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May 26, 2012 / Bradley

Coming into Its Own: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine 5 – 8

Anime fans generally have a fixation on the source material of an adaptation that borders on the fetishistic. Some of this is earned- we’ve all been burned by series that involved us for twenty-something episodes before we were left out to dry when it came time to end the series, making us go to the original manga or light novel to satisfy our need for a good ending. We’ve also been plagued with a lot of clumsy adaptations- this season alone, Medaka Box and Mysterious Girlfriend X has left fans unsatisfied with its animated treatment. It’s understandable, but what this does is shortchange the creative effort of the folks who work hard to translate a comic or a book from the page to your TV screen. In general, I think it’s better if source material as an inspiration rather than a longer storyboard or script, and tries to integrate parts of the source into something that the animating staff own as their own creative effort.

When I first saw that Fujiko was being promoted as going back to the original manga’s sensibility, I figured what that actually meant was that the series would have more boobs per minute than other Lupin specials. Which is fine, but hardly a novelty. But as has been documented elsewhere, the anime has been integrating many affectionate tributes and nods to Monkey Punch’s work. This is kind of a novelty in itself, since the anime had developed into its own beast decades ago. But I haven’t seen anyone ask whether higher fidelity to the original manga is a good thing. I haven’t been able to find a copy of the first volume for love or a reasonable amount of money, so I’m relying on what others have written here (which is totally responsible), but I’m told the manga is so different from even the earliest anime adaptations that it induces a bit of mental vertigo, in a similar way that folks who have only seen Cagliostro get a bit… confused when they watch Secret of Mamo. I actually quite like Lupin anime even at their most mediocre, which is probably the sign of a truly hardcore fan. I’m attached to the characters, their quirks and catchphrases, and the completely predictable way they act in most specials. It’s comforting. Every other anime could devolve into cute girls just venting whatever issues haunt the otaku psyche at the moment, but Lupin and the gang will always be finding world-shaking treasures and rescuing cute but sexually voided girls from trouble. Much like how manga fans want fidelity to the source material, I want fidelity to the comfort food storytelling I’ve come to expect from Lupin.

But it makes me so happy that Fujiko is sitting on the face of that expectation and letting loose a loud, juicy fart. The last five episodes have taken a series that was stylistically different from every other entry in the series, but still kept its core intact, and has sucked out that core and replaced it with something that is distinctly its own thing. It’s still Lupin, but this isn’t anything like the Lupin we’ve seen so far. It’s smarter- it takes the lazy geo-political settings of previous episodes and buffs them with an intelligent and playful take on history. Raiding dungeons for treasure feels more dangerous, especially when competing with other thieves. The franchise’s half-hearted stabs at supernatural whatsabouts and whogivesafucks have a little more oomph in a Gothic atmosphere. And Oscar is not only a fantastic enemy,  he’s villainous in a way that Lupin hasn’t come close to doing before, since he’s brimming with bile and sexual frustration. I really regret not taking the time to blog this transformation.

Back when I was writing about the series weekly*, I wondered whether the it would delay the gang’s inevitable get-together until the end of the series, and it looks likely that only is that the way the series will work out. I didn’t want that, but this is another example of the series’ originality that I’ve come to appreciate, in part because it has excellent reasons for not getting the gang together. Our characters are criminal professionals at the height of their skill. They are the best of the best, but they won’t collaborate just make a new Dream Team for thieves, because they’re thieves. They own that identity in a way no other Lupin movie or series has shown, and all the knowledge, ambition and paranoia that comes with it. It makes sense that Jigen just won’t trust Lupin yet, so while we miss out on the trademark banter the two of them share in every other incarnation, we get a wonderfully tense partnership where both parties keep each other at arm’s length while slowly getting closer to their iconic partnership.

And more importantly, they’re side characters, because Fujiko owns this series. It’s about her self-identity and ambitions, and, sure, there’s adventure and thievery and seduction and so on but the focus won’t shift. Every character is tied to her, whether it’s Jigen or Oscar’s resentment, Lupin or Goemon’s crush, or Zenigata’s confused attempts at being the predator and becoming the prey. This series broadens what a Lupin anime can be, because it won’t follow tradition. It’s certainly better for it.

*No promises that I’m picking that up again, either. I’m pretty notorious for saying I’m going to do something and then… not… do it. Just ask THEM, or AniMaybe, or Anime3000. That I haven’t been able to follow through on all my ambitions haunts me whenever I write anything.

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4 Comments

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  1. Yamirokuai / May 28 2012 3:16 am

    >Mysterious Girlfriend X
    >clumsy adaptation
    >has left fans unsatisfied with its animated treatment
    I really don’t know wtf are you talking about

    • Bradley / May 30 2012 12:50 pm

      This is about the second time an MSX fan has said they don’t understand why I say its adaptation has a bad reputation. I suppose this is the danger of making broad statements, but I could swear I was seeing a fair amount of grumbling about how the material was handled on Twitter. Perhaps it’s just my circle of influence.

      I’ve only seen one episode of the series and I liked it enough that I want to see the rest one day, though I did think the direction could have used more nuance.

  2. Balloon Thief / May 30 2012 6:36 pm

    We seem to have similar opinions on adaptations of source material. The advantage I see in using the original source material as an inspirations is that it allows you to evaluate the new work on it’s own merits. If a new series follows the source material too closely, it will be treated as a reproduction of a work of art. No matter how this new piece of work is it will always be a derivative. A great example of a series using the source material as inspiration is the BBC show Sherlock, which I watched recently. Whether or not you like this new work it only vaguely resembles the original so you must weigh it by itself. Then again, I still prefer the original Holmes novels.

    I would find the characters unrealistic if they didn’t harbor a healthy mistrust of their fellow thieves and criminals. The whole honor among thieves idea seems utterly ridiculous to me. But I happen to not be a thief(trust me on this one). I guess if I was frequently in highly stressful situations I would be inclined to rely on someone or anyone for help. This brings up the loneliness of crime. The inability to trust anything. I have resorted to babbling. What was I trying to say? I wonder.

    My unscientific guess would place the majority of people as happy with the MGX adaptation.

    Since Oscar is a new character(right?) and this is a prequel, I wonder why he didn’t appear in the other series. Must he die or run away before the series ends.

    Glad to see you’re stilling writing about this even if it happens to be inconsistent.

    • Bradley / May 30 2012 8:52 pm

      Yeah, Oscar is an original character. And with Owlheads taking the spotlight as Villian Numero Uno, who knows where his character is going in the near future. Again, I like how this series consistently subverts my expectations.

      Yes, the BBC adaptation is a good example of what I’m talking about. I listened to an interview with Stephen Moffat awhile back, where he observed that placing Holmes in the modern era gives him back the edge he loses when kept in his original Victorian era. Most of the time, when people try to update source material by making it edgier, it doesn’t work, but since the original Sherlock was a scary figure for his time who has been softened by family-friendly adaptation- many of which I’m very fond of- restoring his edge made the whole thing feel fresh again. Kind of like what Fujiko does with using the original manga as an aesthetic inspiration.

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