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Now hear me out. Yes, anime is a broad word to be slinging about in such a fashion. Yes, Breath of the Wild isn’t overtly anime as much as it is simply Japanese. However I can’t shake the feeling it has a ton in common with a few anime in particular. Mushi-shi be the first and foremost.
Mushi-shi takes place in a fictitious version of Japan during the later years of the Edo period. That’s roughly the mid-1800’s for you, a time where Japan was firmly isolationist and the industrial revolution had not taken hold. In Mushi-shi a wandering medicine man of sorts named Ginko travels the serene countryside, encountering creatures known as mushi. Essentially ethereal beings that most humans can’t perceive and can often cause supernatural happenings. The show takes on a very calming tone, where Ginko is wandering in gorgeously animated landscapes solving the problems of small villages and discovering the mysteries of the natural world. It’s a methodical, relaxing watch with little traditional anime action or melodrama.
Thematically speaking, Breath of the Wild is very much like Mushi-shi. I’m inclined to call it iyashikei, a genre terminology that translates to “healing.” Or to put it in plainer terms, a show which is intended to be calming. Link is a wanderer discovering the mysteries of the Great Calamity and the land of Hyrule. All the while traveling in a very picturesque landscape of rolling green hills, forests, serene lakes, salty shores, and remote villages. To be a gushing fanboy for a moment, this...this is damn well brilliant, and it’s also very iyashikei at times just like Mushi-shi.
In a previous blog, I stated how Breath of the Wild is capturing my dream of feeling like a true adventure. Now it’s becoming increasingly obvious this journey is not just Zelda, Lord of the Rings, but also Mushi-shi meets the wandering ronin trope. Much of this is derived from the narrative itself. As Link attempts to piece together the past, we begin to learn why everything went awry. It’s not totally unlike Rurouni Kenshin, Berserk, or Samurai Jack, where a lone swordsman wanders the land attempting to come to terms with the past. There is this air of a mistake ridden history. It’s why Hyrule is in a post-disaster period. The Great Calamity costed countless lives and swallowed Hyrule Castle. Graves of the past litter the land in the form of old battle grounds scattered with the corpses of mechanical guardians and whole towns lie in the form of rubble. Ganon isn’t just a looming threat. He’s already back and his power has left wounds and scars all over the land.
The presentation of Link tracking down locations from his past to recall what went so terribly wrong is a clever presentation choice on Nintendo’s part. Like stories of a similar vibe, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and again, Berserk, Rurouni Kenshin, or Samurai Jack. It keeps the audience on the hook as the narrative peels back at a digestible pace. To pour it all at once would put pressure on the player, making the main story feel like you have to finish it right away. Often an issue in open world games from the west.
“Welcome to our big world. Feel free to wander in any direction you like. Oh yeah, the world is ending though. Like right now. Best get on that.”
While Calamity Ganon has enveloped Hyrule Castle and there are plenty of reminders of The Great Calamity, it is “POST” tragedy. This is just the world people live in now. Ganon is a threat but not so much that Hyrule has become unlivable. Everyone goes about their daily lives, just in a slightly different fashion. Wandering is quite natural a thing for Link to do and the player to desire.
I honestly can’t tell you how much time of the 50 hours I’ve put into Breath of the Wild has been spent soaking up nature. Of traveling to distant lands with only a horse for company and small campfires to keep Link warm. Despite being still being a Zelda game with puzzles and sword fights a plenty, I rarely find it as stressful as I do relaxing. Even in those moments it's tapping into more action oriented anime, Breath of the Wild is a thoroughly zen experience.
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