The Princess and the Pilot was a bold choice for NIS America’s first feature film release, having only ever released anime series before. For their first home video release of a theatrical feature, I honestly would have expected something more akin to their second feature release, Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress (Fuse: teppô musume no torimonochô, 2012)—a period fantasy with plenty of comedy, action and feel-good family moments to go around. This is not to say anything against either picture, though. I only mean to express my continuing surprise at how audacious their releasing The Princess and the Pilot as their flagship feature title was. Of course, releasing any feature at all in one of their oversized, gorgeous Premium Editions is a daring move on NIS’s part!
Although certainly a less distinctive artistic vision than The Princess and the Pilot, Fusé is an impressive feature in its own right, reimagining the epic, 19th century Japanese novel series, Nansō Satomi Hakkenden in a more realistic setting. The film follows young huntress Hamaji who, during the Edo period, journeys out of the mountains to live with her brother in Edo, where they set about hunting down the remaining Fusé, human/dog hybrids that persist by devouring human essences. In the process, she falls in love with a tortured Fusé named Shino, and must come to terms with the essential bond she forms with all her quarries. While centered largely on the emotional journeys of the characters, the film is also highlighted by a series of exciting action scenes that culminate in an impressive, fiery battle in and around Edo Castle involving almost every single character in the film.
I found it impossible to watch the film and not draw comparisons between almost every element and the work of Hayao Miyazaki, which isn’t surprising as I learned that the film’s director, Masayuki Miyaji, has served as assistant director on Miyazaki’s 2001 film, Spirited Away. Both the languid pacing and loose narrative are reminiscent of a Miyazaki film, as are the character designs, which alternate between something typically Miyazaki and something more akin to Lupin the Third in general. I bring this up because, given Studio Ghibli’s close working relationship with Disney, Fusé is the closest thing we’re likely ever going to get to an NIS release of a Miyazaki film, making it a must buy from the get-go.
What’s more, it’s one of the most attractively packaged NIS titles I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing to date. The film’s title is outlined in a reflective silver on all sides of the Premium Edition’s 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD) hardboard case that it appears. And the 32-page hardcover art book that accompanies the release, with its full-color sketch of the film’s Kabuki scene is a thing of beauty. The art book features a wealth of character and location sketches as well as illustrations taken from the manga adaptation of the film and a spin-off, not to mention including a two-page interview with the Masayuki Miyaji in which he poignantly discusses trying to cope with the 2012 tsunami while making the picture. As for the disc itself, it’s everything I would expect from NIS, boasting as sharp, vibrant and pristine an HD transfer as I’ve ever seen on any Blu-ray.