Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

by tigermanifesto

lupin sansei

It has been raining in hell for a whole week now. Ever since we last met, there have been little rivers of grey, chalky water pushing sediment in the streets. No one hired it to do that, and for that and a few other minor inconveniences, the ghosts are up in arms about it. Mr. Harold Zo and Quivver and Quake are now sheltering from the ghosts at my house. Their febrile minds, intoxicated with desire, have fastened on the idea that this humble rock band has summoned a rain demon. I doubt that blows will be exchanged, but I would rather not be eaten again. Therefore, I am staying inside until, and this is uncertain, I can escape. I doubt that this is normal; some of the ghosts have been here for millennia and have never seen rain. There is hope after all.

What follows will be an initial review of the animated television series Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (LUPIN the Thirdー峰不二子という女), which I hope to elaborate and supplement with more posts as the spring continues to wear on. Let us say that this review will only tantalize my itchy writing claws. It will take more than six hundred words to exhaust my thoughts on this remarkable work of art.

The Woman Called Fujiko Mine stands in an enduring Japanese media franchise centred around Lupin the Third, expert thief. Unlike other associated works, and appropriate to its title, the show focuses on the character of Fujiko Mine, Lupin’s rival and object of frustrated obsessions. Her story is chronicled through a single thirteen-episode arc, and it shows her encounters and interactions with the franchise’s iconic characters. It also emphasizes her struggles with physical and emotional traumas whose full impact she scarcely realizes. The show, the first in the franchise to be directed by a woman, is largely serious but with ample room for levity and devilish humour as well.

Never shrinking from amplifying either comedy or drama, its tone inhabits and enlivens the series’ equally distinct visual appearance. Simultaneously rich in imagery and stylistically “sketchy,” the aesthetics of the show help to highlight both its origins in manga–the series’ seriousness and focus on sexuality are supposedly representative of a larger turn back to Monkey Punch’s original graphic work–and its heightened dramatics. The animation itself is lush and attractive to the eye, giving full play to both the more stylized main cast and the contrastingly naturalistic supporting characters and background figures. Movements are often exaggerated as befits the hyperreal scenarios the characters finds themselves in, but it would be a mistake to characterize the animation as “cartoony.” Instead, I would argue that it is expressive, not taking the rules of space too literally but also remaining at least somewhat grounded.

Episodes themselves largely stand on their own, though the series builds toward a finale that is hinted at and explored throughout. Within the thirteen episodes we have, we are thrust through character introductions before embarking on the strange and mysterious tale of Fujiko Mine. Her character is shown to be deeply conflicted, both liberated in her life as a successful outlaw and dominated by desires and memories that evolve and reveal themselves to be increasingly sinister as the tale unwinds. While the final episode introduces a plot wrinkle that both complicates and radically simplifies both her character and how we understand her, the show up to that point gives her a commanding role in her own story, or so it seems. The writers and animators’ treatment, despite some aspects of fanservice that are introduced and subsequently deconstructed, is respectful of Fujiko’s integrity as a character.

Fujiko Mine largely leaves the audience in the dark until the final stretch of episodes, playing its cards rather too close to the vest at times. There is an episode, “Music and Revolution,” that comes closest to being out-and-out unsatisfying, and I would put most of the blame on the slow progress of the show’s overarching plot to that point. Its plot is about World War III, but its stakes seem curiously low for our protagonists. Thankfully, the show recovers its strength and advances from there to a stunning, if excessively expository, finale.

Shadowy figures that appear as owls appear in flashbacks. What do they signify? What made Fujiko the way she is now? These owls are of course important. Their precise role–I will leave that for future, more spoiler-inclusive posts. For now, enjoy the delights of their designs.

Fujiko Mine works as a thrilling adventure series with a serious bent, a character study, and a representative of the Lupin name. Its gnarlier issues are, if sometimes frustrating, at least fascinating to ponder, as are the numerous threads it leaves unanswered. There will be more to say about that later. For now, I would give this show an unreserved recommendation for more mature viewers. Watch on! Also, see the opening title segment for a taste of what the show looks like and some of its themes relating to gaze (and the inversion of gaze), desire, and memory.