Anime Review: Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress Premium Edition

Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress Premium Edition
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Cost: $39.99
Release Date: 05/06/2014
Get it HereNISA America’s Online Store

Back on 10/20/2012, an anime entitled Fusé Teppō Musume no Torimonochō was released in Japan. It is based on the novel series Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, which has an astounding 108 releases. These novels, written in the mid 1800’s, were about eight samurai half-brothers, all of which were part dog. The novels, in various forms, have been adapted into film and anime series numerous times, with Fusé merely being the latest rendition of this legend – itself based off author Kazuki Sakurabi’s novel Fusé Gansaku: Satomi Hakkenden. I should point out that Fusé is only tangentially related to the novels by Kyokutei Bakin. Author Kazuki Sakuraba’s kept only the dog/human hybrid concept, as well as their being eight of them, for his remake, but it’s enough that you can clearly see what inspired his writing and its eventual anime spin-off.

The movie, Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress, runs nearly two hours, and it primarily focuses on a young huntress named Hamaji. She is fourteen years old and a crack shot with some weird fantasy Gatling-shotgun-rifle amalgamation (it’s a cartoon, just go with it). She eventually decides to leave the mountains where she lives to find her brother Dousetsu. Once Hamaji finds herself in the city of Edo, she not only finds Dousetsu, but that the city is also in the midst of a frenzy over a pack of creatures known as Fusé. These eight dog-man creatures have attacked and killed some villagers and they can even feed on the souls of those they kill. The Shogun of Edo has offered great rewards for the killing of any Fusé that can be found. Unfortunately for Hamaji, she is sickened and repulsed by the heads of the six Fusé caught and killed so far, especially since one appears to be but a child. This is an odd reaction, considering the movie begins with her shooting a dog through the neck and watching it slowly bleed out and die. It’s a hard juxtaposition to get around that one type of dog could be killed and eaten by her so easily while another makes her sad. If anything, this seems to say that only life similar to or that imitates humanity is worth letting live in her eyes, which is not a very likable trait for a main character to have.

Despite her initial reaction, Hamaji and Dousetsu decide to hunt a Fusé for the sheer size of the reward, which Dousetsu sorely needs. Along this journey, Hamaji encounters, becomes friends with and possible even falls in love with a Fusé named Shino. Shino is an odd character, being very cold and willing to murder without a second’s hesitation, so it’s not hard to see why he is hunted. Of course, the story isn’t that black and white, and as the movie goes on, you slowly learn the real reason why Shino and his fellow Fusé have been hunted to near extinction – a reason that is a dark perversion of one of the original Bakin stories, and ends up making a nice allegory for the isolationist, racist and xenophobic beliefs that were strongly rooted in periods of Japan’s past. I’m not sure if the movie was meant to have this level of social commentary on issues that still plague Japanese culture to this day, but it was interesting to see it come up. The movies ends on a somewhat sweet/somewhat melancholy bent, but most, if not all plot threads are wrapped up, and we get decisive resolutions for each character, which is all you can ask for.

There isn’t a very big cast of characters to Fusé, but each is fully fleshed out and given a lot of personality in the time they appear on film. Character designs for the film seem very inspired by the Studio Ghibli art style. The colours and animation are extremely well done, and I’m glad Nippon Ichi chose to bring Fusé over in Blu-Ray format rather than standard definition, as I think the vibrance of the film would have lost something if watched on a regular 480i DVD.

Storywise, Fusé was okay. There are a lot of animes, both film and series, that have almost the same exact plot of a hunter being hired to kill a particular prey only to learn the intended victim is not the monster it is made out to be and that there is more to the hunt than meets the eye. I kept having flashbacks to the superior Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust while watching this, and even Robotech/Super Dimension Fortress Macross, with Miriya and Max taking the place of Shino and Hamaji. So yes, the plot of Fusé has been done numerous times before, and I can’t deny that many of those times are actually BETTER than this full length feature film. Fusé was a fun film to watch, though, and I enjoyed it for what it is. I just don’t think I’ll ever have the desire to watch it again. Part of that is because, as I have said, I’ve seen other films that do the basic core plot better. The other part is that the film doesn’t do a very good job of storytelling when you look at things critically. It’s never explained WHY Fusé have to eat human souls for example, or why Shino can’t properly control his transformations at times. It’s never explained why Hamaji can kill one lifeform without any guilt but then has horrible trauma when she kills something else. It’s never explained why the shogun has multiple exchangeable heads either. Little things like this add up and start to irk you about Fusé, but thankfully, it’s just a collection of minor storytelling issues rather than anything big that makes the film unwatchable or unenjoyable. I think the less anime of this trope that you have seen, the more you will really like Fusé and vice versa. Overall, I’d say the film on its own is worth watching, but I can’t say it is worth buying.

Of course, you’re not just getting the film on its own. This is a Nippon Ichi release after all, so you are getting the usual high quality packaging and artbook that the company puts out with each premium anime release that it does. First up is the amazing slipcover job NISA always does. The box is a double wide case made of reinforced carboard. Both sides have artworks on them, along with the logo and titles surrounded by silver embossed foil. One side of the box is drawn in the style of the anime, while the other is… not. It’s a more traditional and darker image than the style shown in the anime, and it makes for a nice contrast to the other side of the case. Inside the case is a piece of corrugated cardboard that is fastened in. I would strongly recommend not removing it, no matter how odd it looks. This is because the oversized slipcases are usually used for two disc sets. Fusé, being a movie, only has a single disc, and thus the cardboard piece takes the place of the second disc and its thinpak casing, preventing things from rattling around in the box. It looks weird, but it functions nicely. That’s what counts. Speaking of the thinpak case, it comes with a gatefold cover showing the characters from the film enjoying a fireworks festival. It’s very pretty, and again, a different art style than the anime proper. So a great presentation job on the cases for Fusé.

Finally, we have the hardcover coffee table style artbook that has become Nippon Ichi’s signature for these releases. This book is really well done, containing bios, stills and unseen sketches of the characters. It also has background setting designs (both fully rendered and in pencil), so you get a great look at what appears to be the storyboarding process for the film. The background design pieces are perhaps the highlight of the entire collection, as they are just gorgeous to look at. There’s even an interview with the director of the film, Masayuki Miyaji, who has some interesting things to say about Fusé. The artbook then ends with an art gallery, showing off the characters in all sorts of ways. This really is a fantastic artbook, from the gorgeous cover depicting a play from the time period to the glossy pages showcasing some great art. This is definitely one of the better artbooks Nippon ichi has put out.

So while I found the film to be merely okay, and probably not something I’d ever watch again, the production values of the film and the entire premium package are top notch. If you’re a fan of the novel or have wanted to see the anime, you’re getting an exceptionally good deal for the price tag of $39.99. Of course, I’m old and I remember when a VHS tape of only three episodes of a series could cost that much, but even now, where anime films can cost $30-$40 for just the Blu-Ray version alone, you’re getting a swank case and a wonderful artbook in addition to the anime itself, and if you’re at all curious about the film, you might want to consider getting the premium edition for all its bells and whistles.

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