What They Say:
Hamaji, a young huntress from the mountains, stumbles into the middle of a shogun’s vendetta against a group of human and dog hybrids – the Fuse. Rumors of Fuse murdering innocent people in the bustling city of Edo have sparked a bounty for their heads. Hamaji joins the hunt for this dangerous quarry along with her brother, but after accidentally befriending one of them, Hamaji is torn between two worlds: her life as a self-reliant huntress, and the young woman her new friend has helped her to uncover.
The audio presentation for this release is a step above the usual releases as we get the original Japanese language in stereo using the PCM format but also a Japanese 5.1 mix which gets a DTS-HD MA lossless encoding, something we don’t often see from NIS America. Both mixes serve the show well, but obviously there’s a lot more to work with when it comes to the 5.1 mix. That one provides a greater sense of fullness with the music but it also hits up more bass in some of the key action moments while also throwing a few things to the rear channels along the way to give it more life. A lot of it is very much forward soundstage based though with what it wants to do and it handles that all quite well with a good bit of directionality and placement that makes it flow well whether it’s dialogue being tossed out amid the faster moments or the action pieces themselves. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2012, the transfer for this two hour film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film is pretty much all that occupies this set outside of a couple of minutes of extras so what we see is everything thrown at the film itself. Animated by TMS Entertainment, it’s a gorgeous looking release with a lot of detail, a lot of natural colors and a whole lot of pop and vibrancy throughout. There are so many moments in Edo when they’re in the cleaner and more decadent sections that you can’t help but to pause it and check out the smaller areas in the backgrounds to see what’s been put in there. It’s a rich looking film with gorgeous colors and such fluid animation in the action scenes and elsewhere that as it flows across the screen it’s definitely captivating in a big way. While I’m sure some can find a nit to pick or two, this release definitely has a great theatrical quality about it that comes across here.
Though this is a movie as opposed to a full on TV season series, we get the usual high standards for the premium edition here. The oversized box for this is definitely beautiful as we get a front cover that puts the leads together as the look over a darkened Edo that’s simply beautiful with the color design and the additional silver to the logo, which already blends gray, red and black together in a fantastic way. The back panel goes for a much brighter and colorful piece that’s more of what the feature looks like though as it gives us Hamaji and Shino together on the steps of their part of the city with such beautiful, natural colors that you can practically feel the breeze from it. It’s so rich, so detailed and so appealing that both sides are works that you want as a poster on your wall.
Inside the box we get the thirty-two page hardcover book that works similar to many other releases from NIS America. The first half of the book works through a look at the various characters and their designs as well as a great mix of full color and sketches of the settings from the film. The second half gives us an interview with the film’s director that goes for a couple of pages and a lot of other visuals for the feature. There’s also several pages of lush pieces of artwork that was used to promote the film in various forms. The package also obviously includes the clear thinpak case as well which has some interesting artwork on the front cover with the leads on the bridge under the fireworks which carries through to the back. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release goes for a simple approach with an old school look to parts of it with the way the river runs through with circles featuring different parts of the feature, from the city to the dogs and the characters as well. Set against a star filled background that works shades of purples and oranges to it, it’s one that definitely does fit the show but doesn’t really stand out or engage all that much, being more functional than anything else. The navigation strip along the bottom handles the selections well with quick and easy access while all submenus load without problem.
The only extras included here is a couple minutes worth of commercials for the feature.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel by Kazuki Sakuraba that was titled Fuse Gansaku: Satomi Hakkenden, this feature plays in the realm of the classic Nanso Satomi Hakkenden work that was published in the early 1800’s. That work has been adapted many times across many forms of media, which isn’t a surprise considering it ran a hundred and six volumes over the course of thirty years. With Sakuraba’s book, it takes an alternate approach to things by placing the author of the original novels within the film itself, albeit in a really limited role. But it helps to reshape the story in a different way here from what we traditionally see playing out in some of the other anime adaptations that have come down over the years, including the recent Eight Dogs of the East series from 2013.
The film, animated by TMS Entertainment and directed by Masayuki Miyaji, introduces us to the character of Hamaji, a young woman who has been living in the mountains with a priest for quite a few years. She’s shown as an accomplished hunter, one with empathy for what she ends up taking down though, but her life is about to change as her brother in Edo wants her to come live with him after their grandfather had died. But he’s got a bit of an ulterior motive as well because he knows her skill and there’s a need for it in the city. As it turns out, the city has been overrun with a problem recently with Fuse, the name given to the wolf/human hybrids that exist there. They’ve been bringing bad luck, according to the people, and the shogun has given the orders that they be hunted down. Seven of them have been found so far and beheaded for all to see, which is done with a whole lot of uncomfortable color and pride by those that accomplished the deed. But there’s still one left and finding it will bring quite a bit of money to the continually poor brother.
Hamaji has a bit of culture shock coming to Edo because it’s so unlike the rural area that she came from, but her brother does his best to guide her. Of course, since she’s going to help hunt, she has to be dressed more as a boy since girls wouldn’t be able to participate, and that leads to some confusion along the way. But a lot of things happen to hear from practically the start, including a run-in with the Fuse named Shino that is intent on having his issues dealt with. He doesn’t exactly toy with the hunters that are showing such pride, but he does mess with them and cause a good bit of trouble before it gets to be too much. He ends up getting caught up with Hamaji along the way since she just gets carried along the flow of it all, but it starts to build a bond between them that’s revisited a few times over the course of it. For Hamaji, it gives her the first taste of how someone like a Fuse can fight and that puts her on the path to figuring out what’s going on, and realizing that there may be others in the city as well.
The slow bond between the two is well explored across it as is the exploration of the city itself and the way things work. It’s all done with a bit of a light touch, more intent on mood and atmosphere in a way, but it hits some very fun areas along the way from how the ruling side is involved in things, the way the poor live and some of the other gender and social issues that existed at the time. While the story of the Fuse itself is definitely interesting, and Hamaji ends up dealing with some amusing people along the way since they have her dealing with the granddaughter of the actual book series and the author himself, but the best part for me involves Hamaji and her brother Dousetsu. He’s spent his time in Edo trying to become a samurai but getting nowhere only to have his life truly turn around once Hamaji gets there. He may be trying to use her a little bit once she gets there, but he takes on a great older brother role as it goes on and while Hamaji is the lead, I really liked his story the best here as we see how different his life is when we get to the end of it.
While we do get some scattered action across the film, which really comes across beautifully, a lot of what we get here are some great character moments and dialogue that’s placed within a gorgeous setting in terms of quality of design and color. There’s a real fairy tail kind of approach to it in some ways rather than going for a dirty and gritty real world setting and that just helps to elevate it all the more. It does provide for some of the more grisly aspects of the story with the beheaded Fuse and seeing those laid out for all to see, but even that is kept at just enough of a distance so that it doesn’t become truly disturbing or anything. And that helps to make it so that even the ostensible bad guys hunting them never come across as truly evil and how Shino can still be the hero in a way, making it easier for Hamaji to be drawn to him without any moral issues. It’s a good blending of story and design overall and really keeping it in that fairy tail mindset will allow it to work even better.
Having watched a fair number of Hakkenden adaptations and inspirations over the years, I’ll easily admit that they’re not entirely my thing. There’s a certain styling to it that just doesn’t work for me. But what I’ve also found is that because of its importance in the literary world and its impact overall, when new adaptations and interpretations are done they end up being quite striking in many ways. Fuse: Memoirs of a Huntress, is no exception. While the story is a bit of an interesting take on what we had before, focusing more as a side story in a way in an alternate real world approach, it does it with such a sense of fairy tail and whimsy about it that it’s easy to be caught up in it and just to enjoy the lightness and easy touch that goes on here. It’s a beautiful feature that gets all the stops put out for it in terms of the production here, both in the film itself and the North American release. Fans of the film will absolutely love what gets put to disc here while those who haven’t experienced the Hakkenden work itself will find a really curious approach taken to it that should get them to explore the original work more.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Original Commercials
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: May 6th, 2014
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.