Like a parent doling out treats, volume 4 reveals a little more about the world of Mushi-Shi, and its ever-present guide, Ginko.  I gush about this series like a kid getting candy, but every time I watch it, there's something new to see.  It's so pretty, and the stories themselves are beautiful.  Each episode stands as its own fairy tale, exploring the delicate balance of nature, grief, acceptance, and the mailing of a letter.

Traveling through the mountains during a snowstorm, Ginko seeks shelter with a young woman and her little brother.  When Ginko learns that the boy can see mushi, he stays to help teach him to recognize the local varieties.  It wouldn't do to run across a less-friendly one, right?  Unfortunately, the boy does exactly that when he encounters an area of the mountain experiencing an eternal spring.  Delighted to find extra food, the boy doesn't realize there's a price.  It's up to Ginko to figure out what, exactly, the boy got into, and how to fix it.  Due to his tendency not to stay in any one place too long, Ginko doesn't form a great many attachments.  What happens when the potential to get attached is almost a certainty?   

Some attachments are best forgotten.  There are mushi that eat a person's memories, eventually leaving the victim an empty shell, no longer capable of remembering loved ones or even recalling the simplest tasks.  Even though the results of this parasitic mushi frighteningly resemble Alzheimer's, unlike that condition, there's a way to deal with the mushi.  As long as the victim sees his or her loved ones on a regular basis, and continues to live life fully, making new memories each day, the mushi is sated, and stays away from one's most precious and cherished memories.  For one woman, forgetting her past turns out to be a strange blessing. 

Watching this series, I've often wondered how Ginko knows where to go, and how he corresponds with others.  He has no address, and still gets letters.
  There have been instances where he follows rumors, but other times, his destination seems far more planned.  I finally got my answer, in the form of mushi that live in the cocoons of silk worms.  Who knew?  Not surprisingly, this ingenious form of letter-carrying has a darker aspect.  When a girl loses her twin to the mushi, Ginko helps her understand and accept her loss.

A young painter leaves his mountain home to attend an art school in the city.  Achieving success, he never quite finds the time to return home until it's much too late.  Now his assistance is neither wanted nor appreciated, but he manages to find a place outside the community, which had been destroyed by a mudslide several years before.  Following the trail of a "magical jacket," Ginko ends up in the small mountain community, having tracked the painting on the jacket to the young man.  He offers to help the young man, in return for the jacket, which has been infested with mushi.  It greatly humanizes Ginko to know he's not above lying to a friend.  Really, that's not as bad as it sounds...

For the first time, I finally got to see the packaging, which is as nice as one would expect from a series of this quality.  Enclosed in a pretty, matte cardboard sleeve, the plastic case has a nifty reversible cover.  There are goodies inside, too, including an illustrated booklet detailing the characters appearing in the volume, and an art card.  Since I am in love with the way this series looks, any chance to get to see more artwork is welcome!

Volume four continues the series' high quality with strong storylines and beautiful animation.  By turns dreamlike and whimsical to downright creepy, each episode is different and interesting and provides a tight plot.  There are no wasted words or actions.  Mushi-Shi has been consistently good, and I'm hoping for another great helping of stories when volume 5 comes out. 

Details: Runtime 1:40, contains episodes 15-18.  Extras on the dvd include director interviews for music and the opening, as well as textless songs and a few trailers.