I am a big fan of the first season of Mushishi and would easily count it among my favorite anime. Its second season, consisting of two parts, aired this year and it managed to be just as good as the first series. There were a lot of standout episodes, but the one that stuck with me the most was the one about the man and the scent of flowers coming from a nearby cave.
The strength of Mushishi is how it uses the mushi and their effect on people to illustrate a point about human nature, and this episode was no exception. The main character of this episode, Kaoru, unknowingly fell under the influence of a mushi when he attempted to use a cave as a shortcut to get back home to his wife. This particular mushi forces its victims to relive their lives over and over again with only a vague sense of deja vu being the only clue that something is wrong.
As we see Kaoru relive his life, we get to see important moments of his past including when he let a servant take the blame for an accident that he caused as a child and when he first met his future wife. Ginko strongly cautions him to avoid the cave, as repeated exposure to the mushi will cause the victim to lose themselves and become a part of the mushi.
Knowing this, Kaoru resolves to avoid the cave so that he can look forward to the future. However, when his wife is involved in an almost-certainly-fatal fall, he realizes that he doesn’t have enough time to carry her to safety but finds himself at the entrance to the cave again.
Faced with the choice of an uncertain future or a past that is safe and certain, he chooses the latter. The scene implies that Kaoru has become part of the mushi, as his wife is now the one stuck in the time loop (with the audience being shown the scene where he met her from her perspective now, which I thought was a nice touch). Another depressing implication is that she might have to relive her own life and death from the fall over and over again, given that she didn’t make the choice to enter the cave.
Though the consequences may have been tragic, I can understand why Kaoru, in his distraught state, chose to do what he did, and I love how Mushishi is able to make me feel that way.