March 4, 2011, the day of the Tohoku earthquake, was also the day thirteen-year-old me watched the first episode of Inuyasha, beginning a seventeen-day marathon of all 193 episodes. It was a bad show, soapy in all the worst ways. But between the awful comedy and endless screeching it occasionally had moments that worked—at its best it managed to hit feelings of anger and loneliness that rang somewhat true to me. Broad and melodramatic, Inuyasha was a fitting show for weird chuuni me and what got me hooked on anime in the first place. Somehow.
For this year’s Anime Secret Santa, I watched Fuse: Memoirs of a Hunter Girl. It also has cute dog boys. Beyond that, it has little in common with Inuyasha. For one, Fuse can be completed within half a century. It’s also not terrible. Spoiler: there are good faces in this movie.
The titular hunter is Ooyama Hamaji, a rifle-slinging, tomboyish teenage girl who is suddenly called to the city by her older brother. Her mission: to assist him in hunting down the Fuse, shapeshifting dog people known for raiding and terrorizing people of the city. Soon after her arrival, Hamaji meets Shino, a mysterious actor who leads her to the address in her brother’s letter. Unbeknownst to her, he is one of the very Fuse she is to hunt, one of the few who have managed to avoid capture.
Fuse is hardly unique in anime as a story about humans and supernatural beings struggling to coexist. Patema Inverted, Tokyo Ghoul, Kemonozume, Shiki, you name it. But it’s just charming enough to work, thanks to a nice production and likable characters. Hamaji is gutsy and plucky in that Miyazaki/Hosoda protagonist sort of way. She hasn’t yet figured out who she wants to be, and she’s a uncomfortable being mistaken for male but also feels strange when she’s dolled up girlishly. Shino’s a classic aloof white-haired anime boy, friendly but lonely under his cool exterior. To Hamaji, an awkwardly boyish hunter kid who knows nothing but the mountains, Shino seems worldly and knowledgable. But like Hamaji, he doesn’t really belong in Edo. Since he eats human souls, he can’t get close to other people. And now that the other Fuse are dead, he has almost nobody left. Both of them are lonely people in a confusing place, and the best they can do is carve out a space for themselves.
There’s a really good scene where Shino shows Hamaji a ditch where corpses of prostitutes and unwanted babies are dumped. They’re stripped of their personhood and discarded, with nobody to mourn them. Even though the city may seem to be lively and great, some still get rejected, cast as “the other,” and left behind. That’s why human relationships are important. Before telling Hamaji his name, he asks if she’ll remember it. He wants to make sure someone will care, to prove that he matters to someone.
Shino’s full of contradictions. He rejects thanks, insisting that he’s “just paying people back,” and yet he declares that there’s “no such thing as being born wrongly into the world.” “Don’t feel guilty for surviving,” he says, just as he resigns himself to death at the hands of the emperor’s men. Wanting to believe that everyone has worth but struggling to really internalize it is something that rings pretty true to me, and although it’s conveyed somewhat clumsily in this film, I think it mostly works.
Fuse deals with fairly simple themes of growing up and making connections, but it’s nice and charming and emotionally honest. It didn’t need to be crazy ambitious to win me over. I liked it.