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April 21, 2012 / Bradley

Cutting More Useless Things: Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine #03: The Lady and The Samurai

One of the reasons I’ve argued that Castle of Cagliostro isn’t a Lupin movie, but a Miyazaki movie, is because the characters were changed to the point where they were more Miyazaki’s characters than Monkey Punch’s. Lupin, for example, became a true gentleman thief, with a nobility he had never had in the original TV series or comics. Fujiko’s sex appeal was completely removed, in part because she went undercover as a governess, but also, I suspect, because Miyazaki didn’t like her inherently sexist characterization. And all that’s fair and fine, though I do resent how that movie is often fan’s only exposure to Lupin III, so when a TV series like Fujiko Mine comes along, they are thrown for a loop. (In fact, when writing about this series, I assume that’s my audiences primary source of knowledge.) Perhaps those fans felt more at home with this episode, with a throwback to the Fujiko of Cagliostro and a great summation of who Goemon is, especially in respect to the original TV series. But those were just about the only things this episode did well. The script was written by Dai Sato of Stand Alone Complex, Samurai Champloo and other top-notch examples of writing in anime, but I wouldn’t have known unless you told me, since the story was so weak.

Goemon wasn’t a member of the Lupin gang , per se, in the sense that Lupin could call him up when he needed help with a heist. He usually only helped when their interests happened to coincide, which shouldn’t have been often, since Goemon disdained thievery. Goemon was originally a cold blooded assassin with a strong nobility streak, and the first time he met Lupin was when the gentleman thief was his new target. And even when he started helping the gang, he did it in part because he wanted to be the one to kill Lupin, no one else. His relationship with Lupin and Jigen was as tense as Fujiko’s, although he was a more reliable companion. Eventually he became as reliable as Jigen, and ultimately a consistent dues ex machina who could get the rest of the gang out of any sticky situations. His sword skills are so powerful that cutting bullets mid-flight is blasé- a real highlight might be cutting a tornado in half from the roof of an airplane. He does all that with ease. That’s part of the appeal of his character, but I often wish that the Goemon of the TV specials was more complex. He lost that edge that made him dangerous, even as an ally. This episode remembers the old Goemon, and props for that. He’s willing to kill even a good man for money, but not if his children are in the room, and certainly not when his employers decide they need to make absolutely sure the king dies, even at the expense of their assassin’s life. And I like that there’s some ambiguity to his decision to save the royal family- it might be out of his sense of nobility, or it might be because he was betrayed by his impatient employers.

Characterization has been so strong so far, and that even extends to governess Fujiko, who blends into her role as royal caretaker so convincingly you might do a double-take. It’s not often that spies really sell the audience on their disguise- Bond always carries himself as Bond, whether he’s undercover as a businessman or idle gambler. Fujiko was a great caretaker, and this throwback to her role in Cagliostro makes great sense for her character. She’ll do anything for a good heist, and this is just one of several roles she can slip into with ease.

But oh gawd those children. Anime writers are consistently terrible writing young children. They’re always props, with the same cheery personality, whether they’re survivors of a brutal space war or royal brats. Or they’re just scared, or they’re just…. Whatever. I would rather hear about how loco Koko is than that aggravating earworm Fujiko cooked up for the children to sing.

They were just one element of a collectively dull story with no real climax. One reason for its muted suspense might be the animation, but I’ll leave that analysis to the experts. I didn’t find much to mind about it, though, and contribute how underwhelming Goemon’s cutting bullets sequence is to the fact that Matrix slo-mo bullet wrecking is a dead cliche, and also that kind of thing is what Goemon always does.

With such easy villains and transparent heroes, this episode lacks the kinetic excitement of the first episode and the emotional impact of the second. I’m tempted to be generous and say it’s a matter of a proximity to greatness that really hurts this episode, but no. In all honesty, this is the kind of C-game I expect from the TV specials, but sucked of a lot of the joy that makes even those movies fun. This episode feels too route not just for one of the most expressive anime this season, but for any anime, period.

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2 Comments

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  1. Balloon Thief / Apr 24 2012 1:05 am

    I agree, this episode was disappointing especially compared to the first two. The most surprising moment for me was when Fujiko took off her disguise. For some reason I wasn’t expecting that. Thought in hindsight… well, hindsight is 20/20.

    I didn’t notice the anything wrong with the children until you mentioned it. I guess I have become accustomed to bland children that blend into the scenery in anime and maybe media in general. I don’t believe there is much purpose for them other than setting the tone and mood of the show. In a way, this reminds me of the hostage situations the protagonists of crime fighting shows get mixed up in. The other hostages are only there to create a more frightening(or at the very least complex) situation for the protagonist and the viewers. That is essentially the purpose of the children in this episode.

    Other than being visually appealing Goemon’s swordplay wasn’t that interesting. I feel he needs his kryptonite because at the moment he is incredibly overpowered. Then again he always has been overpowered and Monkey Punch has managed to make it interesting before.

    Since all of the main characters have been introduced, I expect next episode will be much more exciting.

    • Bradley / Apr 24 2012 1:25 am

      Maybe. I have no idea what’s in the next episode, so I wonder if we’ll get a Zenigata episode next. Perhaps it will be the whole gang’s first heist from the point of view of Zenigata.

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