feeling that the dynamic, likeable cast which this show has assembled might be going to waste.

I guess the second secret of good anime is, once you have interesting and likeable characters, do something worthwhile with them. A longterm plot, concerning the Insect Magistrate, seemed to be coming together in episode eight, but as of yet it wasn't intriguing me a whole lot. In episodes nine onwards, a unnecessarily drawn-out battle begins as the team defends the Insect Magistrate from an assassination attempt. This had some good points, but the stereotypical series of duels wasn't all that exciting. When people are swordfighting, and trying to kill each other, the loser generally winds up badly cut, not just so totally exhausted that he seems dead. Maybe the absurd notion that a sword can create a 'shock wave' that can knock someone off his feet (it would be easier to do that with an oar than a sword) was invented to get around this inconvenient truth. It's the Japanese equivalent of the cowboy skill of fast drawing his six-shooter and snapping off the first shot, a talent which never existed in the real old West and was invented entirely by the entertainment industry. Sometimes when people get so many superhuman powers that you can't keep track of them all, the effect is boredom. There will be plenty of fighting, but I have no idea what exactly they are doing or why it would be harmful to the person on the receiving end. And why do the 'Insect Hunters' hate the magistrate so much? Aren't they both trying to accomplish more-or-less the same goal? In the series as a whole, was there really any need for this 'assassination attempt arc' at all? In general, Mushibugyo wasn't living up to the high expectations I originally had for it.

I guess one problem I had with Mushibugyo was that I didn't see any explanation of how gigantic insects came to exist coming about. With the jokes and action being unremarkable, I couldn't help wondering about that. That was the one thing I most wanted to know—as well as what the deal was with the Insect Magistrate, and likewise no explanation of that seemed to be coming about either. I fear that this show considers itself to be funnier and cooler that it really is, and therefore might not feel any particular need to provide much of an answer. In fact, it seemed that the plot got tired of just giant insects, and without even wrapping that arc up with a satisfying explanation, moved on to a new one involving some sort of man-insect hybrids. For God's sake, where did gigantic insects come from? Did these twelve bug-samurai guys create them? What's this talk about these guys having been ordinary humans before they became insect men? This show, which seemed to get off to such a good start with an interesting cast of characters, became frustrating and confusing afterwards. Action happens, but it doesn't seem to bring us any closer to answering any of these questions. It began to look as if like the show would climax with a series of uninspired duels between the Insect Magistrate's fighters and the bug samurai, and indeed it did. For example: two insect men can regenerate even if chopped to pieces. How do you overcome that ability? You chop them up into much smaller pieces. Surely the ability of the large chunks to reattach themselves to one another in a magnetic-like fashion wouldn't work with small chunks. Everybody knows that.

I was tempted to drop the series even though it had only three or four episodes to go, but I watched episode 23 and, to my surprise, things started to come together. The superfluous duels with a dozen bizarre but uninspiring insect men warriors was about over, and the main plot could get back into gear. It was clear that things were getting serious when even one of the good guys got killed. We finally learn the story behind star IMO fighter Mugai. It wasn't brilliant, but it was noticeably better than the episodic stuff we'd been getting previously. It was at this point that the thought occurred to me that Mushibugyo as a whole probably would have worked better as a 12-13 episode series; all the boring stuff could be weeded out and there would have still been plenty of time to tell the real story.

And, wouldn't you know it, the conclusion was pretty lackluster. People seem to be able to walk on air somehow. Even though bad guy Sanada Yukimura is supposed to be awesomely powerful, he can't seriously injure anyone (even though he often has them at his mercy). The good guys just seem invulnerable to injury, and we get a sort of irresistible force versus immovable object situation. And the climax wasn't all that exciting. This was another show in which I found myself daydreaming about ways in which I might have made improvements if given the chance—like juggling the characters around from one situation to another, to explain why they haven't gotten killed because they were busy with important tasks elsewhere. I give Mushibugyo credit for the likeable cast, which is why I can't dislike this show. I just wish they had been given something better to do.

Last updated Thursday, October 24 2013. Created Sunday, May 12 2013.

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