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April 5, 2012 / Bradley

Bringing Sexy Back: Lupin III: Woman Called Fujiko Mine: Episode One, “A Master Thief vs. A Female Phantom Thief”

A while back I wrote a post speculating about what the new Lupin III would look like, using the small bits of information we were fed in the run-up to yesterday’s premier. As the title suggests, the post was just speculation for the fun of it, and I wrung what I could out of what little we had, which summed up to be several pictures, a short video teaser, and a press release. All those things emphasized how erotic the new series would be, but my reaction to that was to be flippant. Sure, Fujiko is a consistent source of cheesecake for the franchise, so it makes sense that anything that focuses on her should try be sexy, but I was skeptical that it would be anything special. I’ve become indifferent to fanservice through the sheer amount of it I’ve seen over the years, and none of it tried very hard to be sensual beyond shoving some tits and ass in the audience’s faces. Lupin III was especially guilty of this- for the vast majority of the franchise, Fujiko was just a gold-digging source of cheesecake. I was tired of it- the whole set-up was mean and weakened by sheer repetition and the snarling spirit of misogyny that simmered underneath every interaction between Lupin and Fujiko.

As I wrote before, Fujiko has been the weakest link of the franchise for a long time, something I had hoped the new series would fix. And it does that handily, reworking her into someone who is both recognizably Fujiko and someone new, someone edgier, smarter, and much, much sexier. For the first time in the Lupin franchise, Fujiko seems sexy. Heck, this episode is one of those rare instances in all of animation where trying to be erotic worked. And being erotic isn’t simply a matter of some well drawn titties- it’s more complicated than that. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine uses its style, intelligence, novelty, exoticism and sheer aggressiveness to pull off something rare- an adult anime whose eroticism isn’t the sum total of onscreen bare titties.

This is an origin series of sorts: Lupin III and Fujiko are already old hands at thievery, but beyond Zenigata, the rest of the gang isn’t around. Lupin III is, in fact, so practiced at thievery, and so damn good at it,  that, as he explains to Fujiko later, he announces all of his thievery beforehand simply to make things interesting. And Fujiko has only recently made a name for herself as a sexy phantom thief. Their target this week: the drug a cult leader uses to control his followers.

Fujiko has infiltrated the cult by seducing that leader, and her plan is almost complete, culminating in a marriage ceremony on the man-made island the cult leader has stashed the drugs on. Unknown to her, Lupin is also targeting the cult, and has already announced his intention to steal the goods. Oddly enough, the cult leader doesn’t seem aware of that, but Zenigata is already in pursuit. Lupin has decided that the wedding will be a perfect chance to make off with the drugs, waiting in the rafters for the new couple to seal their marriage with a kiss and then disappear back into the leader’s private quarters, where the drugs are stashed. Once they do, he’ll sneak inside after creating a little chaos among the wedding guests. But he didn’t plan on Fujiko drugging the cult leader when they kissed- “kissed” being a very mild description of what happened- and she didn’t know that the drug wouldn’t work on him. Now they’re both captives, sentenced to die at dawn tomorrow.

And this is where the meat of the episode is. Most of their conversation is a recap of what exactly happened- the first few minutes don’t give a lot of guidance beyond visuals- and then it turns, as it must, to finally establishing who Fujiko and Lupin are to each other. They think of each other as rival thieves, but Lupin sees no reason to consider her an equal. When she tries to seduce him to aid her escape, he looks her in the eye and asks, “Got anything else?”  And it turns out she does- plan B is to strip, call the guards, claim rape, and then gag a guard once Lupin is taken away and swap places with him. And it’s then that Lupin starts to like her. And I like this change to their relationship, since it makes it less about Fujiko controlling Lupin with his dick and more about how Lupin likes her as a fellow thief whose skill matches his own. And it doesn’t hurt that she has an amazing body.

The rest of the episode is an arranged contest between Lupin and Fujiko to see who can steal the drug stash- which is shaped in a giant statue of the Buddha at rest- first, while Zenigata closes on the island so he can throw everyone, including Lupin, in jail. It seems like they’ve toned down Zenigata’s obsession with Lupin for this episode, and actually having him act like a responsible policeman. Lupin wins that contest through his usual cartoonish ingenuity, but Fujiko comes a close second after infiltrating the cult for a second time and nearly outwitting Lupin while trying to steal the statue. By the end of the episode, Lupin, who has been suffering from a severe case of boredom now that thievery is no longer a challenge, has decided on a new target: Fujiko Mine.

The heist and the action surrounding it is high quality Lupin entertainment, with plenty of cartoony twists and well animated action, with little ingenious plans by Lupin and Fujiko that make them really seem like the best thieves in the world. In fact, without the amazing style and the retouched relationship, this isn’t all that different from any other heist in the recent stretch of TV specials. This isn’t quite as “Monkey Punch”-esque as promised- more on that here from Benjamin at AniPages- but this feels like a synthesis of old and new I can get behind. Lupin III has been reinterpreted many times, sometimes by an artist’s unique vision, and sometimes just by sheer force of commercialization. It’s nothing new for an artist to make Lupin their own, and Sayo Yamamoto has done that here. This is about the freshest take I’ve seen since Green Vs. Red, and in terms of interesting style, seems to be on par with Secret of Mamo and The Gold of Babylon. That’s high praise. The sterile Lupin III of most of the recent specials has no place in Fujiko Mine’s world, and I can’t wait to see where else it goes.

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5 Comments

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  1. Reiseng / Apr 6 2012 11:32 am

    I have not seen the previous Lupin series, so, I cannot comment on the validity of your claims to improvements in Fujiko, but I definitely enjoyed this episode.

    On that same note, I just wanted to let you know that this post along with a few of your other posts that I just checked out, are incredibly well written. Bravo, good sir!

    • Bradley / Apr 6 2012 12:31 pm

      Thank you! You’ve helped me get my day off to an awesome start.

  2. Emperor J / Apr 8 2012 6:54 pm

    This is definitely a darker Lupin. Darker than anything the people who saw Cagliostro could have thought. He’s a thief who is unafraid of killing people if it means getting what he wants, and I think this episode captured that perfectly. As far as the post, I think it could use a little less summary, but otherwise it’s pretty well written especially as far as the background matters.

    • Bradley / Apr 9 2012 4:50 am

      I’ve always felt that Castle of Cagliostro was a such poor representation of who Lupin is and why I’m a fan that I simply consider it a Miyazaki movie, not a Lupin movie. Not to say it’s a bad movie- it’s marvelous- but if folks jump from Castle of Cagliostro to this they’re in for a brutal surprise.

      I don’t think it’s that much darker than the rest of Lupin- the story isn’t out of place for any recent TV specials, for example, it’s just extremely well executed, with a lot of style. That style might be darker, but the content is still fairly light, the heavy opening aside. Though, come to think of it, perhaps the dark tone of opening is something the series will grow into- I could see that happening.

      It’s interesting- in the 80’s, Mamoru Oshii wanted to do a dark Lupin movie. He proposed a Lupin who was bored with stealing, since he had already stolen everything of value, and now had no purpose in life. Closely mirrors this series take on the character, doesn’t it? It’s probably coincidence, but worth mentioning.

      I’m rambling because I’m tired. Thanks for the feedback- it does me good to hear folks enjoy my work.

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