Mushibugyo is a series that has a real issue with tonal whiplash. There are anime series that have mixed creepy elements and comedy with tremendous effect – Ghost Hunt is an anime series adapted from a light novel with some strong comedy elements, which doesn’t overlook the creepier and more horrific elements of the narrative, with a well done escalation into further horror.
Mushibugyo doesn’t do that. Mushibugyo starts off with super-colorful characters, an over-enthusiastic and incredibly dense shonen protagonist, and numerous fanservice jokes, but which also contains some surprisingly horrific elements created to the show’s primary menace.
The show is set in an alternate Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, where the country is terrorized by Mushi, giant insect monsters which kill anyone in their path. To fight against them, the Shogun institutes a patrol to fight against these creatures, underneath the Insect Magistrate (the titular Mushibugyo).
This leads to our protagonist, Jinbei Tsukishima, the main character, who basically shonen protagonist #3. He’s hot-blooded, he’s got a long spiky hairstyle, complete with idiot hair that sticks so far in front of his face that he could be an anglerfish. He’s more enthusiastic and energetic than Naruto, denser than Tatewaki Kuno, and more desperate to prove himself than Deku. Consequently, this makes him as annoying as hell.
The rest of the team is a little better. There’s Shungiku Koikawa, a hard drinking, hard fighting, brawler of a swordsman who killed 99 people to find out who killed his mother, before joining the Office of the Insect Magistrate. There’s Tenma Ichinotani, an onmyoji with paper familiars, who is young enough to be in Middle School (at least in contemporary Japan), and who is deathly afraid of insects. There’s Mugai, the cool, calm collected samurai with stoic demeanor and a dark and mysterious past. Finally, there’s Hibachi, the only woman of the team, a ninja who specializes in explosives and bombs, who seeks to prove herself because her clan doesn’t pass these techniques on to women (due to the fact that the Japanese name for this technique is a slang term for the testes), and who is hyper-sensitive about the fact that she has a flat chest.
In short, the show’s cast is a collection of very stock, rote archetypes that could have been rolled on a “Random Shonen Anime/Manga Character” table.
What kept me watching through the whole show was, frankly, the bugs. The show made the bugs look and feel legitimately creepy, and that they were a real menace that the public needed the forces of the Office of the Insect Magistrate to defend against. They rip through civilians in a gruesome fashion, and while the protagonists never have a really significant failure – losing a city or a district to the monsters, the animation gets across the menace of these threats without throwing a ton of redshirt characters in their way to get massacred.
This also leads to why you’ve never heard of this show, and why it hasn’t gotten a second season in spite of the ongoing manga still being in publication – or rather, the adaptation of the original manga which came out in 2009, and which got a new adaptation in 2011 which is still going. In short, the reason you haven’t heard of it is because the first episoe of this show came out literally the day before:
Seriously, when dealing with giant monster rampaging monster versus overmatched human shows, most people would likely go with Attack on Titan – and most people did go with Attack on Titan. The premise was novel, the setting was inventive, the stakes were higher, and the characters got fleshed out more before being brutally murdered.
In short, it hit it off better in Japan and in the us than Mushibugyo did, which also probably explains why, at present, Mushibuyo was only licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll, and has yet to receive a US home DVD release. The show got DVD and Blu-Ray releases in Japan, and the single-volume Blu-Ray releases are incredibly cheap, but I’m not sure if they have English subtitles. Keep that under consideration if you decide to pick up a copy.