ANIME & MANGA - Review
14:12 - 15th July 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Fusé

Fusé is simply summarised; a spunky tomboy huntress chases werewolves around 19th-century Tokyo. Actually, there’s much more going on under the hood; the film’s complexities make Fusé more interesting and distinctive, but also rather overloaded and less satisfying at the wrap-up. But it’s still great fun.

The huntress is Hamji, introduced in the mountains after the death of her grandfather (eaten by a bear). She’s invited to Tokyo – or Edo, as it’s called in the 1850s – by her samurai-wannabee brother. Edo is ravaged by werewolves, called “Fuse” and there are rewards for bagging them; hence her brother’s invitation. But Hamaji has barely arrived in Edo before she’s caught up in a madcap fight involving a comely, sardonic, pale man to whom she’s instantly attracted. The snag; the audience has already seen he’s a Fusé …

As mentioned in the history article this issue (page 062), Fusé has much the same period setting as last month’s Miss Hokusai. However, Fusé feels closer in design to the French cartoon Belleville Rendez-vous. It’s full of un-cute caricatures – Hamaji herself is far stockier than the usual anime girl – comic-strip colours and the odd fart gag. However, Fusé can also do delicate “pillow” shot interludes, like a frog leaping into the river at sunset.

Fusé is leisurely, introducing a large, very likeable local-colour cast while giving us space to enjoy exploring Edo. (The Yoshiwara red-light district is a weird, multi-sided city in itself.) The action scenes are fast and crisp, though Fuse only really becomes a full-blown actioner in the extended climax, lushly staged in a very high burning tower with swords, arrows and magical implements.

The werewolf plot pays tribute to a 19th-century Japanese epic called The Hakkenden, about heroic warriors descended from a princess and a dog. This is where Fusé gets complex. Hamaji meets the grumpy real-life author of the Hakkenden, Kyokutei Bakin, and watches an unauthorised kabuki take on his work, which briefly gear-shifts the film into a classical – though still irreverent – mode.

To make things still more ‘meta,’ Bakin’s granddaughter – who’s a 19th-century geek gurgling in fangirl joy – serves as the voice-over of Fusé. In effect, she’s the unreliable narrator of the story we’re watching; look closely at the film’s very first shot, and at its very last. Fusé also comments knowingly on Japanese history, with a villain who’s effectively terrified of the revolution that’s just about to sweep the country in the 1860s.

But the cleverness comes at a cost. All these strands crowd out the plotlines that should be keeping us invested in the core story. There are two romantic plotlines for the main characters; we want to believe in them, but they each need more scenes. Again, the final battle is elaborately set up, but we don’t relate to the two fighters enough to care about their beefs.

And while we’re clearly meant to feel sorry for the Fusé, that’s hard when they’re ravening killers; are we just meant to forget the people they disembowel? For once, this anime might have taken a lesson from Hollywood. The old Universal horror films had a great ‘tormented werewolf’ character (Lawrence Talbot, played by Lon Chaney Jr.). He could have taught Fusé’s pale-man lycanthrope that just looking and sounding cool won’t wash the blood off your paws.

An often splendid film with some ingenious meta-commentary, but there’s too much going on for the story to tie up satisfyingly. Nonetheless, it’s a smart, fun watch.
SCORE: 4/5
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