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March 15, 2012 / Bradley

Baseless Speculation is Irresponsible & Pointless. That’s Why It’s Fun!: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

Eyes down here, bub. No, silly, the article below.

There’s been rumblings about a new Lupin TV series for the past six months or so, which made me cautiously excited. And once confirmation came in last week, well, I lost it:

Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko to Hatchin) will direct the 13 episode series, making her the first female director on the Lupin III series. Redline director Takeshi Koikewill serve as animation director and character designer, and AnoHana‘s Mari Okada will handle the series composition.

The series revolves around the character of Fujiko Mine, depicting her and the rest of the Lupin III cast during their younger days. The series will reportedly capture the “sensuality” present in Monkey Punch‘s original Lupin III manga in its “daring interpretation” of the franchise.

(via Anime News Network)

The staff looks extremely promising- close to a dream team of talented creators from the past few years. Michiko to Hatchin is a good anime, despite being a bit too loose and meandering. But it made up for that by being very ambitious and original. As a directorial debut for Yamamoto, it’s hella impressive, so I’m expecting great things from her. And frankly, we need a lot more women creating work for the industry. Koike has been working at Madhouse for well over a decade, but Redline was more or less his debut, and it was the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in years, anime or otherwise. The colorful animation is clearly the highlight of the movie, though, and there’s no other animator in the industry whose work I want to see more of. I’m not expecting the fluidity and complexity of his movie, but Koike has a distinct aesthetic that I really like, and if the promotional art and this ad for a Lupin pachinko machine he animated are any indication, his style should shine through. Mari Okada is the only one of the three I’m unsure about. She seems to have really made a name for herself with the critical success of AnoHana in Japan, but I didn’t much care for that series, even though the talent in the writing was clearly a cut above almost everything else from the last few years. The whole melodrama became too preposterous, and its fetish for some halcyon days of bygone youth didn’t appeal to me- really, what teenager pines to be ten years old again? But I suspect enjoying this series was probably more culturally dependent than usual even for anime, so I don’t hold much against it. Still, I don’t take her involvement as a sign that the writing will be good- she has been a series composer on everything from Hanasaku Iroha (which is great) to Black Rock Shooter TV (which is painfully bad). I’m also not sure how much creative control she will have a series composer, and whether that means the talent in AnoHana will shine through or not.

This was always my favorite design for Fujiko.

But fine- enough has been written elsewhere about the staff. It makes bloggers look smart to talk about who makes the cartoons they love. Not enough time and pointless speculation, though, has been given to its premise, and that’s what I’m here to fix. We have three bits of information on what kind of series Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine will be. To recap:

  1. It will be set in the early days of Lupin and Co’s thieving careers
  2. Fujiko Mine, Lupin’s occasional ally, occasional enemy and (rarely now) occasional lover.
  3. “It will daringly capture the sensuality of the original Monkey Punch manga.”

The last point is in air quotes for sarcasm. Fujiko Mine has almost always been the sole source of cheesecake for the franchise, so it’s no surprise that a series focusing on her will try to be sexy. And while the last few TV specials might have toned it down a bit, it’s still bog standard that Fujiko will at least flash her porn star assets. To top it off, my understanding is that Monkey Punch’s manga isn’t so much sexy as it is psycho-sexual. I suppose it could still be “daringly sensual,” but I suspect credit for that will go to Koike and Yamamoto, who have made some of the sexiest anime of the last few years. But I still find this point a bit laughable.

There was some chatter when the aging voice cast for Lupin III was changed after The Last Job that the creaky franchise was due for another reboot. Setting the series at the beginning of Lupin & Co’s thieving careers seems to indicate that this the reboot we’ve been looking for, which makes me a bit sour. I have no problem with the idea of a reboot per se, but rebooting with an origin story is usually problematic. It’s the same problem with superhero movies- lots and lots of time is dedicated to making the hero human and painstakingly laying out his motivations and how relatable he is and all this other crap from Screenwriting 101, at the expense of actually being interesting with, y’know, the kind of superhero action people pay to see. Lupin doesn’t need an origin story, and he doesn’t need to be explained. Anyone can drop in at almost any special or movie and follow things just fine. Lupin needs as much backstory as 007, which is to say, none. I’m hoping that “early days” doesn’t mean lower stakes and fewer crazed heists.

But focusing on Fujiko Mine is an interesting choice. I’ve long maintained that she’s the weakest part of the franchise, with Goemon coming in at a close second. Fujiko has devolved from an interesting wild card who was as likely to assist Lupin as hurt him to a predictable knave who could always be relied on to pretend to need help in Act I of the special, betray the gang in Act II, and then find herself in trouble in Act III, with Lupin happily bailing her out. She used to be more complicated. She used to be interesting.

Early on, each TV series and movie would have a slightly different take on the character. In the first TV series, Lupin’s opening narration would talk about how he wasn’t sure who she was and who she worked for, but since she had a nice body, he would do pretty much anything for her. She was a great thief in her own right- while early episodes did have her manipulating the crew to her advantage like we see today, she also clearly had feelings for Lupin, even coming close to marrying him in one episode. In nearly every iteration of the franchise since, the problem with Fujiko and Lupin’s relationship has been Fujiko, portraying Lupin as the harassed but faithful lover while Fujiko is the faithless gold-digger. But early on, it was clear that Lupin’s womanizing was why Fujiko never committed to him or being a member of his gang. But this was back when their relationship had some tension- now it’s simply convention. I hope the new TV series will re-establish that tension.

Her character could probably use some softening as well, since she’s simply been a simplistic, manipulative bitch for far too long. But that way seems fraught with dumb ideas. The last time the anime tried that involved amnesia, and completely defanged her. It’s part of the reason Fujiko’s Unlucky Days is one of the worst specials in the franchise. Amnesia is the easy way out, and I hope the staff won’t make that mistake again. Another easy way out that might happen, though, is motherhood. Fujiko as a single mom stealing to provide for child sounds sympathetic, but also seems cheap.

But the potential for her to be interesting again is still there, even if the last time I can remember her being an effective character was in Secret of Mamo.  Her potential lies in being a wild card, a spoiler to Lupin’s elaborate plans, a fiercely independent woman, a conflicted lover and- most importantly- a rival thief. Michiko is a promising template for that kind of character, and if Fujiko ends up being a lot like her, I can’t say I’d mind. She works best as a self interested outsider.

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